Victorian morality is a distillation of the moral views of the middle class in 19th-century Britain, the Victorian era.
Victorian values emerged in all classes and reached all facets of Victorian living. The values of the period—which can be classed as religion, morality, Evangelicalism, industrial work ethic, and personal improvement—took root in Victorian morality. Current plays and all literature—including old classics like Shakespeare—were cleansed of content considered to be inappropriate for children, or "bowdlerized".
Contemporary historians have generally come to regard the Victorian era as a time of many conflicts, such as the widespread cultivation of an outward appearance of dignity and restraint, together with serious debates about exactly how the new morality should be implemented. The international slave trade was abolished, and this ban was enforced by the Royal Navy. Slavery was ended in all the British colonies, child labour was ended in British factories, and a long debate ensued regarding whether prostitution should be totally abolished or tightly regulated. Homosexuality remained illegal.
Opposition to slavery was the main evangelical cause from the late 18th century, led by William Wilberforce (1759–1833). The cause organized very thoroughly, and developed propaganda campaigns that made readers cringe at the horrors of slavery. The same moral fervor and organizational skills carried over into most of the other reform movements.Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, only four years after the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. The anti-slavery movement had campaigned for years to achieve the ban, succeeding with a partial abolition in 1807 and the full ban on slave trading, but not slave ownership, which only happened in 1833. It took so long because the anti-slavery morality was pitted against powerful economic interests which claimed their businesses would be destroyed if they were not permitted to exploit slave labour. Eventually, plantation owners in the Caribbean received £20 million in cash compensation, which reflected the average market price of slaves. William E. Gladstone, later a famous reformer, handled the large payments to his father for their hundreds of slaves. The Royal Navy patrolled the Atlantic Ocean, stopping any ships that it suspected of trading African slaves to the Americas and freeing any slaves found. The British had set up a Crown Colony in West Africa—Sierra Leone—and transported freed slaves there. Freed slaves from Nova Scotia founded and named the capital of Sierra Leone "Freetown".
William Wilberforce, Thomas Fowell Buxton and Richard Martinintroduced the first legislation to prevent cruelty to animals, the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822; it pertained only to cattle and it passed easily in 1822.
In the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, "fighting or baiting Lions, Bears, Badgers, Cocks, Dogs, or other Animals" was made a criminal offence. The law laid numerous restrictions on how, when, and where animals could be used. It prohibited owners from letting mad dogs run loose and gave police the right to destroy any dog suspected of being rabid. It prohibited the use of dogs for drawing carts.The law was extended to the rest of England and Wales in 1854. Dog-pulled carts were often used by very poor self-employed men as a cheap means to deliver milk, human foods, animal foods (the cat's-meat man), and for collecting refuse (the rag-and-bone man). The dogs were susceptible to rabies; cases of the disease among humans had been on the rise. They also bothered the horses, which were economically much more vital to the city. Evangelicals and utilitarians in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals persuaded Parliament it was cruel and should be illegal; the Utilitarian element added government inspectors to provide enforcement. The owners had no more use for their dogs, and killed them. Cart dogs were replaced by people with handcarts.
Historian Harold Perkin writes:
Between 1780 and 1850 the English ceased to be one of the most aggressive, brutal, rowdy, outspoken, riotous, cruel and bloodthirsty nations in the world and became one of the most inhibited, polite, orderly, tender-minded, prudish and hypocritical. The transformation diminished cruelty to animals, criminals, lunatics, and children (in that order); suppressed many cruel sports and games, such as bull-baiting and cock-fighting, as well as innocent amusements, including many fairs and wakes; rid the penal code of about two hundred capital offences, abolished transportation [of criminals to Australia], and cleaned up the prisons; turned Sunday into a day of prayer for some and mortification for all.
Evangelical religious forces took the lead in identifying the evils of child labour, and legislating against them. Their anger at the contradiction between the conditions on the ground for children of the poor and the middle-class notion of childhood as a time of innocence led to the first campaigns for the imposition of legal protection for children. Reformers attacked child labor from the 1830s onward. The campaign that led to the Factory Acts was spearheaded by rich philanthropists of the era, especially Lord Shaftesbury, who introduced bills in Parliament to mitigate the exploitation of children at the workplace. In 1833 he introduced the Ten Hours Act 1833, which provided that children working in the cotton and woollen mills must be aged nine or above; no person under the age of eighteen was to work more than ten hours a day or eight hours on a Saturday; and no one under twenty-five was to work nights.The Factory Act of 1844 said children 9–13 years could work for at most 9 hours a day with a lunch break. Additional legal interventions throughout the century increased the level of childhood protection, despite the resistance from the laissez-faire attitudes against government interference by factory owners. Parliament respected laissez-faire in the case of adult men, and there was minimal interference in the Victorian era.
