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Victorian class system question


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Is there a name for that class of people who are not rich but still considered gentry?

 

I am talking about that socially nebulous bunch of people in Victorian times who were governesses or ladies' companions. Perhaps this class also encompasses those pesky third sons who don't inherit, so end up educated and accustomed to a wealthy lifestyle but have no money? (They often joined the army.) Or what about Oxford dons??

 

My high school lit class is studying North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, set at around 1850ish. When Margaret's father stepped out of the church and became a tutor, his class changed, right? He moved down a notch in the ladder, but because of his education is still more associated with gentry than with tradespeople.

 

Thanks!

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I would have thought he would still be considered middle class as a tutor. Class has as much to do with background, upbringing and education as current occupation. There may be an argument for calling him lower middle class if his standard of living was reduced over a long period time.

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My high school lit class is studying North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, set at around 1850ish. When Margaret's father stepped out of the church and became a tutor, his class changed, right? He moved down a notch in the ladder, but because of his education is still more associated with gentry than with tradespeople.

 

Thanks!

 

Born a gentleman, always a gentleman. Moving occupation did not change your class.

 

This still obtains, to a large extent. I was born upper middle class and educated in that style, and even though I now work as an administrator, I am still upper middle class, because of my background and education. These days, one can move up a class through education, but it takes more than one generation to drop down one.

 

Laura

Edited by Laura Corin
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Is there a name for that class of people who are not rich but still considered gentry?

 

I am talking about that socially nebulous bunch of people in Victorian times who were governesses or ladies' companions. Perhaps this class also encompasses those pesky third sons who don't inherit, so end up educated and accustomed to a wealthy lifestyle but have no money? (They often joined the army.) Or what about Oxford dons??

 

My high school lit class is studying North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, set at around 1850ish. When Margaret's father stepped out of the church and became a tutor, his class changed, right? He moved down a notch in the ladder, but because of his education is still more associated with gentry than with tradespeople.

 

Thanks!

There were only nobility and commoners in Victorian England, from my understanding. The jobs you mentioned were generally taken from impoverished nobility, as the commoners often wouldn't have the required manners/social customs. There were some upper middle class jobs too, such as tutoring or being a dance master.

 

The only way to move upward or downward was with money. Still, it was limited. There would always be a stigma attached to being "new money'.

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There were only nobility and commoners in Victorian England, from my understanding.

 

You can go back to Jane Austen to see the foundations. There are the nobility (Lady Catherine de Burgh), there are gentlemen and their families (a wide range, including Darcy and Mr Bennett), there's trade (Mrs Bennett and her family of business people and lawyers), and there is lower class (labourers, servants, etc.).

 

Money was not the basis for social mobility - as you mentioned, new money was looked down upon. Social status could be obtained through marriage or through money-plus-time. Bingley's family is a few generations away from the trade that made them their money, and the 'stigma' has been wiped away.

 

Laura

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Born a gentleman, always a gentleman. Moving occupation did not change your class.

 

And what about all those impoverished nobles who couldn't afford the upkeep on their castles, including the inspiration for Lord Grantham's character on Downton Abbey, whose wife was an illegitimate daughter of a Rothschild and used her money to bail him out. It didn't matter that someone had no money. They were still "classy," as it were.

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There were only nobility and commoners in Victorian England, from my understanding. The jobs you mentioned were generally taken from impoverished nobility, as the commoners often wouldn't have the required manners/social customs. There were some upper middle class jobs too, such as tutoring or being a dance master.

 

The only way to move upward or downward was with money. Still, it was limited. There would always be a stigma attached to being "new money'.

 

This is still true. That's why the "Prince William married a commoner!" thing was silly. Diana was a commoner too, as have been almost all of the English-born wives of English kings. In England, you are either a noble with a title, or a commoner. High-ranked nobles often gave their young children a minor title that they had so that they would be a noble too from a young age, but most children of titled parents are commoners until they either inherit a title, or (if female) marry someone who has a title.

 

Impoverished gentry were still gentry, but it had more to do with education and background than with pure money. Honestly, you could say the same thing about class in the US today... as the saying goes "money doesn't buy class."

