The Othered Victorians
The Victorian period was a time of great hypocrisy. Despite the fact that the Protestant work ethic was gaining popular support amongst the Victorians and myths such as Samuel Smiles' "rags to riches" became part of mainstream Victorian culture, the Victorians were greatly divided into their respective social classes. Works like Thomas Carlyle's "The Irish Widow" and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "The Cry of the Children" exemplified the blatant disregard of the upper classes to that of the lower class. If the Victorians were divided amongst themselves, imagine what it was like for people of different religions and races. The Blacks of this period was one such race that suffered tremendously throughout the Victorian period. They were referred to as The Othered Victorians.
In Victorian novels blacks were depicted as wild savages who were incapable of controlling themselves without the supervision of a noble upper class Victorian. Characters such as Miss Swartz (Swartz is a German word meaning black; it is also a popular German-Jewish name) and Samboo (a general and derogatory term used to refer to all blacks) within William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair were depicted in such a way. For example, on the day of Amelia's departure, Miss Swartz was described as, "[T]he rich wooly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt's…she was in such a passion of tears that they were obliged to send for Dr. Floss, and half tipsify her with salvolatile" (Thackeray 206).
Origin of Prejudice
Where did these prejudices stem from? These prejudices are remnants of the colonial era. Before the Victorian period, the days of Christopher Columbus, there was a fever of exploration and discovery. Unfortunately these explorers found a handsome profit in enslaving the peoples of Africa. Many of these naval captains and colonial governors returned to "civilized" Europe and brought their slaves with them. Although these slaves were not physically abused, they were treated as inferiors to their white counterparts. It was even said that, "Black house-servants and pages…became the exotic trappings of affluent households, sometimes got up in fantastical embroidered uniforms for decorative effect" ("Before" 2). The presence of black servants within the household also represented a sign of wealth (it meant that you had enough money to keep a servant; it also signified a sense of acculturation because of the exploration and discovery of new lands-home of the black slaves).
Many Victorians not only looked upon blacks as slaves or booty in war but they truly believed there were physical as well as mental differences between them. The Victorians believed that blacks were uncontrollable and salacious. The life of...