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The Rise of Respectable Society

The Rise of Respectable Society

A Social History of Victorian Britain, 1830–1900

F. M. L. Thompson

ISBN 9780674772861

Publication date: 10/01/1990

One of England’s grand masters of history provides a clear and persuasive interpretation of the creation of “respectable society” in Victorian Britain. Integrating a vast amount of research previously hidden in obscure or academic journals, he covers not only the economy, social structure, and patterns of authority, but also marriage and the family, childhood, homes and houses, work and play.

By 1900 the structure of British society had become more orderly and well-defined than it had been in the 1830s and 1840s, but the result, F. M. L. Thompson shows, was fragmentation into a multiplicity of sections or classes with differing standards and notions of respectability. Each group operated its own social controls, based on what it considered acceptable or unacceptable conduct. This “internalized and diversified” respectability was not the cohesive force its middle-class and evangelical proponents had envisioned. The Victorian experience thus bequeathed structural problems, identity problems, and authority problems to the twentieth century, with which Britain is grappling.


  • This is a major study of Victorian society by one of our leading historians, the product of immensely wide reading and mature consideration. It offers a synthesis of the mass of new research material which has appeared since G. M. Young’s Portrait of an Age and G. D. H. Cole’s The Common People half a century ago… Each chapter is an excellent, authoritative and elegant résumé, and will be invaluable to the student and of much interest to what used to be called the intelligent lay reader.

    —John Burnett, Times Literary Supplement

Book Details

  • 382 pages
  • 5-3/4 x 8-1/2 inches
  • Harvard University Press