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Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark boring, and gloomy

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

It has to do with the smog and soot from coal fires that polluted the atmosphere and the dark satanic mills, a bit like modern industrial Chinese cities. The Victorian era was anything but boring; it was a time of invention and exploration. The Victorians have a reputation for being prim and proper and prudish; they were anything but behind closed doors, a bit like the modern USA, Conservative on the outside, yet it has by far the biggest pornographic industry in the world.

So Victorian Britain wasn’t a million miles away from either modern-day China or the United States in many ways.

Victorian era, in British history, the period between approximately 1820 and 1914, corresponding roughly but not exactly to the period of Queen Victoria’s reign (1837–1901) and characterized by a class-based society, a growing number of people able to vote, a growing state and economy, and Britain’s status as the most powerful empire in the world.

During the Victorian period, Britain was a powerful nation with a rich culture. It had a stable government, a growing state, and an expanding franchise. It also controlled a large empire, and it was wealthy, in part because of its degree of industrialization and its imperial holdings and in spite of the fact that three-fourths or more of its population was working-class. 

Late in the period, Britain began to decline as a global political and economic power relative to other major powers, particularly the United States. Still, this decline was not acutely noticeable until after World War II.

Is it normal to spank your wife? Does a respectful, loving, and caring man spank his wife?

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

Because it was dark, boring, and gloomy.

It was dark because:

  • People used coal to keep warm and fuel the Industrial Revolution. There was so much soot in the air from all the coal fires that it led to dense pollution fogs in cities like the London Smog, sometimes referred to as pea soup when especially thick, those above of which was only reversed by clean air acts in the mid 20th century. People’s houses were covered in soot. People’s clothing was covered in soot. Buildings were covered in soot. Do you think Gothic cathedrals are meant to be grey or yellow? They’re not. They’re brilliant white under a layer of soot, so much so restorations are often startling.
  • Because of the soot, people liked dark clothes and heavy furnishings that hid it. You get thick curtains, heavily patterned wallpapers in rich colors, and the start of black and brown suits as a tradition for men as opposed to the brighter colors of the Regency era. Victorian rooms end up looking heavy and dark in their own right.

It was boring because:

  • Work hours were less protected. In fact, most employment laws started to be developed in this period in response to malpractice. It was common for the poorest workers to be expected to work 14–16 hours a day, six days a week, with Sundays reserved for the church itself, which also ended up being long and boring. It was frowned upon to do labor on a Sunday, even to entertain yourself, so people (who followed those rules) were left to boring, dragging afternoons of quiet moral reading and things of the sort.
  • In the country, work hours were also long. Farm work takes up a huge amount of time, even with machines, which were only starting to come in, and farm workers would have been facing a similar work/life rigor with the added threat of starvation and abject poverty of relying on the weather and being effectively self-employed.
  • People who were rich enough not to work or to work jobs with time for leisure did not have television, radio, or the Internet. They didn’t even have cars or bikes for most of the period, so they were restricted to trains and horse-drawn vehicles as transport, mostly resulting in a far smaller radius of places to go for leisure. Board games, books (often nonfiction), and gossip were often the main sources of entertainment, and even then, some of this could only be done so long as they could afford to light their house.

It brings me to gloom:

  • Victorian lighting was candles, gas (for some of the period), and the good old sun. However, with overcrowded cities, narrow streets, fog, and tall housing tenements blocking out a lot of the light in cities, the sun could have been a more reliable light source. It was only up for a certain period, anyway. Candles and gas required money and emitted little light compared to modern lights. Fireplaces were also a source of light, but again, they weren’t great for doing things that required eyesight, and many detail workers (such as tailors and sewists) were required to work into the night to finish projects that went blind from the eyestrain of dim lighting.
  • Victorians were obsessed as a culture with death and the macabre. They bought grisly penny-dreadful or penny-blood magazines to read about murders. They still had public hangings. Most fiction genres were started or came into their own in this era due to increased literacy and the increased publication of books. Death was part of life, as high death rates meant people were intimately familiar with it, and they enjoyed a lot of stories that effectively went, ‘The good child died because no one helped or because life is cruel – aren’t you sorry now?’

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

It isn’t always, and it really depends on the story that’s being told. If they’re telling the story of laborers working in harsh conditions, those people life’s could be dark and gloomy working in cities that are heavily polluted with coal smoke. If they’re telling the story of nobility or rich people who lived in the lap of luxury, it’s generally presented as bright and glamorous.

The Victorian era wasn’t that long ago. It’s when Britain was at its height and bringing out innovations in industry every other day of the week. Britain was on top of the world, and people were pretty happy about that. Even people with low incomes could see themselves as being part of the most advanced society on earth. Compared to everything else available at the time, they probably thought they had a good life.

From our point of view, it doesn’t look good, but they probably saw things differently. The rich abusing the commoners was pretty common and not as bad as it had been in the past.

What did a chambermaid do in Victorian times?

