Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Victorian Selfie

                                                                   The Victorian Selfie

In today's world everything is documented through the use of photographs, and it's crazy to think that once upon a time say back in the Victorian period the art of photography was just being discovered. There were no cellphones or digital cameras where with the click of a button a moment could be captured and saved forever. However, even though the act of taking a photograph wasn’t as efficient as it is today the fascination with capturing moments in time was just as big of an obsession as it is now. Back then everyone was just as obsessed with having his or her picture taken the only difference was the label. Instead of it being called a selfie it’s called a portrait. 

The Victorian era was the time period where photography went through many developments, and with photography being so new there were many who tried to perfect the photographic system, which is why in the Victorian period there were several processes used to take photographs, and each process led to a different end result. There were many, who contributed to the enhancement of photography, but overall there were three main methods used in the Victorian era, and they were the Daguerreotype, the cyanotype, and the wet collodion process. It all started in 1839, with Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre who was the creator of the Daguerreotype. This process required a sensitized copper plate that had to be coated with a thin layer of silver. The plate would then be exposed to light through the camera, which would result in the print of a permanent image. However, this process was very slow and required a lot of patience because the subject of each photo was required to remain motionless for twenty minutes. Eventually this process was improved and it only required a two-minute exposure time, which was much better for human subjects. Then in 1842, John Herschel (who was the first person to ever print an image on glass in 1839) developed a new process called cyanotype, and what makes this process different is its one of the only processes that does not use silver. Instead this process uses ferric salts, which gives the end result a blue-image print. This process never became very popular for portraits, but it became the foundation for the blueprint copying industry. 
The next photographic advancement was the wet-collodion process, which was created by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. The wet-collodion process is very similar to a darkroom process except the photo needs to be developed right away, which is why this was considered “the making on location photography” process because photographers who used this method would have portable darkrooms. This method was different because the photo was actually printed on a glass plate. The plate would have to be coated in this special collodion mixture that prior to being used would have to be left to age for about a week. Then once the solution is ready the glass plate would need to be covered with the mixture, and then placed in a bath of silver nitrate for about three to five minutes. Once the plate is done bathing in the silver nitrate it would be placed into the camera and exposed to the light for however long the photographer decides (could be a few seconds maybe a minute). Once the exposure is done the plate needs to immediately be processed in a dark room otherwise the chemicals will dry and the photo will be destroyed. After the plate is removed it goes through the process of first being bathed in developer (a chemical mixture that causes the image to appear). Then the plate is bathed in water to stop the development of the photo, and last it is placed in a bath of fixer, which is a chemical mixture that makes the image permanent. After the fixer you rewash the plate with water to get rid of all the fixer solution because it can be harmful. As you can see the wet-collodion process is a long process that requires a lot of patience, but most photography processes in the Victorian era all require a lot of patience. 
There were many famous photographers in the Victorian period but one name that most people know is Lewis Carroll because he is not only a photographer but a writer as well. Lewis Carroll did a lot of great things with his career in photography he took pictures that really showed the essence of little girls in the Victorian era. Many believed him to have more than an interest in little girls, but with that put aside he truly was a great photographer and writer. His photographs really showed how girls were expected to be and act like women at such a young age. However, besides Lewis Carroll being a photographer he was also a writer, and he wrote a beautiful poem called Hiawatha’s Photographing. Hiawatha’s Photographing is a story about a photographer named Hiawatha who lives in the 19th century and takes photos of a family who can never remain still enough to actually take any photos. This poem describes the struggles of all photographers in the Victorian period because most methods require the subject to remain still for about 2 minutes and who can easily remain still for even just a minute. Photographers in the 19th century have the most patience because they have to deal with all kinds of subjects who can’t or won’t remain still for the photograph. A quote from the poem that describes the struggles of a photographer is here: 

