A shift in the wider social and imperial matrix contributed to a new construction of manliness in late Victorian England. Trends influencing the transformation of what it meant to be a ‘man’ included the middle class man’s rejection of domesticity, the backlash against feminism, and the adventurous opportunities provided by the empire that were reinforced by the institutions of the public school, the male club and the Boy Scouts. For most of the century, men enjoyed the power, material comforts and emotional satisfactions of being the paterfamilias. Indeed, a man’s masculine identity was tied not merely to his public or political role, but also to his place in the home where he could be fully human as he engaged in tending the hearth and his children. But after 1870 an increasing number of middle-class males questioned whether these latter dividends had made them less robust and perhaps even a little effete. If the home was his sanctuary, with his wife firmly ensconced and exalted in the domestic sphere, it could also be stifling, unfulfilling and dull as he submitted to the “tyranny of the five-o’clock tea.”
Domesticity for some men became dissociated from manliness and assumed a feminized character. The generation that grew up in the last quarter of the century increasingly disparaged everything feminine including the tender emotions. Many men refused or postponed marriage because they considered it a straitjacket. Those, who outgrew the torrid, romantic, often unconsummated, relationships with other young men of their youth, often opted for celibacy and bachelorhood with its pleasures of intense homosocial contacts. Some gravitated to an emotional bonding with a younger man that was erotic in character; an increasing number chose same-sex relationships. For those that relented and did marry, family gatherings were secondary to the man’s retreat to his study or the ‘the smoking room’; home became a place to visit. After marriage, many continued to live a bachelor lifestyle, spending considerable time at their clubs enjoying the camaraderie of an all-male haven while denying their wives companionship and financial means. As fathers, they became more formal figures with stiff upper lips where “sentiment and self-examination were dismissed as “morbid”; to reveal inner pain, whether through tears or depression was a sign of weakness.” At the same time, on occasion when he embodied “Father Christmas,” the generally remote dad could afford to be generous and indulgent and the fount of material largess. Despite these forays, marriage and domesticity, that had been the destiny of early Victorian men, became one option among several alternatives for men in the last third of the century.