The Edwardian Era
"It's grand to be an Englishman in 1910The long hot Indian summer between the death of Queen Victoria and the start of World War I. A time of elegant tea parties, absurd women's hats, Gentleman Snarkers, ridiculous Flying Machines and (mostly) unsinkable ships. Strictly the term Edwardian Era only applies to the British Empire during the reign of King Edward VII from 1901 to 1910, but it is usually extended up to the outbreak of war to capture the end of an era. Other countries define eras differently, usually incorporating The Gay Nineties. In the United States there is The Gilded Age, which covers the entire period from the end of Radical Reconstruction to the U.S. entry in WWI, roughly 1876 to 1917—that is, unless you count the Progressive Era as being separate from the Gilded Age, in which case the Progressive Era, which began with the inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 and ended with US entry into the war, almost perfectly corresponds to the Edwardian. In France there is la Belle Époque, from roughly 1884 (when the Third Republic stabilised) to the beginning of World War I in 1914; in Germany the "Wilhelmine Era" (Wilhelminische Ära) encompasses the bulk of the peace years of the reign of Wilhelm II, from the dismissal of Bismarck as chancellor to World War I, and the years 1890 and 1914 also mark the beginning and the end of the Fin de siècle, another French term that proved especially popular with reference to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, since that did not survive the war. The subject of many nostalgic musical films featuring Gorgeous Period Dress from The Great Depression through The Sixties (though The Fifties and The Sixties have many nostalgic settings featuring The Roaring Twenties), and the favorite period of the filmmaking team Merchant-Ivory. The page illustration is a good example of what the well-dressed Edwardian lady wore; note the large, elaborately decorated hats, S-curve silhouette (produced by the style of corset popular in that decade) and elbow-length white kid gloves. (Take note, however, that there was a significant change in women's fashion about 1909 or 1910, dividing the era into two segments fashion-wise. After 1910, women's dresses tended to be simpler and more flowing in design, reminiscent of Regency-era dresses, inspired with Oriental flavours, with hints of Art Nouveau in detail; tailored suits and dresses were very popular at this point, and the "Gibson girl" pompadour hairstyle faded away, to be replaced by simpler hairdos with a lot of curls, and bobbed hair and cloche hats were on their prototype forms. These years were the glory days of the so-called "Merry Widow" hat, the huge, elaborately decorated hats mentioned above. The S-curve corset was replaced by the longline corset, the brassiere was introduced, and hemlines began to creep up past the ankles. The sharp-eyed viewer will be able to get a good idea of when in the period a movie or TV show is set by observing the ladies' couture. You can take it as a given that any production recounting the story of the Titanic where the women are wearing puffy sleeves and S-curve corsets - unless the character in question is designated as being behind the times fashion-wise - is a research flub.) As for science and technology, the 1900s saw a great age for transformation and numerous discoveries, such as the installment of the Nobel Prize, the imaginary rift between traditional physics (motion, light, sound) and modern physics (nuclear, quantum, time-space continuum) stating of with Albert Einstein's theory on relativity in 1905; the Wright brothers becoming the first people to fly (albeit for about a minute) in 1903; Zeppelins from Another World flying around the globe; massive ships like the RMS Titanic; electricity; inventions like the phonograph, internal combustion engines, the Ford Model T and many more getting more mainstream and more affordable to the public; the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 giving ships a decent detour; the North and South Pole expeditions; Guglielmo Marconi's transatlantic wireless radio signals; the discovery of radioactivity by Marie Curie; Sigmund Freud's notes on psychoanalysis; a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda discovering umami which would revolutionize chemistry and gastronomy; and the World's Fairs of 1900 in Paris and 1904 in St. Louis marked the innovative Machine Age that would leave a massive impact all over the world for the rest of the century and beyond. Partly as a result of the above, the era is also, like the later Victorian years, seen as a golden age for globalization. Trends in trade, mass immigration and communications helped spur an interconnected world that someone from the early 21st Century would find familiar; according to some experts, present day globalization still falls short of the scale of the 1900s in some respects. This even included some public movements in response to the social problems caused by this trend, as when the full horrors of King Leopold of Belgium's ruthless exploitation of his personal property, the Congo Free State, were revealed to the world. Aided by important books like Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, there was a public crusade against this that eventually prompted the Belgium government to confiscate the region from the King and run it with something suggesting some basic responsibility and humanity. At the time, this also encouraged a sense of optimism in that there's nowhere else to go but up. Until one day in 1914.