This he perched upon a tripod, 
Crouched beneath its dusky cover 
Stretched his hand, enforcing silence 
Said "Be motionless, I beg you!"
                         Mystic, awful was the process.
This stanza from the poem describes how the photographer would be set up to take a photograph, and how not only is the subject in an uncomfortable position but the photographer is too. The photographer must remain in a crouched position under a tarp and observe as the exposure takes place. Through this poem anyone can get a real feel for what it means to be a photographer in the 19th century.
Besides all the new methods being created for photography another interesting thing that was happening was that women were taking up photography as a career. In the 19th century women were usually just housewives; their job was to take care of their family and the household, but with photography women began to do more. Some women even became very well known as a photographer such as Julia Margaret Cameron who didn’t start her career in photography till late in her life, but still was very influential with her photos. Julia took up photography when she was forty-eight years old because her daughter gave her a camera as a gift. Julia was a classic Victorian wife who was devoted to her six children and her husband, but at the age of forty-eight she had the freedom to seek out her own pleasures because all her children were married and all grown up. Julia is a great example of the strength and elegant character of women back in the 19th century because she only started taking photos as a hobby, but she made it her mission to learn everything about photography. She wanted to be a professional photographer, but not a famous one. Julia ended up becoming very famous because her photos of high class (celebs) became well known. Julia took portraits of many famous people and her and Lewis Carroll even took photos of some of the same people (Alice Liddell). Portraits are the equivalent to a selfie in today’s world, which makes Julia a professional selfie taker. Portraits were all the rage in the 19th century, and in some works of literature photographs began to be mentioned and used. For example, in Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy there is a part when Jude finds a portrait of himself and it is the first time he has ever seen a photograph of himself. This photo stirs up a lot of emotions in Jude, which just goes to show you what a big impact photographs have on people back then still exist today. The power of one photograph is endless. 

When thinking about the art of photography in the perspective of the Victorian era you can kind of get a feel for what people were like back in the 19th century. For example, no matter what method of photography you use from the 19th century all of them are time consuming. Each method shows how Victorians were patient, and strong, whereas, in today’s world everyone is the complete opposite. Everyone is always in a rush and no one has the patience of a Victorian. The Victorian period was the beginning for photography and it was a very important discovery. It led to many famous pictures and moments being captured. Through photographers like Lewis Carroll and Julia Margaret Cameron the lifestyle and characteristics of the Victorian era were captured in photographs. 

Work Cited:
  1. 1. Howell-Koehler, Nancy. "Chapter 1: Introduction." Photo Art Processes. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications, 1980. 7-14. Print.
  2. 2. Howell-Koehler, Nancy. Photo Art Processes. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications, 1980. Print.
  3. 3. Smith, Lindsay. "Chapter 2: This Old House: Julia Margaret Cameron and Lady Clementina Hawarden." The Politics of Focus: Women, Children, and Nineteenth-century Photography. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1998. 35-51. Print.
  4. 4. Smith, Lindsay. "Chapter 5: Take Back Your Mink: Lewis Carroll, Child Masquerade and the Age of Consent." The Politics of Focus: Women, Children, and Nineteenth-century Photography. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1998. 95-110. Print.
  5. 5. Video showing the wet-collodion process:
  6. 6.

Child Labour in the Victorian Period

Child labour in the Victorian ages was extremely common and it was not until the late 19th Century that laws started to arise regarding child labour and exploitation.
Under-age children working was, and has been, very common throughout history. Many poor couples had many children so that they could have their offspring help out on farms or look after other siblings. This fact did not change but the jobs young children carried did.

When did children start working?

Children started working at different ages, depending on what work they were to carry out but the average age of child workers was 10 years for boys and 11 ½ for girls.
There was not a massive gender distinction between girls and boys working, but it was common that it was predominantly young boys who were doing jobs that required more physical strength (working in coal mines, pulling carts, chimney sweeping) and girls would be more likely to be seen as domestic servants, working in textile factories, helping around the home and selling on the streets.

What were the wages in the Victorian Age?

As previously mentioned, there was not a clear distinction in jobs but there was in salary. Both girls and boys were severely underpaid and exploited.
The principle behind the idea of having children working was that they were more efficient and the employers could pay them less than the average male. In the 1850s the average worker (male) would have earned around fifteen shillings a week, which roughly equates to 75 modern day pence.
Children on the other hand would earn less, 5 shillings per week, or maybe even less.

What jobs did the Victorian children carry out?

