Friday, April 06, 2007

Behind the Looking Glass of the Victorian London Scene: a Glimpse of London Society

Unarguably, the height of the Victorian era Society gathered around London during the reign of Queen Victoria. Ladder-climbers – socially or politically – were represented in London or were in attendance at court-and-function, themselves.

Why, is obvious. The fact that the British Empire was expanding to the largest domination in recorded history missed the attention of very few. Pomp and circumstance were at a peak, but with a different venue than during earlier times, including the Regency, due to Victoria’s permeating social influences. Beyond the morality laws and other movements attributed to her personal touch, she also changed London Society, in great part by not participating as fully or as openly as prior monarchs. There was rhyme and reason to her social behaviors.

For novel writers of the time period focusing on Victorian London and its influences, the tendency to include societal parties and shindigs may be the norm. I have yet to read a novel of the time period set in that area of the world and that societal ilk that doesn’t at least attempt to show a party, or two.

All well and good.

Small details tend to authenticate the novelistic guest lists. Queen Victoria was not a recluse, despite some popular misconceptions. She did adhere to a lifetime of mourning rituals and garb, but out of deference to her late, faithful Prince Consort rather than to shun Society. On the other hand, during and after her husband’s lifetime, Victoria attended the soirees and functions that would be considered “important.”

If a novelistic party were to be shown to be of high import, then it could be emphasized by an appearance from the Queen. Although many authors may be more fascinated by the playboy prince, Bertie, which I mention because most Society level settings in Victorian novels I’ve read seem to include him swankering through the party sets. Still, his attendance didn’t declare a host or hostess’ party as ‘important.’

A better gauge of societal-level ranking on the party scene would be to include an ambassador’s brief stopover at a party to declare it worthy of the highest ranks. Recall that ambassadors traditionally usurp the Queen or other female titled counterpart to a male reigning sovereign when being seated for the more formal of functions, even if it causes a reigning queen to sit at a lower-ranked table, as a result. Some courts, such as in London, boasted ambassadors from nearly any country which meant the most important tables at even an informal banquet might overflow with ambassadors before the royalty were seated. Therefore, even an ambassador from the lowest and poorest of countries in attendance at a Society hosts’ or hostess’ party elevate the party to a higher level of social prestige than one simply attended by a fun-loving Bertie or his kind.


1 comment:

Camilla said...

Actually, Bertie's appearance at a house party was very important--that is, if you wanted to break into The Marlborough House Set made up of fast British aristocrats, industrialists, American nouveaux riches, Jews, and Continental aristocrats.

Queen Victoria's society revolved around the Court of St. James at Buckingham Palace, Osbourne, Balmoral and mostly, Windsor Castle--quite dull and routine for those desiring a life of frantic social entertainments. BUT, Queen Victoria's summons to be met was desired for complete social acceptance.