Who were the Victorians? Were they self-confident imperialists secure in the virtues of the home, and ruled by the values of authority, duty, religion and respectability? Or were they self-doubting and hypocritical prudes whose family life was authoritarian and loveless? Ever since Lytton Strachey mocked Florence Nightingale and General Gordon in "Eminent Victorians", the reputation of the Victorians, and of what they stood for, has been the subject of vigorous debate. John Gardiner provides a fascinating guide to the changing reputation of the Victorians during the twentieth century. Different social, political and aesthetic values, two world wars, youth culture, nostalgia, new historical trends and the heritage industry have all affected the way we see the age and its men and women. The second half of the book shows how radically biographical accounts have changed over the last hundred years, exemplified by four archetypical Victorians: Charles Dickens, W.E. Gladstone, Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria herself.
John Gardiner teaches at Queen Mary College, University of London.