For most definitions, the Victorian Era encompasses the reign of Queen Victoria in England (18371901). Although she ruled over only England, Europe’s culture during the time greatly affected America as well. This was still a period of colonization (although by then America had long since fought for and won its independence), and that, largely, is the reason that Victorian culture permeated so many other countries. The aspects of the culture that trickled down to the present day are mainly the forms of entertainment, particularly the literature. More than one famous children’s book was written in the Victorian Era, specifically classics that are still popular, like Alice in Wonderland
and The Adventures of Peter Rabbit
. From children’s novels especially, we can see the morals that the Victorian society held in esteem.
Victorian fashion is especially infamous. For women, the most stringent mark of the era is the corset. During the 1840s−50s women’s undergarments were especially complex and voluminous, with the tightly bound corset worn under all dresses with layers of petticoats to give the dress shape. The petticoats evolved into crinolines, and the crinolines into bustles once the front of dresses flattened. During the 1860s it became fashionable to wear an uncorseted tea gown at informal tea parties in the home. Toward the end of the era, in the 1890s, the corsets lengthened and the skirts took on a trumpet shape rather than a bell shape. For men the fashion also evolved. In the 1830s there were the snug-fitting calf-length coats, in the 1840s the four-in-hand neckties, with top hats for the upper class, and bowler hats for the lower. Three-piece suits grew in popularity, and eventually men adopted the blazer for sporting events. The home décor was similarly exhausting. Each room was painted or wallpapered in elaborate floral of a different color depending on its use. Furniture was overly ornate. Middle Eastern and Asian patterns decorated upholstery.
Books by Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker coincided with the children’s novels on social values, but they also illuminated political views and advancing technology. The realist writings of Charles Dickens serve to show the widening industrialization of Europe during the mid 19th century. In Dickens’ novels especially we can see the development of transportation technology (stagecoaches, canals, steamships, and especially railways) that facilitated the Gilded Age in America and industrialization of the western world in particular. Charles Darwin also wrote down his theories of evolution during the Victorian Era, and the idea of Social Darwinism is and was a large part of influencing economics in America, especially.
Our trunk focuses largely on the Gilded Age in Northern America that started at the end of the American Civil War and signified an economic boom during Reconstruction. This period overlapped considerably with the Victorian, and because Britain was a superpower of the time, some of the culture between the two regions was similar. Works of literature from the Gilded Age included those by Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott, and they too focused on morals and social values, while painting a vivid portrait of economic goings-on. The capitalist theory built largely on the concept of Social Darwinism (begun by Charles Darwin in England) boomed as the various “robber barons” raked in money for resources as various as steel, oil, fur, and real estate, much of which was in demand because of the developing railway system. The up-swinging economy inspired “new immigration” of many people from China, who were the main labor force on the Central Railroad in California and Nevada.
As far as the culture of the United States goes at that time, the abolition of slavery skewed the economic balance particularly in the southern U.S. There was very little immigration to the southern U.S. at that time, although, to make up for deficits caused by the Civil War, raw materials like cotton and oil were in high demand.