It is a truth universally acknowledged that the LP should avoid pundits when they start pontificating about the Victorians. For example, here's Roy Hattersley, going on about John Stuart Mill:
I was a member of the cabinet that first discussed the desirability of making back-seat safety belts compulsory. Millite ministers initially objected. They were reconciled to the "infraction of liberty" by the argument that a passenger flying through the windscreen might injure the pedestrian whose life had initially been saved by the emergency stop. And Mill's second precept makes a distinction between "the part of a person's life which concerns only himself and that which concerns others". In short, we are free to damage ourselves but are not at liberty to behave in a way that harms other people.
The distinction was easier to make in Victorian Britain than it is today - though even in 1859, when On Liberty was written, subscribers to the cult of the individual grossly underestimated how much one human is dependent on another. Put aside for a moment all consideration of complicated questions about what pressures - economic, social and psychological - induce men and women to encompass their own destruction. They were rarely asked in Mill's time. Just accept the incontrovertible fact that today, almost everything we do for good or ill has an effect on the rest of society. Progress has made us members one of another.
These paragraphs left me feeling vaguely confused. Or, rather, completely confused. If there's one thing the Victorians love to dwell upon, at great length, it's the reality of interdependence: to maintain a vital, functional, and cohesive community, individuals must acknowledge their mutual obligations. The "Condition of England" novelists borrowed this point from Thomas Carlyle, and tried their best to turn sympathy into a means of political resolution. (Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South is a case in point.) Paradoxically, the individual is most individual when in a group. Hattersley's caricature of Mill would be the villain in any mainstream Victorian novel, well into the late 1880s and 1890s; whether they're in a novel by Charlotte Yonge or Charlotte Bronte, characters must learn the hard way that chasing after personal goals or desires often leads to nasty unintended consequences for the surrounding community.
Equally puzzling are those supposedly unasked "questions." To begin with, no Victorian would have been shocked by the proposition that men and women were out to destroy themselves; after all, what else would you expect from fallen sinners? But, more to the point, the Victorians loved investigating "pressures." (Some have argued that the Victorians invented "social investigation" as we now know it.) Why were the working classes drinking? Why did women turn to prostitution? Why weren't people in church on Sunday? Frequently, the investigators concluded that personal failures were at issue--and here Hattersley has a point--but it's just as easy to find social investigators who take "pressures" seriously, like Charles Booth.