Victorian masculinity  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Wiki Commons

Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

During the reign of Queen Victoria, there were certain social expectations that the separate genders were expected to adhere to. For the males, this included a vast amount of pride in their work, a protectiveness over their wives, if they were married, and an aptitude for good social behaviour. The study of Victorian masculinity is based on the assumption that "the construction of male consciousness must be seen as historically specific."

The concept of Victorian masculinity is a diverse one since it was influenced by numerous aspects and factors such as domesticity, economy, gender roles, imperialism, manners, religion, sporting competition, and much more. Some of these aspects seem to be quite naturally related to one another, while others seem profoundly none-relational. The concept of Victorian masculinity is a topic of interest in the context of Cultural Studies with a special emphasis on Gender studies. Historically, it is tied to the Victorian era in the United Kingdom. The topic is of much current interest in the areas of history, literary criticism, religious studies, and sociology. Those virtues that survived until today are of special interest to the researchers: the 'dominance of the Western male'.

The concept itself shifted about the mid of the 19th century from a focus on a desired achievement of Christian maturity to a focus on hardiness.



The study of Victorian masculinity is based on the assumption that "the construction of male consciousness must be seen as historically specific." As a result, men increasingly formed secret societies, such as the Masons and the Oddfellows.

Christianity and patriarchy

Christianity contributed much to the Victorian concept of masculinity. The real Victorian man was to be spiritual and a faithful believer. Hence, the husband and father was considered to be the pater familias with extensive power. He was the head of the household, but his duty was not only to rule, but also to protect those whom he viewed as weak—his wife and their children.


Like in the private sphere, men of the Victorian era were equally active in the public sphere (in contrast to women). Work was crucial in order to achieve a fully masculine status. This was especially true for the middle-class man; male members of the aristocracy were seen as idle because they generally did not work. By being active in enterprise, men fulfilled their duty as breadwinners in the sense that they had to provide for their families. Since home and work were perceived as very separate spheres, working at home was a delicate matter, for example for writers, who had to fear their masculine status being threatened. Besides work, Victorian men were also active in the public sphere of clubs and taverns, indulging in homosociality.

Muscular Christianity

With the beginning of the second half of the 19th century the picture of the ideal of manliness started to shift. Due to publications such as Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species (1859) and Friedrich Nietzsche saying "God is dead!" (1882) the main focus in the concept of masculinity shifted from a spiritual focus on religion towards a commitment to muscle: 'muscular Christianity' was created. At the same time male domesticity decreased.

Sports and readiness for physical combat

The development towards a focus on muscle manifested itself in the belief that in order to educate one's mind one had to educate one's body. This assumption has its roots in the rise of natural science and especially biology. Thus, a fascination with health led to a sports and game playing mania, which was primarily acted out through the public school system for boys. The athlete was the new hero of society. This, according to E.M. Forster, then led to "well-developed bodies, fairly developed minds, and undeveloped hearts". Another reason for such drills was that by the end of the 19th century the British Empire was perceived to be in danger and athletic public school boys made good recruits.


In the second half of the 19th century the ideal of Victorian manliness became increasingly defined by imperialism because the subordination of non-western cultures was in its heyday in Britain. Thus, part of the concept of masculinity became military and patriotic virtue, which defined the ideal man as courageous and enduring like hunters, adventurers, and pioneers, all of whom were profoundly self-sufficient and independent and had broad scientific knowledge. This orientation towards hardiness and endurance was reflected by a change in clothing as well: rich colors and materials were discouraged in favor of dark colors, straight cuts, and stiff materials.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Victorian masculinity" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools