The Victorians, Early Films and the Train

The Victorians’ obsession with visual culture is nothing new. Neither is their obsession with trains. Whenever you open a book on the Victorian era you are bound to stumble upon fascinating descriptions of early trains, of the mingling of different social classes at railway stations or about the workings and effects of the steam engine.

During the end of the 19th century, these two intriguing aspects of Victorian life were combined and the appeal of the railway was captured on screen:

A Kiss in a Tunnel (1899) by G. A. Smith

A Train Collision (1900) by R. W. Paul

Royal Train (1896) by R. W. Paul

A myth surrounding the Victorians and trains on screen is that they could not differentiate between on-screen fiction and reality. They were frightened when the train approached them and panicked. The following fragment shows that this myth itself seems to be a Victorian invention. The Victorians themselves already laughed at people who could not deal with this new medium as the following fragment nicely shows:

The Countryman and the Cinematograph (1901) by R. W. Paul

Maybe the Victorians were as fascinated by film and trains as we are fascinated by the Victorians? The railway and early film have become icons of Victorianism with which contemporary critics and artists love to play. Just notice how often a train or a cinematograph take centre stage in contemporary representations of Victorianism.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Or have a look at the ending of the BBC adaptation of Gaskell’s North and South. Whereas this scene takes place in Margaret’s drawing room in the book, the film introduces the trope of the railway station as a meeting place and of the train which takes the lovers to their new life in marriage. It is also interesting to note that the film adds one scene which is not in the book and which is set at the Crystal Palace, another icon of Victorianism.

North and South

 

I hope you had fun with this movies and will look out for more trains and films in representations of Victorian life.

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