In Victorian Literature and the Victorian State, Lauren Goodlad reminds us that it is "a commonplace of many social histories that British government differed from that of most Continental countries. Britain's centralized state was smaller, less intrusive, and more reliant on local and voluntary supports, but — for all that — highly effective in maintaining social stability at home, and exploiting colonial interests abroad" (3). Summarizing David Robert's Victorian Origins of the Modern Welfare State (1960), she points out that compared to France, the British government during the Victorian period was "'absurdly small.' In 1832 the entire British civil service numbered 21,300, while in 1846 its French counterpart numbered just under a million. Even in 1914, by which point the British nation was — to the mind of one die-hard liberal — 'in danger of being governed to death,' the civil service had only grown about tenfold, numbering some 280,000" (6).

One result of this liberal insistence upon the smallest and most decentralized government possible appears in nearly universal dislike of any centralizing measures, such as the 1834 Poor Law and the 1848 Public Health Act. "The majority of Britons" were deeply committed "to local control, civic voluntarism, personalized philanthropy, and individual self help" (4).

Materials Related to Victorian Literature and the Victorian State


Goodlad, Lauren M. E. Victorian Literature and the Victorian State: Character and Governance in a Liberal Society. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2003.

Victorianism Overview Victorian History

Last modified 2 June 2004