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Abstract

Victorian gentility — which is to say the middle class — flourished and grew throughout Greater Britain’s long nineteenth century becoming the ideal and then the norm as the standard of desirable lifestyle. Outwardly a rigid structure of explicit and implicit rules seemed to govern genteel culture, but in practice, it was an extraordinarily flexible system. The axes of financial and cultural capital which defined the genteel habitus enabled a tremendous range of expressions, capable of including almost anyone motivated to aspire. Precise degrees of mastery of the necessary money and knowledge resources set up endless subcategories with which to vary internal advancement, amounting to a self-regulating mechanism to manage peer acknowledgement. The central value of self-control imbued male lives with the righteousness of work and female lives with ideals of domesticity. Nonetheless, in each sphere, genteel people managed the presence of contradictions such as the psychic drive to self-indulgence and the strategic necessity of manipulating others. Suppressed for the sake of respectability, such ungenteel behaviour was hypocritical, but human. Overall, the rules and the accommodations evidently satisfied their practitioners, because they continued to use them, and if the young and the restless complained about personal constriction, it was ever so in the conditioning of humans to society.

Keywords

Nineteenth Century Middle Class Cultural Capital Precise Degree Free Spirit 
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Notes

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© Linda Young 2003

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  • Linda Young

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