The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture 9780199593736, 0199593736

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The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture
 9780199593736, 0199593736

Table of contents :
The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture
List of Figures
List of Contributors
Introduction: Literary Culture and the Victorians
Part I Ways of Being: Identity and Ideology
The Individual and Subjectivity
1. The Victorian Subject: Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects
2. Life .Writing and the Victorians
Political Cultures and Classes
3. Politics and the Literary
4. The Literature of Chartism
5. Liberalism and Literature
6. Globalization and Economics
7. Political Economy
Sexing the Victorians
8. The Victorians, Sex, and Gender
9. The New Woman and Her Ageing Other
10. Unspeakable Desires: We Other Victorians
11. Victorian Masculinities, or Military Men of Feeling: Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility
Placing the Victorians
12. Empire, Place, and the Victorians
13. Organic Imperialism: Fictions of Progressive Social Order at the Colonial Periphery
14. The Strange Career of Fair Play, or, Warfare and Gamesmanship in the Time of Victoria
15. British Women Wanted: Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement
16. ‘The London Sunday Faded Slow’: Time to Spend in the Victorian City
Part II Ways of Understanding: Knowledge and Belief
Religion and the Shaping of Belief
17. Religion, the Bible, and Literature in the Victorian Age
18. Religion and Sexuality
19. Religion and the Canon
20. Religion and Education
Science and the Shaping of Knowledge
21. Beyond Two Cultures: Science, Literature, and Disciplinary Boundaries
22. Science and Periodicals: Animal Instinct and Whispering Machines
23. Victorian Natural Science and the Seashore
24. ‘You’ve Got Mail’: Technologies of Communication in Victorian Literature
Part III Ways of Communicating: Print and Other Cultures
Material and Mass Culture
26. Literature and the Expansion of the Press
27. Materiality in Theory: What to Make of Victorian Things
28. Celebrity Culture
Aesthetics and Visual Culture
29. Victorian Aesthetics
30. Emotions
31. Aestheticism and the Politics of Pleasure
32. Illustrations and the Victorian Novel
33. Art and the Literary
25. The New Cultural Marketplace: Victorian Publishing and Reading Practices
Theatrical Culture
34. Victorian Theatre: Research Problems and Progress
35. Victorian Theatre: Power and the Politics of Gender
36. Melodrama On and Off the Stage
37. Henry James’s Houses: Domesticity and Performativity

Citation preview

T h e Ox f o r d H a n d b o o k o f


The Oxford Handbook of




3 Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, ox2 6dp, United Kingdom Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries © Oxford University Press 2016 The moral rights of the author‌have been asserted Impression: 1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Control Number: 2016940756 ISBN 978–​0–​19–​959373–​6 Printed in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc Links to third party websites are provided by Oxford in good faith and for information only. Oxford disclaims any responsibility for the materials contained in any third party website referenced in this work.

In Memory of Dan Jacobson (1929–​2014) and Sally Ledger (1961–​2009) who each brought so much that is good to life and literary culture


My first thanks go to Jacqueline Baker for inviting me to edit this Handbook and for showing the loyalty and patience she has always shown me during its long duration. Second, I must thank the OUP editorial teams in Oxford and New York—​principally, Rachel Platt, Molly Davis, Eleanor Collins, and Lauren Konopko—​as well as the copy-​ editors at Newgen for doing an exemplary job in preparing the essays for publication. I would also like to thank all the contributors: bringing the book to fruition has been a much longer haul than any of us originally envisaged and those who submitted their work on time have shown quite outstanding levels of tolerance which exemplify the collegiality of today’s Victorian studies. For this, I am extremely grateful. Academically, I owe most thanks to my trusty readers, Matthew Bradley, Alice Jenkins, and Ruth Livesey, as well as to Helen Maslen, for expert research assistance and to Helena Goodwyn for her meticulous editing. During the gestation of the Handbook, I moved institutions and geographical areas from the University of Liverpool to Royal Holloway, University of London, and I owe thanks to colleagues and friends in both places and elsewhere for professional and personal support of various kinds as I attempted to manage a big project, a big move, and indeed a big family: Tim Armstrong, Paul Baines, Dinah Birch, James Cutler, Andrew Derrington, Kelvin Everest, Hilary Fraser, Holly Furneaux, Regenia Gagnier, Sophie Gilmartin, Robert Hampson, Ann Heilmann, Nicki Hitchcott, Avril Horner, Stephen James, Jackie John, Rebecca John, Carol Jones, Kim Edwards Keates, Norbert Lennartz, Mark Llewellyn, Gail Marshall, Frank Maslen, Bob Patten, Dominic Rainsford, Kiernan Ryan, Julia Thomas, Vera Tolz, Pierre Wassenaar, and Cathy Waters. And thank you to my family—​Calum, Iona, Hamish, and Seren—​as always for making me keep work in perspective and for moving, with all that the move has entailed.


