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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
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The long, hot Indian summer between the death of Queen Victoria and the start of World War I. A time of elegant tea parties, 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 World War I in 1914 to capture the end of an era, overlapping with the Progressive Era in The United Statesnote . Similar periods in other countries, like "La Belle Époque" in Francenote , and the Wilhelmine Era in Germany note , also often incorporate The Gay '90s.

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The early 1900s were a great age of technological transformation, and numerous scientific discoveries were made during the period. This was the period when the first Nobel Prizes were handed out, when Albert Einstein drew a line between traditional and modern physics with his Annus Mirabilis papers, when the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, when the radio was created and popularized, when cars like the Model T first became commonplace, and when the first expeditions to the North and South Poles were made. The 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris and 1904 St. Louis World's Fair remain some of the more famous world's fairs due to their showcasing of this great change.

In Britain, the Boer War brought a rather unpleasant end to the Victorian period and foreshadowed the brutality of conflicts to come, but Britons at home remained unfazed as the United Kingdom remained at the top of the world both politically and economically. France enjoyed a cultural renaissance as the country bounced back from the Franco-Prussian War and Napoleon III's dictatorship, returning to the spotlight as the cultural capital of Europe. The United States cut down on the corruption that had plagued it during The Gilded Age thanks to the reforms of Theodore Roosevelt's administration, while the Wild West became a little less wild.

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Not all was well in the world, of course. In many parts of Europe, class struggle and ethnic tensions started to boil over. The Ottoman Empire was in a period of collapse as the Balkans became a hotbed of nationalism, which would go on to spark something a little bigger, while poverty among the Russian peasantry began to approach the breaking point as an insurrection was attempted in 1905—the little brother of the 1917 revolution. This was also a period of extended colonialism; Europeans, most infamously the United Kingdom and Belgium—but also including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal—solidified their rule over Africa during this period after its establishment in the late 19th century. The Raj was at its greatest extent in this era, and the Spanish-American War and the building of the Panama Canal were closely tied to American imperialism in the Western Hemisphere and in the Pacific, which, along with the Caribbean, the United States promptly converted into an "American lake" in short order, flexing its ascendant naval powers and brutally crushing and colonising weaker, internationally-unrecognised protostates, like the Philippinesnote . Meanwhile, the Empire of Japan got into the imperial game at around the same time the United States did, going to war with and defeating Russia in 1905—the first time an Asian power defeated a (politically) Western/European one—and was in the early stages of expanding control over East Asia; by this time, Taiwan and the Korean peninsula were now both under Japanese rule.

In spite of its many problems and darker sides, the period still remains fondly remembered. It was especially popular as the subject of movie musicals in The Golden Age of Hollywood and still retains some cultural relevance today; it's the time when women's suffrage came in full swing, it's the time when one of America's most beloved presidents was in office and when one of Britain's current primary political parties first took hold, is a greatly influential era to anyone interested in the history of science and technology, and it's also the period when many sports took the shape of their current forms, including when modern sporting wear developed and when the modern safety bicycle was popularized. The comic strip as we now know it (see the folder below) essentially got its start during this era.

See also The Silent Age of Hollywood, the Meiji Restoration, Imperial Germany, The Mexican Revolution, The Raj, and No More Emperors for more specific information on the period in different places. The Gay '90s and The Roaring '20s are the decades before and after the Edwardian period.

Tropes featured in this period are:

  • '20s Bob Haircut: While bobbed hair is most associated with the 1920s and 1930s, bobbed hair had early adopters in the Edwardian era such as the French actress Polaire and the American dancer Irene Castle. Eventually, more and more women opted to bob their hair following the suffrage movement and World War I.
  • Art Nouveau: The aesthetic developed during this era in tandem with the last hurrah of romanticism. Today, the organic motifs provide a stark contrast with the industrial progress of the era.
  • Cool Horseless Carriage: Automobiles were still very new at the time, the first roadworthy cars dating to the 1890s. Once people got past the initial shock, they became a hot commodity and status symbol, especially after the Model T made them affordable to the middle class.
  • Dance Sensation: When a century of endless waltzing fades away, new dances like the tango and foxtrot step on to the dance floor. This was also the heyday of ragtime music, much to the chagrin of musical traditionalists.
  • Darkest Africa: The popular perception of the continent in this era, a perception that constantly found its way into all aspects of the culture of the period, from Dime Novels to "reconstructed native villages" at World's Fairs.
  • A Foggy Day in London Town: Much like in the Victorian era, industrial towns tended to be fairly smoggy, a problem that would not be alleviated until well after World War II.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Modern fixed-wing aircraft first developed in this period, as did the Zeppelin and rigid airships in general.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish:
    • Asian, and particularly Japanese, culture and goods maintained a certain mystique and allure for many Europeans; Asian imports were a popular sort of upper-class knickknack.
    • Following the Ballets Russes' performance of Scheherazade in 1910, a wave of Orientalism ensued. French couturier Paul Poiret showcased his collection of models wearing harem pants, turbans, kimonos, and dresses with bold colors and exotic prints.
  • Giant Poofy Sleeves: Though not as poofy as in the later Victorian era, dresses in this period were still deeply fond of this trope. Fashions in 1905-06 saw a brief return of giant puffy sleeves before the puffs completely deflatied at around 1908.
  • Great White Hunter: A popular occupation of wealthy people visiting African colonies in this period.
  • 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: Corsets, which now gave the wearer an S-bend silhouette, were still popular in this period, though thankfully the worst excesses of the Victorian era had faded and more modest corsets (such as "health corsets") were in vogue. French actress Polaire was notorious for her 16 inch waist which were supported by corsetry, and her photographs were edited to make her waist appear thinner. Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Maud (later Queen Maud of Norway) was another woman famous for her "tight-laced" figure.
  • 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. Paul Poiret was the pioneer for discarding women's corsets due to his sentiment against these torture devices.
  • Old-Timey Ankle Taboo: For the first time since the Regency era, it was acceptable in the era for women's feet to be visible. Whether the tight hobble skirt, or the wide "war crinolines", hemlines slowly rose above the ankles throughout the 1910s, going through mid-calf around the middle the decade, signaling that hemlines will never touch the ground again by 1919, much to the chagrin of the old folks. Not at all surprisingly, fashionable ladies with well-shaped ankles and dainty feet were eager to call attention to those attributes now that they could do so, and women's shoes/boots and stockings could get really fancy and elaborate during this period, especially for evening wear.
  • Old-Timey Bathing Suit: Modest (by today's standards, anyway) bathing suits had been acceptable on men for quite some time already, but this is the first time when something resembling modern bathing suits were acceptable on women, as well. Bathing machines started to lose prominence in this era.
  • Nice Hat: Bowlers, derbies, and top hats were worn essentially at all times by men in this period (and working class men often preferred flat caps.) Upper and upper-middle-class women wore giant, elaborately decorated (feathers, plumes, flowers and veils were very popular adornments; some people even wore stuffed birds on their hats!) picture hats, particularly after 1908. Those were the so-called "Merry Widow" hats, named after a popular operetta of the period (free hats in this style were handed out to female attendees as a promotional device at performances in New York), which were so huge that many theaters posted signs asking women to remove their hats so as not to obstruct other patron's views of the stage or screen.
  • 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 Psyche knots of the 1910s.
  • Proper Lady: Even in this more progressive era, a lady was expected to be demure and feminine. Suffragettes frequently made a point out of bucking this expectation to make their message stand out.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Attitudes toward middle- and upper-class men remained quite similar to the Victorian era. And, of course, Britain still continued to import massive amounts of tea.
  • 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. Except possibly during the evening - unless you were a military man who had a fancy dress uniform, the comparatively sober black evening dress suit, with white tie and tails, was the order of the day. The well-dressed gentleman by evening wasn't supposed to steal the show from the gorgeously dressed lady he was escorting!
  • Spirited Young Lady: The fashion trend exemplified by the "Gibson girl" illustrations. The development and growing acceptance of women's sportswear afforded women the opportunity to engage in outdoor sports like tennis, cycling, and other activities previously thought outrageous. 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.
  • Twilight of the Old West: This period largely coincides with the Edwardian Era, as new technologies and cultures have changed the livelihoods of the now-closed frontier.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Arts 
  • 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. Gibson himself was enormously influential in popularizing various women's fashion styles during this period, for instance, the poofy, swept-up pompadour hairdo often called "Gibson Girl hair" (which required the wearer to have a lot of hair to successfully carry off; women who didn't have quite voluminous enough tresses commonly resorted to celluloid inserts and similar expedients to fill out their coiffures). One of Gibson's favorite models was his own wife, Irene Langhorne Gibson, one of the famous family of Langhorne sisters (Nancy Astor was one of her sisters).
  • The general setting of Edward Gorey's macabre illustrations.
  • Late Art Nouveau and other modernist movements.
  • Lucile (Lady Lucile Duff Gordon), sister of novelist Elinor Glyn (creator of the concept of "It", leading to the idea of the "It Girl"), was one of the best-known fashion designers of the late Edwardian period, one of the first couturiers to make extensive use of models (then called "mannequins") to demonstrate and display her latest fashions "live", as it were, and was a Titanic survivor to boot.
  • Women's fashion itself underwent a truly revolutionary shift circa 1908, in the midst of this period, switching almost literally overnight from the exaggerated "S-curve/pouter pigeon" silhouette of the first few years of the era to a much more natural silhouette deeply influenced by the Art Nouveau movement. The aforementioned "Gibson Girl" hairdo was largely replaced by the ancestor of the Twenties bob, which in turn enabled the famous (or infamous) gigantic "Merry Widow" hats to be worn (a good example of the style can be seen in the page photo, taken from a scene in My Fair Lady, which is set in 1912). Clothes designed and made during the years between 1908 and 1914 are considered by many fashion historians to be among the most beautiful and elegant ever conceived, and they're arguably better-known than the fashions of the earlier Edwardian period (very likely influenced by the enduring popularity of media dealing with the Titanic disaster).

