Social Mobility and Woman vs. Lady in Victorian Soceity
The transformation of English society during the Victorian era brought with it numerous industrial, cultural, as well as social changes. The overwhelming influx of population from rural to urban areas and the various new job opportunities created by factories and London?s sudden shift to industrialism affected not only the public, but also the personal lives of its residents. A new class system had begun to form, beginning with the emergence of a new middle class. Women were especially affected by this, because as they were expected to live off of their husbands and thrive solely on society and their own families, it became increasingly important to marry well and remain in high social standing.
Social Mobility: An Impossible Goal?
But while social mobility seems ingenius in theory, it was a lot less simple in practice. The class system had become surprisingly rigid in a very short period of time, and the hierarchy was often determined by economic status and occupation. The very upper classes were Royalty, and had only one recognized member - the Queen Victoria herself. Nobility, aristocracy, and the gentry all followed in respective order. The new middle class allowed a variety of occupations, ranging from lawyers, clergy and physicians, all the way to engineers and schoolteachers on the lower rung. The lesser half of the middle class were hoteliers and housekeepers, schoolmistresses and governesses. Members of the lower class was factory workers and seamstresses, and the underclass consisted of the poor. Each class was clearly defined with unofficially enforced boundaries, and members of the system knew their place.
A Woman?s Place
Women in Victorian society were given very limited roles. Before the industrial revolution, women used to be seen as just accessories to their husbands? success and had to be ever-supportive of the men in their lives. They were taught from childhood the "passive virtues of patience, resignation, and silent suffering" (Lerner 175). An ideal woman was not supposed to have sexual desires, and was actually owned, first by her father and then her husband. She could not divorce her husband for infidelity alone, even though it was allowed the other way around. A young girl was expected from childhood to be content with the role society assigned to her, and to learn that being a wife and a mother was the greatest reward she could ask for. She was taught that one day she would be her husband?s greatest supporter and the backbone of her household.
But even while they were taught to be content with exactly what they had, many lower and middle-class women exhibited a kind of ambition often looked down upon by others with her social status: These women dreamed of marrying up. They fantasized about high society, better education, fashionable clothing, and much, much more money. Bella Wilfer in Our Mutual Friend, for example, wanted nothing more than...