Unemployed street children suffered too, as novelist Charles Dickens revealed to a large middle class audience the horrors of London street life.
Historians Peter Gay and Michael Mason both point out that modern society often confuses Victorian etiquette for a lack of knowledge. For example, people going for a bath in the sea or at the beach would use a bathing machine. Despite the use of the bathing machine, it was still possible to see people bathing nude [ citation needed ]. Contrary to popular conception, however, Victorian society recognised that both men and women enjoyed copulation.
Verbal or written communication of sexual feelings was also often proscribed so people instead used the language of flowers. However, they also wrote explicit erotica, perhaps the most famous being the racy tell-all My Secret Life by the pseudonym Walter (allegedly Henry Spencer Ashbee), and the magazine The Pearl , which was published for several years and reprinted as a paperback book in the 1960s. Victorian erotica also survives in private letters archived in museums and even in a study of women's orgasms. Some current historians[ who? ] now believe that the myth of Victorian repression can be traced back to early twentieth-century views, such as those of Lytton Strachey, a homosexual member of the Bloomsbury Group, who wrote Eminent Victorians .
The enormous expansion of police forces, especially in London, produced a sharp rise in prosecutions for illegal sodomy at midcentury.Male sexuality became a favorite subject of study especially by medical researchers whose case studies explored the progression and symptoms of institutionalized subjects. Henry Maudsley shaped late Victorian views about aberrant sexuality. George Savage and Charles Arthur Mercier wrote about homosexuals living in society. Daniel Hack Tuke's Dictionary of Psychological Medicine covered sexual perversion. All these works show awareness of continental insights, as well as moral disdain for the sexual practices described.
Simeon Solomon and poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, as they contemplated their own sexual identities in the 1860s, fastened on the Greek lesbian poet Sappho. They made Victorian intellectuals aware of Sappho, and their writings helped to shape the modern image of lesbianism.
The Labouchere Amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, for the first time, made all male homosexual acts illegal. It provided for two years' imprisonment for males convicted of committing, or being a party to public or private acts of homosexuality. Lesbian acts—still scarcely known—were ignored.When Oscar Wilde was convicted of violating the statute, and imprisoned for such violations, in 1895, he became the iconic victim of English puritanical repression.
Prostitution had been a factor in city life for centuries. The reformers started mobilizing in the late 1840s, major news organisations, clergymen, and single women became increasingly concerned about prostitution, which came to be known as "The Great Social Evil".Estimates of the number of prostitutes in London in the 1850s vary widely (in his landmark study, Prostitution, William Acton reported that the police estimated there were 8,600 in London alone in 1857).
While the Magdalene asylums had been reforming prostitutes since the mid-18th century, the years between 1848 and 1870 saw a veritable explosion in the number of institutions working to "reclaim" these "fallen women" from the streets and retrain them for entry into respectable society—usually for work as domestic servants. The theme of prostitution and the "fallen woman" (any woman who has had sexual intercourse out of marriage) became a staple feature of mid-Victorian literature and politics. In the writings of Henry Mayhew, Charles Booth, Charles Dickens and others, prostitution began to be seen as a social problem.
When Parliament passed the first of the Contagious Diseases Acts (CD) in 1864 (which allowed the local constabulary in certain defined areas to force any woman suspected of venereal disease to submit to its inspection), Josephine Butler's crusade to repeal the CD Acts yoked the anti-prostitution cause with the emergent feminist movement. Butler attacked the long-established double standard of sexual morality.
Prostitutes were often presented as victims in sentimental literature such as Thomas Hood's poem The Bridge of Sighs , Elizabeth Gaskell's novel Mary Barton , and Dickens' novel Oliver Twist . The emphasis on the purity of women found in such works as Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House led to the portrayal of the prostitute and fallen woman as soiled, corrupted, and in need of cleansing.
This emphasis on female purity was allied to the stress on the homemaking role of women, who helped to create a space free from the pollution and corruption of the city. In this respect, the prostitute came to have symbolic significance as the embodiment of the violation of that divide. The double standard remained in force. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 allowed for a man to divorce his wife for adultery, but a woman could only divorce for adultery combined with other offences such as incest, cruelty, bigamy, desertion, etc., or based on cruelty alone.
