Victorian Era 1837 – 1901

 

In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria’s reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The era followed the Georgian period and preceded the Edwardian  period, and its later half overlaps with the first part of the Belle Époque era of France and continental Europe. In terms of moral sensibilities and political reforms, period began with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodist, and the Evangelical wing of the established Church of England. Moral standards improved very dramatically, especially for the middle class. The period was peaceful among the Great Powers, with only one mid-sized international war. Britain enjoyed strong naval superiority, leadership worldwide in manufacturing, finance, railways, shipping, and entrepreneurship. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made the British Empire the largest empire in history. National self-confidence peaked.

Ideologically, the Victorian era witnessed resistance to the rationalism that defined the Georgian period and an increasing turn towards romanticism and even mysticism with regard to religion, social values, and arts.


 North and South 2004

Richard Armitage as John Thornton in North and SouthSet in the 1850s, Gaskell’s novel tells the story of Margaret Hale, a vicar’s daughter from the south of England, whose family moves to the northern industrial town of Milton. There she meets the owner of one of the largest local cotton mills, John Thornton. Used to the genteel society of the south, she struggles to adjust to the grime and poverty of the busy mill town at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. She clashes repeatedly with Thornton, critical of his manner of doing business and his treatment of his workers. But gradually they grow closer and come to understand each other. It’s a ‘social problem’ novel with a compelling love story at the heart of it.

An industrial novel by a lesser-known 19th century writer is an unlikely subject for a popular period drama and the BBC can be forgiven for having had modest ambitions for their adaptation.

But it was an unexpected success. Broadcast in four episodes on Sunday evenings in November and December 2004, it was watched by more than 6 million viewers – many of them women who fell in love with John Thornton, as portrayed by Richard Armitage.

Hundreds of them overwhelmed the BBC Drama message boards with messages about the drama and in particular, its hero. Soon the BBC had to set up a separate message board for North and South discussions. The phenomenon of so many women taking to an Internet message board for the first time because of their love for this programme became the subject of an article by Anne Ashworth in The Times. She wrote,

The BBC Drama website contains the outpourings of hundreds of thirty and fortysomething women for this year’s romantic hero. He is John Thornton, the northern millowner in Mrs Gaskell’s North & South, recently serialised on BBC One. Thornton was played smoulderingly by the previously little-known Richard Armitage as a blue-eyed, dark-haired stunner, the Darcy de nos jours. On the messageboard, character and actor merge into one object of desire: RA/JT. […]