 

England has a really long history of snobbishness about accent and the geographic area that you're from. It still exists (and I'm married to someone from the south of England, so trust me when I say this... also trust that I'm rolling my eyes as I type it). The protagonist is terribly snobby about being middle class and from the South, and is honestly shocked that anyone from the North is even literate, let alone has manners. The closest comparison I can think of is if, say, a genteel professor's daughter from Boston moves to Oklahoma and expects everyone to either be a brutish cowboy or a "red Indian." There's also thrown in the idea that industrial money is "new money" and therefore just must be terribly gauche... it's interesting to contrast with the Bingley's in P&P, as they are also "new money" from the north, and the sisters are awful snobs in a very nouveaux riches kind of way.

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And what about all those impoverished nobles who couldn't afford the upkeep on their castles, including the inspiration for Lord Grantham's character on Downton Abbey, whose wife was an illegitimate daughter of a Rothschild and used her money to bail him out. It didn't matter that someone had no money. They were still "classy," as it were.

 

That's a different issue, and a little later. There were a series of agricultural depressions in the late Victorian period which really affected the financial stability of the nobility (who made most of their money from rents and agriculture). At the same time, the cost of living in giant stone palaces was skyrocketing: labor costs were rising, as mill work became a more viable option for young women, and indoor plumbing, electricity, and heating such a house was a joke. There were many peers who married American heiresses for their money. There's a fantastically fun book called "To Marry an English Lord" all about it.

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You can go back to Jane Austen to see the foundations. There are the nobility (Lady Catherine de Burgh), there are gentlemen and their families (a wide range, including Darcy and Mr Bennett), there's trade (Mrs Bennett and her family of business people and lawyers), and there is lower class (labourers, servants, etc.).

 

Money was not the basis for social mobility - as you mentioned, new money was looked down upon. Social status could be obtained through marriage or through money-plus-time. Bingley's family is a few generations away from the trade that made them their money, and the 'stigma' has been wiped away.

 

Laura

 

Are not the "gentlemen" (and below) still commoners? Or were there some titled gentlemen (like is a Baron a gentleman or nobility...or both?) A little unclear on that part.

 

I did mean money + time. Money alone wouldn't do it, until everyone "forgot" your meager origin. ;)

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Are not the "gentlemen" (and below) still commoners? Or were there some titled gentlemen (like is a Baron a gentleman or nobility...or both?) A little unclear on that part.

 

I did mean money + time. Money alone wouldn't do it, until everyone "forgot" your meager origin. ;)

I believe one could be a mere mister but not lose one's social status.

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Is there a name for that class of people who are not rich but still considered gentry?

 

I am talking about that socially nebulous bunch of people in Victorian times who were governesses or ladies' companions. Perhaps this class also encompasses those pesky third sons who don't inherit, so end up educated and accustomed to a wealthy lifestyle but have no money? (They often joined the army.) Or what about Oxford dons??

 

My high school lit class is studying North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, set at around 1850ish. When Margaret's father stepped out of the church and became a tutor, his class changed, right? He moved down a notch in the ladder, but because of his education is still more associated with gentry than with tradespeople.

 

Thanks!

 

This is one of the big themes of the novel. Margaret's family did not believe their class had changed at all. They were born upper middle class, and stayed that way no matter what due to birth, education, and manners. But the mill oweners of Milltown looked down upon them because of their poverty. Margaret in turned looked down on the mill owners because of their lack of birth and education. Who was really "the most" upper middle class?

 

That's what is so modern about Gaskell, because she is asking questions that we still ask today. I have more thoughts about North and South here on my blog.

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Are not the "gentlemen" (and below) still commoners? Or were there some titled gentlemen (like is a Baron a gentleman or nobility...or both?) A little unclear on that part.

 

I did mean money + time. Money alone wouldn't do it, until everyone "forgot" your meager origin. ;)

 

I think that gentlemen would count as commoners, but being a gentleman was a rank in itself. Elizabeth Bennett talks about being a gentleman's daughter when she is fighting back against Lady Catherine de Burgh's insults.

 

I had always thought that a title=nobility. However, in Persuasion (again, earlier than the OP was talking about, but useful as a basis, I think) there is quite a detailed discussion of the situation. Sir Walter Elliot is a Baronet. He comes from 'an ancient and respectable family... [forebears served as] sheriff... in three successive parliaments...' then his ancestor is made a baronet by Charles II. So that's relatively recent - only 150 years or so before the writing of the book.

 

Then, later in the book, distant relatives of the Elliots appear: The Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honourable Miss Carteret. Sir Walter is completely star-struck and does his best to worm his way into their circle. The sensible daughter, 'had never seen her father and sister before in contact with nobility, and she must acknowledge herself disappointed. She had hoped better things from their high ideas of their own situation in life....' So I clearly don't understand the gradations amongst the titled.

