Thursday, December 10, 2009

Are 21st century Americans the New Victorians?

A culture inordinately influenced by a wacked view of Christianity that values censure over love, exclusion over generosity and generally is mostly concerned about extending its power to control people’s lives? Check.

A squeamish prudery when it comes to the realities of sex? Check.

A belief that the country is not only blest by, um, “God” – but the country has the God-given right and duty to exert control over the rest of the world? Check.

A blind faith in the progress of business and industry – what’s good for business is good for the individual – yet science (read: evolution) is suspect? Check.

“Victorian” has always been a pejorative adjective in my books. I learned that from my mother and father, I suppose: my grandparents, three of whom were born when Queen Victoria was still alive (only my father’s father was born after her death), all suffered one way or another due to the Victorian values that they carried with them until they died. To me, Victorian means self-righteous, smugly pious, inhibited and stifling.

What brings this whole, well, facile comparison to mind is a recent reading of A.S. Byatt’s curious The Children’s Book, which puts a different spin on the original Victorians, (including a faddish adult love of children’s literature with one of the main characters a sort of less-successful 19th century J.K. Rowling I’d say). The book is all about Fabians and syndicalists, medievalists and suffragists, social reformers all. Victorian England wasn’t just a time of moral hypocrisy, it was a time of great upheaval. Which I suppose is true of our time as well. Although at this very moment, what’s happening in America regarding that issue closest to my heart, gay rights, makes me inclined to think that the moral hypocrites are winning.


Will people look back a hundred years from now and think of us Americans the way I think of the 19th century English?

The Swedish word for the day is förträngning. It means repression.