List of Figures List of Contributors

xiii xv

Introduction: Literary Culture and the Victorians Juliet John


PA RT I   WAYS OF B E I N G :  I DE N T I T Y A N D I DE OL O G Y  The Individual and Subjectivity  1. The Victorian Subject: Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects Rae Greiner


2. Life ​Writing and the Victorians Trev Broughton


Political Cultures and Classes  3. Politics and the Literary Josephine M. Guy


4. The Literature of Chartism Ian Haywood


5. Liberalism and Literature Lauren M. E. Goodlad


6. Globalization and Economics Ayşe Çelikkol


7. Political Economy Kathleen Blake


x   Contents

Sexing the Victorians  8. The Victorians, Sex, and Gender Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn


9. The New Woman and Her Ageing Other Teresa Mangum


10. Unspeakable Desires: We Other Victorians Kate Flint


11. Victorian Masculinities, or Military Men of Feeling: Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility Holly Furneaux


Placing the Victorians  12. Empire, Place, and the Victorians Patrick Brantlinger


13. Organic Imperialism: Fictions of Progressive Social Order at the Colonial Periphery John Kucich


14. The Strange Career of Fair Play, or, Warfare and Gamesmanship in the Time of Victoria Lara Kriegel


15. British Women Wanted: Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement Melissa Free


16. ‘The London Sunday Faded Slow’: Time to Spend in the Victorian City Alex Murray


PA RT I I   WAYS OF U N DE R S TA N DI N G : K N OW L E D G E A N D B E L I E F  Religion and the Shaping of Belief  17. Religion, the Bible, and Literature in the Victorian Age Emma Mason


Contents   xi

18. Religion and Sexuality James Eli Adams


19. Religion and the Canon Matthew Bradley


20. Religion and Education Mark Knight


Science and the Shaping of Knowledge  21. Beyond Two Cultures: Science, Literature, and Disciplinary Boundaries Alice Jenkins


22. Science and Periodicals: Animal Instinct and Whispering Machines  416 Sally Shuttleworth 23. Victorian Natural Science and the Seashore Amy M. King 24. ‘You’ve Got Mail’: Technologies of Communication in Victorian Literature Elizabeth Meadows and Jay Clayton



PA RT I I I   WAYS OF C OM M U N IC AT I N G : P R I N T A N D OT H E R C U LT U R E S  Material and Mass Culture  25. The New Cultural Marketplace: Victorian Publishing and Reading Practices Robert L. Patten


26. Literature and the Expansion of the Press Joanne Shattock


27. Materiality in Theory: What to Make of Victorian Things John Plotz


xii   Contents

28. Celebrity Culture John Plunkett

 539 Aesthetics and Visual Culture 

29. Victorian Aesthetics Jonah Siegel


30. Emotions Carolyn Burdett


31. Aestheticism and the Politics of Pleasure Ruth Livesey


32. Illustrations and the Victorian Novel Julia Thomas


33. Art and the Literary Hilary Fraser

 637 Theatrical Culture 

34. Victorian Theatre: Research Problems and Progress Katherine Newey


35. Victorian Theatre: Power and the Politics of Gender Kerry Powell


36. Melodrama On and Off the Stage Jim Davis


37. Henry James’s Houses: Domesticity and Performativity Gail Marshall


Index  717

List of Figures






George du Maurier, ‘“They will never ripen now,” repeated little Miles, sorrowfully’, 109 mm x 107 mm, wood engraving by Joseph Swain. Illustration for Florence Montgomery, Misunderstood (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1874), facing p. 37.


John Everett Millais, ‘Never is a very long word’, 169 mm x 106 mm, wood engraving by the Dalziels. Illustration for Anthony Trollope, Orley Farm (London: Chapman and Hall, 1862), vol. II, facing p. 77.


Jane Sexey, ‘He little knows how he’s frightened us’, 109 mm x 76 mm, wood engraver not identified. Illustration for Jane Sexey, A Slip in the Fens (London: Macmillan and Co., 1873), facing p. 181.


Frederic Leighton, Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence, 1853–55, National Gallery, on loan from the Queen’s Collection. Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Study for ‘Giotto Painting the Portrait of Dante’, 1852 © Tate, London 2013.


List of contributors

James Eli Adams is Professor of English & Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is the author of Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity (1995) and A History of Victorian Literature (2009), and the co-​editor, with Andrew Miller, of Sexualities in Victorian Britain (1996). He is also the author of numerous articles, chapters, and reviews on Victorian literature and culture, and from 1993–​2000 he co-​edited the journal Victorian Studies. Kathleen Blake is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Washington, author of Play, Games, and Sport: The Literary Works of Lewis Carroll (1974), Love and the Woman Question in Victorian Literature: The Art of Self-​Postponement (1983), and Pleasures of Benthamism: Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy (2009). She is editor of Approaches to Teaching George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1990) and has published essays on a range of Victorian writers. Matthew Bradley  is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool. His research primarily focuses on Victorian culture and religion. His publications include the Oxford University Press World’s Classics edition of William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience (2012), and a co-​edited collection of essays, Reading and the Victorians (2014). He is currently writing a history of Victorian imaginings of the end of the world. Patrick Brantlinger, former editor of Victorian Studies, is James Rudy Professor of English, Emeritus, at Indiana University. His most recent books are Taming Cannibals: Race and the Victorians (2011) and States of Emergency: Essays on Culture and Politics (2013). Trev Broughton  is Senior Lecturer in English and Related Literature at the University of York. She has a long-​standing interest in nineteenth-​century Life writing, has published Men of Letters, Writing Lives (1997) and edited the four-​volume set of essays on Autobiography for the Routledge Critical Concepts series (2007). Her edition of some of Margaret Oliphant’s biographical writings, including selections from the Edward Irving, is published in the Pickering Chatto Selected Works of Margaret Oliphant. She is co-editor of Journal of Victorian Culture. Carolyn Burdett is Senior Lecturer in English and Victorian Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. She is author of Olive Schreiner (2013) and co-​editor of The Victorian Supernatural (2004). Her work on emotions and psychology includes editing

