How did Queen Victoria influence the concept of 'the family' in 1840 -1860?
Queen Victoria's reign saw immense growth of the Middle Class and an increase of consumerism. Along with leisure, clothing, and household goods, the family also became commodified, with the Royal Family upheld as the ideal.
Though many children were employed in factory work, it is often said that the Victorians invented childhood. Prior to the growth of the Middle Class in Britian, the only young people with leisure time were the Upper Class. Even so, many of these young nobles and "old money" types were expected to be in training for their life as future rulers of estates. When the Middle Class expanded, there was an entire portion of society who could afford leisure time and goods, and their children had no demands on their time (or manners) beyond schooling.
Queen Victoria was not very fond of children or motherhood, herself- perhaps because her own childhood was very isolating. Nonetheless, the public image of Queen Victoria, her husband Albert, and their nine children, was the model of the ideal British family. The privacy of the family home was a rather new phenomena, whereas previously most working people lived and labored in rather close quarters. With the idea of the family home as a distinct entity, so came the ideal for mothers to "run the home." While fathers worked out of the home (somewhat reminiscent of Prince Consort Albert's involvement overseas,) mothers were expected to be in charge of all that went on within the home. This included designating childcare to a nanny or nurse, ensuring that domestic servants were on task, and coordinating the family's schedules. The mother was also champion of the moral and social education of her children, ensuring they had good religious values and could tell their Michaelangelos from their Da Vinci's. Queen Victoria represented the kind of stern and exacting administrator a family needed.
The Victorian family was not only a social or economic unit, it also came to represent a particular moral aesthetic. The Victorians were highly concerned with moral purity, and fulfillment of one's god-given roles in the family was considered the highest achievement. At least, for women, to become a wife and mother was the absolute ideal. The Victorian family could almost be likened to one of the machines that produced their new textiles and luxury goods- if all members of the family fulfilled their duties properly, the family as a whole functioned smoothly.
Even though Queen Victoria occupied the highest position in her country and empire, she was a firm believer in a natural difference of the biological sexes and was in favor of the tradition of patriarchy which preceded her. Amidst women's public desire for suffrage, Victoria was the authority on what men and women's natural roles and rights were.