Femme de Chambre, the answer is in the French name. Basically, they looked after the bedroom areas of the house, made the beds up, changed them, ensured the linen was clean, cleaned the rooms, and made up the fires. It’s really the same as a chambermaid in a hotel.


“She should commence sweeping halls at six-thirty. After breakfast, she dusts halls, draws baths, calls the family or visitors, and opens up shutters in bedrooms. She also assists the lady’s maid in brushing the dresses.“

“After the family has gone to breakfast, she opens their bedroom windows, takes clothes off the beds, one by one, placing them across two chairs to air, and turns the mattress across the foot of the bed to air. She then puts away any clothing, dressing gowns, slippers, etc., washes out soap dishes and other toilet articles, going through each bedroom in her care, and opening up each bed to air in each room. 

She then commences to make, at first she opened for refreshing. Every day, she should sweep up pieces and thoroughly dust not only the furniture but the woodwork of the room. Once a week, every room should be thoroughly swept, and plumbing fixtures and silver toilet articles should be cleaned. 

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

One room a day should be done in this manner, the useful man cleaning the windows and brasses, and, on a ladder, wiping over tops of doors, pictures, etc. All work should be finished in the bedrooms before lunch. If there is not time to accomplish all before lunch, then she cleans the silver articles after and brings them back to their places.”

“One chambermaid is expected to assist in the pantry the nights of dinner parties, and, where two chambermaids are kept, they take evenings about. When dusk comes, the chambermaid draws down the shades and lights the gas. Where there are open fireplaces, she builds up a bright fire. If guests are staying in the house, she sees that they have everything they require. After the family and guests go to dinner, she removes and carefully folds the lace spreads, etc., of the beds. 

She then turns the bed down nicely and lays the nightgown on it. Dressing gowns and slippers are placed on or by chairs. She removes soiled towels and puts out fresh ones, tidies the washstand, lowers the gas, and sees that drinking water is put in all bedrooms by nine o’clock in winter; ten will do in summer. 

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

If gentlemen are staying in the house and have no valet with them, the chambermaid in charge of their rooms either herself (or sees that the useful man) puts out the evening suit, a clean shirt with studs, etc., and after the guest has gone to dinner, that the suit of clothes and boots he has worn through the day are taken away, cleaned and brought back ready for the next morning.”

“One of the first things for a chambermaid to learn is how properly to make a bed. Every bed that has been occupied should, to preserve the health of its occupant and the hygiene of the house, be thoroughly aired both in bedclothes and mattress every time it is used. The first chambermaid has charge of all bedrooms and bathrooms on the second floor and one stairway. She also assists in the linen room.”

“All beds are changed on Saturday so that the soiled clothes can go to the laundry that morning.”

“The chambermaid’s dress for morning wear should always be of light print material, waist and skirt to match. In the afternoon, she wears a waist and skirt of buck cashmere or serge, white collar, and cuffs. She wears a cap and apron at all times.”


“The second chambermaid has charge of the bedrooms on the third floor and third hall and stairs. These should be taken care of with as scrupulous cleanliness and care as any other. If on this floor there is a playroom, it should be cleaned and put in order before the hall early in the morning. The chambermaid gives this room its first daily cleaning. The nurses keep it in order for the day.”


“The third chambermaid brushes and dusts the sewing room early every morning in order not to disturb the ladies’ maids when they are busy. She has charge of the servants’ bed and bath-rooms, hall, and stairs. Sometimes, nurses make their beds, but the chambermaid does the cleaning in their rooms.

She makes the beds of the men, cooks, kitchen maids and laundresses, etc., and sweeps, dusts, and tidies their rooms – keeping them in perfect order.”

“She keeps the servants’ hall in order and cleans silver for its table. In fact, she takes care of this dining hall, except for its windows. Mrs. Seely’s Cook Book & Manual on Domestic Servants, By Mrs. L. Seely, 1902”.

What are some fun facts about the Victorian era?

I’m afraid that many of the facts I find most interesting about the Victorian era fall under the gruesome category rather than the fun category, so I’ll offer those instead if you don’t mind. 🙂


They poisoned themselves with arsenic a lot. It was in some of their wallpaper and dyed clothing, and women took it in small doses to improve their complexions.

Women were in danger of “hearth death” when their heavy, flammable dresses came into contact with the fireplace. If they didn’t die, they were left with terrible scarring on their chests and necks that pulled their mouths permanently open. The new field of “plastique” surgery pioneering in Paris at the time was able to give some of them relief.

The smog in London was sometimes so thick that people would wander off into the Thames, unable to see more than a few inches from their faces. Poor people ate something called “slink,” which was unborn calves obtained from slaughterhouses.

Victorians found mummies fascinating and would host “unwrapping” parties. (Between this and the practice of grinding up mummies to sell as medicine, the vast number of extant mummies declined significantly). Seance parties were also big among the middle class, and some men of science seriously considered spiritualists able to connect to the world beyond.

Public cemeteries (as opposed to graveyards connected to churches) came into vogue, and people visited them for outings not connected to visiting a loved one’s grave.

Pollution in the big cities turned white clothing and linens and curtains grey.