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 

    Disney 
  • Walt Disney loved this era. Naturally, because he grew up in it. This is the inspiration for Main Street in various Disney Theme Parks. Several Disney films are set in this period as well, usually portraying it with a mix of cozy nostalgia and charming quaintness. Following Walt's death, the setting became less common in Disney films, but it still comes up now and then. In order of release:
  • Toby Tyler (1960) - A Setting Update. The original novel was written in 1881.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 

Authors

Individual works

  • The epilogue to The Age of Innocence (1920) is set in this era.
  • 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.
  • Arbetets döttrar by Solveig Olsson-Hultgren takes place in 1903 and 1904. But it shows the time period mostly from the perspective of the working class and their dreams of more rights and better lives.
  • Arsène Lupin. The literary series started in July, 1905.
  • Most of Betsy-Tacy series (1940-1955), which begins in 1897 and ends with the protagonists' husbands getting ready to go fight WWI.
  • Carnacki the Ghost-Finder. The original short-story collection was published in 1913.
  • Chéri (1920) features a female lead from this era.
  • Death in Venice (1912) and Confessions of Felix Krull (1954) by Thomas Mann.
  • The Extrodinaires is set in the Edwardian Era, with 1908 London Olympics featuring prominently in the first novel.
  • Fantômas. The novel series started in 1911.
  • The Father Brown series started in September, 1910.
  • Fu Manchu. The series of novels started in 1913.
  • 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.
  • Part of The Irish R.M. series (1899-1915) took place in this decade.
  • Jeeves and Wooster. The short story series started in 1915.
  • Journey to the River Sea: about 1910, set in Brazil and Britain.
  • The Lost World (1912)
  • The events of The Magician's Nephew (1955) take place in this era, at least the parts set on Earth.
  • Mare seemingly takes place in the late 1890s or the early 1900s in Norway.
  • Maurice. Written in 1913, though only published in 1971.
  • The Monster Men: about 1913
  • George MacDonald Fraser's Mr. American is set in 1909 to 1914.
  • Of Human Bondage (1915) takes place in the pre-war era.
  • Parade's End through written in 1926-1928 the story takes place before and during the great war. ending when the war itself ended.
  • Pellucidar. The series started in April, 1914. Featuring modern era adventurers traveling to an underground world.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (1999-2006) seems to take version in either the Edwardian Era or in a Retro Universe based on it.
  • The novel Peter Pan (1911), at least the parts not in Neverland (it was written during that era).
  • 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.
  • Strumpet City, published in 1969, is set in Dublin between 1903 and 1914.
  • Helen Simonson's The Summer Before the War takes place in a British town just before World War I.
  • Tarzan. The series of novels started in 1912.
  • Tipping the Velvet (1998) is set at the very end of the Victorian Era and (possibly) the beginning of the Edwardian.
  • The Wind in the Willows (1908), both the original and most adaptations

    Live-Action TV 

    Music 

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

    Pro Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • The classic game Diplomacy, originally published in the early 1960's by Avalon Hill and still in print nearly 60 years later, is a not-necessarily-entirely-historically-accurate game of diplomatic maneuvering and skulduggery among the European powers of the 1890-1914 era. Treachery and double-dealing are virtually mandatory in play.
  • Europe in Turmoil, published by Compass Games, is a two-player card-driven game of the political and social conflict between "Liberal" (represented by Britain and France) and "Authoritarian" (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia) ideologies from 1890 (when, as mentioned above, Otto von Bismarck was dismissed as German Chancellor by Wilhelm II) to the Great War. Europe is the main theater of the game but events in other parts of the world are represented as well.

    Theatre 

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Red Dead Redemption: Even though most of the locations the plot takes place at are 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. The Playable Epilogue of RDR2 takes place in 1907, four years before the events of the first game.
  • Sunless Skies is set in a possible future of Fallen London around 1900, where London has been transferred to space and locomotives ply the star-lanes as London (renamed Albion) now expands to colonize nearby star-systems. Strictly speaking it is still the Victorian Era In-Universe, however, as Queen Victoria has become immortal.

    Web Animation 

    Western Animation 

Works made, but not set, during the Edwardian era


 
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