As an era that is oftentimes categorized as one of the most prudish in British history, it is commonplace to see the Victorian Period as a time that imposed strict moral codes onto people of all classes, genders, and ages. Although the 18th century proved to be quite lenient with the manner in which social behavior was controlled, the 19th century proved to be an era of tension between the social order and individual desire, particularly for the middle and upper classes. With the aid of the Industrial Revolution, many governments found it essential to utilize the newly innovated printing press as a means to present “correct” moral behavior as well as to dismiss those who went against the social norm. Authors such as George Moore and Oscar Wilde, though, saw publication as a means to share their art and to respectively explore the concepts of French Naturalism and Aestheticism; however, booksellers and circulating libraries avoided Naturalist and Aesthetic novels such as Moore’s and Wilde’s because of the way their works justify immoral sexualities. These justifications were believed to have the power to dismantle a society heavily built on the strict gender norms of the Angel in the House and the Gentleman of the middle and upper classes. The suggestion that people did not have to adhere to these roles, engaging in roles of the New Woman and the Dandy instead, made the bourgeois class nervous. Without gender roles, the patriarchal society that benefited from the submission of the sexual would struggle to justify their expectations of men and women of all class structures. Although the publishing industry allowed the spread of acceptable behaviors in a more efficient manner, literature that threatened the social order had to be controlled with outright censorship. There is a tendency to see Victorian Literature as prudish because of the important influence of gender roles, but people of this time equally engaged in the discussion of sexuality. As such, the bourgeois class was appropriately worried about the changes in ideology about morality and sexuality.
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Clary, Kaitlyn M.
"The Effects of Victorian Circulating Libraries on the Conventions of Society,"
Steeplechase: An ORCA Student Journal: Vol. 4
, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.murraystate.edu/steeplechase/vol4/iss2/3