The anonymity of the city led to a large increase in prostitution and unsanctioned sexual relationships. Dickens and other writers associated prostitution with the mechanisation and industrialisation of modern life, portraying prostitutes as human commodities consumed and thrown away like refuse when they were used up. Moral reform movements attempted to close down brothels, something that has sometimes been argued to have been a factor in the concentration of street-prostitution.
The extent of prostitution in London in the 1880s gained national and global prominence through the highly publicised murders attributed to Whitechapel-based serial killer Jack the Ripper, whose victims were exclusively prostitutes living destitute in the East End.Given that many prostitutes were living in poverty as late as the 1880s and 1890s, offering sex services was a source of desperate necessity to fund their meals and temporary lodging accommodation from the cold, and as a result prostitutes represented easy prey for criminals as they could do little to personally protect themselves from harm.
After 1815, there was widespread fear of growing crimes, burglaries, mob action, and threats of large-scale disorder. Crime had been handled on an ad-hoc basis by poorly organized local parish constables and private watchmen, supported by very stiff penalties, including hundreds of causes for execution or deportation to Australia. London, with 1.5 million people—more than the next 15 cities combined—over the decades had worked out informal arrangements to develop a uniform policing system in its many boroughs. The Metropolitan Police Act 1829, championed by Home Secretary Robert Peel, was not so much a startling innovation, as a systemization with expanded funding of established informal practices.It created the Metropolitan Police Service, headquartered at Scotland Yard. London now had the world's first modern police force. The 3000 policemen were called "bobbies" (after Peel's first name). They were well-organized, centrally directed, and wore standard blue uniforms. Legally they had the historic status of constable, with authority to make arrests of suspicious persons and book offenders before a magistrate court. They were assigned in teams to specified beats, especially at night. Gas lighting was installed on major streets, making their task of surveillance much easier. Crime rates went down. An 1835 law required all incorporated boroughs in England and Wales to establish police forces. Scotland, with its separate legal system, was soon added. By 1857 every jurisdiction in Great Britain had an organized police force, for which the Treasury paid a subsidy. The police had steady pay, were selected by merit rather than by political influence, and were rarely used for partisan purposes. The pay scale was not high (one guinea a week in 1833), but the prestige was especially high for Irish Catholics, who were disproportionately represented in every city where they had a large presence.
Intellectual historians searching for causes of the new morality often point to the ideas by Hannah More, William Wilberforce, and the Clapham Sect. Perkin argues this exaggerates the influence of a small group of individuals, who were "as much an effect of the revolution as a cause." It also has a timing problem, for many predecessors had failed. The intellectual approach tends to minimize the importance of Nonconformists and Evangelicals—the Methodists, for example, played a powerful role among the upper tier of the working class. Finally, it misses a key ingredient: instead of trying to improve an old society, the reformers were trying to lead Britain into a new society of the future.
Victorian era movements for justice, freedom, and other strong moral values made greed, and exploitation into public evils. The writings of Charles Dickens, in particular, observed and recorded these conditions.Peter Shapely examined 100 charity leaders in Victorian Manchester. They brought significant cultural capital, such as wealth, education and social standing. Besides the actual reforms for the city they achieved for themselves a form of symbolic capital, a legitimate form of social domination and civic leadership. The utility of charity as a means of boosting one's social leadership was socially determined and would take a person only so far.
The Marxist intellectual Walter Benjamin connected Victorian morality to the rise of the bourgeoisie. Benjamin alleged that the shopping culture of the petite bourgeoisie established the sitting room as the centre of personal and family life; as such, the English bourgeois culture is a sitting-room culture of prestige through conspicuous consumption. This acquisition of prestige is then reinforced by the repression of emotion and of sexual desire, and by the construction of a regulated social-space where propriety is the key personality trait desired in men and women.
It seems necessary to clarify that the sense of moral exceptionality shared by Victorians did not come into being the moment that Queen Victoria took to the throne. Before the Victorian Era, there had already been some foundation — built upon decades and centuries of evolving ideologies and discourses — for a Victorian culture of dignity, restraint, and moral goodness to emerge. Moreover, just as the Victorians were not the sole originators of the social rules that governed their society and political climate, they were also not beholden to them to the same rigid degree as the modern-day person may think. That is to say, practices on the ground associated with the Victorian Era morality — a gendered public and private binary, for example — did not always align with abstract ideals found in contemporary documents and literature.
