By choosing this story seed the players indicate that they want the story to highlight the disparity between social, racial or economic classes. Victorian times are rife with strata of classes, some are on their way out and some are getting stronger. Hereditary classes are very slowly replaced with economic classes. Slavery is abolished in England and then the Americas but the class divide remains. Ethnocentrism, most often in the form of judging the value of “primitive” culture as below the “civilized” nations is common.
The class divides in Victorian times are abundant, for the most impact one type of divide should be chosen.
A class divide occurs when one social level (or strata) seems to have significant dominance over another social level. This makes the most striking story when it results in one class being wealthy and another reduced to poverty. A lack of the ability for individuals to move between these classes increases the tension. For example, many of those born poor in Victorian times had very little opportunity to improve their situation. Factory owners required long hours and paid very little.* A striking example of class divide is child labor where children’s life and limbs were put in danger while a child born into a wealthy household was not required to put their health in danger.#
Important Victorian Classes
This class is made up of the royal family and lords above a baronet. Membership is most often dependent on heredity rather than merit. Interestingly, the aristocracy attempt to avoid defining themselves by any kind of profession besides the military. Being wealthy does not entitle one to the aristocracy (or to be noble) so some of the middle class were much wealthier than some in the aristocracy.
The Middle Class
Made up of mostly the newly wealthy. Captains of industry, bankers, merchants and clergy are examples of the middle class. Most people who make their living by a profession, no matter how wealthy would be considered the middle class. This can be divided into the upper middle class and the lower middle class based on how the profession is perceived but the distinction in this case is not relevant to building tension. It is useful to show the inflexibility of the system in insisting on stratifying society.
The Lower Class
Made up of laborers and the poor (jobless). With little chance of education and a system that often charged more for the necessities of life than they could possibly earn, the lower class have almost no chance of improving their lot in life. This results in a populace that is alienated and angry. Marxism builds up in many countries in the 19th century.
The ethnocentrism of the time lead most europeans to feel that any other culture that was unlike theirs was inherently primitive. Pseudoscientific ideas like phrenology lead europeans to think of many native people they encountered as being inherently inferior mentally. Because of this, in many colonies the indigenous people were thought of very poorly and treated accordingly.
How To Incorporate Class Divide In A Story
Class divide is always present but it may be ignored unless the lower classes are ready to take action. To show the class divide at it’s peak, there should be an uprising simmering ready to boil up. In this situation, even small actions by upper classes can cause the lower classes to carry out acts of sabotage and protest. If abuse continues, a full fledged riot may break out.
In this situation, it may be the PC’s role to cause a revolt or attempt to calm one.
*Even though city life and factory work was difficult and paid poorly, it was often perceived as better than working in agricultural labor.
#Although wealthy households would sometimes send their young boys off to learn discipline by sending them into the navy as cabin boys.