Throughout the nineteenth century change enveloped Victorian society. Bv the 1880s many consumers feared that progress might be short-lived. The Great Depression, the rise of socialism, trade-union activity, the proliferation of evolutionary theories, and increasing questions about belief, religion, and morality seemed to augur the precipitous decline of a great empire. Beatrice Webb wrote of "a growing uneasiness." 1 Punch lampooned the popular fin-de-siècle mood. 2 As consumer insecurities flourished and multiplied, late nineteenth-century advertisers recognized a commercial opportunity. With almost pernicious zeal, they offered a hedonistic solution--material deliverance from every care and heavenly rewards predicated on the transformative experience of consumption.
Although the Victorian middle class had welcomed considerable prosperity throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, by the last decades of the nineteenth many people were anxious about conditions at home and in the world at large. Whether fears were realistic or simply perceived, anxiety was considerable. As we shall see, anxiety provided ample fodder for advertisers to peddle very material, ultimately hedonistic solutions.
Rising expectations fueled a pervasive sense of domestic inadequacy. 3 Housewives felt compelled to experiment with new concepts and new products. The distance between social aspirations and reality created con-