The children in this period carried out several jobs depending on where they were carried out. It could be distinguished between rural and urban work.

Rural work at the beginning of the century was the most common, given that this is the work children have been carrying out throughout history.
In rural areas, children would be hired to do jobs such as helping with farm animals and their care; milking, cleaning stables and feeding would fall into this categories. Collecting water from the wells, sowing and collecting crops and scaring birds from the fields would also be examples of child labour. The latter is present in the novel Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.

“The boy stood under the rick before mentioned, and every few seconds used his clacker or rattle briskly. At each clack the rooks left off pecking, and rose and went away on their leisurely wings, burnished like tassets of mail, afterwards wheeling back and regarding him warily, and descending to feed at a more respectful distance.
He sounded the clacker till his arm ached[...]”
( Hardy,1998,Pg14)

Work in the cities and urban areas was less common at the beginning of the century but gained greater importance in the Victorian era due to the boom of the Industrial Revolution, thus creating new jobs. Children who came from rural areas were sometimes sent to cities in order to work for many reasons, the main being a high demand for child labour. Another of the factors that made urban work predominant during the Victorian era is the fact that the work in the cities was usually year round, and not dependent on seasonal fluctuations.

The children in this period carried out several jobs. The jobs with the highest demands for children were working in coal mines and factory work.
Coal mines were extremely important given that the main source of energy was from the combustion of coal. The invention of the steam engine also relied heavily on coal. This engine was extremely revolutionary though not very sustainable; a lot of coal was needed in order to heat the water to boiling point and to make the engine run for a long period. This meant that more coal had to be extracted from the mines, therefore creating more work.
Children that worked in mines had to have similar characteristics. They were required to be thin, agile and, although normally malnourished, strong. Their work usually consisted in being hauled down into narrow areas where adults couldn't normally fit and extract coal. Another of their duties was to crawl through extremely narrow tunnels carrying carts loaded with coal.

Children that worked in coal mines usually suffered from lung and chest problems due to being in the mines without any kind of masks or protection. Therefore the coal dust and many other toxic gases that were present would be inhaled by these children during their average 12-hour shift.
Other children also suffered from long term deformations due to the narrow tunnels in which they would have to crawl or stay bent over for extended periods of time.

Factory work was another of the jobs with the highest demand for children.
Children would also be required to be thin, agile and on occasions have nimble fingers. The tasks that they were to engage in were numerous. The thinner children were required to crawl under working machines and engines in order to fix loose parts or collect scraps that could cause problems to the
machinery. This job was also very dangerous given that the engines would be working for long periods of time causing them to heat up. Children were at risk of being burnt or losing extremities when crawling in and under the still working machines.
Children with nimble fingers, usually young girls, were hired to be a “piecer” - a child who worked in a mill joining pieces of thread together. (BBC,Victorian Britain Glossary)

Apart from factory work and coal mines there were many other professions that children had.

Chimney sweeping is a very well known Victorian profession. This job was predominantly a male

job. The children were to be fit and thin in order to be able to climb in and out of chimneys. A novel that talks about this type of child labour is The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom. That is a short name, and you have heard it before, so you will not have much trouble in remembering it. He lived in a great town in the North country, where there were plenty of chimneys to sweep, and plenty of money for Tom to earn and his master to spend.”
( Kingsley, Gutenberg)

Children in this profession usually also had respiratory problems due to the inhalation of soot and dust from the chimneys but it was also common for these children to have various injuries on their elbows and knees from climbing up and down chimneys.

He cried when he had to climb the dark flues, rubbing his poor knees and elbows raw; and when the soot got into his eyes, which it did every day in the week; and when his master beat him,[...]”
(Kingsley, Gutenberg)

All the above are examples of different jobs that Victorian age children did but they are not the only ones. Girls were usually also employed as domestic servants, for example young Moll Flanders (Daniel Defoe). Young girls were also used as sellers on streets. Boys on the other hand were often errand boys or footmen helping with horse and carriages, for example.

There were many professions that children in the Victorian age would take up but not all were legal. All of the previously mentioned jobs were permitted by law but many children and often orphans were made to work in illegal professions such as prostitution and pickpocketing, which were rife. A novel which reflects the idea of the pickpocketer is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. The problem with these illegal profession was that children were prosecuted in the same way as adults, many were sent to prison and hanged.