King Edward's on the throne, it's the age of men!"
King Edward's on the throne, it's the age of men!"
— George Banks, "The Life I Lead", Mary Poppins
Tropes featured in this period are:
- Cool Horseless Carriage
- Dance Sensation: When a century of endless waltzing fades away, new dances like tango and foxtrot step in to the dance floor. And with ragtime as the tunes, the piano has never been more alive.
- A Foggy Day in London Town: Much like in the Victorian era.
- Flying Machine: Well, aircraft was at its infancy.
- Gentleman Snarker
- Giant Poofy Sleeves: Well, not as poofy as a decade ago, but it's still poofy.
- The Gilded Age
- Have a Gay Old Time
- Hourglass Hottie: 18-inch waists, and an S-bend may give you a decent attraction.
- Of Corsets Sexy / Of Corset Hurts: Your pick.
- Old-Timey Bathing Suit
- Opera Gloves: This style of glove is associated with this period more indelibly than perhaps any other. Well-dressed women of the period never went out in public with bare hands (or arms, if they were wearing short-sleeved, low-cut evening gowns). Daytime gloves often reached the elbow when worn with short-sleeved dresses or jackets, and evening gloves could go all the way up to the shoulder depending on glove style and/or wearer preference. White kid leather was the preferred color and material, particularly for the most formal outfits, but gloves could be worn in a rainbow of colors and materials with less formal gowns and daytime outfits.
- Nice Hat: Bowlers, derbies, and top hats for men; wide-brimmed and decorated Merry Widows for women.
- Pimped-Out Dress
- Proper Lady
- Quintessential British Gentleman
- Sharp-Dressed Man: You can never be a true Edwardian man without those slim, sharp dapper suits to contrast your elecant pastel-hued lady.
- Spirited Young Lady: The Gibson Girls. At this age, these women has now the opportunity to engage in outdoor sports like tennis and cycling, and other activities to keep them busy a bit rather than do housework all day. And yes, they are the basis for the evolution of the modern, liberated woman twenty years to come.
- Silent Age of Hollywood: Hollywood as a film industry came to be in 1911.
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Anime & Manga
- Fullmetal Alchemist is set in an often anachronistic alternate universe version of the Edwardian era.
- The epilogue of Victorian Romance Emma is revealed to take place sometime in the earlier Edwardian years.
- Candy Candy takes place in the America of the Edwardian Era. In fact, a whole arc takes place in a super elite Boarding School located right outside of London, and the manga itself finishes some time after World War I.
- The setting of many of Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girl" drawings (he actually was active from the late 1880's to the 1920's, ending his career as editor-in-chief of Life magazine just before it switched to its better-known photojournalism format, but the Gibson Girl is indelibly associated with both The Gay Nineties and The Edwardian Era). Harrison Fisher and Henry Hutt were other popular artists of the period who specialized in depicting ladies' fashions.
- The general setting of Edward Gorey's macabre illustrations.
- Late Art Nouveau and other modernist movements.
- Alan Moore's Lost Girls. Set in 1913-1914. A crossover tale between Lady Alice Fairchild (from Alice in Wonderland), Dorothy Gale (from the Land of Oz series), and Wendy Potter, née Darling (from Peter Pan).
- Bécassine. Debuted on February 2, 1905.
- Little Nemo In Slumberland. Debuted on October 15, 1905.
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen set in 1910.
- The Disney Kingdoms title Figment places the origins of Figment and Dreamfinder in London, 1910.
- Bringing Up Father: Debuted in 1913.
- Finding Neverland, which is about the playwright, J.M. Barrie.
- Titanic (1997) (several versions; the Winslet / DiCaprio one, and also the ones with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Barbara Stanwyck) (also Titanic the Musical)
- The version with the rapping dog in a jersey as well.
- Quite a few musicals and romantic comedies made in the 1940's and 1950's (also fits The Gay Nineties).
- Meet Me in St. Louis (Judy Garland/Margaret O'Brien)
- Bitter Sweet (Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy).
- The Emperor Waltz (Joan Fontaine/Bing Crosby).
- A Little Night Music (Elizabeth Taylor).
- The Dolly Sisters (Betty Grable/June Haver).
- The Merry Widow (both the Jeanette MacDonald and Lana Turner versions).
- Lillian Russell (Alice Faye, spans The Gay Nineties and The Edwardian Era).
- The Great Race (Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis).
- Yankee Doodle Dandy (James Cagney, also spans The Gay Nineties and The Edwardian Era'').
- The Music Man is set in 1912.
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
- My Fair Lady
- The old Gina Lollobrigida movie Beautiful But Dangerous.
- Also the 1960's comedy she made with Alec Guinness, Hotel Paradiso.
- Lady L (Sophia Loren).
- A Breath of Scandal (Sophia Loren again).
- The Prisoner of Zenda (in its several film versions).
- The Last Remake of Beau Geste.
- Arsene Lupin (the recent version with Kristin Scott-Thomas).
- Moulin Rouge! (both versions).
- French Can Can
- Viva Maria! (Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau).
- La Ronde (the 1950's Max Ophuls version starring Simone Signoret and Danielle Darrieux).
- The Earrings of Madame de....
- Till Marriage Do Us Part (Laura Antonelli).
- Nickelodeon (the Ryan O'Neal/Burt Reynolds film, not the television channel)
- Most of Somewhere In Time.
- The 1971 Western Big Jake, set in the year 1909, alludes to the Edwardian Era. The narrator contrasts the "civilised" Eastern United States and Europe with the American West, which is still wild and violent, though slowly becoming less so.
- The Assassination Bureau.
- Several Disney films, including Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, The Aristocats, Pollyanna and Summer Magic.
- Walt Disney loved this era. Naturally, because he grew up in it. Lady and the Tramp is also set then.
- The Merchant-Ivory adaptations of the E.M. Forster novels A Room With A View, Maurice, and Howards End
- The early parts of Jules And Jim.
- The Spiral Staircase.
- Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, a comic retelling of the 1910 London-to-Paris air race. The movie does a good job both of recreating the early aircraft that took place in this race and the fashions of the period.
- The Michelle Pfeiffer/Kathy Bates movie Cheri, based on a novel by Colette.
- The Audrey Tautou movie Coco Before Chanel, which deals with fashion legend Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel's early career in the last years of The Edwardian Era.
- The Reivers starring Steve McQueen.
- The Wind and the Lion, starring Sean Connery and Candace Bergen.
- A Dangerous Method
- Hugo: The flashback scenes take place in the Edwardian Era and in the very late Victorian era. The story proper takes place in 1931.
- P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) began his writing career in this era; while his later stories are mostly set in an unspecified era between the two wars, they also have a distinctly Edwardian feeling.
- Late Sherlock Holmes stories (1887-1927).
- The TV movie Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady, set in Vienna during the last years of Franz Josef's reign, with Morgan Fairchild as Irene Adler.
- Part 'of 'The Irish RM'' series (1899-1915) took place in this decade.
- Strumpet City, published in 1969, is set in Dublin between 1903 and 1914.
- Arsène Lupin. The literary series started in July, 1905.
- The Wind in the Willows (1908), both the original and most adaptations
- The Father Brown series started in September, 1910.
- Fantômas. The novel series started in 1911.
- The novel Peter Pan (1911), at least the parts not in Neverland (it was written during that era)
- Death In Venice (1912) and Confessions Of Felix Krull (1954) by Thomas Mann.
- The Lost World (1912)
- Tarzan. The series of novels started in 1912.
- Tarzan of the Apes (1912). The first novel in the series.
- Carnacki the Ghost-Finder. The original short-story collection was published in 1913.
- Fu Manchu. The series of novels started in 1913.
- Maurice. Written in 1913, though only published in 1971.
- The Monster Men: about 1913
- Journey To The River Sea: about 1910, set in Brazil and Britain.
- Pellucidar. The series started in April, 1914. Featuring modern era adventurers traveling to an underground world.
- Jeeves and Wooster. The short story series started in 1915.
- Of Human Bondage (1915) takes place in the pre-war era.
- literature/Parade's End through written in 1926-1928 the story takes place before and during the great war. ending when the war itself ended.
- The epilogue to The Age of Innocence (1920) is set in this era.
- Chéri (1920) features a female lead from this era.
- Much of Edward Gorey (1925-2000)'s work evokes Edwardian England through its visual style and peculiar linguistic flair, though the author himself was born and lived out his life in Massachusetts.
- Most of Betsy-Tacy series (1940-1955), which begins in 1897 and ends with the protagonists' husbands getting ready to go fight WWI.
- The events of The Magician's Nephew (1955) take place in this era, at least the parts set on Earth.
- The American Girl Samantha Parkington (1986), though she's described as Victorian, is actually from this era. Her story is set from 1904 to 1907.
- The Doctor Who New Adventures novel Human Nature (1995), which was later adapted by the novel's author into the TV story "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood". The Doctor spends some time as a history teacher at an Edwardian school.
- Tipping the Velvet (1998) is set at the very end of the Victorian Era and (possibly) the beginning of the Edwardian.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events (1999-2006) seems to take version in either the Edwardian Era or in a Retro Universe based on it.
- Plenty of the works of L. M. Montgomery are set in this era, but she tended to avoid scenes of high society and fashion in her stories for the simpler Arcadian lifestyle on Prince Edward Island.
- George MacDonald Fraser's Mr. American is set in 1909 to 1914.
- Most of HP Lovecraft's works evoke this era with their fussy, tweedy, collegiate and madness-prone protagonists; somewhat explained by the fact that Lovecraft was not only a fussy collegiate professor-type himself, and had lived through the era, but never wanted it to stop, being deeply uncomfortable with the modern world he was now living in.
Live Action TV
- The fairly accurate Upstairs Downstairs, showing the lifestyles of both the well-to-do and the servant classes.
- The much less accurate Lillie and Duchess of Duke Street.
- Later episodes of Edward the King, aka Edward VII, which featured Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry (a role she reprised in Lillie). Of course for most of his life, therefore most of the series, Edward didn't get to be king due to his mother's longevity.
- In Doctor Who, "Pyramids of Mars", "Horror of Fang Rock", and "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood".
- Casualty 1906
- Strumpet City: The Mini Series based on the novel.
- Episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles about the eight-year old Indy traveling around the world for two years from 1908 to 1910.
- Series 1 of Downton Abbey. Series 2 moves on to the War and then the Genteel Interbellum Setting.
- Manor House was the Reality Show version of the era.
- The BBC docu series Edwardian Farm.
- The events of Neverland begin in 1906.
- Up The Women is a Britcom set around a group of hilariously ineffective suffragettes.
- Mr Selfridge, starring Jeremy Piven as the real life mall magnate, starts in 1909.
- QED, a very short lived proto-steampunk adventure series that starred Sam Waterston in the early 1980s.
- Eight Ball Champ takes place in a gentleman's club of the era.
- Strictly speaking, it is set just after the end of the Edwardian era, but J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls is a classic foreshadowing of World War I and the Titanic.
- Love Never Dies, the sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, is set in 1905 New York City — primarily Coney Island.
- Red Dead Redemption.
- Even though most of the locations the plot takes place at is visibly stuck in The Wild West (which is Truth in Television). It is quite interesting to, in the beginning of the game, leave the urban world of automobiles, Homburgs and federal agents and enter the rural one of carriages, pipe cylinders and cowboys.
- BioShock Infinite takes place in an alternate history 1912, in the flying city of Columbia. Much of the setting is based on American culture and attitudes at the time.