Nostalgia for the Victorians

Reading Dickens brings me once again to the nineteenth century, my favorite of them all. I think I would like to have been a good Victorian. The Victorians had manners. They valued honor. They used the language to its fullest extent. And they had a rich talent for love and friendship.

It was manners, rules and prudishness which allowed friendship to flourish during the Victorian era, I would argue. In the wrong hands, the Victorian manners calcified into a humorless and onerous code of conduct--but in well-meaning and nimble hands, those same strictures cleared away the social confusion, and gave people a means to express their love and friendship for each other without as much threat of being misread, or misused, or misled. Thus, the beautiful letters and beautiful literature of Victorian friendship, which modern scholars are prone to oversexualize in over-footnoted articles entitled "Homoerotic Themes in Dickens," or "Lincoln's Gay Friendships," or other equally dismal misapplications of sterile modern sensibility to a more gracious and subtle time.

At its best, Victorian prudishness arose from a sense of what was a decent and proper, rather than from the threat of hellfire--the crude, medieval force behind what little prudishness remains today.

And manners--what ever happened to them?