The Edwardian era – a ‘Gilded Age’?
Queen Victoria died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in January 1901 after a reign of almost sixty-four years. Her son, the Prince of Wales, spent most of his life waiting to become King Edward VII but his reign lasted only nine years. The term Edwardian era or the ‘Gilded Age’ is often extended to 1914 when that time of peace and prosperity, for the few at least, was shattered by the cataclysm of WWI.
King Edward was very different from his mother, a fact which had been a source of great discord between them. Queen Victoria refused to allow him to see state papers or meet visiting statesman so he rebelled by becoming a playboy and leading a life of selfish pleasure. Queen Victoria’s high moral standards set an example to the nation, while her son was far more interested in beautiful actresses, country house weekends, gambling and the art and fashions of continental Europe. Edwardians followed a far more relaxed code of conduct than had prevailed in Victorian society.
Britain still led the world in trade, finance and shipping. Following on from the great achievements in engineering and manufacturing during the Victorian era, further advances in technology were made. Electricity became more widely available, in the cities at least, and appliances such as the refrigerator were introduced into some domestic kitchens.
While the Victorians revolutionized travel and communications with the railways, the Edwardian era brought the telephone, the motor car and, in 1903, breakthroughs in aviation, which became of vital importance during WWI.
The Edwardian era conjures up a vision of elegant ladies with tiny waists and large hats picnicking in the golden sunshine of the English countryside, while their Harris tweed-wearing husbands were stalking deer or shooting pheasants. The rich were not ashamed to flaunt their conspicuous consumption but running their town houses and country manors was only possible because they were able to draw upon the vast mass of those less fortunate than themselves. Servants worked appallingly long hours and were housed in very different conditions from those ‘upstairs.’
The Edwardian period was a time of increasing social turmoil. Political groups proliferated, whose attractions to the working classes upset the careful balance of the haves and have-nots. Liberal politicians fought to pass laws to shorten working hours, institute income tax, death duties, old age pensions and state financial support for the sick and infirm.
The blackest cloud on the horizon of the long summer afternoon of the Edwardian era was the threat of the German Empire asserting its growing military strength with brute force. After years of growing tensions, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria ignited the ‘war to end all wars’.
Nothing would ever be the same again.
The Fading of the Light is #2 in the Spindrift trilogy and is a family drama set in an artists’ community in Cornwall.
1902 Spindrift House, Cornwall
Edith Fairchild, deserted by her feckless husband Benedict eight years before, has established the thriving Spindrift artists’ community by the sea and found deep and lasting love with Pascal. They have accepted that they cannot marry but, when Benedict returns unexpectedly to Spindrift House, all Edith and Pascal’s secret hopes and dreams of a joyous life together are overturned.
Benedict’s arrival shatters the peaceful and creative atmosphere of the close-knit community. When Edith will not allow him back into her bed, the conflict escalates and he sets in motion a chain of tragic events that reverberate down the years and threatens the happiness of the community forever.
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