xvi   List of contributors a ‘New Agenda’ for Journal of Victorian Culture on ‘Sentimentalities’ (2011) and an issue of 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century on Psychology/​Aesthetics (2011). Her current book project is Coining Empathy: Psychology, Aesthetics, Ethics, 1870–​ 1920 for which she was awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in 2012–​13. She is editor of the online journal, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century. Ayşe Çelikkol is Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Bilkent University, Turkey. She is the author of Romances of Free Trade:  British Literature, Laissez-​Faire, and the Global Nineteenth Century (2011). Her essays on nineteenth-​century British and American literature have appeared in ELH:  English Literary History, American Literature, Victorian Poetry, and Partial Answers. Her current book project explores the enchantment of modern life in Victorian Britain. Jay Clayton  is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English, and Director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University. He has published books and articles on Romantic poetry and Victorian novels, contemporary American literature, film and digital media, science and literature, and medicine, health, and society. His book, Charles Dickens in Cyberspace: The Afterlife of the Nineteenth Century in Postmodern Culture (2003), focused on the depiction of computers, information technology, and cyborgs from the Victorian era to the twenty-​first century. Jim Davis  is Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Warwick. His major research interest is in nineteenth-​century British theatre and his most recent books are Comic Acting and Portraiture in Late-​Georgian and Regency England (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and Theatre and Entertainment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). He is the editor of Victorian Pantomime: A Collection of Critical Essays (2010)—​the first academic book devoted exclusively to this topic—​and Lives of Shakespearian Actors: Edmund Kean (2009). He is also joint author of a study of London theatre audiences in the nineteenth century, Reflecting the Audience: London Theatre-​going 1840–​1880 (2001). He has published a wide range of book chapters and refereed articles in his research field. Current research projects include a two-​volume edition of nineteenth-​century dramatizations of Dickens (with Jacky Bratton) for Oxford University Press and a study of cultural exchange between Britain and Australia 1880–​1960 (with Australian academic Veronica Kelly). Kate Flint  is Provost Professor of Art History and English at the University of Southern California. She is author of The Woman Reader 1837–​1914 (1993), The Victorians and the Visual Imagination (2000), and The Transatlantic Indian (2009), as well as many articles on Victorian and early twentieth-century cultural history, literature, and visual culture. She is currently completing ‘Flash! Photography, Writing, and Surprising Illumination,’ and working on two new projects: one on the ordinary and the overlooked, and the other on the transnational currents of art in the nineteenth century.

List of contributors    xvii Hilary Fraser  holds the Geoffrey Tillotson Chair of Nineteenth-​Century Studies and is Dean of Arts at Birkbeck, University of London. Her most recent book is Women Writing Art History in the Nineteenth Century: Looking Like a Woman (2014). Earlier books include Beauty and Belief: Aesthetics and Religion in Victorian Literature (1986), The Victorians and Renaissance Italy (1992), English Prose of the Nineteenth Century (with Daniel Brown, 1997), and Gender and the Victorian Periodical (with Stephanie Green and Judith Johnston, 2003). She is currently writing a book for Oxford University Press on art writing. She is President of the British Association for Victorian Studies. Melissa Free  is an Assistant Professor of English at Arizona State University, where she teaches nineteenth-​and twentieth-​century British literature and postcolonial studies. Her essays have appeared in edited collections and journals, including Genre, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, and Joyce Studies Annual. New work is forthcoming in Victorian Studies and Conradiana. Her current project is a book-length study of gender, race, and generic innovation in British South African litera­ture from the First Boer War through the First World War. Holly Furneaux  is Professor of English at Cardiff University. She is author of Queer Dickens: Erotics, Families, Masculinities (2009). She is also co-​editor, with Sally Ledger, of Dickens in Context (2011) and editor of John Forster’s Life of Dickens (2011). Her next book, Military Men of Feeling: Emotion, Touch and Masculinity in the Crimean War (Oxford University Press) will be out in spring 2016. Lauren M. E. Goodlad is the Kathryn Paul Professorial Scholar of English and Criticism and Interpretive Theory at the University of Illinois, Urbana where she is also Provost Fellow for Undergraduate Education. Her books include Victorian Literature and the Victorian State: Character and Governance in a Liberal Society (2003), the co-​edited ‘Mad Men’, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s (2013), and The Victorian Geopolitical Aesthetic: Realism, Sovereignty, and Transnational Experience (2015). She is also the editor of Worlding Realisms, a forthcoming special issue of Novel: A Forum on Fiction as well as the co-​editor, with Andrew Sartori, of The Ends of History (2013), a special issue of Victorian Studies. Rae Greiner  is Associate Professor of English at Indiana University, Bloomington, where she is editor of the journal Victorian Studies. The author of Sympathetic Realism in Nineteenth-​Century British Fiction (2012), she is interested in the relation between history and literary form and in the vagaries of mental life. Her book in progress, Stupidity After Enlightenment, is a study of stupidity’s value for British scientists and authors circa 1750–​1940. Josephine M. Guy  is Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Nottingham. She has published monographs on various aspects of nineteenth-​century literary history and has edited a collection of source documents, The Victorian Age (1998, 2002); her most recent publications in this area (in collaboration with Ian Small) are The Routledge Concise History of Nineteenth-​Century Literature (2011) and The Textual Condition of

