Dumping the Victorians

Understandably, Queen Victoria is one of the most highly regarded and well known people in British history- Longest ruling monarch, presided over the biggest empire the world will ever see, generated enormous growth and wealth for Britain, some of the finest inventions we’ve ever had (the photograph, audio recordings, the car, railways both underground, overground and Wombling free…) There was also some nice Gothic revival architecture (If you’re ever in Manchester go and wander around Rylands Library!) However, for all the good things that came out of the Victorian era, there was also a hell of lot of useless, backwards stuff that we desperately need to get rid of.

It is now over one hundred years since Queen Victoria shuffled off her mortal coil and the Victoria era ended…  supposedly in that time we should have moved on as a society, developed new ideas and morals and mentality and generally evolved away from them. We should really be laughing at the stupidity of our not so distant ancestors, like how they gave their children ridiculous names.

So some people are still naming their children Banana Mangrove, Veruca and Bramble and to be honest if you look at a census for 1861  you’ll find most people don’t have those names. They are called things like John and William and Mary. In 1904 (I know it’s bit after but it’s close enough) The top five boy’s names were William, John, George, Thomas and Arthur. For girls it was Mary, Florence, Doris, Edith, and Dorothy. In the words of Rod Stewart a little old-fashioned but that’s alright.  The boys names are all quite solid respectable names with three of those still in the top ten. For some reason Arthur has dropped out of the top one hundred all together (and for some reason more people are naming their children Harley, Louie and Ashton…) Of all of them girls names though, only Florence is still in the top one hundred. But I’m not talking about names here. Names have been pretty much the same throughout most of history (Well… Since them darned Normans came and everybody stopped using Anglo Saxon names) It’s full of Marys and Georges and Williams. I’m actually talking about those strange, backwards things that for some reason are still with us.

Take for instance ‘Victorian values.’ You hear politicians (mainly Conservatives) going on about them all the time. Thatcher famously did it. But Victorian values… Really? As a society can’t we come up with our own ideas? Do we really want to go back to the ideals of a society that sent kids up chimneys just because they were small and nimble? A society that prided itself on being moral and virtuous whilst at the same time cramming millions and millions of working class people into slums and treating them no better than slave labour? What the hell are Victorian values anyway?

It all, unfortunately, has something to do with the rich elite believing they were born to lord it over everybody else by divine providence and that everybody should aspire to trample all over everyone else and become as rich as possible by any means possible. That, you can’t deny, is bad. No wonder the Conservatives lap that shit up, most of them are toffs.

And forget about all this stuff about table legs being covered and prudishness. The Victorians weren’t all virtuous and noble Queen Victoria herself was a sex fiend And can I also point you in the direction of Victorian Erotica. It’s weird… In fact it borders on the extremely kinky. For example, in one, The Sapphic Academy of Madame Zuleika, a character is apparently sewn into a deer costume and chased around a forest in some ‘lusty’ way. And then there’s ‘Memoirs of a Young Rakehell.’ It really has to be read to be believed. You want kinky? This goes far beyond kinky… In fact it’s disturbing.  You can see a link to an extract if you dare go here:  http://bookkake.com/books/rakehell/ You’ll admit that is disturbing… I’ve seen other bits (which i’m not linking here… you want them you’ll have to find them) which goes into excessive detail about how hairy the woman the main character is shagging actually is… The way the author describes her you’d think she was the Honey Monster. Thankfully we’re much more reserved on that sort of thing these days. That stuff is kept firmly behind closed doors. What I’m saying is that this whole Victorian values in modern society is nonsense. Anybody says that we should go back to them direct them to that book and watch with delight as they recoil in horror at how bad and how horrifying it is.

We should dump the whole ‘Victorian values idea, mostly because it is nonsense But that’s not all we need to get rid of. We need to move on. For hundreds and thousands of years each progressive society has swept away the needless relics of the one that came before it and modernised. Thanks to the Victorians that isn’t happening. There are the preservation movements, all set up by the Victorians to effectively enclose the past in a water tight, time capsule ‘for future generations.’ Now keeping old buildings is fine, especially if they’re good. We’ve got plenty of Tudor houses and Medieval castles and usually the buildings that survive are the most important and the best example of their kind. Now ,thanks to the Victorians and their obsessive need to preserve everything like it was jam, we’re overran with unspectacular houses that can’t be demolished and replaced ‘because they’re old and we need them’. Most of these are just bog standard, falling apart, drafty old fashioned shacks that were  thrown up by some cowboy builders and were never meant to last a million years just a couple of lifetimes at most.