As can be seen, being a working class child in the Victorian Age was not an easy lot. Few children had time to play and just enjoy being young. Many of the tasks that they were told to do were dangerous with little to no safety precautions for scarce pay. The children were also on occasions beaten by their employers when they made a mistake or did not produce enough. Even when parents knew this could do little to help given that they needed the money.
Thanks to the many laws to stop child abuse and child labour, children in our modern day society have things differently and we should all be grateful for this change. Even though unfortunately child labour as a whole has not been abolished.

BBC - Primary History - Victorian Britain - Glossary.BBC - Primary History - Victorian Britain - Glossary. [ONLINE] Available at:

Hardy, T, 1998.Jude the Obscure. 3rd ed. London: Penguin Classics.

Kingsley,The Water-Babies.The Water-Babies. [ONLINE] Available at:

Images ( in order )
Child labour in eighteenth century London - The Historical Association. 2015.(A)Child labour in eighteenth century London - The Historical Association. [ONLINE] Available at: 

childhood at the Industrial Revolution: Child Labour. 2015.childhood at the Industrial Revolution: Child Labour. [ONLINE] Available at:

Victorian Child Labor and the Conditions They Worked In.Victorian Child Labor and the Conditions They Worked In. [ONLINE] Available at:

Take me away!” Trial and Transportation: real and imagined.Take me away!” Trial and Transportation: real and imagined. [ONLINE] Available at:

BBC - Primary History - Victorian Britain - Children in factories. 2015.BBC - Primary History - Victorian Britain - Children in factories. [ONLINE] Available at:

Child labour - The British Library. 2015.Child labour - The British Library. [ONLINE] Available at:

Juvenile crime in the 19th century - The British Library. 2015.Juvenile crime in the 19th century - The British Library. [ONLINE] Available at:

Victorian children in trouble with the law - The National Archives. 2015.Victorian children in trouble with the law - The National Archives. [ONLINE] Available at:

Victorian Child Labor and the Conditions They Worked In. 2015.Victorian Child Labor and the Conditions They Worked In. [ONLINE] Available at:

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Underground in the Victorian period

The underground first opened in 1863 and operated between Paddington and Farringdon Street. In order to solve transport problems such as traffic and congestion in London, the underground railway system was introduced. London needed a solution to link the main railroad stations to the city’s centre, in order to allow people to move further out into the city and to reduce slums. The first steam railway was running in 1825. 25 years later, Kings Cross, one of London’s largest stations, was a depot for steam trains arriving in London. London in the 1850’s was one of the world’s largest cities. It was a very crowded and busy city, which was massively growing into an industrial city. Houses were built in a medieval style which meant people lived very close to each other. Many Victorian writers disliked the idea of the underground system and saw it as being destructive and deadly for the people travelling on it. I will discuss how the underground system was perceived in the Victorian period and how writers portrayed it in the novels News from Nowhere by William Morris and The Time Machine and The War of The Worlds by H.G. Wells. As a user of public transport myself, I will also share my thoughts on the tube, and the ways in which it has developed since the 19th century.

Bayswater Station 1866

2013: Today there are cashpoints, telephone boxes and buskers outside Bayswater Tube Station in London
Bayswater Station 2013

Towards the end of the first chapter of The War of The Worlds, Wells provides the reader with a description of the railways:

“From the railway station in the distance came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling…My wife pointed out to me the brightness of the red, green, and yellow signal lights…It seemed so safe and tranquil.” (73)

According to the OED, the phrase ‘shunting’ meant “ moving a train into a siding, or on to another line of rails.” This implies that the train station created a lot of noise and that the trains moved roughly and swiftly. The word ‘shunting’ is also repeated in chapter eight, as Wells writes “In Woking junction, until a late hour, trains were stopping and going on, others were shunting on the sidings” (89). This emphasises the narrators’ memory of the underground system, and its noisiness. The chapter then ends with “It seemed so safe and tranquil” (73) which is ironic, as later on the reader finds out nothing and no one is safe, as the Martians have come to invade the earth. Wells is very descriptive in The War of The Worlds and many train stations are mentioned throughout the text, specifically in and around London. The narrator then talks about the people at the station. He says that there were “Excited men came into the station about nine o’clock…and caused no more disturbance than drunkards might have done” (89) this emphasises the loud, chaotic surrounding of the underground, informing readers that the underground system was disliked by many, including the narrator himself. Although the narrator explains that these men were excited, he compares them to drunkards, emphasising the annoyance and inconvenience. 

