Thursday, 28 November 2013

'The Great Social Evil'- Prostitution and the Other Side of Victorian Sexuality

How were Victorian prostitutes perceived and what were their real circumstances? These are the questions I hoped to answer when I chose the subject of prostitution for my blog. When most people think of Victorian sexuality, it is of dowdy buttoned-up men and women who wouldn't even talk about sex, let alone the concept of prostitution. But as Lauren Dye has already showed in her blog, this was not the whole state of affairs. Prostitution was rife in the 19th century and the idea is still alive today in popular culture such as in the BBC 1 program Ripper Street involving the brothel of a character called 'Long Susan'.

Prostitute characters in BBC show Ripper Street, set in 1889
To find out the reality of Victorian prostitution, I had to do some research. While there is not exactly a museum exhibition dedicated to the conditions of Victorian prostitutes or an abundance of helpful archives (this is not a wholesome topic after all), a surprising number of scholars have written on the subject. Through books and extracts comes a glimpse of what people thought at the time.

Before you look at factual historical research, it is interesting to observe the kinds of views Victorian people had of prostitutes through literary fiction like Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. Mary's aunt Esther who took "the downward path to vice" (149) hovers throughout the plot like a ghost, forsaken and insubstantial as she is judged harshly by other characters and the narrator for her dubious lifestyle. Here is the negative view of prostitution likely engaged by many 'respectable' Victorians at the time, of prostitution being a choice reflecting a woman's bad nature "the leper sin" (149). However she is also coloured with pity as "the poor crushed Butterfly" (365) and shows importance in driving the plot along and attempting to help the other characters regardless of how she is treated. Gaskell also implies the idea that 'fallen women' were victims of male exploitation and the grueling conditions of poverty more than of their own volition- challenging the dismissive contempt of prostitutes held by many government legislators involved in the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860's (see introduction to Prostitution and Victorian Society).
Cover: Report from the Select Committee on the Contagious Diseases Acts, 1881 in Open Library

 Was this more forgiving feeling towards Victorian prostitutes widespread at the time? In order to find out we must go to the source. Below is an illustration from the popular and widely circulating magazine Punch.

The Great Social Evil cartoon by John Leech, 1857
What to make of this? While clearly satirising the topic of prostitution it is unclear whether it is for or against the right to sympathy for the prostitutes. The use of the word 'gay', unlike today's meaning of homosexuality, was a common slang term for prostitutes in the 1800's: the 'gay women'(see Maya Mirsky below). The Bella woman seems to think that because Fanny is well dressed and standing in the doorway of an opera house that she must be a prostitute; the fact that John Leech satirised this for the magazine suggests that this opinion of women in doorways necessarily being prostitutes was prevalent enough that it was worth mocking. The exclamation marks could be inferred either as the respectable people's feelings of pity or contempt, or a mingling of the two, for those perceived as 'fallen'. Whether or not Fanny is supposed to be an actual prostitute, this cartoon is very revealing of society's moods and opinions regarding these women.

Another example of a Victorian source unwittingly showing some stark historical truths about this taboo topic is the highly controversial My Secret Life by Walter. In her review of the book, Maya Mirsky comments on how the anonymous author "discusses quite casually the way women fall into prostitution" and that "without thinking much of it, along the way he paints a picture of the harsh realities for poor girls." (Mirsky). Therefore it is clear more than ever that prostitution was not all bright dresses and wanton lasciviousness of women, the type of picture suggested by such male writers of the time as Henry Mayhew and Inspector Anniss of Devonport (see Walkowitz: 81).
Print of a Victorian prostitute from Mary Evans Picture Library by an unknown author