Lower-class women could easily sink into poverty, with domestic service, factory work, or prostitution their choices for survival. If they were house servants who caught the eye of any of the men in the family, they would be lucky to be dismissed before they got pregnant. If they were pregnant and turned out, it was the streets or the Thames for them.

“Mourning Warehouses” sold all the clothing and accessories needed to mark a period of grief for women and children. Middle and upper-class men left their comfortable homes after dinner, kissing their wives and children goodbye, to go to the slums and solicit starving children for sex.

My Secret Life is an 11-volume memoir of the sexual slumming done by a respectable businessman that was published anonymously. Men called “toshers” waded through the sewers, scavenging whatever they could. I can barely dare to imagine what they encountered down there besides lost coins and metal scrap.

What was the most ‘Victorian’ thing to happen in the Victorian era?

I’m thinking of this from the perspective of the Victorians themselves: what would showcase their mindset, their energy, and the best of their era? So, I’d nominate the Great Exhibition of 1851. Its full title was “The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations,” and it was held in what was dubbed the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park.

It was the first of many world fairs that became popular in the next century and a half. Still, I’d call it a very Victorian happening because it captured the spirit of the era, the self-awareness of the Victorians as the creators of a new future built on the advances of technology — a future they took pride in and intended to spread across the globe.

The Exhibition was Prince Albert’s idea. He was widely admired in his role as Consort for much more than his ability to supply the nation with royal heirs and keep Queen Victoria happy (she had both a powerful libido and a powerful temper). He was well-educated and intellectually open to new ideas. 

Friends, he promoted education and abolition and devoted his time and energy to other important causes as well. As a “foreigner,” he brought a new perspective and consciousness to his role. [And thanks to him, I and thousands of other kids enjoyed calling up drugstores on the phone and asking:

“Do you have Prince Albert in a can?”


“Well, let him out!” (hang up and laugh)]

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

Back to the Crystal Palace.

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

The building itself was astonishing: 23 acres enclosed by glass. It housed 14,000 exhibitions, half of them from outside of Great Britain (the USA sent guns and chewing tobacco, among other items), and welcomed six million visitors. Most prominent Victorians attended, along with one-third of the country’s population. The Exhibition set a glorious standard for future world exhibitions that undoubtedly contributed to the growth of technology, progress, and global camaraderie.

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

Katherine’s nomination for the Great Exhibition is a good one, but as a close second, I would propose the London Necropolis Railway. The population of London exploded in the nineteenth century. Parish churchyards, originally serving small villages, needed to be more robust.

Expansion was impossible due to the high cost of land. Recently, buried bodies were exhumed in order to make space for new interments. The mass of buried bodies became a major health problem. In 1842, a Royal Commission recommended that further burials in central London be prohibited and a number of cemeteries be established in the suburbs.

The most ambitious project was the London Necropolis, a large area of land in Brookwood near Woking in Surrey, over 20 miles from London, developed by the London Necropolis and National Mausoleum Company. Brookwood was on the main line of the London & South Western Railway, and a branch line was built to serve the new cemetery.

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

There were two stations on the branch, one for Anglicans and the other for Roman Catholics, “Other Denominations,” Jews, and Zoroastrians. Both had first-class and general waiting rooms and refreshment rooms. Mourners and coffins traveled in first, second, or third-class carriages, although coffins were issued with single tickets only.

london tickets

The line was closed in 1941 after the special platforms at Waterloo station for the Necropolis Railway trains were bombed. The cemetery is still open. By coincidence, the iron gates to the entrance of the Waterloo platforms were reused from the Great Exhibition.

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

A Royal Commission to consider how to remedy a social problem, an ambitious piece of private enterprise, railways, social and sectarian segregation? You can’t get much more Victorian than that!

What was Victorian London like?

Which bits, and when in Victoria’s reign? She was on the throne for a long time – from 1837 (when trains were new things) to 1901 (just before the birth of the airplane). That aside, for most people in most parts of London throughout most of her reign – to coin a phrase – “nasty, brutish and short” would about sum it up.

Even with the help of Dickens, it’s hard to imagine quite how appalling life was for most people who lived in cities in the 19th century, London being no exception. And if anything, it got worse through her reign. The railways meant that people from the countryside flooded into London, my ancestors included. They seemed to leave Devon on virtually the first train that arrived in Tiverton, fell out of the train in Paddington – and then lived within practically a stone’s throw of the station for the next 100 years. 

In some of the worst slums in London:

Long hours, low pay, unsanitary conditions, high child mortality, and low life expectancy. It’s hard to think of anywhere in the world today that was like London, or any other British city, in the 19th century. If you ever wonder about what sort of attitudes to human life and dignity kept slavery going for so long, look at how cheap life was for British people living in the Empire’s capital city.

Yes, there were also nice bits – often amazingly close to the nasty bits – but why were they nice? Because they were at the peak of a pyramid mainly consisting of disease, death, and extreme poverty.

Why is the Victorian era often portrayed as dark, boring, and gloomy?

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