By Victorian era I mean the moral rigidity and the dominance of the bourgeoisie. We had the same culture in France but I can't find the proper term to phrase it.

For example how would you translate "Victorians" in the sentence below to a public which doesn't have a clue about English history (so a literal translation won't work) but who has some knowledge about French history.

The refusal to acknowledge human nature is like the Victorians’ embarrassment about sex, only worse: it distorts our science and scholarship, our public discourse, and our day-to-day lives. (Steven Pinker)

  • I don't think there's a definite term like in Britain for the same 19th century period. The 'Victorian' era is simply the period of stability under a single head of state that persisted for a long time, so it's easy to apply the label. In 19th century France, however, you have revolution, republic, empire, restoration, republic, empire, republic... I have heard it called 'the long nineteenth century' but I'm uncertain that is academically correct. It'll be interesting to see some answers. Mar 6, 2014 at 9:52
  • Was there such a period in France at all? Another thing - even if there's a French equivalent, it'd be incorrect to insert in in the body of the translation - that's what translator's notes are for. Mar 6, 2014 at 10:42
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    Are you asking about the "era" (time) or about the "culture" (which is a bit of a myth)? There is a term for the corresponding time period, although I can't bring it to mind right now. I have no idea what the corresponding cultural term would be.
    – MCW
    Mar 6, 2014 at 13:05
  • Thanks for you help! @MarkC.Wallace I am asking about the culture not the era (this culture actually lasted more or less until 1968 in france and is still there in some conservatisve groups). Why do you say it is a bit of a myth?
    – MagTun
    Mar 11, 2014 at 5:44
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    What about the belle époque during the Third Republic? I don't know about the state of the bourgeoise, but IMHO the cultural, scientific, military and economic power of France was impressive, and at least comparable to that of Britain at that time.
    – grizzly
    Mar 13, 2014 at 7:24

2 Answers 2


There isn't, and never has been, a French equivalent of the Victorian Era in the sense of moral rigidity and the dominance of the bourgeoisie. As evidence I submit the concept of the French Postcard (warning - adult content beyond link) which nearly every Victorian gentleman traveling on the Continent would send to his male friends for their amusement.

The very concept of a Victorian Age in this sense is a Northern European, Puritanical, and very Anglo-Saxon concept essentially incompatible with Catholic Gallic culture.

The distinction revolves around a fundamental difference between the theology and practice of the Roman Catholic church which historically pervades Gallic culture, and the Calvinist theology and practice which periodically has pervaded Anglo-Saxon culture. (Cromwell's time as Lord Protector and the latter part of Victoria's reign being two notable examples.)

According to (Roman) Catholic theology, everyone sins; provided one confesses, performs the designated penance, and subsequently receives mass all is well, and one is welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven. This becomes so habitual historically that many perform it as a weekly ritual.

According to Calvinist theology, where there is no concept of Free Will, one's right to salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven is pre-ordained in terms of who you are, not what you have or not done. This further requires that in order to maintain one's status as one of the chosen one must be perpetually observant, and as everyone is their brother's keeper everyone must also be perpetually observant that everyone else is also perpetually observant of the strictest moral precepts.

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.


By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death. (Chapter 3 Paragraph 3)^


All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

Whether a national culture or the theology comes first is a chicken-and-egg problem that I will leave to the philosophers. But the Gallic culture is and historically always has been entirely intolerant of Calvinist theology, while Anglo-Saxon culture seems to regularly cycle in and out of it.

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    Calvinism as in the French theologian John Calvin? :)
    – Drux
    Mar 9, 2014 at 22:30
  • @Drux: Ironically, yes. Though his particular branch of Protestantism seems to have first caught on in Switzerland. Mar 9, 2014 at 22:31
  • Yep, I think on substance (apart from irony) you have a point.
    – Drux
    Mar 9, 2014 at 22:31
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    Thanks @PieterGeerkens! I do get your point but in the XIX and even in the XX century, there were still a lot of taboos around sex. The postcard where sold for tourists but I don't think it reflected the average mindset of the people (not the elites like artists and so one) of this time when romantic love was seen as something irrational and humiliating. Extramarital sex was seen an attack to family honor. 'Indecent' dressing in public places and homosexual sexual acts were seen as bad. There were also a lot of moral rigidity: tolerance toward other religion like Judaism (Dreyfus affair...)
    – MagTun
    Mar 11, 2014 at 6:04

To my ear the German term Biedermeier has a somewhat similar connotation. It denotes the period between 1815 and 1848 and includes important cultural characteristics. And the French term Restauration (period between 1815 and 1830) rings somewhat similar to Biedermeier, although this term seems to imply much less about specific culture.

So Restauration is one French term that is indirectly related (if certainly not equivalent) to the Victorian era (period between 1837 and 1901) in a way that may be meaningful for your inquiry. Here's an excerpt from its Wikipedia article:

The period was characterized by a sharp conservative reaction, and consequent minor but consistent occurrences of civil unrest and disturbances. It also saw the re-establishment of the Roman Catholic Church as a power in French politics.

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