Another Victorian novelist who portrays his hatred of the underground is William Morris. In his novel News from Nowhere he exemplifies how the trains were forced upon the people of the 1800’s as he writes:

 “Took his way home by himself to a western suburb, using the means of travelling which civilisation has forced upon us like a habit.  As he sat in that vapour-bath of hurried and discontented humanity, a carriage of the underground railway, he, like others, stewed discontentedly, while in self-reproachful mood he turned over the many excellent and conclusive arguments which, though they lay at his fingers’ ends, he had forgotten in the just past discussion.” (2)

Morris creates an image of a stuffy train, full of unhappy people who are experiencing a time when railways have just newly been built. He also emphasises the fast-moving, industrialised society, which was once just a rural landscape, and that the people have just accepted the construction of the railways and the advances of technology. However, without the construction of these railways, the problem of congestion and overcrowding would have sustained, and as London’s population continued to grow, problems would have increased and gotten worse. It can also be interpreted that the “discontented humanity” is present even today, as there is hardly any interaction with others when travelling on the tube as due to the rise of mobile phones and modern day technology, people are constantly peering onto their smart phones, and neglecting verbal communication with others.  

The stuffy, airless imagery is juxtaposed with the pleasing, lovely and refreshing air “It was a beautiful night of early winter, the air just sharp enough to be refreshing after the hot room and the stinking railway carriage.” (2). Here Morris compares the beauty of the weather with the smell of the carriage, but also how the pure, freshness of nature differentiates from the urbanisation and industrialisation. It also shows that when stepping out of the carriage, you are out into a different world and that the air relieves you from the foul smells of the train. In Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Gaiman also describes the underground as a new world, “They crossed an iron bridge in the darkness, while Underground trains echoed by beneath them. Then they entered what seemed like an endless network of underground vaults that smelled of damp and decay, of brick and stone and time.” (100) this idea of a strange new place, and the association with a whole new world, is recurrent even in 20th century novels such as this.

Dickens was also one of many Victorian writers who disliked the underground system. In Dombey and Son, Dickens uses his classic technique of listing, which was usually written to emphasise his displeasure on something.

 “There were railway patterns in its drapers' shops, and railway journals in the windows of its newsmen. There were railway hotels, office-houses, lodging-houses, boarding-houses; railway plans, maps, views, wrappers, bottles, sandwich-boxes, and time-tables; railway hackney-coach and stands; railway omnibuses, railway streets and buildings, railway hangers-on and parasites, and flatterers out of all calculation. There was even railway time observed in clocks, as if the sun itself had given in.”  (Chapter 15)

This is also similar to how the tubes are even today…we all know that feeling of the rush hour! But as technology progresses as the years pass, our travelling underground experiences are improving. We now have advertisements on the underground, which give people something to look at, rather than just a dark, gloomy black tunnel wall. The advertisements also monopolize space, and add to the marketing world as most of London is dominated by finance. People nowadays can also use Wi-Fi underground at some stations, which is really convenient for tube goers as they are able to access the internet and communicate with others without having to worry about getting no network connection. However, as much as the technological world has developed, prices are also increasing and tube fares go up every year, which shows London as a financial district and a consequence for regular underground travellers.