List of contributors    xix a book provisionally entitled Pictures for Posterity:  The Making of Heritage in the Nineteenth-​Century Novel. Amy M. King  is Associate Professor of English at St. John’s University, Queens, NY. She is the author of Bloom: The Botanical Vernacular in the English Novel (2003, 2007), as well as articles in journals such as Common Knowledge, Victorian Studies, Victorian Review, Romanticism and Victorianism Online, Novel, ELN, and BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-​Century History, 1775–​1925. She is finishing a book project entitled The Divine Commonplace: Natural History, Theologies of Nature, and the Novel in Britain, 1789–​1865. Mark Knight  is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University. His publications include Chesterton and Evil (2004), Nineteenth-​ Century Religion and Literature: An Introduction (with Emma Mason, 2006), and An Introduction to Religion and Literature (2009). He has edited several volumes, most recently The Routledge Companion to Literature and Religion (2016), and he is currently finishing a monograph, Good Words: Evangelicalism and the Victorian Novel. Lara Kriegel  is Associate Professor of History and English at Indiana University, where she is also the Director of the Victorian Studies Program. Kriegel is the author of Grand Designs: Labor, Empire and the Museum in Victorian Culture (2007), as well as several essays and articles on material culture, museum history, social class, and imperial formation. She is currently at work on a book called War Without Heroes, which considers the Crimean War and its afterlife. John Kucich  is Professor of English at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He is the author of Excess and Restraint in the Novels of Charles Dickens (1981), Repression in Victorian Fiction:  Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot (1987), The Power of Lies: Transgression in Victorian Fiction (1994), and Imperial Masochism: British Fiction, Fantasy, and Social Class (2007). He has also edited, with Dianne F.  Sadoff, Victorian Afterlife: Postmodern Culture Rewrites the Nineteenth Century (2000), and he is the editor of Fictions of Empire (2002). With Jenny Bourne Taylor, he has co-​edited The Oxford History of the Novel in English, Volume Three: 1830–​1880 (2012). He has also written numerous essays on Victorian literature and culture. Ruth Livesey is Reader in Nineteenth-​ Century Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her publications include Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism in Britain, 1880–​1914 (2007) and the co-​edited volume The American Experiment and the Idea of Democracy in British Culture (2013). She is currently completing a book entitled Writing the Stagecoach Nation: Locality on the Move in Nineteenth-​Century British Literature and is an editor of the Journal of Victorian Culture. Mark Llewellyn is Visiting Professor in English at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. His research interests are focused on the nineteenth century and contemporary literature and culture. His publications include The Collected Short Stories of George Moore: Gender and Genre (with Ann Heilmann, 2007), the collections Metafiction and Metahistory in Contemporary Women’'s Writing (with Ann Heilmann, 2007) and

xviii   List of contributors Nineteenth-​Century Literature (2012). She has also published widely on Oscar Wilde and since 2000 has been a contributing editor to the Oxford University Press edition of the Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, bringing out in 2007 an edition of Wilde’s critical writings (vol. IV); she is currently editing a volume of some of his plays. Ian Haywood is Professor of English at Roehampton University, London. He has published widely on radical politics and popular literature in nineteenth-​century England, including three editions of Chartist fiction (published by Ashgate), numerous articles on George W. M. Reynolds, and The Revolution in Popular Literature: Print, Politics and the People 1790–​1860 (2004). His other books include Bloody Romanticism: Spectacular Violence and the Politics of Representation 1776–​1832 (2006), The Gordon Riots: Politics, Culture and Insurrection in Late Eighteenth-​Century England (2012; co-​edited with John Seed), and most recently Romanticism and Caricature (2013). His current research interests include political caricature in the early Victorian period, the visual culture of Chartism, Spain and Romanticism, and literary illustration in the Romantic period. Ann Heilmann  is Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University, having previously held professorial chairs at Swansea and Hull. The author of New Woman Fiction: Women Writing First-​Wave Feminism (2000), New Woman Strategies: Sarah Grand, Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird (2004), and Neo-​Victorianism (with Mark Llewellyn, 2010), she has co-​edited (also with Llewellyn) a critical edition of the short stories of George Moore (2007) and most recently an essay collection on George Moore: Influence and Collaboration (2014). She has also (co-​)edited three other essay collections, as well as four multi-​volume anthology sets, on Victorian to contemporary women’s writing and Victorian to Edwardian (anti)feminism. The general editor of Routledge’s History of Feminism and Gender and Genre series, and the academic editor of a forthcoming database, Routledge Historical Resources: The History of Feminism, she is now working on a cultural history of James Miranda Barry in Victorian and neo-​ Victorian biographilia. Alice Jenkins  is Professor of Victorian Literature and Culture at the University of Glasgow and works mainly on the emergence of the knowledge economy in the nineteenth century. Publications include Space and the ‘March of Mind’: Literature and the Physical Sciences, 1815–​1850 (2007) and an edition of Michael Faraday’s essays, Michael Faraday’s ‘Mental Exercises’: An Artisan Essay-​Circle in Regency London (2008). She is the co-​founder and first Chair of the British Society for Literature and Science. Juliet John is Hildred Carlile Chair of English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. She is Director of the Royal Holloway Centre for Victorian Studies and was previously Director of the Glastone Centre for Victorian Studies, which she founded. She has published widely on Victorian literature and culture. She is the author of Dickens’s Villains: Melodrama, Character, Popular Culture (2001) and Dickens and Mass Culture (2010). She has edited numerous books and editions, most recently (with Matthew Bradley) Reading and the Victorians (2015) and is Editor-​ in-​Chief of Oxford Bibliographies: Victorian Literature. She is currently working on

