A city street in Victorian London
Liverpool From Wapping, John Atkinson Grimshaw
An image from an English mental asylum.
The period of English history between 1832 and 1901 is named for Queen Victoria, who reigned during a century of relative peace and prosperity--assuming you lived in England. This was also the height of the British Empire when a small, island nation the size of North Carolina essentially ruled (and plundered) one-fifth of the world. It was a time of increasingly democratic and urban sensibilities when the middle class began to have greater wealth and, consequently, greater political power.
Many of the social and political crises resulting from England's rapid industrialization were largely reformed and the English were encouraged by the idea of progress. They were sure that any problem could be solved through good ideas and hard work. However, this concept of progress was not limited to technology and solving social problems: as an indirect result of the Origin of the Species, published in 1849 by Charles Darwin, as well as similar scientific writings, the English also believed that they represented the highest state to which a human society has evolved--the concept later dubbed "Social Darwinism." These ideals placed high expectations on the citizenry, and because they believed themselves the rightful exemplars of civilization, they had to behave as such in their public--and private--lives.
Interestingly, this optimism was undermined by significant doubt. Many, such as Charles Dickens, wondered if the price of progress was too high. Additionally, with such a social premium placed on decorum and self control that required the suppression of emotion and sexuality, many Victorians paid a steep price indeed--their psychological health.