What is a Neo-Victorian and why do I care?

You might look at the Victorian age as being completely and utterly irrelevant; as a certain period of time which is over and so deserves to be ignored. After all, in our hi-tech and modern world, what the Dickens has the Victorian age got to do with anything anyway?

Yet turn on the TV and there is always an adaptation of a Victorian house drama, Downton Abbey being the big hit of the new millennium with 5.4 million viewers. Furthermore, at least once a year a film based on a Victorian book becomes a box office hit, Guy Ritchie‘s Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows being the most recent example to date.

Countless books, reality TV shows, documentaries, board games and novelty puppets are being mass-produced as we speak which all reference the Victorian age. In fact, you might say our culture is obsessed by it. True or not, we’re clearly not going to stop talking about it any time soon.

But why? The reason is that the Victorians have become a way of assessing our own society. When we think ‘Victorian’ we think sexually repressed, we think imperialism and we think ridiculous hats. This is what it so fascinating to watch, because when we think of our own age in comparison we see relaxed morals, a liberal society and sharp, fashionable hats.

Or do we? Lets not forget that when we talk about the Victorian age we’re talking about a period of time which invented both pornography and the dildo, so perhaps not so sexually repressed after all.

Furthermore, our current government’s affairs in the Middle East, hidden under the guise of spreading a just and fair democracy to those places that have it not, are uncannily similar to Victorian excuses for imperialist strategies in Africa.

When we talk about how liberal our society is in comparison, lets not forget that if H. G Wells‘ time traveller journeyed to the present day he would probably go home disgusted and terrified by a mad dictatorship that wouldn’t let him smoke in a public house; a society which wouldn’t allow people to climb ladders at work without the correct health and safety qualifications.

Although you might say we have our reasons, so did the Victorians when they shunned talking about sex in public. It doesn’t make it any less oppressive when our government forces the population to stop doing something for the ‘right’ reasons.

Neo-Victorianism is argued to be a lot of different things by different people. To some it means pretending to be a Victorian and is affiliated with right-wing political beliefs.

But being a Neo-Victorian isn’t the same as being a Victorian enthusiast. It isn’t about ignoring all the technological developments we now have and living in the past.

Neo-Victorian is anything which analyses our relationship with the Victorian age (Heilmann & Llewellyn) and when we realise this it comes to mean a lot more than it first seems. It is about assessing how we view our own society and ourselves. This affects everything we know: our whole understanding of reality, of right and wrong, of forwards and backwards.

If history has taught us anything it’s that the way you think your world looks now will definitely not be the way your ancestors see it.


Sources: Ann Heilmann, Mark Llewellyn NeoVictorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century (Palgrave Macmillan: London, 2010)




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