xx   List of contributors Conflict and Difference in Nineteenth-​Century Literature (with Dinah Birch, 2010). Mark’s most recent book is the co-​authored (with Ann Heilmann) Neo-​Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-​First Century (2010). Teresa Mangum is Professor of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa where she also directs the University of Iowa Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. She is the author of Married, Middlebrow, and Militant: Sarah Grand and the New Woman Novel (1998) and numerous articles on representations of Victorian late life—​human and animal—​and the editor of A Cultural History of Women: Volume 5: The Age of Empire, 1800–​1920. She co-​edits a book series, Humanities and Public Life, for the University of Iowa Press. Gail Marshall  is Professor of Victorian Literature and Director of the Victorian Studies Centre at the University of Leicester. She is the author of Actresses on the Victorian Stage (1998), Victorian Fiction (2003), and Shakespeare and Victorian Women (2009), and has edited books on George Eliot, the fin de siècle, and Shakespeare and the nineteenth century. She is currently working on a monograph on the literature and culture of 1859. Emma Mason is Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick. Her books include Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century (2006), Nineteenth Century Religion and Literature: An Introduction (with Mark Knight, 2006), The Cambridge Introduction to Wordsworth (2010), Elizabeth Jennings:  The Collected Poems (2012) and Reading the Abrahamic Faiths:  Rethinking Religion and Literature (2015). She is co-​editor of The Oxford Handbook to the Reception History of the Bible (2011), and The Blackwell Companion to the Bible in English Literature (2009), and with Mark Knight, general editor of Bloomsbury's series, New Directions in Religion and Literature. Elizabeth Meadows is Senior Lecturer in English and the Assistant Director of Vanderbilt University’s Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy. Her current book project examines how various authors use marriage to problematize the social and material power of literary form in Victorian literature and culture. She thanks the American Council of Learned Societies for support enabling her to complete this chapter. Alex Murray  teaches in the School of English at Queen’s University Belfast. He is the author of Landscapes of Decadence: Literature and Place at the Fin de Siècle (2016) and edited, with Jason Hall, Decadent Poetics: Literature and Form at the British Fin de Siècle (2013). He is currently writing a book on the relationship between aesthetics and conservatism in the period 1880-​1940. Katherine Newey  is Professor of Theatre History at the University of Exeter. She is a scholar of nineteenth-​century British literature and culture, specializing in popular theatre and women’s writing, and has published widely on the Victorian theatre and culture. Publications include Women’s Theatre Writing in Victorian Britain (2005), and John Ruskin and the Victorian Theatre, co-​authored with Jeffrey Richards (2010).

List of contributors    xxi Robert L. Patten  is Senior Research Scholar at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London. He has written extensively about the works of Charles Dickens and the graphic artists Hablot Knight Browne and George Cruikshank, and also published essays on Charlotte Brontë, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, William Makepeace Thackeray, Victorian illustration, nineteenth-​century print culture, and the concept of authorship in the industrial era. A recent book, Charles Dickens and ‘Boz’: The Birth of the Industrial-​Age Author (2012), received the Robert and Vineta Colby Scholarly Book Prize from the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals. John Plotz  is Professor and Chair of English at Brandeis University. He is the author of The Crowd (2000) and Portable Property (2008), and his current project is entitled ‘Semi-​Detached: The Aesthetics of Partial Absorption’. He recently published his first children’s book, Time and the Tapestry: A William Morris Adventure (2014). John Plunkett  is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Exeter. His publications include Queen Victoria—​First Media Monarch (2003), the co-​edited, with Andrew King, Victorian Print Media: A Reader (2005) and Popular Exhibitions, Science and Showmanship 1820–​1910 (2012), co-​edited with Joe Kember and Jill Sullivan. He is currently working on a book of nineteenth-​century visual entertainments, covering the panorama, diorama, peepshow, and magic lantern, provisionally entitled, Picture Going: Popular Visual and Optical Entertainments 1820–​1914. Kerry Powell  is the author of Acting Wilde (2009), preceded by Oscar Wilde and the Theatre of the 1890s (1990) and Women and Victorian Theatre (1997. He edited the Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (2004) and is co-​editor with Peter Raby of Oscar Wilde in Context (2013). He is Professor of English at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Joanne Shattock  is Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of Leicester. She is general editor of The Works of Elizabeth Gaskell (2005–​06) and is co-​ editor with Elisabeth Jay of The Selected Works of Margaret Oliphant (25 vols. 2011–​16). Other works include The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers (1993) and the third edition of The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature 1800-1900 (1999). Her latest publication, Journalism and the Periodical Press in Nineteenth-Century Britain, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press (2016). Sally Shuttleworth  is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford. She was Co-Director of the Science in the Nineteenth-Century periodical project which produced an index to the science content of a range of periodicals (http://​​), and three books in the area. She has published extensively on Victorian literature and science. Her most recent work is The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science and Medicine, 1840–​1900 (2010). She is currently directing two research projects on nineteenth-​century science and culture: ‘Diseases of Modern Life: Nineteenth-​ Century Perspectives ( and ‘Constructing Scientific Communities: Citizen Science in the 19th and 21st Centuries’ (

xxii   List of contributors Jonah Siegel  is Professor of English at Rutgers University. He is the author of Desire and Excess: The Nineteenth-​Century Culture of Art (2000) and Haunted Museum: Longing, Travel, and the Art-​Romance Tradition (2005), and editor of The Emergence of the Modern Museum: An Anthology of Nineteenth-​Century Sources (2007). Julia Thomas  is Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University, UK. She has worked extensively on Victorian visual and material culture and her books include Victorian Narrative Painting (2000), Pictorial Victorians:  The Inscription of Values in Word and Image (2004), and Shakespeare’s Shrine:  The Bard’s Birthplace and the Invention of Stratford-​upon-​Avon (2012). She is Director of the AHRC-​funded Database of Mid-​Victorian Illustration (http://​ and The Illustration Archive (