Hence, you get people spending countless fortunes on trying to save they’re rustic old fireplace simply because it’s Victorian or Georgian or whatever. London is full of them. Llandudno is made of them. An awful lot of town centres are still as they were 150 years ago. It’s ridiculous. We’ve moved on… Knock that house down and build something suitable for the modern age. Something sleek and stylish, but not a glass box thank you very much. We’d all live healthier, cheaper lives that way, and in one hundred years times we can keep the best of our architecture and create something new in the place of the stuff we don’t want. Simple.

Yes, we do need to keep some stuff for future generations. As a trained archaeologist I understand that, but we have photography these days, and video. Why not have someone wander around a Victorian house with a video camera saying ‘people of the future, this is what a Victorian house looked like.’ I’m sure that would be more useful than some increasingly crumbly ruin. These buildings weren’t designed for modern life. Why live in the past when we can live in the present?

And that brings me onto another thing: the seaside resort. places like Blackpool, Skegness, Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth, Llandudno, Morecambe- All places that grew out of the Victorian era and are now effectively wastelands because they’re stuck in the Victorian time warp with stuffy sea front hotels, amusement arcades, Punch and Judy shows, piers with little theatres on the end that just point out into nothing but ocean. I mean, a pier is nice and all if it’s not just looking out over ocean, if it’s like Bangor pier where it’s built overlooking Anglesey. Like with the houses there’s the same obsessive need to preserve everything as it is, like these places should stay the way they are forever and ever until the end of time. And most of these places are dives because of that. You get people on the telly every week saying ‘oh we don’t know what’s wrong… Woe is us! People aren’t coming to the seaside!’ I’ll tell you what’s wrong. You need to modernise! You need to create a vibrant, modern seaside resort and people will flock to it in their thousands. Look at Benidorm… or Ibiza. Not my kind of place for a holiday but those places aren’t stuck in the past. That’s why they’re booming and Blackpool is glooming. Create a British version of Ibiza (How about somewhere like… I don’t know… Rhyl?) and you’re rolling in it. You’ve got it made.

Blackpool did have one good idea a few years back: Become a British Las Vegas. It would have worked except you had all these toffee nose prudes who objected and moaned about ‘Victorian values’ and it all fell through. The casino went to Manchester and then they cancelled the construction anyway. Blackpool could have been saved. We could have had a Brit-Vegas, with Adele or Duffy doing a residency and people flocking to hear them sing something like Someone Like You in a glitzy casino. But no. Thanks to those dastardly Victorians…

And there is still more… Take health. You’d think we’re a modern nation. We know Smoking is bad, we don’t have opium dens, most of us drink responsibly… We’re quite modern in terms of health right? Right? (OH GOD… WHAT ARE WE DOING WRONG???)

I’ll break this to you gently. Just tell me the difference between soap and shampoo.  Easy… One’s for hair and the others for the body. But before shampoo what did people use? Shampoo was invented in 1860. Before that people used to wash their hair with… Soap??? Soap? Really! SOAP! Apparently the soap they were using left a film on the hair that wasn’t pleasant. So basically what they invented was liquid soap that wouldn’t leave a film… But they just used it on the hair and continued to use the other soap on their body, meaning two types of soap for pretty much the same purpose when they could just use one.

Yes, the Victorians invented shower gel and used it only on the hair. Hence, over the years, all of us (unless you’re a dirty bugger who doesn’t wash) have been spending money on this two soap system, which we don’t really need. I’ll let you take you’re pick as to which one. Variety is the spice of life as they say. But this Victorian idiocy has stayed with society for one hundred and fifty years! Now in the modern era we have shampoo + conditioner (two in one… wow!) So why not say just have that. After all, the shampoo is really just elaborate hair soap (and how do you think you’re scalp stays clean as well? Or how does you’re chest hair stay nice and clean?) So either shampoo or soap has to go… In researching this post I found plenty of articles by dirty unwashed hippies advocating the abolishment of soap/shampoo or both… They aren’t right. You need something to wash with dunderbrains… It’s just you don’t need one of those products.

