Follow TV Tropes


The Edwardian Era

Go To
A pair of uncommonly large parasitoid wasps use aggressive mimicry in the hopes of landing a wealthy English gentleman with which to fertilize their eggs.

"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, 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 disguise 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 Peninsuala of Korea, as well as the final end of of the Qing Dynasty and Imperial China. Likewise, nationalism in the decaying Ottoman Empire led to the rise of a racist and nationalist ideology that led to increased repression on minorities in the empire, the Greeks, the Armenians and others, which would escalate into genocide during World War I. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was likewise caught in a similar cauldron of decadence and self-destruction (reflected in much of the art from this era), unable to contain the nationalistic convulsions in various parts of the empire. In addition to this, there was the growing power and influence of weapons manufacturers and business tycoons. This era in the United States was considered to be nadir of American race relations and it was a time when eugenics and 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 of 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. In addition 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 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, as reflected in books like Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In addition this was the age of Internationalism, where workers movements in different countries often co-operated and interacted with each other to put forth common ideas. The most famous of this was the Second International, the first global communist movement, but there were other non-communist socialist, anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist movements as well, including the IWW (Wobblies). The development of science, technology and progress, as well as the genuine internationalism also reinforced the Victorian optimism of linear progress, and even to utopian hopes that one day borders and nationalities and other divisions would end or erode. This belief was critiqued and labelled in Norman Angell's The Great Illusion which argued that greater economic progress and globalization had ended rational reasons for warfare but was not yet reinforced by political institutions and international commitments to check in aggression and the arms race. World War I confirmed Mr. Angell's prophecy and replaced the illusion of "a world without warfare" with "the war to end all wars".

Tropes featured in this period are:


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Ashita no Nadja takes place in various European countries several years before the first World War.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

    Comic Books 



    Live Action TV 


    Newspaper Comics 

  • 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.

    Western Animation 

Works made, but not set, during the Edwardian era