In The History of Sexuality philosopher Michel Foucault rejects the notion that power relationships emanate from a single source or have any solid foundation capable of imparting legitimacy. He writes that the viewpoint from which one understands power “must not be sought in the primary existence of a central point, in a unique source of sovereignty from which secondary and descendent forms would emanate” that, rather, power is “the moving substrate of force relations… [that is] always local and unstable.”Foucault forces a reimagining of power that requires a rejection of normative narratives and blanket analyses of historical eras and entreats us to destabilize entrenched understandings. The established concept of “Victorian morality” seems vulnerable to such a treatment.
The White-Slave Traffic Act, also called the Mann Act, is a United States federal law, passed June 25, 1910. It is named after Congressman James Robert Mann of Illinois.
Sexual slavery and sexual exploitation is an attachment of any ownership right over one or more people with the intent of coercing or otherwise forcing them to engage in sexual activities. This includes forced labor, reducing a person to a servile status and sex trafficking persons, such as the sexual trafficking of children.
A permissive society, also referred to as permissive culture, is a society in which some social norms become increasingly liberal, especially with regard to sexual freedom. This usually accompanies a change in what is considered deviant. While typically preserving the rule "do not harm others", a permissive society would have few other moral, religious or legal codes.
Josephine Elizabeth Butler was an English feminist and social reformer in the Victorian era. She campaigned for women's suffrage, the right of women to better education, the end of coverture in British law, the abolition of child prostitution, and an end to human trafficking of young women and children into European prostitution.
The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, or "An Act to make further provision for the Protection of Women and Girls, the suppression of brothels, and other purposes," was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the latest in a 25-year series of legislation in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland beginning with the Offences against the Person Act 1861. It raised the age of consent from 13 years of age to 16 years of age and delineated the penalties for sexual offences against women and minors. It also strengthened existing legislation against prostitution and homosexuality. This act was also notable for the circumstances of its passage in Parliament.
The Contagious Diseases Acts were originally passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1864, with alterations and additions made in 1866 and 1869. In 1862, a committee had been established to inquire into venereal disease in the armed forces. On the committee's recommendation the first Contagious Diseases Act was passed. The legislation allowed police officers to arrest women suspected of being prostitutes in certain ports and army towns. Since there was no set definition of prostitution within the Act, the question was left to the police officer’s discretion, and women could be arrested even if there was no actual evidence of prostitition. The women were then subjected to compulsory physical examinations for venereal disease. If a woman was declared to be infected, she would be confined in what was known as a lock hospital until she recovered or her sentence was completed. Men suspected of frequenting prostitutes were not subjected to the same treatment of compulsory checks and confinement. The law was initially aimed at working-class women in towns near military bases, due to the concern that sexually transmitted infections were hampering Britain’s forces. The original act only applied to a few selected naval ports and army towns, but by 1869 the acts had been extended to cover eighteen "subjected districts".
Male prostitution is the act or practice of men providing sexual services in return for payment. It is a form of sex work. Although clients can be of any gender, the vast majority are older males looking to fulfill their sexual needs. Male prostitutes have been far less studied than female prostitutes by researchers. Even so, male prostitution has an extensive history including regulation through homosexuality, conceptual developments on sexuality, and the HIV/AIDS, monkeypox, and COVID-19 epidemic impact. In the last century, male sex work has seen various advancements. Popularizing new sexual acts, methods of exchange, and carving out a spot in cinema. Today, there is a focus on improving the work conditions, treatment, and mental health of male sex workers.
In Great Britain, the act of engaging in sex as part of an exchange of various sexual services for money is legal, but a number of related activities, including soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, owning or managing a brothel, pimping and pandering, are illegal. In Northern Ireland, which previously had similar laws, paying for sex became illegal from 1 June 2015.
Forced prostitution, also known as involuntary prostitution or compulsory prostitution, is prostitution or sexual slavery that takes place as a result of coercion by a third party. The terms "forced prostitution" or "enforced prostitution" appear in international and humanitarian conventions, such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but have been inconsistently applied. "Forced prostitution" refers to conditions of control over a person who is coerced by another to engage in sexual activity.
