The Victorian Era May Not Have Been as Formal and Civilized as Portrayed

First Posted: Dec 08, 2015 10:01 AM EST

Was the Victorian era really as formal and civilized as portrayed? Scientists and historians are now taking a closer look at this neatly preserved image of Victorianism in order to better understand the lifestyle at the time.

It was once believed that Victorians were so embarrassed by naked table legs, they dressed them in skirts. Since disproved, researchers have now looked beyond the traditional vision of what it was to be Victorian, largely portrayed by bourgeois literary texts evincing elaborate rituals amongst the social elite of introductions, calling cards and dinners.

So what was Victorian life like in the every day? Peter Andersson, the lead author, looked at photographic images of everyday Victorian life depicting working, dancing, fighting and prostitution. He also used court transcripts documenting raucous shenanigans on the Victorian streets. This evidence, in particular, reveals alternative insights into working class Victorian codes of conduct.

That's not all Andersson looked at, either. He also found that the upper classes were photographed pursuing leisure, including cycling, bathing scantily clad and showing "unmasked" body language, contrary to the tradition view of Victorian decorum.

So what does this mean? The Victorian era may not have been as regimented and restrained as previously thought.

"It is only through a constant attention to peripheries, deviances, and misbehavior that a historical diversity can be acquired," said Andersson in a news release. "Unless Victorian scholars do some soul-searching concerning their reliance on metropolitan, elitist, and, not least, exclusively British sources, this discipline will keep presenting a biased picture of a historical period."

The findings are published in the Journal of Victorian Culture.

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