Victorian Social Class in Middlemarch and North and South

Topics: Social class, Middle class, Working class Pages: 7 (2670 words) Published: January 20, 2011
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The Victorian period is one of the most popular eras studied and is well known for many things; from fashion to inventions, to the Industrial revolution to their education. Despite how much people like to think that they differ from them drastically, so much of our modern society depends on what they first created and the changes they set in motion. Many perspectives on how the Victorians lived their lives come from misconceptions given to in literature and education. A lot of stereotypes held are of their social classes; the upper class were snobbish and shallow, and the lower or working class were dirty, illiterate and uneducated. Two historic and popular novels that examine Victorian life are George Elliot’s Middlemarch and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South; in both novels the writers try to portray the essence of the society as a whole, not merely of one class, sometimes more or less successfully than the other. The two texts both reinforce and contradict the clichéd representations of Victorian social class. The class system itself is complex to define without using a superficial definition the system was always altering due to different legislations, and upon the development of the middle class began subcategories such as the ‘upper-middle class’ and the ‘lower-working class’. “Different social classes can be (and were by the classes themselves) distinguished by inequalities in such areas as power, authority, wealth, working and living conditions, life-styles, life-span, education, religion, and culture.” The middle class came about as a result of the Industrial revolution, those who had professions such as factory workers were not wealthy enough and did not have the same aristocratic heritage as the upper class, but were more affluent and comfortable in their lifestyle than the working class. They were the “new gentry who owed their success to commerce, industry, and the professions” A fundamental aspect of society life in the Victorian era, predominantly upper class, was marriage and its ability to change or strengthen a person’s status in society. In films, novels and even teachings at school we are shown how upper class Victorians married for money, status and attraction rather than love and personality. “it was not love, but the commercial and social aspects of marriage which held first place with both parents and daughters” And to a certain extent this rings true with this particular society but it seems rather naive to group the upper class as merely one entity with the same mind, but we are surrounded, even in critical and historical writings, by this idea. “Marry your daughters when you can, and your sons when you will...The burden of disposing of a daughter in the safe harbour of matrimony fell upon the mother.” Unfortunately in Middlemarch this is not the case with our female protagonist of Dorothea as she, alongside her sister Celia, live with their Uncle instead. Nevertheless, even without that female figure, Celia very much is the essence of this aspect of marriage. Although she wishes to have a husband she loves, the idea of a dashing good looking, rich prospective husband appeals more. Hence why she, as well as other Middlemarch women, cannot get their head around the idea of Dorothea marrying Casaubon “How very ugly Mr Casaubon is!” Even in North and South Margaret does not simple agree to marry Captain Lennox, who at the time would have been an excellent eligible ‘catch’. In fact Margaret is not very interested in marriage at all. “The Victorian heroine was an almost standardized product...if they were born above the level poverty, [they] the dream of marriage, successful marriage, held before their dazzled eyes. “ Neither woman show signs of being a typical accomplished future wife, and are complete contradictions. However in both novels there are examples of characters that are the essence of the accomplished and beautiful sought women. “for the life of the Victorian young lady was...

Bibliography: Primary
Elliot, George Middlemarch (Londond:2000)
Gaskell, Elizabeth, North and South (New York: Cosimo Inc, 2008)
Secondary
[ 2 ]. David Cody ‘Social Class’ The Victorian Web: literature, history, & culture in the age of Victoria (2002) (accessed 2 November 2010)
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[ 12 ]. David Cody ‘Social Class’ The Victorian Web: literature, history, & culture in the age of Victoria (2002) (accessed 1st November 2010)
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[ 18 ]. Dr Donna Loftus “The rise of the Victorian Middle class” (Accessed 8th November 2010)
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[ 20 ]. Dr Donna Loftus “The rise of the Victorian Middle class” (Accessed 4th November 2010)
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[ 24 ]. Simon Dentith Society and cultural forms in the nineteenth- century England (London: Macmillan Press LTD, 1998) p.50
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