By the late nineteenth century, Victorian optimism, bred by industrial accomplishment, was tempered with anxiety. Labor troubles, poverty, foreign competition, and the agricultural depression were grim realities. And yet, for all the dislocation and anomic wrought by industrialism and the sobering developments of the last decades of the century, the middle class especially welcomed an improvement in its standard of living. However mythical or psychological the Great Depression may have been, the middle class, with careful planning and budgeting, seemed determined to perpetuate an invigorating sense of material possibility.
Accordingly, the English middle-class family selected an astounding paraphernalia of gentility. Room upon room in the Victorian home became cluttered with heavily carved furniture; pottery, paintings and photographs competed for space on every wall and table surface; flocked and floral wallpapers, luxurious Oriental carpets and intricate lace curtains provided a visual assault of pattern and texture. 1 Amid so many things, human figures must have sometimes seemed insignificant, dwarfed by the commanding presence of their material surroundings. This very material emphasis of the Victorians reflected the assimilation by the middle class of a hedonistic ethos.
To be middle class 2 implied a moderately affluent income (generally £150 to £1,000 per annum), freedom from manual labor outside and inside the home, and the employment of domestic servant(s). 3 But for much of the Victorian period, middle-class status also connoted particular habits and virtues. At mid-century, most of all, the Victorian middle class,