Prostitution in Ireland is legal. However, since March 2017, it has been an offence to buy sex. Third party involvement is also illegal. Since the law that criminalises clients came into being, with the purpose of reducing the demand for prostitution, the number of prosecutions for the purchase of sex increased from 10 to 92 between 2018 and 2020. In a report from UCD's Sexual Exploitation Research Programme the development is called ”a promising start in interrupting the demand for prostitution.”
Prostitution is the business or practice of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for payment. The definition of "sexual activity" varies, and is often defined as an activity requiring physical contact with the customer. The requirement of physical contact also creates the risk of transferring diseases. Prostitution is sometimes described as sexual services, commercial sex or, colloquially, hooking. It is sometimes referred to euphemistically as "the world's oldest profession" in the English-speaking world. A person who works in this field is called a prostitute, or more inclusively, a sex worker.
The Lex Scantinia is a poorly documented Roman law that penalized a sex crime (stuprum) against a freeborn male minor. The law may also have been used to prosecute adult male citizens who willingly took a passive role in having sex with other men. It was thus aimed at protecting the citizen's body from sexual abuse (stuprum), but did not prohibit homosexual behavior as such, as long as the passive partner was not a citizen in good standing. The primary use of the Lex Scantinia seems to have been harassing political opponents whose lifestyles opened them to criticism as passive homosexuals or pederasts in the Hellenistic manner.
The social purity movement was a late 19th-century social movement that sought to abolish prostitution and other sexual activities that were considered immoral according to Christian morality. The movement was active in English-speaking nations from the late 1860s to about 1910, exerting an important influence on the contemporaneous feminist, eugenics, and birth control movements.
Prostitution has been practiced throughout ancient and modern culture. Prostitution has been described as "the world's oldest profession" although the oldest professions are most likely farmers, hunters, and shepherds.
Prostitution laws varies widely from country to country, and between jurisdictions within a country. At one extreme, prostitution or sex work is legal in some places and regarded as a profession, while at the other extreme, it is a crime punishable by death in some other places.
The practice of prostitution in colonial India was influenced by the policies of British rule in India. During the 19th and 20th centuries the colonial government facilitated, regulated and allowed the existence of prostitution. Not only was prostitution in India affected by the policy of the Governor General of India, it was also influenced by the moral and political beliefs of the British authorities, and conflicts and tensions between the British authorities and the Indian populace at large. The colonial government had a profound effect on prostitution in India, both legislatively and socially.
The International Abolitionist Federation, founded in Liverpool in 1875, aimed to abolish state regulation of prostitution and fought the international traffic in women in prostitution. It was originally called the British and Continental Federation for the Abolition of Prostitution.
The history of sexual slavery in the United States is the history of slavery for the purpose of sexual exploitation as it exists in the United States.
Victorian erotica is a genre of sexual art and literature which emerged in the Victorian era of 19th-century Britain. Victorian erotica emerged as a product of a Victorian sexual culture. The Victorian era was characterised by paradox of rigid morality and anti-sensualism, but also by an obsession with sex. Sex was a main social topic, with progressive and enlightened thought pushing for sexual restriction and repression. Overpopulation was a societal concern for the Victorians, thought to be the cause of famine, disease, and war. To curb the threats of overpopulation, sex was socially regulated and controlled. New sexual categories emerged as a response, defining normal and abnormal sex. Heterosexual sex between married couples became the only form of sex socially and morally permissible. Sexual pleasure and desire beyond heterosexual marriage was labelled as deviant, considered to be sinful and sinister. Such deviant forms included masturbation, homosexuality, prostitution and pornography. Procreation was the primary goal of sex, removing it from the public, and placing it in the domestic. Yet, Victorian anti-sexual attitudes were contradictory of genuine Victorian life, with sex underlying much of the cultural practice. Sex was simultaneously repressed and proliferated. Sex was featured in medical manuals such as The Sexual Impulse by Havelock Ellis and Functions and Disorders of Reproductive Organs by William Acton, and in cultural magazines like The Penny Magazine and The Rambler. Sex was popular in entertainment, with much of Victorian theatre, art and literature including and expressing sexual and sensual themes.
During the beginning of the late Victorian era in Cape Town, South Africa, prostitution was considered an offense but was rarely prosecuted. The majority of prostitutes during this time were local women of color, though there was a small number of European women partaking in sex work as well. As time progressed, regulations on prostitutes increased under the Contagious Diseases Acts, and Cape Town saw a rise in both European prostitutes and prostitution itself as a result of the Mineral Revolution and the Second Boer War.