The Differences In The Social Classes Of Mid-Victorian England


I. Introduction
In the Mid-Victorian period in English history there were distinct class
differences in its society. There were three classes in England.
These were the Aristocracy, the Middle-Class (or Factory owners) and
the working class. Each class had specific characteristics that defined
its behavior. These characteristics were best seen in four areas of
British society.

During the time-period known by most historians as the
Industrial Revolution, a great change overtook British culture. Aside
from the political and economic change which occurred, a profound social
alteration transpired. The populace seeking to better their lives,
sought employment in newly-formed industries. Many of the workers which
included women and children, labored through 12 hour work shifts, with
poor nutrition, poor living conditions and completing tedious tasks1.
These factors, accompanied by various ideological precepts by Britain’s
intellectual community, and those concepts imported from France, provoke
a crucial social evolution. Though no government was overthrown, a
distinct transformation took place causing rebellious behavior to erupt
among the working class. This essay will address the questions of how
and why this behavior was expressed by the lower order of British
society. It will also discuss methods the ruling class used in
suppressing and controlling the rebellious behavior exhibited by the
working class.
The middle class held to two basic ideologies that served in
the exploitation of the lower order of the British society. Richard
Atlick identified them as Utilitarianism (or Benthamism) and
Evangelicalism. Both served the self-interested inclinations of the
middle class. Utilitarianism created the need to fulfill a principle of
pleasure while minimalization pain. In the context of the “industrial
revolution” this meant that the pleasure extracted from life would be at
the working classes’ expense. This provided a perfect justification for
the middle class to capitalize on. The working class of Britain,
throughout the industrial revolution and through the Victorian age,
acted in a defiant manner toward both the aristocracy and middle class.
This behavior extended from the everyday activities of the workers to
radical anarchist movements that categorized the underground.
The middle class seemed to be just as familiar with the inverse
of Benthamism as they were with its normal application. The pleasure
principle was measured in terms of minimalization of pain. If the sum
of pain, in a given situation, is less than the sum of pleasure, than it
should be deemed pleasurable. The inverse principle applied to the
working class was how pain (work) can be inflicted, with the absolute
minimum distribution of pleasure (wages), without creating an uprising.
This was seen in Andrew Ure’s article. He eloquently defended
the industrial system and dismissed the infractions as conjecture.
However, the argument made by Ure clearly pointed to the existence of
disciplinary actions being performed by the industrialist and how these
were allowed by the government. His argument stated that no employer
wished to beat their young employees and, if it occurred, then it was
on a small level. The argument did not condemn the use of physical
discipline. It did not directly acknowledge its occurrence, but neatly
circumvented the issue by saying it was not the “wishes” of the
employer. This was an example of the beliefs of the middle class to
take disciplinary and suppressive actions taken against the working
class.
The second, Evangelicalism, was considered to be selfish because
of its inflexibility toward actions outside of its moral realm. The
Church at that time would help the poor only to pacify its conscience.
Andrew Mearns, in his article ” The Bitter Cry of Outcast London”,
investigated the misery of the working class and exhorted the church for
inactivity on the working classes behalf. He stated that “whilst we
have been building our churches and solacing ourselves with our religion
. . . the poor have been growing poorer, the wretched more miserable,
and the immoral more corrupt.” He continued, listing detailed accounts
of how the lower class survived and suffered. It was written to evoke a
reaction from the church attending middle class.
Isolated by these ideologies and rigid social class
distinctions, the lower class began to resent the industrialists that
employed them. There were basically two types of radicals that followed
a more active part in expressing their disdain for the