 Indeed, the saying of 'fall' can be suggestive of an involuntary act, the ways in which poor women in desperate and "harsh" conditions were forced into prostitution instead of choosing to do so. There was much poverty, disease and hardship in Victorian times, especially in London and most especially for women due to the patriarchal system that did not allow the freedom and means to a wide gamut of jobs. Prostitutes were ostracized, dismissed from comprehensive consideration and unfairly fictionalised due to the lack of sexual liberty afforded to women. The accepted roles, as we all know, were wife, housekeeper, mother and other entirely domestic ones; women who could not fulfill these for whatever reason, were driven to prostitution for the only economic independence available to them, many prostitutes were poor women. They were not all seduced by rich men into 'falling'.
   The fiction of the fall persisted for a surprisingly long time after the Victorian era, and has only began to be debunked by modern feminist criticism. In her book "The Prostitute's Body", Nina Attwood calls this the "singular or crystallized myth of the Victorian prostitute" and affirms that it is deconstructed by "[the struggle of] define the multifaceted issue of the prostitution in their midst" (145). The careless picture of prostitutes as all identical in their lives was false, reveals Attwood as they "were a varied group and the working-class streetwalker merely a scapegoat" (146). 
The unfair treatment was not just in perception- prostitutes were constantly abused by clients and even 'respectable'doctors and police. As part of the CD Acts women suspected of being prostitutes were forced to go to lock hospitals for gynecological exams for sexual diseases and according to Judith Walkowitz "they allowed police absolute power over women" (93). Thanks to police corruption prostitutes were often abused by the upholders of law.
However prostitutes did have allies that acknowledged their vulnerability and actively tried to promote their welfare beyond simple sympathetic but still narrow-minded depictions like Gaskell's (see above). Feminists like Josephine Butler, Elizabeth Wolstenholme and Mary Priestman campaigned for a more just treatment of prostitutes and instead of considering them forever beyond help, tried to get them out of some awful conditions and back into society. Many of these feminists were part of the Ladies' National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, which argued for a withdrawal of the invasive medical procedures mentioned earlier, and legal rights for the prostitutes, with "courage and tenacity" (Walkowitz: 93). Despite the horrors that caused, prolonged and worsened prostitution, compassionate souls realized the true circumstances and tried to alleviate them; though complete success was impossible, realization of the scope of the issue swelled the rise of feminism all the way up to today. 

Josephine Butler, feminist political leader, photographed 1869

Works Cited:
Attwood, N. The Prostitute's Body: Rewriting Prostitution in Victorian Britain. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011. Web. DawsonEra. 24 Nov 2013.

BBC. Ripper Street photograph. BBC Media Centre. 2012. Web. 27 Nov 2013. <>

Gaskell, E. Mary Barton. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 2012.

House of Commons. "Report from the Select Committee on the Contagious Diseases Acts" Cover. Open Library. 2010. Web. 28 Nov 2013. <>

Leech, John. "The Great Social Evil" from Punch. The Victorian Web. 1857. Web. 27 Nov 2013.<>

Mary Evans Picture Library. Unknown Victorian prostitute print. BBC History. 2012. Web. 28 Nov 2013.

Mirsky, M. My Secret Life: Classic Nonfiction by Walter [Review of the book My Secret Life]. Critique. Retrieved from:

University of Liverpool. "Photograph of Josephine Butler c.1869 [ref. JB 2/1/7]". University of Liverpool Library. 1869. Web. 28 Nov 2013. <>

Walkowitz, J. Prostitution and Victorian Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Tale of the Seamstress

The Tale of the Seamstress

I chose to write on Victorian fashion, paying particular attention to the ladies in charge of thee fantastic gowns- the seamstresses, due to my own interests in the topic of fashion. So I decided to visit the Victorian and Albert Museum (V&A), when I came across this fantastic oil painting of a Seamstress:

Victorian and Albert Museum. The Seamstress by Charles Baugniet, 1858
 The oil painting shows a seamstress who is making a wedding dress in a bourgeois setting. From this image I got a positive perception of the seamstress. Charles Baugniet has painted the Seamstress with her hair tied back and out of her face which produces a professional manner, along with the tidiness  and organisation, for instance with the sewing paraphernalia being easily accessible. Despite working, the seamstress appears relaxed and comfortable, as her eased posture and rosy colouring of her cheeks indicate. The seamstress is clothed very elegantly and much for the time, as I discovered that full gowns were  in fashion during the early nineteenth century. 'Feather filled sleeve supports and petticoats stiffened with cord and horse hair were used to create the correct silhouette'. (V&A Museum). Therefore, this idea that Charles Baugniet has delivered in his painting, of the Seamstress being able to clothe herself in the fashion which she creates for the middle class, implies an element of success in the profession and also the glamour of such a career. Below are a few images I captured from the V&A of the big gowns that were in fashion in the 1800's:

Victorian and Albert Museum. Fashion display. 19th Century Fashion.

