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The Edwardian Era

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"It's grand to be an Englishman in 1910
King Edward's on the throne, it's the age of men!"
George Banks, "The Life I Lead", Mary Poppins

The 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, Art Nouveau, 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, often incorporating The Gay '90s. In the United States, the corresponding time period is the Progressive Era (the latter portion of The Gilded Age), beginning with Theodore Roosevelt's inauguration in 1901 and ending with US entry into WWI. 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, which didn't survive the war.


The subject of many nostalgic musical films featuring Gorgeous Period Dress from The Great Depression through The '60s (though The '50s and The '60s also have plenty of nostalgic settings featuring The Roaring '20s), 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 women's fashion changed significantly in the late 1900s, dividing the era into two segments fashion-wise. By 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 set on the Titanic with women in puffy sleeves and S-curve corsets is a research flub, unless the women in question are supposed to be behind the times fashion-wise.)


Of course, all this finery could not hide the grievous injustices of such a society, and the people out to challenge them. This was the era of anticolonial movements across the world, left-wing agitations at home and abroad, the first Russian Revolution of 1905, Imperial Japan's first success in annexing the Peninsula of Korea, as well as the final end of of the Qing Dynasty and Imperial China. Nationalism in the decaying Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were caught in a cauldron of decadence and self-destruction, unable to contain the nationalistic convulsions in various parts of their respective empires. note  There was the growing power and influence of weapons manufacturers and business tycoons. The United States was in a nadir of American race relations and the subjects of eugenics, phrenology, and other scientific racism was mainstream and respectable. For many poor young men and women in Europe, they felt they lived in, as writer Victor Serge put it, "a world without escape" on account of high unemployment, constant repression of any attempts to agitate for fairer rights or better movements.

In England, the major movement was the quest for women's rights to vote. After decades of peaceful activism like petitions and public appeals, the male heirarchy in Britain were still stubbornly unwilling to cede this basic right. So leaders like Emmeline Pankhurst decided that it was time to take it up a notch, by her and her fellow suffragettes breaking windows and blowing up mailboxes to make themselves heard. The authorities responded with mass arrests and police brutality, and delving into torture via force feeding suffragette prisoners when they went on hunger strikes. The movement got a martyr when Emily Davison was trampled to death at the Epsom Derby by the King's own race horse when she tried to get her sash in the middle of the tracks. The struggle continued until the resistance was finally broken after the end of World War One when getting the women's vote became politically advantageous for conservatives in the wake of Red October. Across the Pond 

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 off with Albert Einstein's Annus Mirabilis, whose most famous paper was the theory on relativity in 1905. The Wright brothers becoming the first people to fly (albeit for about a minute) in 1903, while Zeppelins from Another World flying around the globe. There was 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 21st Century would find familiar, although it falls short to some degree. This even included some public movements in response to the social problems caused by this trend, such as the revelation of King Leopold of Belgium's ruthless exploitation of his privately-owned Congo Free State, reflected in books like Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. This was the age of Internationalism, where workers' movements worldwide co-operated and interacted with each other to express common ideas. note 

At the time, the linear progress of science and technology and genuine internationalism also encouraged a sense of optimism in that there's nowhere else to go but up. This optimism was critiqued by Norman Angell as "The Great Illusion" which argued that this progress and globalization may had ended rational reasons for warfare but was not yet reinforced by institutions in case there would be. Mr. Angell's statement was realized one day in 1914.

See also The Gilded Age, the Twilight of the Old West, The Silent Age of Hollywood, and the last years of the Meiji Restoration coinciding with this era. The Gay '90s, The Roaring '20s, The Great Depression, The '40s, and The '50s for more decade-related tropes.

Tropes featured in this period are:

  • Art Nouveau: The choice aesthetics of the era as the organic motifs contrast with the industrial progress of the era.
  • Cool Horseless Carriage: Automobiles were new at the time, so it was a great wonder for many.
  • 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.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Well, aircraft was at its infancy.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: Orientalism was the buzzword of the era.
  • Gentleman Snarker
  • Giant Poofy Sleeves: Well, not as poofy as two decades ago, but it's still poofy.
  • The Gilded Age
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
  • High Class Gloves: The opera 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.
  • Impossible Hourglass Figure: 18-inch waists, and an S-bend may give you a decent attraction.
  • Of Corsets Sexy / Of Corset Hurts: Your pick. Although at that time it was, for the lack of a better word, more relaxed in contrast the wasp-waist Victorian corsets.
  • Old-Timey Ankle Taboo: It was in this era since the Regency era that feet can shown again, and hemlines slowly rose above the ankles in the 1910s, never to touch the ground again in 1919, much to the chagrin of the old folks.
  • Old-Timey Bathing Suit: Even at the beach, you can only expose a little bit of skin.
  • Nice Hat: Bowlers, derbies, and top hats for men; wide-brimmed and decorated Merry Widows for women.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: An well-to-do Edwardian woman's wardrobe screamed with the latest Parisian haute couture everywhere; day, afternoon, at home, evening, dancing, theater, court, derby, beach, sportswear, travel, for cars, wedding, kimonos, negligee, lingerie, you name it, there's a dress for every occasion.
  • Prim and Proper Bun: The Gibson Girl pompadours of the 1900s, and the loose chignons of the 1910s.
  • Proper Lady: Even in a progressive era, a lady was expected to be demure and ladylike.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: It was a fine time to be a British gentleman.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: You can never be a true Edwardian man without those slim, sharp dapper suits to contrast with your elegant 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 take care of children and her household all day. And yes, they are the basis for the evolution of the modern, liberated woman twenty years to come.
  • The Suffragette: Women fought for their suffrage. After decades of peaceful activism like petitions and public appeals, Suffragettes stepped up their game with civil disobedience, vandalism like destruction of property and so on.


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    Anime & Manga 

  • 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 '90s 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.

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  • Eight Ball Champ takes place in a gentleman's club of the era.

     Professional Wrestling 


    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • The Last Express is, as the title suggests, set on the last journey of the Orient Express before World War I broke out, and features live actors rotoscoped to mimic the Art Nouveau style of the period.

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    Western Animation 

Works made, but not set, during the Edwardian era