Those Pesky Victorians

Elizabethans? No that won’t work: already taken.

Georgians? No, that won’t work, even though some say that Prince Charles will choose to become George VII, if and when: it disregards 60-plus years of intervening history from Bertie to Charlie, and pretty momentous history at that.

What are we doing, you ask? Just wondering what today’s Brits will be called (and possibly ourselves, as subjects of the same monarch), 150 years-or-so hence. You know, the way we refer to Brits from 150 years-or-so ago as ‘Victorians’.

Now maybe, like me, you don’t think much about the Victorians in your daily routine. Maybe, like me, all you know about them is a vague sense of sexual/social repression (they likely thought of it as ‘self control’) and the sins of colonialism (they likely thought of it as ‘saving the heathen’ and ‘Pax Britannica‘, a century of relative world peace when Britain controlled the seas).

If that’s so, then this trip would be an eye opener for you too, because it turns out the Victorians were far, far worse than I had imagined. Throughout the week, we hear passionate young people casually slam the Victorians at every turn.

It was, after all, the Victorians who happily collected plant specimens from every exotic locale and unthinkingly planted them in their own gardens, unleashing invasive rhododendron into today’s natural preserves.

It was the Victorians who tarted-up tasteful Georgian houses with fake crests and tacky towers and embattlements, causing ice-dam problems for today’s homeowners.

It was the Victorians who collected antiquities by the boatload, causing cultural-appropriation problems for today’s museums; and who collected bird feathers for ladies’ hats, helping some species along the path to extinction.

It was the Victorians who capitalized on then-modern textile production techniques to market colourful and made-up tartans for every Scottish surname, meeting the needs of a newly upwardly mobile society and spawning a whole industry of tartan souvenirs to this day.

Most unforgiveable in these here parts, though, it was the Victorians who imitated Queen Victoria’s use of her Balmoral estate in Scotland, putting in place the agricultural and game management policies that stripped the Highlands of its last vestiges of Caledonian pine forest. That ‘Balmorality’ ethic has even been the subject of an erudite and entertaining lecture for our group.

Lousy ecology. Pretentious architecture. Conspicuous consumption. Social climbing combined with lousy ecology. Gosh, is there any sin the Victorians didn’t commit?

Well, they didn’t drive the lamented beaver, lynx, wolf or brown bear to extinction — those were long gone by the Victorian era — they merely continued the worldwide human pattern of making their environment suitable for what they understood as their needs. They didn’t cause the inital drastic drop-off in the range of the Caledonian pine forest — climate warming that naturally followed the end of the last ice age did that — they merely administered the coup de grí¢ce. They didn’t invent the notion that Western culture was superior, they merely acted on it, with ill effects. And with some good ones, too.

They abolished slavery, drove the Industrial Revolution, and brought in free education for all children under the age of 10, but somehow the Victorians don’t look so good in our rear view mirror. Nowhere near as enlightened and progressive as, for example, ourselves.

I guess we should just enjoy our status while it lasts. But we might want to go ahead now and choose the name by which we will be known, and slammed, in 150 years.


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9 Responses to Those Pesky Victorians

  1. It’s moot what future generations decide to call us — what future generations?

    At the rate climate change is happening, 150 years from now will see the earth beginning to restoring itself after getting rid of half the population through plague or sea rise or permanent droughts or a dozen different ways we deserve for the mismanagement of this small blue planet.

    But if I were to choose our name — just in case there are people around — I’d call us a synonym for The What have Future Generations Ever Done for Me? Generation.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I believe there is a well-known street synonym for your phrase, but it’s not very polite. I think we’ll get through it, but the odds are high we’ll neither of us be around to be able to say, “I told you so!”.

  2. Jim taylor says:

    I’m afraid that I share Barbara’s pessimism about future generations. It has dawned on us that this is a finite world we live in, and on. There is only so much energy available for us to build exponential population growth on, and we cannot keep on forever-and-ever-amen mining the energy left over from millions of years ago. If we need a name for our generation, it would probably be the “out of control” generation.

    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I’d be inclined to call us the Sanctimoniums, but track the out-of-control aspect too. One of the themes of the science fiction I read as a teenager (‘hard’ science fiction, mostly, not fantasy) was the importance of getting off this planet. As a risk mitigation measure, it makes good sense.

  3. Jim taylor says:

    Actually, assuming Charles doesn’t die before his Mum, how about the Charlatans?


    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Ha. I wonder whether Betty Windsor ever thinks about this… Maybe we should enquire. Who’s got her number?

    • The “Ooooh very good” was for Jim’s suggestion; don’t know how it got dropped below…

      But Isabel, I did write to the Queen years ago to ask her what she carried in her purse (I had a dozen suggestions given to me by people) and got a reply almost return mail! It was from her mother’s Lady-in-Waiting who thanked me for my kind wishes on her birthday.

      Betty IS on Facebook — drop her a note. Dare you!

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Barbara – If ever I get famous and have thousands of comments every day, I’ll hire a Lady-in-Waiting to respond. I have a vague sense that years ago, before email, someone wrote to prominent people and published their responses (or those of their Ladies-in-Waiting). Does that ring a bell with anyone?

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