Victorian Code of Morality

Instructor: Sharon Powell
Victorian morality represents the morals of the people living during the Victorian era, specifically in Great Britain during the nineteenth century. In this lesson, the different aspects of the Victorian era code of morality will be discussed.

The Victorian Era

When was the Victorian era? This era spanned from 1837 to 1901, the years that coincided with Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne and her death. The Victorian era is seen as an era of contradiction. Social movements that promoted public morality coincided with a divisive class system that imposed harsh living conditions on the working and lower classes. Dignity and repression were contrasted with child labor and rampant prostitution.

Family and Duty

What were the values of Victorian era? Families were an all-important structure in the Victorian era. Most families during this period were quite large, with five or six children on average. As such, their structure was patriarchal, the father as the head, and everyone in the family fulfilling a specific role.

For Victorian parents, the upbringing of their children was the most important responsibility. They believed that a child must know right from wrong in order to adhere to the strict moral code as an adult. As such, consequences were freely given for those children who did not follow the rules.

Truthfulness was another Victorian moral that was taken very seriously. This idea was utilized as a way in which to determine someone's character; Victorians valued the moral character of a person more than the factual basis of his or her assertions.


The act of charity to the 'deserving poor' was an important part of the Victorian era value system. Who were the deserving poor? These included in that category were the sick and infirm, orphans and widows, and the elderly. The idea that it was the obligation of the upper class to care for and manage the remainder of the population.

Victorian era charities saw the role of the church start evolving, becoming the main instrument of charity. Charity was about involving every being in some kind of social service and good work.

Sexual Propriety

The ideas of prudery and repression were features of the Victorian era code of morality, though there is evidence of the existence of a small collection of erotica from the Victorian era, one of the most famous being My Secret Life, which was written by Anonymous and discreetly distributed in the late nineteenth century.

However, verbal and written communications regarding sexuality and emotions were often conveyed by using what was known as the language of the flowers. More specifically, it became popular to use flowers to send secretive messages of affection and love. During the Victorian era, the publication of flower dictionaries explaining the meaning of plants, flowers and herbs, sparked the spread of this 'language' throughout Europe. This was important because the same flower could have opposite meanings depending on how it was arranged or delivered.

Language of Flowers
Language of Flowers

What was the view regarding the moral expectations of women during the Victorian era? Well, different social classes in Victorian times were held to different standards when it came to sexual propriety. In the upper and middle class, women were expected to have no sexual relations before marriage.The only premarital sex that would take place would be between men and servants or prostitutes because the upper and middle class women would not go against the standards of accepted sexual conduct.

Victorian literature and art was full of examples of women paying dearly for straying from these moral expectations. The upper class Victorians strictly enforced these beliefs and values, so that women would continue to be seen as pure. In contrast, it was far more acceptable for those belonging to the working class to have sex before marriage.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account