I n t rodu ction Literary Culture and the Victorians Juliet John

When the idea of a Handbook of original essays on Victorian literary culture was first put to me by Oxford University Press, my first thought was to wonder about the proposed title. What might be understood by the phrase ‘literary culture’, and specifically ‘Victorian literary culture’? Did the Victorians have a ‘literary culture’ and, if so, how might it be characterized? The broad and generic title seemed fraught with difficulty, not least because in the key phrase ‘Victorian literary culture’, two unstable and contested adjectives work to qualify an abstract noun—​culture—​which is itself unstable and contested. As Raymond Williams demonstrated so brilliantly more than half a century ago, in the long nineteenth century, the meaning of the word culture underwent several changes, all tending to reinforce a shift from culture understood as ‘a culture of something’ to ‘culture as such, a thing in itself ’.1 The Victorian period witnessed the first serious attempts, in Isobel Armstrong’s words, ‘to conceptualise the idea of culture as a category’.2 Most memorably, Matthew Arnold’s momentous effort, in Culture and Anarchy (1869), to define culture as a ‘study of perfection’, as spiritual ‘sweetness and light’, accorded a special place to literature. Indeed Arnold, as the first Professor of Poetry at Oxford, left his imprint not only on cultural theory but also on the origins of English literature as a discipline, most notably on the writings of F. R. Leavis in the twentieth century whose own elevation of literature became the symbol for so much that seemed to be wrong with the discipline of English literature from the 1950s onwards. Contemporary constructions of literature and culture are thus rooted if not entangled in the uncertain soil of the Victorian period, even though in the 1830s, for example, when Queen Victoria came to the throne, the novel genre, which formed the basis of Leavis’s


Culture and Society, 1870–​1950 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1958), p. xvi. Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics (London: Routledge, 1993), 3. Armstrong is talking specifically about Victorian poetics here. 2 

2   Introduction ‘great tradition’ of literature over a century later, did not feature in the ‘Literature’ reviews sections of newspapers. Non-​fiction prose, so often omitted from university undergraduate Victorian literature syllabi today, was securely ‘literary’ but novels were not.3 The term ‘Victorian’, to the uninitiated, seems less abstract than the ideas of culture or the literary but the adjective carries with it a great deal of cultural, political, and emotional baggage in the contemporary cultural consciousness, within and without the academy. Victorian studies has never reached agreement on the idea that the adjective relates literally to the study of the reign of Queen Victoria. The rise of fin de siècle studies in the last thirty years has in some ways literalized our definition of the term ‘Victorian’ by allowing for the study of movements like Decadence and the New Woman which were part of the rich cultural tapestry of Victoria’s reign, but had previously seemed to pose such a challenge to traditional notions of Victorianism that they were routinely omitted from university courses. Fin de siècle studies is just one area of several that has worked to transfigure and expand definitions of the term ‘Victorian’—​spatially, via notions of the cosmopolitan and the global, and temporally, through dialogue with modernism and the ‘neo-​Victorian’. Writing at the millennium, John Lucas insisted that There is a strong case for arguing that, except in the most rigorously controlled of contexts, ‘Victorian’ and ‘Victorianism’ are terms we could well do without. […] ‘Victorian’ in particular is used to imply a cultural and political homogeneity which […] never existed.4

It is telling that only sixteen years after Lucas made this remark, the word ‘Victorian’ is very far from a byword for cultural and political homogeneity in the academy. Victorian studies today embraces heterogeneity; there is a generosity, curiosity, and inclusivity about its spirit. The corollary of this relaxed pluralism and indeed precondition for it, is a certain elasticity about spatial, temporal, and disciplinary parameters. And yet if today’s Victorian studies has rendered itself accommodating by moving beyond some of the territorial debates of its past, why does the idea of ‘Victorian literary culture’ give pause for thought? Or even for discomfort. Why does it matter if the unstable triumvirate of terms that is ‘Victorian literary culture’ necessitates a willing suspension of pedantry on the student’s or critic’s part? Why does it matter that the notion of ‘Victorian literary culture’ demands an effort of critical will, first, to ensure that the phrase means something, and second, to accept that it means many things, to many different readers? Surely it is part of what feels like a new critical generosity to go with the flow. And yet there is something in the title of this volume that stops the flow. And that is the word ‘literary’. This may seem peculiar given that many (though by no means all) of this volume’s contributors have institutional homes in Departments of English and/​ 3 

See F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (1948; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962). ‘Republican versus Victorian: Radical Writing in the Later Years of the Nineteenth Century’, in Juliet John and Alice Jenkins (eds), Rethinking Victorian Culture (Houndmills: Macmillan, 2000), 29–​45 (p. 29). 4 

Introduction   3 or Literature. But it is the idea of the literary that invokes a long history in Victorian studies, and in English and cultural studies more generally, of intellectual conflict rather than cooperation. The Victorian period gave ballast to the emerging academic discipline of (English) Literature, and as several of this volume’s contributors attest, it did so by investing the idea of the literary with a moral and spiritual significance which aligned it with the immaterial and the religious, as well as (by an inflected process of association) the high cultural.5 ‘The cult of literature’, as William McKelvy has demonstrated, ‘developed in intimate collusion with religious culture and religious politics.’6 In the phrase ‘sweetness and light’, Arnold sought to associate culture with religion—​which ‘enjoin[s]‌and sanction[s] the aim which is the great aim of culture, the setting ourselves to ascertain what perfection is and to make it prevail’—​and with poetry (‘It is by making sweetness and light to be characters of perfection that culture is of like spirit with poetry’).7 A century later, F. R. Leavis was the most vocal proponent of Arnold’s view that culture was in some ways ‘beyond religion’.8 Leavis positioned the discipline of English literature as ‘a centre of consciousness […] for our civilisation’, because he believed that it could preserve a ‘living culture’ against the fragmenting effects of the modernity.9 Leavis’s belief that literature (as the most important manifestation of culture) was the supreme means of protecting civilization and civilizing individuals was more mainstream among literary critics than his maverick reputation can seem to suggest. What set him apart was the undisguised dogmatism of his supremacist claims for literature. Leavis preached intensely about literature as the means to individual and social salvation because he perceived, rightly in many ways, that the elevation of the literary taken quietly for granted by many literary critics (even those outside the Arnoldian tradition) was under threat. Critics of Leavis would and of course did argue that he was the threat. In his open hostility to mass culture and his aggressively selective use of the term ‘Literature’ to describe authors that he deemed worthy of belonging to his self-​fashioned ‘great tradition’, Leavis seemed to turn ‘literary culture’ into a battleground rather than a near sacred space. Cultural studies evolved to remedy the exclusion of popular culture from ‘literary’ study as well as the universalist, apolitical assumptions of Leavisite, 5  The University of Edinburgh claims the oldest Department of English in the world, offering courses in ‘rhetoric and belles lettres’ in the eighteenth century—​http://​​schools-​departments/​ literatures-​languages-​cultures/​english-​literature/​about/​department [last accessed 1 April 2016]. However, Charlotte Mitchell’s history of University College London’s English department makes clear both the importance of the nineteenth century in building English literature as a discipline named as such and how complex and gradual the emergence of English as a discipline was in the changing university context in the nineteenth century—​http://​​english/​department/​history-​of-​the-​ english-​department [last accessed 29 May 2015]. 6  The English Cult of Literature: Devoted Readers, 1774–​1880 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007), 35. 7  Culture and Anarchy, ed. J. Dover Wilson (1932; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 47, 54. 8  Culture and Anarchy, 48. 9  F. R. Leavis, Two Cultures? The Significance of C. P. Snow (London: Chatto & Windus, 1962), 30, 27.

4   Introduction New Critical, and liberal humanist traditions. The Marxist critic Raymond Williams is regarded by many as the founding father of British cultural studies, though his work grew out of, and in response to, the intellectual climate of the Faculty of English at Cambridge, where he studied and was Professor of Drama for some years. Cultural studies insisted that culture and its criticism were always subject to the workings of politics and power and, through a focus (post-​Williams) on ‘mass’ culture, took seriously the tastes of the many which Leavis regarded as a threat to the values of traditional ‘civilization’.10 Cultural studies was of course fuelled by the rise to mainstream prominence of critical theory more generally from the 1960s onwards. The advent of theory meant that the idea of the literary as a distinct and somehow transcendent space was everywhere under threat: feminism, Marxism, postcolonialism, New Historicism, Foucauldian criticism are just some of the theoretical schools that contested the values which had initially underpinned the Victorian establishment of literary criticism as a discipline. In her essay in this volume, Josephine Guy succinctly sums up the political objections that drove the backlash against the liberal humanist foundations of literary study: the assumption that the domain of the literary is above or beyond the domain of the political looks naïve at best; at worst, it seems itself to be suspiciously political in that it conveniently disguises the ways in which literariness—​or more accurately, the distinguishing of certain kinds of works as possessing a literary identity—​may be deeply ideological insofar as such labelling serves the needs of particular interest groups by normalizing the values which those works embody. Denying the label literature to some kinds of writing could, after all, be a useful way of marginalizing them. (69)

The swing from a humanist tradition of literary criticism which positioned literature above politics through a theoretical turn which sees all literature as political (or often subject to politics as the greater force) gives some sense of why the idea of ‘literary culture’ is challenging—​especially when deployed as the conceptual umbrella for a seminal volume of today’s Victorian studies scholarship. Ideological differences about what constituted literary and cultural study ran so deep that the parent discipline of English studies and its rebellious child cultural studies agreed to go their separate ways in many institutional contexts in the second half of the twentieth century. As recently as the millennium, in his foreword to Rethinking Victorian Culture, John Sutherland commented from his then vantage point as the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English in the Department of English at University College London: When he heard the word ‘culture’, Goering is supposed to have said, he reached for his revolver. Victorianists of my generation may feel much the same when they hear the term ‘cultural criticism’.11 10  See Leavis, Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture (Minority Pamphlet No. 1; Cambridge: Minority Press, 1930). 11  John and Jenkins (eds), Rethinking Victorian Culture, p. xv.

