That code of strict propriety’ and respectability which is associated with the expression “Victorianism” was most faithfully obeyed by the middle class which the growth of trade made the most important part of nineteenth-century society.
Above all they valued purity and “refinement”. The worst of the vices were coarseness and vulgarity. Not only was immoral conduct condemned; the very pos¬sibility of its existence was excluded from polite conversation and literature. Shake¬speare appeared in editions from which all “improper” expressions had been removed. The word “belly” was driven out of the language and has hardly dared to return even yet. Even “stomach” was considered an “indelicate” word; and that the female sex possessed legs was rarely admitted. They were said to have “limbs” instead.
The centre of family life in the nineteenth century was the father, and male domi¬nation was carried farther than ever before. The only work a woman could do was to be a dutiful wife and fruitful mother. A woman who departed from the rule of single chastity or married fidelity was an outcast. In the eighteenth century she would have been the subject of a great deal of talk, and, if she were a woman in society, of coarse verses. But in the nineteenth century once her guilt was established her very existence was ignored in shocked silence.
A regular feature of Victorian family life was family prayers and Bible reading, which took place daily and was often attended not only by the family but by the servants (of whom, in view of the size of Victorian families and houses, there were many). […]
The taste of the Victorian age was much less sure than that of the eighteenth cen¬tury, especially in architecture and interior decoration. Under the impression that they were reviving the rich styles of the Middle Ages, the Victorians produced pretentious public buildings freely decorated with a great deal of useless ornament. The homes of the period were overloaded with furniture, very little of which was remarkable for its beauty. The consequence is that although the word “vulgar” cannot be applied to Vic¬torian morals it is often the only suitable adjective to describe its taste.
From: A Short Social History of England, by L.C.B. Seaman, Longmans, London, 1947.