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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: July 2010

5 - War


Examining 'war' in the Victorian era may seem at odds with classical Whig and Marxist interpretations of the nineteenth century with their focus upon political reform, urbanization, free trade, technological development, religious activism and intermittent class conflict. In dubbing the Victorian era as the 'Liberal Age', Colin Matthew reviewed an era dominated by domestic issues and one spared major military challenges such as the wars with revolutionary and Napoleonic France and the two world wars of the twentieth century. Yet the Victorians engaged in numerous wars. Byron Farwell aptly took the popular phrase, Queen Victoria's Little Wars as the title of his 1972 study, and it was these conflicts that precipitated intense debate about the impact of war on Victorian values and culture. Whereas some imperial, military and cultural scholars contend that imperial wars aroused strong feelings within Victorian Britain, even if these feelings like the wars themselves were often shortlived, Bernard Porter disputes that Victorians were 'imperially minded' before the onset of the 'new' imperialism towards the end of the century. Great Britain's 'cultural record', he claims, reflected 'the major concerns and priorities of most British men and women in the greater part of the nineteenth century', namely their interest in 'the problems attendant on Britain's progress, the unprecedented domestic changes she was undergoing in this period, for ill as well as for good'.

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