These full, a-lined, gathered gowns resemble closely to the dress of the Seamstress in Charles Baugniet's painting, not only in their structure, but with the similar materials. For instance, I discovered that the image of the last gown above, was made out of silk and in the painting the Seamstress's dress appears to have the same shiny, smooth texture. Working in a fabric shop myself, I know silk is one of the most luxurious fabrics and expensive too, therefore, the oil painting represents the Seamstress in an affluent classy manner, as she is dressed in the highest qualities of fabric.

All this information on the seamstress made me think of Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. Although, Mary was more of shop front girl, she appeared to be very happy in her profession as seamstress.  Gaskell stated: "Mary was satisfied" (26), once Mary had embarked on her work placement. This declarative epitomises Mary's gratification in regards to being a seamstress, so reinforces the idea of a happy seamstress. Additionally, Mary was respected in this role; she was referred to as one of Miss Simmond's 'young ladies' (26). Working as a seamstress provided Mary with money to take care of her and her father and Mary saw this as a route to success, as she  'planned for the future so cheerily' (26.) This idea of planning, reveals that Mary saw her choice to become a dressmaker as a structure for achievement and it also shows the ambitions of a young seamstress, therefore, puts this career choice in a positive light.

However, although this image of a seamstress may have been nice, this contrasted with the dominant perception of a seamstress. Within Famine and Fashion: Needlewomen in the Nineteenth Century theorists mentioned that most Victorian texts  '[told] essentially the same story' (2) a story which was characterised by a suffering, poor young girl, who went off to become a seamstress in order to help her family financially, and once in her work position she would  encounter an inconsiderate boss and from there her life would go down hill, with a lack of money and her only 'choice [would be] to succumb to vice (i.e. prostitution), or to retain her profession and die' (2.) This was not only made clear within Literature, but also through other mediums.

Satirical cartoons:
Punch magazine

This image is from Punch magazine: a satirical Victorian publication. This was the way many Victorian people saw the seamstress. From this image it is very hard to associate happiness with the profession of dress making. Although this picture may have been printed in black and white due to printing costs, the lack of colour here creates a bleak cold image, so attaches a level of negativity to this job. Additionally the idea of darkness represents a woman working in the dark, and links to the physical consequences of blindness, which will be mentioned later.

Cartoons in general:

This black and white image reinforces the most common view of a seamstress. The phrase: "bending over backwards" certainly comes to mind! The seamstress may not literally be bending over backwards, but she is certainly going to a great extent to please the woman. Judging by the fullness of the seamstress's gown, you can only imagine how uncomfortable this position must be for her and this is juxtaposed with the manner of the lady wearing the dress. The lady stands upright in front of the mirror, posing, completely oblivious to the position the seamstress is in. From this cartoon  you get an idea of a profession structured by the selfishness and inconsideration of the middle class or the owners of dressmaking companies, as Nicola Pullin would agree (Beth Harris,8), along with the impossibilities that the seamstress must face every single day.

The image did not stop there. It appeared in songs too. Below are the lyrics for a song titled the "Distressed Seamstress"

( Sung to the air "Jenny Jones")

You gentles of England, I pray give attention,

Unto those few lines, I'm going to relate,

Concerning the seamstress,I'm going to mention,

Who long time has been, in a sad wretched state,

Laboriously toiling, both night, noon, and morning,
For a wretched subsistence, now mark what I say.
She's quite unprotected, forlorn, and dejected
For sixpence, or eightpence, or tenpence a day.

Come forward you nobles, and grant them assistance,

Give them employ, and a fair price them pay,

And then you will find, the poor hard working seamstress,

From honour and virtue will not go astray.

To shew them compassion pray quickly be stirring,

In delay, there is danger, there's no time to spare,...

The pride of the world is o'er whelmed with care,

Old England's considered, for honour and virtue,

And beauty the glory and pride of the world,
Nor be not hesitating, but boldly step forward,
Suppression and tyranny, far away hurl.

(Women in World History and Curriculum)

This song was written during the Industrial Revolution (1840-1870) and presented the profession as one dominated by a lack of security, freedom and happiness. The areas I have highlighted stood out for me, starting with the line: 'long time has been in a sad wretched state'. This line emphasised the negative plight of a nineteenth century seamstress, and acted as a cry for help for a long suffering seamstress.