Morris, William. News From Nowhere. London:  Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908. Web. Project Gutenberg. 22nd March 2015 <>

Wells, H.G. The Time Machine and The War of The Worlds. USA: Starling and Black Publications, 2013. Print

Dickens, Charles. Dombey and Son. London: 2014. Web. Project Gutenberg. 22nd March 2015


The introduction of the railway to 
Victorian London

During the reign of Queen Victoria, the population of London grew rapidly which prompted the introduction of the railway to the city. During the 1830's – 40's England underwent what is known as the railway boom. The first intercity line to be built was the London and Birmingham railway (L&BR) opening in 1838. Initially for trade, the railway became a part of London life and by the 1870's nearly all journeys made in and out of London were done by rail. The introduction of the railway to London changed it dramatically. The railway provided a solution to the congestion and overpopulation in the centre of the city; trains transported people in and out of the city. The railways also provided new opportunities for travel and commerce and connected Londoners to the 'world beyond'.  

The development of the railway was a catalyst in the development of the suburbs. At first there “were few daily travellers from the suburbs [but] by the mid-1850's 27,000 people were commuting into London by train each day” (LTM collection). Image one is a poster showing the most popular suburban areas and the train times into the city centre.  Housing estates were built near the new railway stations creating a division of business and residential property. By the 20th century train companies were offering special rates to make the journey in and out of London (see image 3) encouraging the suburban lifestyle. The outer districts served by the railway became known, in 1915, as Metro-Land and was popular for being close to the countryside but within easy commuting distance of central London (LTM collection). Image two is a 1933 poster used to advertise the property available in the area. Due to low-interest mortgages and small-deposit housing in the early 20th century saw change. For the first time people were able to buy their homes as opposed to renting. 

Image 2: Photograph of 'Homes in Metro-Land' poster advertising houses for sale and train services to the suburbs. Areas include Pinner, Kenton, Kingsbury, Watford and Amersham.

Image 3: Cheap Day Return to Town, by F Gregory Brown, 1932

Image 4: Approach of L&BR to Camden Town (Davies Map of London, 1841)

The railway had a dramatic impact on the life of Londoners and subsequently on the literature produced in the period. Charles Dickens channels the atmosphere of London during the railway boom. His novel Dombey and Son provides readers with a third person narrative in and around London in the years of its progression. The novel is consumed with the railway, beginning in the early stages of its development and ending once the railway had become a party of everyday life.                                                               
The railway being built in Dickens' novel is thought to be the London to Birmingham (L&BR) link shown in Image 4. Dickens relates the construction of the railway in Camden Town to the “shock of a great earthquake” and he describes the chaotic atmosphere of the neighbourhood as the land around them was destroyed and transformed. He notes “there were a hundred thousand shapes and substances of incompleteness” and “everywhere were bridges that led nowhere” reflecting the uncertainty of the railway. For London the railway embodied modernity and therefore the community was progressing into essentially the unknown. Dickens describes how the railway “wholly changed the law and custom of the neighbourhood.” (Ch.6) This early depiction of the railway is unsettling and chaotic. Later in the novel after six years have passed, Dickens describes the same area of London in its new transformed state. He reflects “There was no such place as Staggs's Gardens. It had vanished from the earth. Where the old rotten summer-houses once had stood, palaces now reared their heads, and granite columns of gigantic girth opened a vista to the railway world beyond.” (Ch. 15) This highlights the physical and economic progression the railway brought to London but also its destructive nature. London was now better connected to the “world beyond” but it had sacrificed Stagg's Gardens in order to become so. Dickens connects the two chapters such his later description of “Bridges that had led to nothing, led to villas, gardens, churches, healthy public walks” capturing the same scene before and after the railway. Dickens also highlights London’s growing dependency on the railway.  He describes “there was even railway time observed in clocks, as if the sun itself had given in." His narrative embodies modernity and the way nature was replaced by industrialisation which echoes the transformation Victorian England underwent. 

Works Cited:

Dickens, Charles. Dombey and Son. Project Gutenberg online text. Feb 1997. Updated July 2014.

Victorian Food advertisement

Victorian product posters were not only gender biased but also class orientated. Class was a major factor in food advertisements as food posters were clearly separated into the upper, middle and working classes.

Genders are stereotyped through these advertisements, with men used especially for coffee campaigns. Men are always working hard and so need something to keep themselves awake and alert. Yet women are ironically placed as the faces of caffeinated drinks such a coca cola. These images are also of men in uniforms, portraying them as the complete embodiment of hard work. They are not only the head of the household, but also the face of a nation. Whilst the upper-class females are illustrated as idle, static housewives, the men are out fighting for their country. Food advertisement is therefore not only used to find the products target audience, but to remind the audience of the power and nobility of men.

