Tea and Social Class Boundaries in 19th Century England

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Matthew Geronimo Professor Haydu SOCI 106 12 March 2013 Tea and Social Class Boundaries in 19th Century England How did tea rituals, customs, and etiquette reinforce social class boundaries in 19th century England? This question is relevant, in that it asks us to reflect on how simple commodities such as tea can distinguish social differences between classes, both past and present; it also allows us to ponder on how tea was popularized into the daily-consumed beverage it is to this day with people of all class backgrounds. In her book A Necessary Luxury: Tea in Victorian England (2008), Julie E. Fromer discusses how in 19th century England “new identification categories and new hierarchies of status developed along lines stemming from…show more content…
From the illustration, the audience can see that these powerful men have no cares, worries, or concerns at all; they’re not worried about getting food on the table for their families. They are only concerned with having a good time with the somewhat disgusted women in the painting while they consume heavy amounts of tea, symbolizing their refinery and high social class status. Published in 1824, Edward Villiers Rippingille’s The Travellers’ Breakfast (Pettigrew, 77) illustrates members of the literary circle that idealized Sir Charles Elton, including Coleridge, Southey, and Dorothy and William Wordsworth, as they have breakfast in an inn, with the tea urn focused in the middle of the table. According to Mrs. Beeton in the 1879 edition of her Book of Household Management, “’At Home’ teas and ‘Tea Receptions’ were large afternoon events for up to two hundred guests. Tea was laid out on a large table in the corner of the drawing or dining room, and servants would be on hand to pour and hand round the cups of tea, sugar, cream or milk, cakes, and bread and butter,” (Pettigrew, 107). Beeton reinforces the notion that these products were expected to be present at the tea table for afternoon tea with the upper classes. For the upper-classes, afternoon tea could be taken out to the garden. In an 1871 graphic artwork titled Kettledrum in Knightsbridge, (Pettigrew, 106) the artist displays men, women, and a
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