The majority of Victorian society’s economic dealings can be summed up in two words: credit and debt. These ominous specters, which seemed to haunt Victorian England, were simultaneously able to evoke feelings of delight and doom in their “victims of vanity”.
There were several different factors that contributed to the Victorian’s propensity to abuse their credit, and as a result, fall deeply into debt. In her essay, “A Husband and His Wife’s Dresses”, Erika Rappaport discusses the significant role that gender played in the credit and debt “epidemic” that plagued Victorian society. Rappaport gives a fairly detailed account of the progression of buying on credit in Victorian society. In her essay, Rappaport states that “for most of the nineteenth century, consumer credit was still informal and was based on personal trust and a financial and moral assessment of the buyer” (165). Essentially, buying on credit was based on social position rather than financial stability. She comments that in the nineteenth century, selling on credit was still a widespread practice, and “many of the commodities that filled the Victorians’ homes and adorned their bodies were bought with its help” (167). Rappaport states that buying on credit “helped middle-class families on limited income set up households”, and that “approximately 80 percent of all sales in the small, elite shops of metropolitan districts were offered on credit” (167). However, as time progressed, informal store credit became increasingly risky. Consumers began to travel longer distances in order to buy their goods, and it became increasingly less common to conduct business with neighbors and relatives. As a result of these changes, “wholesale...
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... bills was perpetually in the forefront of the Victorian mindset.
Landow, George P. “Bankruptcy in Victorian England—Threat or Myth?” The Victorian Web. 22 March 2001. 7 Nov. 2004.
Rappaport, Erika. “A Husband and His Wife’s Dresses.” The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective. Ed. Victoria de Grazia with Ellen Furlough. London: University of California Press, Ltd., 1996. 163-177.
“The Victorians: Debt Could Get You in Prison.” RomanceEverAfter. 7 Nov. 2004.
Williams, Montagu Q.C. “London: Down East and Up West.” The Victorian Dictionary. 1894. 7 Nov. 2004.
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