Twenty-First Century Victorians

  • 2016-11-21
  • Jacobin

The word Victorian tends to evoke old-fashioned ideas: women confined in corsets, strict gender roles, and a prudishness about all things sexual. In a world where conspicuous consumerism and self-expression rule, these nineteenth-century notions of self-restraint and self-denial seem hopelessly outdated.

But the Victorian ethos is not dead, not by a long shot.

It lives on, manifesting itself in our contemporary upper middle class’s behavior. While some aspects have gone the way of the waistcoat, the belief that the bourgeoisie holds a place of moral superiority over the other classes persists.

Today, spin classes, artisanal food, and the college application process have replaced Sunday promenades, evening lectures, and weekly salons. But make no mistake, they serve the same purpose: transforming class privilege into individual virtue, thereby shoring up social dominance.