What problems were there in Victorian times

Victorian England: The Bourgeois Stranglers of London

"I am deeply moved by what Mister Dickens writes in his novel about the living conditions of many children in London," noted 19-year-old Queen Victoria, who had just been crowned Queen, in her diary in 1838. The Australian historian Julia Baird suspects that she was personally deeply touched by reading Oliver Twist or the Parish Boy's Progress, in which the negative consequences of industrialization - child labor, poverty and crime - were vividly described.

As soon as she was in office, the coronation as Queen of England took place in Westminster Abbey on June 28, 1838, the inquisitive young monarch began to ask questions: about the social grievances in her country, but especially in London, which one as head of state faced could not turn a blind eye, as she told Prime Minister Lord Melbourne. But the father's mentor, with whom the young Victoria had a special relationship of trust and who had little interest in "such youthful infatuations", advised his pupil to turn to other topics, which Victoria finally did.

This article is included in Spectrum - The Week, 22/2019

In fact, however, Victoria I, daughter of Eduard, Duke of Kent, and Victoria Luise from the Saxon-Coburg-Saalfeld house, who was born 200 years ago, on May 24th, 1819, in Kensington Palace in London, caught her eye early on directed towards something that would overshadow their entire reign; which, however, did not seem opportune to the politically responsible to discuss and about which England's high society preferred to keep the cloak of silence.

It just did not fit into the self-image of a kingdom busy cementing its position as a leading global and economic power. But the era that lasted from 1819 to 1901, to which the just 1.52 meter tall Victoria gave its name, did not just stand for glamor, for empire and rapid technical progress. "The Victorian age was marked by a tremendous atmosphere of optimism, but also by insecurity and enormous social contradictions," says the English social historian Edward P. Thompson, referring to the much-cited dictum of the English Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) that his country was based "Divided into two nations": into rich and poor.

Hotbed of crime

And nowhere else, Thompson went on, were the social differences more palpable than in London, where the gap between rich and poor was wide. The pulsating capital of the Empire, in which around 3.2 million people lived together in a confined space around 1860, was the largest and most prosperous city in the world in the 19th century, but also one of the most restless and dangerous. A third of the city's population lived in abject poverty, hundreds of thousands had to work as day laborers, tens of thousands of homeless people struggled to survive on a daily basis.

These stark social contrasts formed the breeding ground for crime and human abysses, as they are impressively described in the novels of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stephenson. They show the dark side of the city, where psychopaths like Jack the Ripper and criminal gangs were up to mischief.