The Class System – living conditions and home decor

The poor, or lower class, were often unskilled men without a regular trade (Reader, 1964). Parts of both the lower and the middle class were also known as the working class and usually did factory work. It meant secure employment and housing. On the other hand it meant long hours, a very low income and overcrowded living conditions. These living conditions were not the fault of the Victorians [people of the Victorian period], the worst of these conditions they inherited from the previous generations. This shamed them and the Victorians did their best to put it right, but they were tackling a new situation and they did not have the experience yet to guide them (Reader, 1964) . Victorians went to (re)build their towns and cities in order to improve their living conditions. There was a general acceptance that poor housing was undesired, not just by the those who had to live in them. As abominable housing was at the root of much of the misery of the poor, ‘solid working-class comfort could not exist without housing which, by the standards of the time, was good or at least tolerable’ (Reader, 1964), and the general public was in pursuit of more comfort and wealth. Yet there were still too many areas where workers lived poorly, which were sometimes referred to as slums (Reader, 1964). The Victorians did not build slums, they did, however, destroy slums; many of the dreadful courts and alleys in the inner areas disappeared as a result of street improvements and with the help of improved railway building there was more money and more options for people moving house to the cities (Seaman, 1973).
There was a lot of improvement in Victorian England housing, but this did not create equality between different social classes. The changes in social classes at the end of the Victorian period might have created the unwelcome impression that the difference between the better-off members of the so called working class and the less comfortable people among the middle class was not quite as great as it has always been fashionable to pretend (Seaman, 1973). This means that social classes were still very much alive for those of the middle class and upper class. Still, with the increase in work opportunities and the improvement of living conditions, more working class people than ever before were able to live in something like comfort, and their number was increasing (Reader, 1964). Even though houses were built conform the mere necessities for the lower and middle classes, the ideal was that of the home as a cozy, comfortable and harmonious retreat within which the harsh realities of a competitive and sinful metropolitan world could be totally forgotten (Seaman, 1973). This ideal was reached by the upper class, who lived in completely different circumstances from the lower and middle classes.
Development of etiquette and decorations
As the century progressed and more and more people entered into middle class society, the living conditions and styles changed too, and not just inside the house. Another innovation in late Victorian times, next to the changes in the city railway, construction and education, which brought a change in the character of the home life of the many who now travelled in from the suburbs for work or pleasure was the increased use of caf��s and restaurants (Seaman, 1973).
The decorations of houses became more and more fashionable and art became a popular decor in family houses. As a larger proportion of the population could afford to spend money upon their homes, there was a change in taste and by the 1850s domestic interiors became excessively cluttered with bric-a-brac of all sorts, with a particular tendency towards the end of the reign for oriental embellishments: brass tables, Japanese fans, Indian rugs and carpets and the aspidistra became fashionable (Seaman, 1973) and the padded sofas, plush armchairs, embroidered boxes and baskets and footstools, stuffed birds and potted plants, could all nevertheless testify to the lavish and loving care which the home inspired in the Victorians (Seaman, 1973).
Style and taste was shown not only in houses but also in manners. One of the most important things to know in the Victorian era was good etiquette (Freeman, 1997). There were different rules for behavior for both women and for men and this was very dependent on the situation you were in, the company you were in and the place you were at. There was also a very specific title for every kind of profession, for every social standing and for every rank.
The art in the household changed as well. In the late Victorian period showing art was a way to define yourself. The art someone displayed in their home was meant to portray themselves and to show people what they really were or were not. People in artistic circles were judged by the art they put on display during dinners and parties.

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