The state
Even the government  reproduced this view of the seamstress. For instance, The Second Children’s Employment Commission report that was produced in 1842 and published for 1843, showed interviews with seamstresses talking about their life, and career.

Below are a few excerpts:

The Second Children's Employment Commission 1842, Page 419.

The Second Children's Employment Commission, 1842. Page 428
Both these interviews showed the low wages or lack of money associated with the profession along with the unsociable working hours a seamstress faced.

Additionally many associated seamstresses with prostitution. Many argued that as a women made clothes for men and expected payment, her work was 'unlike prostitution itself' (Beth Harris, 6). The parallel to this can be seen in Mary's aunt's thoughts towards her choice to become a seamstress. For instance, Esther stated:

'I found out Mary went to learn dressmaking, and I began to be frightened for her, for its a bad life for a girl to be out late at night in the streets, and after many hour of weary work, they're ready to follow after her any novelty that makes a little change' (152).

However, it can be argued that the concern with prostitution linked to the role of a seamstress was only to be expected, due to the late working hours, so this was not something to be blamed on the seamstress. As mentioned in Mary Barton, Esther feared men taking advantage and 'follow[ing]' (152) Mary, so here we can see that instead of it being an issue with the seamstress, it is rather a case of the male society's behaviour.

Moreover, many linked the career as a seamstress to physical complications and an example of this can be seen in the foil character to Mary in Mary Barton, Margaret. Margaret became blind as a result of sewing, and although she knew that this was causing her sight to fade, she did not stop. For example in the text she stated:

'If i sew a long time together, a bright spot like th' sun comes right where I'm looking; all the rest is quite clear but just where I want to see.' (46)

Gaskell's connections of Margaret's loss of sight to the sun, creates a more peaceful, natural image, as though Margaret is destined to be blind, making it seem right. Therefore, Margaret carries on sewing and passively reacts to her disability because she needs to earn from sewing. This rather bleak situation shows the true colours of the life of a seamstress.

However, theorists do argue against this common image. Within Famine and Fashion: Needlewomen in the Nineteenth Century it was argued that many texts 'ignored' (3) the benefits of being a seamstress. Women had many achievements from this profession such as what they sewed. Below are some of the items that I captured at the V&A of the great talent these seamstresses possessed:

Victorian and Albert Museum. Nineteenth Century Fashion
All these items, from the wedding veil, to the patterned shawl and head gear show great expertise and a skill you would need to have as a seamstress. Therefore, despite the negativity associated with this job, the skill it requires shows that the seamstresses had something to be proud of.

So it is clear there are a number of mixed views of a Victorian seamstress, and whether people preferred to paint their lives as glorious, like Charles Baugniet, a rose-tinted view can not be accepted as the only view, as the statistics do show the unhappy and deprived lives of a seamstress.

Word Count-1565

'Works Cited List
  • Gaskell Elizabeth, Mary Barton. London: Wordsworth Classics, 2012. Print

  • Harris Beth, Famine and Fashion: Needlewomen in the Nineteenth Century. England: Ashgate, 2006. Print.

  • Images of clothing captured from the Victorian and Albert Museum, South Kensington

  • Punch. Needle Money. 1849. Webpage. 23rd November 2013.

  • Sense and Sensibility. Victorian Fashion Cartoons. 1857. Webpage. 23rd November 2013. 

  • The Seamstress, 1858. Charles Baugniet. The Victorian and Albert Museum. Image.

  • The Second Children’s Employment Commission Part 2. 1842-1843. Webpage. 20th November 2013.

  • Women in World History And Curriculum. The Distressed Seamstress. 1996-2013. Webpage. 20th November 2013.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Mental Illness and 'Lunatic' Asylums

 Mental Illness and ‘Lunatic’ Asylums

During the mid-Victorian period there became an increasing awareness concerning the concept of mental illness. Inhumane, cruel treatments which were previously seen as the only way to cure 'lunacy' were being eradicated. It was in some ways, a time of enlightenment, where moral treatments became the way forward and traditional torturing methods began to disappear from institutions such as 'lunatic' asylums. A significant number of asylums were built during the 19th century to shelter the increasing number of people labelled ‘mad’ by society, therefore mental illness can be seen as an increasingly large part of Victorian culture.

Since the previously taboo concept of mental illness now began to dominate a large part of Victorian life, it is no wonder that many writers during this period felt drawn to creating characters suffering from some type of mental disturbance. For example in Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel Mary Barton (1848).

