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.


Nineteenth Century Middle Class Cultural Capital Precise Degree Free Spirit 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Jerrold Seigel, Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics and the Boundaries of the Bourgeois Life, 1830–1930 (New York: Viking, 1986) p. 10.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974) p. 23.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1982 [1939]) vol. 2, State Formation and Civilization, part 2.1.1.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Glenna Matthews, ‘Just a Housewife’: The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987) p. 89.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Joanna Bourke, ‘Housewifery in Working Class England, 1860–1914’, Past and Present, no. 143 (May 1994) p. 172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 7.
    Catherine Hall, ‘The Sweet Delights of Home’, in Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby (eds), A History of Private Life, vol. 4, From the Fires of the Revolution to the Great War (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1990) p. 77.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Warren I. Susman, ‘“Personality” and the Making of Twentieth-Century Culture’, in John Highman and Paul K. Conkin (eds), New Directions in American Intellectual History (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979) p. 220.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Stephen Carter, Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 1998) p. 38.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Melanie Archer and Judith R. Blau, ‘Class Formation in Nineteenth Century America: The Case of the Middle Class’, Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 19 (1993) p. 35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 11.
    Arthur M. Schlesinger, Learning How to Behave: A Historical Study of American Etiquette Books (New York: Macmillan, 1946) ch. 5, ‘Relax!’Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    See Judith Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excrutiatingly Correct Behaviour (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1983), ‘Dinner Parties’, ‘Debuts and Dances.’Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Carter, Civility; John Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (New York: Hill & Wang, 1990) p. 258.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Linda Young 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda Young

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations