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Here in the UK, we refer to the "Victorians", or the era in which the "Victorians" reigned. I recently read an article on the BBC about a story set in the United States during the Victorian Era. Whilst this made sense from the perspective of the BBC (being a British company), it did make me wonder if the era made any sense outside the borders of the UK... Do other countries even recognise it as an era? Are there equivalents? When is it okay and not okay to refer to something in that era that is not contextually relevant?

Have tagged as [Victorian]... ;)

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  • You occasionally see people arguing against that usage here in the US, but it's really, really common -- people will talk about Victorian architecture or Victorian fashion (which is sort of silly anyway -- she was Queen a long time and fashions changed a lot!) or just "Victorian times."
    – litlnemo
    May 17, 2014 at 13:35
  • In Germany it is a common expression, see e.g. Wikipedia. A similar expression could be Wilhelminische Ära or Wilhelminismus = Wilhelminism.
    – knut
    May 17, 2014 at 20:14
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    Not in France (it wouldn't be understood by people who aren't familiar with British history). May 19, 2014 at 9:13
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    @Gilles. Though Foucault (“Nous autres, victoriens”) evidently thought otherwise. See: forum.wordreference.com/threads/nous-autres-victoriens.2743448
    – fdb
    Aug 10, 2016 at 8:08
  • In Sweden and Norway, the later part of the Victorian era is called the "Oscarian period", after king Oscar II (reigned 1872-1907). The term has strong implications of moral hypocrisy, with one thing said in public and another done in pricate.
    – andejons
    Aug 10, 2016 at 9:44

5 Answers 5

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Is it correct? I am pleased to say that there is no authority that can deem a term correct or incorrect. There are no language police. (See Aside #1)

If you use the term Victorian Era, you will (probably) be understood. Although Victoria was only Queen of the Commonwealth, the sun never set on her territory, and even where she did not rule, she influenced (soft power). As a consequence, the term is useful - there is an entry in both Wikipedia and Merriam Webster.

The term is commonly used in several contexts (gamewriting, costuming, fiction).

For US only, we can use the terms "ante-bellum" and "post-bellum" to refer to portions of the Victorian era.

Aside #1 I will grant that there are many language police, but they are not relevant to any meaningful endeavor. Arguably mocking the foolish is amusing, but probably not meaningful

Aside #2 - The prudishness of Victorians is vastly overstated. Arguably, one of the reasons that the English largely ignored the revolutions of 1850 is that the English "liberals" were more powerful than liberals in other countries because they had a long history of funding themselves through publication of pornography. Greater funding meant that they had more influence, and consequently they didn't need to rebel; they just needed to use the funds provided by pornography to advance a liberal agenda.

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    @MarkC.Wallace Just how long have you been waiting to include pornography in a History:SE answer?
    – CGCampbell
    Sep 5, 2014 at 16:54
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    There are sources for those porn funding schemes? Is this true at the scale you suggest?
    – James
    Apr 12, 2022 at 13:12
  • It will take me some time to go back and find the citations (and I'm not searching for those search terms during work hours... I'm actually not looking forward to that search)
    – MCW
    Apr 12, 2022 at 13:39
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“Victorian” makes sense within the boundaries of the United Kingdom (as you say), but also within the boundaries of the British Empire. Remember that Victoria was “Empress of India”. Outside of the British Empire, for example in the USA, it does not really make sense, though lots of Americans do talk about the “Victorian era”, mainly in the context of discussions of sexual prudishness.

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    I'm curious. Whats your source for the statement that Americans talk about the Victorian era "mainly in the context of discussions of sexual prudishness" May 18, 2014 at 11:26
  • I thought Indians (from India- to clarify) used "Victorian" as a reference to sexual prudishness. And no- I have no references except my own life experience.
    – Rajib
    May 18, 2014 at 17:44
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    @Rajib: Actually the period of American prudishness lasted only from about 1870 to 1900, the later part of the Victorian era, that is after the Civil War, the shadow of which dampened the libidos of a whole (so-called) "Missionary" generation.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 9, 2016 at 22:27
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    In my experience, the three most common usages of the term "Victorian" in the US is to refer to a building of some sort, furniture of some sort, or clothing of some sort. All those are far more common then references to prudishness. This may be a regional thing, as I'm on the West Coast, were "Victorians" are common and "Antebellum" is not a word in common usage. Aug 10, 2016 at 19:53
  • "in the USA, it does not really make sense, though lots of Americans do talk about the 'Victorian era'" -- which suggests rather strongly that the term "Victorian" does make sense to Americans. Perhaps what you meant to say is that you believe that it shouldn't make sense to Americans.
    – Mark Olson
    Apr 11, 2022 at 13:38
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Curiously, I was in a tour of a Victorian mansion, probably the Emyln Physic House in Cape May, New Jersey (or possibly Wheatland in Lancaster, PA), and the guide used the term "Victorian" a bit differently. As I remember the surviving decoration was dated to two periods about a decade apart and one period was described as "Victorian" and the other had a different name.

So apparently in the tour guide believed that in the history of American interior decoration the Victorian period of 1837-1901 is divided into sub periods, one of which is called "Victorian" and the others with different names.

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As both an American and an Architect, I can agree that "Victorian" is used to describe objects, designs, ideas, and themes (especially in literature) which became prevalent during the "Victorian Era," or queen Victoria's reign.

We Americans also have another term, mostly in history books, which overlaps the earlier part of her reign called "the Gilded Age" but no one really uses that outside history class.

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  • "Gilded Age" tends to be only after the war.
    – Mary
    Apr 10, 2022 at 0:27
  • The Gilded Age - don't you mean the latter part of Victoria's reign? The name apparently comes from Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner's 'The Gilded Age' (1873). Apr 10, 2022 at 1:02
  • I largely concur. In my (American) experience, Victorian is used more in the subjects of architecture, literature, and sexuality; whereas the Gilded Age is used more in the subjects of economics and political history.
    – Mike
    Apr 11, 2022 at 2:33
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It's absolutely appropriate to use "Victorian" in the US to refer to anything within that date range. I grew up in an 1870s house that we unequivocally called a Victorian, even though the architect was American. There are sub-categories of styles you might hear referred to as well, such as Gothic Revival architecture, or Eastlake furniture, but you'd be safe calling those "Victorian era" as an umbrella term.

I can't speak for countries outside the US, but I have a feeling it may be the same in most of the English-speaking world. For countries like Japan, however, you're better off talking about the Meji and late Edo periods.

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