Mary Barton

What led me on to first thinking about the concept of mental illness was the character John Barton. In the second half of the novel, John starts exhibiting signs of severe mental distress. We, as today’s readers, can see that John is mentally ill. The cause of which being his guilt at becoming a murderer. Gaskell describes John’s evident lack of mental and physical energy as “retreat[ing] inwards…there to do battle against the Destroyer, Conscience” (354). Therefore she is implying that his mental equilibrium has collapsed because of how guilty he feels in consequence of committing such a dreadful crime. This powerful battle of emotion has overwhelmed John and left him defeated and in medical terms, depressed. Gaskell then proceeds to portray some general physical symptoms of depression, by stating that “He had answered her questions…by monosyllables, and…Mary heard [his] groans of agony” (356). The emphasis placed on John who was very visibly suffering from depression, which was caused indirectly from his being heartbreakingly poor, implies the prominence of mental illness during the 1800’s, when such a large proportion of the British population were suffering from poverty.
Mental Asylums

Asylum - “A benevolent institution affording shelter and support to some class of the afflicted, the unfortunate, or destitute; e.g. an asylum for the mentally ill (formerly ‘lunatic asylum’), to which the term is sometimes popularly restricted.” (OED)

This definition is of an extremely ironic nature when considering the fact that the asylums I am about to discuss were in no way “benevolent” for the majority of the 1800’s. That is unless you count being restrained by leather and metal manacles and beaten if you didn’t comply with the asylum wardens’ orders, benevolent actions.

                                                                         Heritage, J. Broadmoor Asylum
On channel 5 a couple of months ago, I watched a documentary called Inside Broadmoor which delved into the history of the famous mental asylum and looked at how the inmates came to be placed in such a terrible place. One particularly striking case was that of the Oaks family, where the husband and wife “poisoned their son and tried to commit suicide” (Inside Broadmoor) so were court ordered to reside the rest of their lives in Broadmoor mental asylum. However, the reason that “they were not hanged for these crimes” (Inside Broadmoor) was because insanity caused by the extreme social issue of poverty, was a recognised cause for insanity during the Victorian period.

The moment in this documentary when poverty is discussed in relation to insanity can be seen at 23:40.

Another prominent mental institution seen during the Victorian period was that of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, better known as Bedlam. Although this hospital has since been moved to its present location in Beckenham, the central building of the old Bedlam asylum now houses artefacts for the Imperial War Museum in London.  The Bethlem Royal Hospital was housed in this building from 1815 to 1930.

                               Bethlem Royal Hospital/ Bedlam.

Bedlam was, and still is, one of the most famous ‘lunatic asylums’ in Britain. It was one of the first public asylums to be created, because previously the mentally ill, if wealthy enough, were confined to private ‘madhouses’. Therefore the change from private to public confinement may be a representation of society’s changing views on insanity. Madness had not become an acceptable or tolerated form of behaviour, yet it was beginning to be better understood and classed as a legitimate illness.

                                                                                     Hudson, K. Photo of the Imperial War Museum/Bedlam

Treatments of insanity

Early 1800’s:

The Asylums, although being improved during the 19th Century, were still prison like in their regimes and treatments. Many patients were subjected to violence by the hands of the wardens, or more commonly were stopped committing harm to themselves or others, by being manacled or restrained in some way. These medieval techniques, which seem very brutal, were a large part of control in asylums, especially before the concept of ‘moral treatment’ was introduced.