Then you have things like the manual disposable or safety razor. All well and useful in their day, but think on this: You have to keep changing the blade. On top of that you have shaving foam, which apparently contains soap as well, and all of this is hardly economical or environmentally friendly. So you have two choices… We could either all grow a great big bushy beard or, if you don’t like that, there’s a modern alternative. It’s called the electric shaver. It works just as well, you can pick a good one up for thirty quid these days, and there’s no need for extra blades or shaving foam. A lot of them can be recharged from the mains! It saves money, lots of money (Example: with a manual its £10 for the razor, + £5 for a pack of blades once every few months (say 6 a year: total £30) and then a can of shaving foam a month at another £5… that brings you’re grand total for a years worth of shaving to: £95… Now compare the cost to a £30 electric… And the electricity usage still probably costs less!)

So why, if there is a cheaper, more reliable, more efficient alternative are we still using an outdated Victorian model? I think the answer boils down to money. There are twenty five thousand men in the UK (approx) Multiply that £95 by 25000… The answer is £2375000… That is a hell of a lot of money going to the shaving companies (With production costs etc. they probably don’t make that much but they still probably make a lot). As much as the disposable does a good job, electric is not only more efficient but it saves time, money and cuts down on wastage (A really good one could last you for years!) So, all in all we’re back to that Victorian values thing again, making as much money as possible.

Thankfully we’ve moved on a lot with health and it’s not all bad with the Victorian stuff… It’s a shame the same thing can’t be said about death. Before the Victorians came along people weren’t so bothered with death. They might cry a little yes. That’s only natural. They accepted death and a funeral was a celebration of someones life… And then Prince Albert went and died and Queen Victoria dressed in black and locked herself away in Scotland for twenty years. Thus, funerals became bleak, sombre affairs with lots of weeping and wailing and a chance to ‘say goodbye.’ No more celebrations, except for the wake, which apparently most older people now abhor. And everybody wore Black. Then you had the elaborate headstones and the tedious service, which are still in use today. Before the Victorians hardly anyone had a headstone. If you were wealthy you had a tomb or a memorial but most people were stuck in a hole with a stick of wood above, if you were lucky.

Now the headstone is a nice gesture to mark the grave… But this whole wearing black and sombre attitude… Why be so depressing? Shouldn’t a funeral be a celebration of someone’s life rather than a few hours of abject misery forcing us to reflect upon our own mortality? Some things were better off before the Victorians meddled with them and funerals were one of those things.

Finally I come to the one thing that annoys me most… The way the Victorians fucked about with things so much that they distorted civilisation and the world . They belched enough smoke and smog and god knows what into the atmosphere that they probably set the groundwork for global warming. They butchered their way around the world causing the extinction of hundreds of creatures, but worse still is what they did to history. They distorted the truth to present an idealised vision of the past and presented it as fact. People still believe half of this tripe today. Take for instance paganism and druids and Wicca and all this new age shit that people claim go back to ancient times… It’s Victorian. Every last drop. Victorian, Victorian, Victorian! Ghosts too… The Victorians distorted public perception of the past and people are still believing this tripe today. It needs to stop. Seriously… All these druids and Neo-Pagans… You aren’t doing yourself any favours. You aren’t practising anything ancient, just another useless throwback.

And yet, despite all of this dross we’re left with, the Victorians are still idealised. Why? I don’t know. We’ve moved on since then. We’ve got computers and music players and television and all manner of things. The Victorians left a nice legacy behind them. We’ve got great literature, good architecture and some niftilly useful inventions, but we’ve got to stop living in the past. More specifically, we’ve got to stop trying to hold onto their past. If there is one thing that history is about, it’s change and modernisation. So let’s leave Victorian values and such nonsense behind us. Let’s leave the wicca and the druids and the safety razor and the preservation of everything behind. For how can we ever grow if we do not move on?


One thought on “Dumping the Victorians

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  1. Found this a very entertaining read, but disagree on the point about razors. Electric razors are definitely worse for your skin.

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