"Etiquette" is the one word that aptly describes life during the reign of Queen Victoria.
For the lower class, the poor, there wasn't time for etiquette.
The Upper and Upper-Middle Class
From the slightest burp (social ruin if it was heard) to how a gentleman spoke to a young lady, Victorian society was greatly concerned with every aspect of daily life.
From the moment the upper class left their beds, their days were governed by do's and don'ts.
The horror of social ostracism was paramount.
To be caught in the wrong fashion at the wrong time of day was as greatly to be feared as addressing a member of society by the wrong title.
It was important to know whom you could speak with - especially if you hadn't been properly introduced.
For a woman, being asked to dance by a complete stranger could pose an etiquette problem which might have repercussions for days.
Her reputation would be ruined and her gentleman companion would find himself the object of gossip, and most usually derision.
The established career for society women was marriage - full stop. They were expected to represent their husbands with grace and provide absolutely no scandal.
Charity work would be accepted, but only if it was very gentile... sewing for the poor, or putting together food baskets.
Gentlemen had to keep track of when it was proper to either smoke or have a glass of sherry in front of ladies.
Members of Victorian society kept busy with parties, dances, visits, dressmakers, and tailors.
Keeping track of what other people in your social class were doing was also a full-time occupation.
The People in the Middle
Being a servant in one of the grand Victorian houses was a position which would guarantee shelter and food. However, there was etiquette to be learned.
The upper class was never to be addressed unless it was absolutely necessary. If that was the case, as few words as possible were to be uttered.
Using the proper title was of the utmost importance. "Ma'am" or "Sir" was always appropriate. If "Ma'am" was seen, it was necessary that you 'disappear', turning to face the wall and avoiding eye contact.
Life was easier, though, amidst your fellow servants.
Having a profession was another way of being a member of the middle class of Victorian society.
Shopkeepers, doctors, nurses, a schoolmaster, or parish priest were all notable professions.
Another indicator was the number of servants you employed.
Having more than one servant was a sure sign that you had money.
Sometimes, the 'uppers' and the 'middlers' would mingle.
With a successful business deal, both parties could increase their wealth and for the 'middler', their station in life.
The Lower Class
Victorian society did not recognize that there was a lower class.
The best way for society to deal with the poor was to ignore them. They were 'burdens on the public'.
Being just too busy trying to survive, etiquette played little part in the poor's daily existence. But that's not to say that pride wasn't available.
Although Poor Laws were put into place, it wasn't until after the Victorian age ended that 'the lower class' was able, through education, technology, and reform, to raise itself, in some cases literally, out of the gutter.
Victorian society could be quite pleasant, but only depending on your financial status.
Article by "Tudor Rose"