Interestingly, what I observed from my trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum was their display of food posters was predominantly of males. Having only one poster with a female as the face of food products. The woman was the face of a branded soup, whilst the men of various goods such as Coleman’s mustard and coffee. The use of men in uniform, especially soldiers is an ingenious advertising strategy; women see the posters and believe that these are the foods men not only wanted but also needed to survive. However, men are also the ‘bread-makers’ and so are literally representing themselves, they put the food on the table and so are the face of food.

Isabella Beeton’s first recipe after her ‘introduction to cooking’ in Mrs Beeton’s book of Household Management is ‘General directions for making soup’. Perhaps Beeton is making a statement due to the blatantly feminine soup adverts. However, I believe that these adverts are so cleverly gendered that women feel the need to adopt the attitudes the posters portray. As Beeton herself was not a middle or upper class woman, she especially would fall into the category of  women trying to obtain the social dominance of the upper class. Beeton recognises the class difference in her book, stating; ‘middle class identity was absolutely dependant on the ability to draw a firm line between themselves and the working classes’ (xxvii, introduction). Classes are clearly defined not only by their actions and companions, but their food. To make such a large statement in a book predominantly focused on cooking suggests the important connection between food and class.

Household management was overtly a woman’s job. Mrs Isabella Beeton herself became an advertising aspect; her book Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management is completely constructed and implies that she is someone of a different class. This highlights the importance of advertisement. Women want to be the ladies in the branded posters and Mrs Beeton gives them these opportunities. The Victorian era was a time in which ‘performance’ was key. Women were expected to act a certain way. Their lives revolved around acting like the perfect housewife. Being static and calm, whilst running the house.

The importance of a woman’s knowledge of household management is clear in English Homes and Housekeeping 1700-1960; ‘often, she knew little or nothing about the running of the home of which she was head and servants sometimes took advantage of their mistress’s ignorance’ (Page 34). Barbara Megson observes the prominence women have over their home; a woman must be aware and dominant of her household. Megson uses Beeton’s images and diagrams on page 41 and in the acknowledgements, highlighting Mrs Beeton as an advertisement for the perfect home.

Women as the 'essential'

The images of women changed between class and country. The flour advertisement suggests the fun and companionship with cooking. Reinforcing Beeton’s idea that ‘the choice of acquaintances is very important’ (page 9) and ‘friendships should not be hastily formed’ (page 9). These are three women who have formed a companionship through their cookery; they do not necessarily cook the food, as some adverts would have you believe. They merely enjoy themselves. Middle class women are the faces of well-known products such as flour and soup, the everyday essentials. Women therefore are being portrayed as an essential part to life, they may not be the bread makers, but they definitely create the home. The image explains ‘is the best. This flour always on top’, the women have almost been illustrated as a cake, but it also connotes that a woman in control of her cooking is a woman on top of her house.

Middle and upper class women became the poster girls for American brands such as Coca Cola, Dr. Pepper etc. This is deliberate as the upper class could afford to buy into brand names. Using slogans such as ‘the ideal brain tonic’ reinforces the idleness of the buyer. Food imagery of the Victorian period uses class to ingeniously focus their brands onto the correct buyer. The female models of brands are always seen to be relaxed, static women, the ideal housewife. The image ironically uses ‘king of beverages’ when using a woman to advertise their products. Gender is clearly a huge part to Victorian food advertisement. The posters place genders into their patriarchal roles. Men represent work, through their wearing of uniforms and embodying coffee, whilst women are the face of household essentials. Therefore, reinforcing Isabella Beeton’s ideas on household management, and her immense focus on cooking outlines the importance of food not only to their homes but also to their class.


  •     Beeton, Isabella. The Book of Household Management. Unite States, New York; Oxford University Press Inc. 200. Print.
  •       Megson, Barbara. English Homes and Housekeeping 1700-1960, The History and How to Study it. London; Routledge and Kegan Paul Limited. 1968. Print.