Friday, August 13, 2010

FLG Thought

...completely out of the blue, while driving Miss FLG to daycare today, isn't it entirely possible that Victorian morality was a social manifestation of the public health problems and solutions that arose during the shift toward a more industrial, and hence more urban and crowded, society? Put simply: What if Victorian prudishness was a way to combat venereal disease in an environment that was becoming increasing conducive to its spread?

Now, FLG has absolutely now background on Victorian England. Is this plausible? Is this a common theory?

9 comments:

Withywindle said...

Middle-class morality comes earlier than the Victorians. And if its spread had a "functional" aspect, it was a rather ineffective one, given how widespread was prostitution in Victorian England. I would be dubious.

Andrew Stevens said...

My own theory is that morality is always a reaction to previous morality. Nowadays, people seem to think that sexual mores will continue to be progressively loosened in a straight line change as they have since the Victorian era. This is not consistent with history. There are plenty of times when morals have been looser than they are now and other periods when they were just as tight as the Victorians.

Modern SF writers often like to portray the future of ever looser morals (such as Captain Jack from the new Doctor Who, a swinging bisexual 51st century dude from a culture where, apparently, everybody sleeps with everybody). They laugh at E.E. Smith's Lensman series with its courtly manners and prudery, but Doc Smith is just as likely to be right as Russell T. Davies's Doctor Who. Sexual morals follow a sine curve, not a steady progression.

Victorian morality was a reaction against the much looser sexual morality of the Georgian period which was itself a reaction against the too-tight morality of the Puritan period under Cromwell. And the sine curve keeps on keepin' on.

If I'm wrong, though, I'd be happy to have the professional historians explain why.

FLG said...

Withy:

I don't know that the prior existence of Middle-class morality disproves the theory. I mean, the seventh commandment did exist. It's a question of emphasis, which increased during Victorian England, no?

Re the prostitution thing, that's kinda my point about it becoming a more conducive environment.

But I don't know anything about the period, and it's your wheelhouse...

FLG said...

Andrew:

What if it's a sine wave around an upward sloping center line?

Andrew Stevens said...

I don't think the evidence supports that, but it would be hard to prove one way or another without some method of quantifying moral attitudes over different time periods.

Withywindle said...

You could say that the growth of middle-class morality from "teeny" in 1500 to "influential minority" mattered more than the growth in 19th century England; how do you explain that prior growth? Suddenly, the explanatory variables increase in number enormously. And if the growth of middle-class morality was utterly ineffective at combating prostitution, we are back in the realm of moral panics, cultural explanations, things more complicated and dodgy than "prostitution up, Bibles too." At best you might find mildly evocative correlation.

arethusa said...

Speaking of Victorian prostitution, Prime Minister Gladstone liked to stroll of an evening and try to "convert" the ladies of the night. Sometimes he would take them home so Mrs. Gladstone could minister to them. (All of this, as far as I know, was totally aboveboard and part of Gladstone's Christian faith, but it's just a little weird.)

I don't know about the theory, FLG, but it seems to me that if rephrased - get away from the VD and the hookers and focus more on the crowded, urban society - there might be something there. Also, WW, I don't think Victorian prudishness as FLG phrases it is meant to stop prostitution, but to set the upper classes even further apart from it. It's not required that there be no prostitution for the idea to work, since not everyone or every class hewed to Victorian standards.

Anonymous said...

FLG, I haven't wanted to enter this debate as you all are much more educated than I but this morning's news has prompted me to. But before we get to that about this notion of Victorian prudishness- do you mean Victorian virtues or the Contagious Disease and the Deceased Wife's Sister thingummy -put forth by Parliament?

Or just something organic that sprung up among the do-gooders? G.Himmelfarb is the one who has many answers on this subject - I've read the least scholarly of her work...can't recall the title but ti was something like From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values or something.

But anyway forget all of that and read this and say you've come a long way England from the Contagious Diseases Act...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/7945785/Councils-pay-for-prostitutes-for-the-disabled.html

Mrs. P

Anonymous said...

Oh and one more thing - if you mean do-gooders - you've got to read about Lord Shaftsbury. Got to. Read what he did for the folk and how he treated his children and then read a few years back what happened to the recent Lord Shaftsbury - gutted like a tuna by a prostitute...

Then there's the Shaftsbury's role in the English Ref. But say all you want about the family, they knew how to make a damn fine yeasted plum cake. I use their recipe to this day. If you'd like it - I'll send it over.

Mrs. P

 
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