Replica of an iron wrist restrainer, England, 1850-1920                                          Replica of a 19th-century restraint harness, England, 1930-1940                                                     
The two images here are just a couple of the many mechanical restraints designed for the purpose of subduing raving patients who were likely to cause physical harm. We have to remember though at this point there was no notion of anti-psychotic drugs to control patient’s symptoms; therefore from their perspective physical control was the best way of dealing with patients in the absence of a dependable treatment.
A personal case of physical restraint that lasted for an agonizingly long period and which caused major asylum reform was that of James Norris. This man’s unjust suffering in Bedlam, where he was chained up by himself for over ten years “was instrumental in the creation of the Mad House Act of 1828, which sought to license and regulate asylums for the insane, and to improve the treatment of the insane.” (Mathew, L.  James Norris – An insane American)
Mathew, L. James Norris - An insane American
Such improvements were:
  • Large, open recreation grounds
  • Moral Treatment (non-physical) instead of using mechanical restraints
  • Partitions removed that divided male and female patients
Late 1800’s/ Early 1900’s:
By the end of the 1800’s, asylums were becoming seriously overcrowded and less and less patients were being released back into the community. Old fashioned treatments such as straitjackets and solitary confinement were being reintroduced. This was a staggering step back in the progressive attitudes previously expressed by Victorians towards mental illness. Jan Marsh explains that asylums were
“Regarded at the time as progressive and humane [but] now seem almost as cruel as the earlier punitive regimes. By the end of the era therapeutic hopes of restoring patients to sanity were largely replaced by programmes of control, where best practice was judged by inmates' docility.” (V&A)
The British Medical Journal states that “The present building [of the Bethlem Royal Hospital] was erected over a century ago, when the idea was to provide an institution for the care and maintenance of insane persons. Now large grounds with facilities for recreation and occupation have come to be considered necessary for the treatment of mental disorders” (849). Therefore the change from a prison like institution, which did not permit freedom to any of the patients, to a larger facility which allows some form of enjoyment, suggests that views on mental illness had greatly changed during the 19th century. This is most probably due to the fact that with so many asylums being built; Doctors could observe and better understand mentally ill patients. Stigmas, which previously blinded society to the pain suffered by the mentally ill, were slowly being removed by the scientific evidence produced by such observations. Doctors realised that to improve mental health, you had to be physically healthy as well, therefore exercise and recreation was a necessary step in order to treat patients.
The Woman in White
A novel, whose entire plot centres around the theme of madness and asylums, is Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1859). This novel, which we will be studying next term, begins with a woman “dressed from head to foot in white garments” (15) escaping from an asylum in Hampshire. I do not want to spoil the mysterious twists which occur in this novel, but mental illness is a key theme which is constantly present.
On a visit to the Tate Britain I saw this amazing painting of The Woman in White. What I found particularly interesting was Walker’s presentation of the moment where Anne escapes from the mental asylum that she has so cruelly and unfairly been trapped in. The juxtaposition of the confinement of the asylum with freedom and nature, illustrated by the starry sky, emphasises the horrors patients in asylums were subjected to, particularly at the beginning of the Victorian period, when torturing equipment was used to subdue enlivened patients.
The narrator remarks that Laura whilst being in the asylum had been “under restraint…her sanity, from first to last, practically denied…Faculties less delicately balanced…must have suffered under such an ordeal as this. No man could have gone through it, and come out of it unchanged.”  (386) The fact that Collins states that “No man” (386) , who would have had less delicate sensibilities than a woman, could remain the same after being in an asylum, implies just how terrifying they truly were, especially if you were confined under false pretences. If you did not go in mad, you would certainly come out so.
                                                Walker, F. The Woman in White (1871) Tate Britain.
Bedlam and other asylums have left a great impression on today’s society. This can be seen particularly through the word bedlam itself which has become a figurative adjective that describes “A scene of mad confusion or uproar” (OED). Just as the Bethlem Royal Hospital itself has adapted and changed throughout the years, the word Bedlam has too.
Works Cited
·       Channel 5. “Inside Broadmoor”. Online video clip. Demand 5. Channel 5, 30 September 2013. Web. 20 November 2013.
·       Collins, W. The Woman in White. London: Marshall Cavendish Ltd, 1987.
·       Gaskell, E. Mary Barton. London: Penguin Group, 1848.
·       Heritage, J. Broadmoor Hospital Archives. Berkshire Family Historian, 24 June 2002. Web. 23 November 2013. <>
·       Hudson, K. “An American Monster Geek in London”. Blogspot. September 2011. Web. 23 November 2013. <>
·       Marsh, J. “Health & Medicine in the 19th Century”. Web. 20 November 2013. <>
·       Mathew, L. “James Norris – an insane American”. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford: Curator’s choice, 2008. Web. 23 November 2013. <>
·      Science Museum. “Mental Health and Illness”. Web. 22 November 2013. <>
·     The British Medical Journal. “Bethlem Royal Hospital”. The British Medical Journal. Vol.1 No 3461 (1927): 849.
·     Walker, F. The Woman in White. 1871. Tate Britain, London. Tate. Web. 20 November 2013.
  • Whittaker, R. Explore Bethlem: inside a nineteenth-century psychiatric hospital. Bethlem Royal Hospital, Archives & Museum. <>Web. 20 November 2013.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Victorian Art