 

ETA: Wikipedia has this on baronets. Apparently it's the only hereditary honour that is not a peerage. A peerage counts as nobility, but a baronetcy does not.

 

Laura

Edited by Laura Corin
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A gentleman is a commoner. Just one who feels superior, by wealth or education, to a common laborer. For example, in Emma, Emma feels that Harriet is much too good for the farmer (whose name I can't remember).

 

A vicount is a peer. The peers I think are duke, vicount, baron, earl, and lord. But it's complicated by the fact that Lord is also an honorific, so the Earl of Grantham would be called Lord Grantham when you're talking to him or about him. But I think Lord when just a title is non-hereditary, which is part of the joke in Pride and Prejudice, where Lord Lucas thinks that he's all that and a box of chips when his "title" is really just a minor award presented to him as one of those boring state things monarchs do and doesn't really mean much.

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And what about all those impoverished nobles who couldn't afford the upkeep on their castles, including the inspiration for Lord Grantham's character on Downton Abbey, whose wife was an illegitimate daughter of a Rothschild and used her money to bail him out. It didn't matter that someone had no money. They were still "classy," as it were.

 

Sidenote: I hate to hijack this post but when did I miss that Lady Grantham was an illegitimate daughter of a Rothschild. I just thought she was an American heiress. I didn't realize they went further in her background story. Is that the reason his mother doesn't like her due to her illegitimacy?

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Sidenote: I hate to hijack this post but when did I miss that Lady Grantham was an illegitimate daughter of a Rothschild. I just thought she was an American heiress. I didn't realize they went further in her background story. Is that the reason his mother doesn't like her due to her illegitimacy?

 

I don't know if Lady Grantham is, but the real life woman was. She received money all her life, including to open that hospital during the war (her idea, not the way it was depicted in DA). I read Lady Almina and the Real Downtown Abbey, by Fiona Carnarvon (current countess). This one http://www.amazon.com/Lady-Almina-Real-Downton-Abbey/dp/0770435629

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I don't know if Lady Grantham is, but the real life woman was. She received money all her life, including to open that hospital during the war (her idea, not the way it was depicted in DA). I read Lady Almina and the Real Downtown Abbey, by Fiona Carnarvon (current countess). This one http://www.amazon.com/Lady-Almina-Real-Downton-Abbey/dp/0770435629

 

I think that the author of that book jumped on the craze, honestly. There was a huge rush of American Heiresses marrying impoverished peers from the 1880s through the 1920s. I don't think it was based on just one. I believe in an interview the guy who made the series said he got the idea from reading the book I mentioned earlier ("To Marry an English Lord") and wondering what happened to the women 20 years later.

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I think that the author of that book jumped on the craze, honestly. There was a huge rush of American Heiresses marrying impoverished peers from the 1880s through the 1920s. I don't think it was based on just one. I believe in an interview the guy who made the series said he got the idea from reading the book I mentioned earlier ("To Marry an English Lord") and wondering what happened to the women 20 years later.

 

Well, whoever it's based on, Lady Almina's life was interesting on its own terms, more so than what's been shown the series, in my opinion, where very little is shown about Lady Grantham, really, and she did have a war recovery hospital in the mansion, and the author claims this changed the course of recovery from war trauma, so it's a good read. I think the current countess is right to point out the fact that they are using her house to film (Highclere Castle). Not sure how that's jumping on a craze, when her home is actually involved. I also enjoyed Below Stairs by Margaret Powell, for the servants' perspectives.

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Well, whoever it's based on, Lady Almina's life was interesting on its own terms, more so than what's been shown the series, in my opinion, where very little is shown about Lady Grantham, really, and she did have a war recovery hospital in the mansion, and the author claims this changed the course of recovery from war trauma, so it's a good read. I think the current countess is right to point out the fact that they are using her house to film (Highclere Castle). Not sure how that's jumping on a craze, when her home is actually involved. I also enjoyed Below Stairs by Margaret Powell, for the servants' perspectives.

 

The government took control of most of the Stately Homes during WWI and WWII, and they were used for various things, including as convalescent hospitals, temporary homes for boarding schools and orphanages in London, or as war offices. That was not up to any of the families who owned the homes.

 

Lady Almina had an incredibly interesting life, from what I've read of it: I'm not disputing that at all. I'm just disputing the book's claim that anyone in Downton Abbey is actually based on her.

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