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The Victorians have a reputation for being prim, proper and persnickety.As a member of the upper class in Victorian England (during the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837-1901), one had to know the exhaustive rules of etiquette that went along with one's position.Tied up with the Empire were Britain's trading dominance, naval and military strength, and competition for territory against other European nations.By the end of Victoria's reign imperialists could boast that the sun never set upon the British Empire.Today, many of these rules seem arbitrary and silly: Does it really matter the order in which dinner party guests enter the dining room?At the time it did, because such social niceties constituted basic manners and politeness.During this period England changed from a rural, agricultural country to an urban, industrialised one.This involved massive dislocation and radically altered the nature of society.
Strictly speaking, the Victorian era began in 1837 and ended with Queen Victoria's death in 1901, but the period can be stretched to include the years both before and after these dates, roughly from the Napoleonic Wars until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.Let us start with a proper invitation: We kindly request the pleasure of your company today to take part in an exploration of Victorian etiquette.The 19th century was one of rapid development and change, far swifter than in previous centuries.In the Victorian Era, etiquette lubricated the mechanism of social exchange: There were rules for making new friends, keeping up with old friends and even cutting out morally dubious friends.
But most importantly, knowing the rules helped one show respect for everyone else, including servants, acquaintances, nobility and clergy. It was evident to many even then — social critics of the time popularly mocked the more ridiculous elements of Victorian society.There was also prison reform and the establishment of the police.