Queen Victoria was a well know fan of Art and enthusiastic artist herself. During her reign Victoria produced and praised many pieces of art work. Victoria's personal work was very much kept secret throughout her time on the thrown. When pictures were leaked to a journalist it was the first time a monarch applied to the courts to stop the drawings being published in the newspapers. The sketches are simple and intimate, allowing the observer to see how the Queen herself viewed her own family and allowed for a taste of life inside the palace walls. 
Tender moments: Queen Victoria's eldest daughter, Princess Royal Victoria, is seen as a baby crawling along with a ball of wool in another intimate drawing
Insight: One of the sketches by Queen Victoria shows one of her daughters being bathed while another of her children looks on

Its is clear by the nature of these images (children as bath time and playing) that these sketches were for Victoria's own eyes, and not for public viewing. 6 of the 62 Images drawn by Queen Victoria (including those above) where released in 2012 for public viewing. Over 150 years after Queen Victoria put an injunction on the publication of the sketches! 
Queen Victoria therefore had a big influence on art, not only directly in the opening of the Victoria and Albert museum; both royals having a large interest in Art. But also indirectly in the way she ran her country during her reign.

During the Victorian period there where several movements in Art and Art culture, I have focused on some of the main or most interesting ones. Art, of course, is a totally personal creation to the artist whether it is realistic or imagined it is completely personal, and each individual has there own take on each movement and their own portrayal of it. 

As Queen Victoria's empire grew throughout her time on the thrown, more and more Export/Import links where made with other countries. Imported fabrics and goods lead to a more colourful Britain. This meant fashion and the depiction of fashion changed, in turn art changed with it. More vibrant colours were used as people wore them. After an increase in scientific knowledge, people began to feel more positive in the faith in society, this lead to an artistic movement in the late 19th century to Realism. This meant paintings became more objective, realistic and ordinary.  For the upper class fashion became more colourful and easily accessible naturally portraits became colourful in the same way where artists wanted to mirror the elegance and wealth of there subject through these times. Many paintings where of bold upper class events, creating energy and excitement in the picture.

In the same time the idea of childhood and young innocence was beginning to emerge, the idea of childhood as a time to play and learn rather than to work was becoming more common. Therefore it was seen as something magical for an artist to be able to capture this within a painting. For example below Charles Edward Wilson shows a child blowing bubbles completely absorbed by the bubbles. Shows how simplistic and innocent children are, the painting is light and not imposing. 
In contrast there was also a massive improvement in technology, leading to the expansion of factories and cities around them. The urbanization of England lead to disease and death as more people began moving away from the country into the city into cramped small homes, often with large families living within them. Often described as a time of mourning, shown to be unpleasant for lower classes literature such as Mary Barton show this side to Victorian Britain with it being set in squalled Manchester. Artists also therefore began creating very dark pictures using little colour other than black, showing dark scenes of poor homes. An artist painting a scene of death and sickness can be used as a public display of their grief, encouraging the observer to empathize with this feeling. Many created images of death beds, idealizing their own concept of death. Often on the death bed would be good people, or people an observer can sympathize with. Using these ultimate/important life events means the images are more powerful. This also links with the production of the Gothic Novel, which has some some sort of dark/obscure happenings as characteristics. 
In a similar way to Queen Victoria's sketches allowing the observer into her life inside the palace. These paintings allowed the observer to sympathize with the characters in the painting. This also follows the idea of realism with a much darker tone often the subject is a young, pretty female creating a protective response in the observer, causing a more emotive response to the image. 

Whilst the cities are growing bigger and people move to them, a nostalgia for the countryside is created. A fascination with all things country occurs. Artists produced many paintings of countryside scenes, in a realistic style and true to the scene. However it was not true to the time as many of them would have been in the city already. These images gave an idea to the observer of the Artists life/upbringing, by the scene and objects painted. For those lower class people who lived in the country side it was there common view thus making it a popular topic for that of the lower class. The people shown in the pictures where often of lower class with typical clothing and stances with appropriate colours to suit. Allowing the observer to remember the times of working the fields and farms, and appreciate or not the changes that have occurred in Britain.