Values And Beliefs
In religion, Victorianism balanced the ancient regime Anglicanism of the Church of England with a growing pluralism through alternative Christianities, new faiths, and the toleration of unbelief. The backdrop to this was a crisis of faith for Anglicans, dating to the early Victorian years, when the Church of England was rocked by fierce debates about Tractarianism, "Romish" rituals, and the intellectual contribution of the Oxford movement. At a more prosaic level, the Religious Census of 1851 revealed a general weakening of popular interest in the established church and many dissenting faiths, whilst Roman Catholicism prospered through Irish migration. Victorianism may be equated with spiritual piety and Christian morality, but alternative and opposite forces also had some importance. Agnosticism, advocated most notably by Thomas H. Huxley (1825–1895), offered, by the 1870s, an alternative to faith in the attempt to answer profound questions about the nature of being.
Victorianism came to be associated with patriarchical social values, stressing the importance of family and an image of motherhood captured well in Alfred Lord Tennyson's (1809–1892) poem, The Princess (1847):
Man for the field and woman for the hearth;
for the sword, and for the needle she;
Man with the head, and women with the heart;
Man to command, and woman to obey;
All else is confusion.
Thus, poetry, as well as prose, painting, and music, reflected hegemonic notions. Yet, the stereotype of the Victorian family perhaps assumed its importance precisely because there were so many challenges to it. In the cities, drink and crime denied many children the full influence of parental guidance, and the critics of industrialism saw in female and child labor a collection of evils that had to be addressed. But economic conditions placed women and children in this position. Poverty, drunkenness, and alcoholism were sometimes causes of prostitution. Charles Dickens's (1812–1870) portrayal of Nancy, the pathetic, doomed heroine of Oliver Twist (1837–1839), obliquely, and somewhat coyly, suggested how easy it was for a woman to fall prey to professional gangs. In Mary Barton (1848), Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–1901) captured the horror that Victorian society felt at the sight of a "fallen women" in her portrayal of the stunted relationship of the widower John Barton and his sister-in-law, the fallen woman. Social reportage also emphasized this aspect of Victorianism: Bracebridge Hemyng's (1809–1898) study of prostitution suggested that, in 1857, London had 8,600 who plied this trade.
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