Our view is way different than the Victorians’ view. Westerner’s concept of them include (shudder) Paris Hilton and Britney Spears; I can’t imagine why. Of course they also include senators, the filthy rich, and the filthier rich.
Will anyone remember them in 10 years? Probably not. Fame is so transitory.
But we do share some similarities: travellers, philanthropist, writers, those who did something new and revolutionary (the phone, the computer) or who broke social and gender barriers.
Here’s a short list of Victorian celebrities. How many do you recognize?
Lord Shaftesbury, Elizabeth Fry, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Mary Seacole,
Robert Stephenson, Brunel, David Livingstone, Mary Kingsley, Florence
Nightingale and Alexander Graham Bell.
I can name something about 6 of them (if Robert Stephenson is who I think he is), and have heard about 1 more.
Lord Shaftesbury was huge in his time. Both politician and philanthropist, there’s a memorial in Piccadilly Circus, London erected in 1893.
Elizabeth Fry was a prison and social reformer. She found the Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate Prison, and started a school for those children imprisoned with their mothers. She’s currently on the 5 Pound note.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert…we know who they are.
Mary Seacole was rejected by Florence Nightingale as a nurse even though she knew a great deal about herbal remedies. Of mixed Jamaican and Scottish descent, she then borrowed money to head to the Crimea, distinguished herself as a superb nurse, and was lauded next to dear Florence.
Robert Stephenson is not who I thought it was…now that I think about it, that was Robert Louis Stephenson, and Stephenson is probably spelled differently. This one was a civil engineer, only son of George Stephenson, the famed locomotive builder and railway engineer.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel; I’ve heard of him and now see why he’s known by his last name alone. He did the Great Western Railway, several famous steamships, and other important bridges; all this helped modernize public transport and modern day engineering.
David Livingstone – Yes, that Dr Livingstone, I presume.
Mary Kingsley: Fascinated by Africa, she lived in Angola for a time learning how to survive in the jungle, travelled by canoe up the Ogowe River and collected specimens of previously unknown fish, and, after meeting the Fang tribe, she climbed the 13,760 feet Mount Cameroon by a route unconquered by any other European, and returned to England a celebrity. After writing 2 books about her journey, she became a nurse in the Boer War.
Florence Nightingale and Alexander Graham Bell – Yup, we know about them, too. They’re not quite as famous now, but at least most school age children can claim to have heard about them.