Social Classes Of Mid-Victorian England

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Social Classes Of Mid-Victorian England

In the Mid-Victorian period in English history there were distinct class differences in its society. There were three classes in England. These were the Aristocracy, the Middle-Class (or Factory owners) and the working class. Each class had specific characteristics that defined its behavior. These characteristics were best seen in four areas of British society.

During the time-period known by most historians as the Industrial Revolution, a great change overtook British culture. Aside from the political and economic change which occurred, a profound social alteration transpired. The populace seeking to better their lives, sought employment in newly-formed industries. Many of the workers which included women and children, labored through 12 hour work shifts, with poor nutrition, poor living conditions and completing tedious tasks1. These factors, accompanied by various ideological precepts by Britain's intellectual community, and those concepts imported from France, provoke a crucial social evolution. Though no government was overthrown, a distinct transformation took place causing rebellious behavior to erupt among the working class. This essay will address the questions of how and why this behavior was expressed by the lower order of British society. It will also discuss methods the ruling class used in suppressing and controlling the rebellious behavior exhibited by the working class.

The middle class held to two basic ideologies that served in the exploitation of the lower order of the British society. Richard Atlick identified them as Utilitarianism (or Benthamism) and Evangelicalism. Both served the self-interested inclinations of the middle class. Utilitarianism created the need to fulfill a principle of pleasure while minimalization pain. In the context of the "industrial revolution" this meant that the pleasure extracted from life would be at the working classes' expense. This provided a perfect justification for the middle class to capitalize on. The working class of Britain, throughout the industrial revolution and through the Victorian age, acted in a defiant manner toward both the aristocracy and middle class. This behavior extended from the everyday activities of the workers to radical anarchist movements that categorized the underground.

The middle class seemed to be just as familiar with the inverse of Benthamism as they were with its normal application. The pleasure principle was measured in terms of minimalization of pain. If the sum of pain, in a given situation, is less than the sum of pleasure, than it should be deemed pleasurable. The inverse principle applied to the working class was how pain (work) can be inflicted, with the absolute minimum distribution of pleasure (wages), without creating an uprising.
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