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Be ye perfect!

When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, Britain was on the brink of unrest. Forty years later, it was a nation transformed

By Dinah Birch   November 2013

High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain by Simon Heffer (Random House, £30)

Our own creeping anxieties have made us wary of the modernist habit of ridiculing the Victorians. Their ideas about race, gender and class are often repugnant, and Victorian earnestness can be daunting. But they had an enviably staunch belief in progress and social responsibility, and their determined industry and drive allowed them to accomplish grand projects. Simon Heffer begins this big, energetic history by claiming that a “climate of prejudice about the Victorians still lingers,” but this is only partly true. We are…

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