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college freeway#3 - Term Paper How Victorian Was...

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Term Paper – How Victorian Was Victorianism May 1, 2006 History 245gm Dr. Banner P URIST V ICTORIAN I DEOLOGY : N OT S O E XTENSIVE A FTER ALL Most people tend to look back upon the Victorian era with the same, stereotypical views regarding gender and sexual expression. The majority of people are apt to describe the Victorian era as a time when the moral standard was set very high, sexual expression was censored and completely repressed, and the idea of female passivity dominated. However, if one fully explores all areas of Victorian era culture and considers all the ideas and movements present, one may see that these ideas are concluded from incomplete analysis. Fundamentally, this view on Victorianism is biased and one-sided, as it only takes into account a few specific ideas, rather than the sum of ideas present at the time. While there is some truth in these claims; the Victorian era did include ideas of a high moral standard and sexual repression, the counter ideals of these principals were also present. In fact, each of these movements had great strength; rather than one overtaking the other, a sort of equilibrium was reached. While the principals in favor of sexual repression were dominate in the capitalist middle class, these ideals were questioned in areas separate from this public arena. Fundamentally, the amount of sexual expression was not affected by purist Victorian ideals, only the places in society where it was expressed was altered. In a sense, purist Victorian ideals acted as a source of pressure, never limiting or winning over arguments of sexual expression, but forcing these arguments into other spheres.
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The purist Victorian ideals were rooted in the principals of the Puritan Protestants, who believed in a strict moral code founded in biblical texts. 1 Additionally, the Puritans believed it was the obligation of the state to protect and reward morality. Puritan ideals had begun to gain some strength in the mid-seventeenth century when Puritan military leader Oliver Cromwell came to power in Europe in 1653. 2 Yet, the rise in popularity of these principals in the 19 th century was mainly due to a response to three major events. First and secondly, the puritan voice was amplified as a reaction to the French Revolution and the growth of Evangelical churches. Most importantly, however, puritan principals gained much popularity as a result of the rise of the middle class and the ever increasing ideas of capitalism in the 19 th century. As principals of capitalism were dominate over much of the middle class, success was increasingly defined according to financial wealth. The idea came about that one had to be purely focused on advancing oneself financially; one could not stray from the path of reaching financial success.
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