The 1890’s was in time for transformation for the English society.
After Queen Victoria died the heart of the Victorian culture seemed to
fade. England was beginning to experience economic competition from
other states and a gradual decline from its former pinnacle of power.
Politically, the Parliament experienced some fundamental power shifts
after the turn of the century. This essay will address the climate of
change in the English culture and its expressions. The changes occurred
in two separate and distinct time periods. These time periods are the
turn of the century from 1890’s to World War II. The second period is
WWII to 1970’s.
The new century brought about an end to the old and stuffy
Victorian life-styles. The social stigmas of women and their behavior
was challenged and change by the rise of feminism in 1910. Women began
to protest against the system for women ‘s suffrage. One instance these
“violent women” ran around in the city smashing store windows to get
notoriety for their cause. Books such as the Odd Women, featured a
fictional representation of “professional women”. They were classified
in two categories, both an attack on the social institution of
marriage. The first of these new women were out only for fun. The
second was the concept of an asexual being who did not need a man.
These women owned their own flats and had various jobs usually
secretarial in nature.. The book expressed an uncomfortable period of
transformation. Working women were not completely accepted by English
society at this time. The book portrayed different lives and how they
coped with their situations.1
The male character was also in a state of change. This change
brought about the term “new men”. These new men were classified by a
“sexual anarchy”. This movement was predominantly a middle class,
liberal expression. Many were young male artisans who were homosexual .
The word homosexuality was created by an amendment to criminal law
which had declared all acts of sodomy as illegal. Previous to this
amendment the act of homosexuality was punishable by hanging. Doctors
and scientist had seen homosexuality as a disease, thus the need
developed for a “cure”. Sexuality became all inclusive.
There was a large aesthetic movement which was also inherent in
this “new” culture. This movement classified art as being done for
art’s sake. Art was now being viewed as separate from society. This
meant that art could be a personal expression rather than a group think
project. These attributes coined the term the “Decadent Movement”.
The England was experiencing tremendous growth in its economy
and political change during this time. However, this growth was also
shared by to other rival countries, Germany and the United States.
England had a fear of the massive economic strength of the United
States. England, at the turn of the century, was no longer the
international hegemon it was a decade previous. This caused the English
look introspectly at itself.
The political change occurred inside of the Parliament. The
conservative House of Lords began vetoing new liberal budget proposals.
Both the Prime Minister and the House of Commons were liberal in their
political affiliation. The vetoing created a deadlock in the
government. The Prime Minister and the House of Commons proposed a
referendum which would nullify the House of Lords power of veto over the
budgetary matters. This was presented to the House of Lords with an
ultimatum. If the referendum was not passed the House of Lords would
be flooded with liberal Middle class citizens. The referendum was then
passed and the deadlock broken. This shift of power was crucial in the
infrastructure of the political system of England.
World War I left a tremendous impression of reality on the
English. Their confidence was compromised due to the ineffectiveness in
combat and their dependence of United States aid for victory. This is
the true end of all of the glory held by the British Empire. The
English were left with a tremendous national debt totalling at $7
billion dollars. England would never be a hegemon in the international
World War II brought a feeling of unity back to England. “The
Battle for Britain” with the inspirational radio speeches of Winston
Churchill inspired national pride to the British. The period of decline
enhanced by WW I, a large debt and the Great Depression had traumatic
effects on the English psyche. The civilian bombing planned by Hitler
tried to enhance this feeling of despair. However, it accomplish the
exact opposite. The children of England were sent to the country side.
These children were predominantly working class children. When the
upper class saw the state that these children where in the showed pity
and concern. Other factors which brought the populace together was a
consolidation of national opinion, full employment and the previous
mentioned speeches of Churchill.
Thus, it can be seen that the period of 1890’s to the end of
World War II marked the end of Victorianism. This end was achieved by
both internal and external factors. Internal institutions of
Victorianism in cultural and social structures were slowly eroded by
sexual identity. The concept of “The New Woman and New Men” challenged
traditional values inherent to the Victorian class Structures and
morality. The event of the two wars brought the external reality of
Britain’s role in the international community home. Both English
dominance and hegemonic imperialism were curbed and set into perspective
during this time period.