Introduction   5 The aversion to the label ‘cultural criticism’ of a critic who has done much to expand notions of Victorian literary culture and its criticism, tells us a great deal about the extent of the tribal feeling and habits of self-​identification which grew out of the formative debates in the establishment of English and cultural studies as disciplines, whatever the reality of critical practice. It would be wrong, however, to suggest that the challenges posed by the idea of Victorian literary culture have been generated solely by querulous infighting among academics. Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy was so titled because of the pressures he felt in his own day on his ideal of culture as a cohesive force. Q. D. Leavis devoted a chapter of her Fiction and the Reading Public to ‘The Disintegration of the Reading Public’ in the Victorian period, effectively blaming Dickens for what David Vincent calls ‘the collapse of a common literary culture’.12 Josephine Guy’s comments on modern scepticism about the framing of the ‘literary’ as a metapolitical space are made in the context of observations about the ‘persistent and sometimes draconian attempts’ in the Victorian period ‘to police literary culture, activities which only make sense in a climate in which literary works were recognized to have significant social consequences’ (69). This is nowhere more obvious than in the division legally imposed by the 1737 Licensing Act for more than a century between the ‘legitimate’ theatres royal and the other ‘illegitimate’ theatres. Even after the 1843 Theatres Regulation Act officially ended this use of performance space to impose cultural division and hierarchy, plays still had to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for scrutiny. The phrase ‘legitimate’ Drama was still used by critics pining for the nation’s playwrights to produce higher quality or ‘literary’ work. For much of the nineteenth century, however, the impermanence of the theatre, as well as what Kate Newey calls its ‘thingness’ (Chapter 34, 661), seemed to contemporary observers to position its offerings outside the realm of the ‘literary’. So the Victorian period did not represent any kind of golden age of ‘a common literary culture’ if by ‘common’, we mean homogenous, and Victorians were no more united in agreement over what constitutes a literary culture than we are. Q. D. Leavis is far from the only voice who argues that the period in fact witnesses not an age of cultural integration but the disintegration of a more cohesive culture. Sally Ledger and Paul Schlicke among other critics, for example, have pointed to the 1840s as witnessing a split which Ledger figures as between radical (minority) culture and commercial (mass) culture and Schlicke as a schism between ‘the old rural pastimes’ like fairs and rural markets and ‘large-​scale spectator entertainments such as music-​hall and professional sport’.13 The ‘disintegration of the reading public’ which Q. D. Leavis laments, refers of course not to radical or folk culture but to the canonical or ‘minority’ literary culture, to use F. R. Leavis’s term, which can be homogenous or common because it is common to a few, or 12 

Q. D. Leavis, Fiction and the Reading Public (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932), 151–​202; Vincent, ‘Dickens’s Reading Public’, in John Bowen and Robert L. Patten (eds), Palgrave Advances in Charles Dickens Studies (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 176–​97, at 192. 13 Ledger, Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Schlicke, Dickens and Popular Entertainment (London: Allen & Unwin, 1985), 4–​5.

6   Introduction more accurately uncommon. It relies on ‘a very small minority’, on whom ‘the discerning appreciation of art and literature depend’: Upon them depend the implicit standards that order the finer living of an age, the sense that it is worth more than that […]. In their keeping […] is the language, the changing idiom upon which fine living depends, and without which distinction of spirit is thwarted and incoherent. By ‘culture’ I mean the use of such language.14

Such a language-​based, hierarchical model of ‘culture’ of course thrives best when it is clear which art and literature is at stake and who has the ‘discerning appreciation’. As John Plunkett makes clear in his essay for this Handbook, the huge growth of literacy and the literary marketplace which took place in the Victorian period gave rise to an expanded literary and cultural realm, and this ‘went hand in hand with the creation of numerous distinct literary fields, each with their own conventions, authors, and readers’ (543). Cultural inclusivity is thus not the same as cultural cohesion. Indeed, the radical changes in the social, political, and economic structures of nineteenth-​century Britain which moved the country towards a modern democracy had complex effects on the cultural sphere. Industrialization, the Reform Bills, the intensification of capitalism, the increase in literacy, the move to universal education, and changes to the legal system, are just some of the major historical developments which began or gathered pace in the early nineteenth century. These changes enabled a cultural revolution which gave more and more people access to ‘culture’, and developments in the publishing trade in the 1820s and 1830s meant that books and newspapers reached further down the social scale in the early Victorian period than ever before.15 Sharply falling book prices, for example, led to a broader readership, and a higher cultural status for the novel, partly impelled by the size of its readership. The novel thus rose up the literary generic hierarchy at the same time that it reached down the sociological ladder. The cultural revolution did not confine itself to the book trade or to the fortunes of the novel, however. Chittick reports optimistically and in many ways accurately that ‘the democratization of politics was not only reported but also reflected in the press’.16 Important in this process was the dramatic proliferation in the number of cheaper journals in circulation (many with intellectual aspirations), the advent of ‘penny dreadfuls’, cheap weeklies, and (by the end of the century) comics. Greater access and choice led to a more inclusive but variegated cultural marketplace. The paradoxical effects of this are familiar to twenty-​first-​century inhabitants of a more established mass culture: as Plunkett explains, the ‘democratisation of the press’ hailed by Chittick, resulted in ‘a 14 

F. R. Leavis, Mass Civilization and Minority Culture, 3–​5. Until 1830, for example, the cheap fiction market had largely been left to small and disreputable publishers like the Minerva Press, but in June 1829 when Tom Cadell issued the Author’s Edition of the Waverley novels in five-​shilling volumes, ‘he inaugurated the vogue of inexpensive recent fiction imprints’: Elliott Engel and Margaret F. King, The Victorian Novel Before Victoria: British Fiction During the Reign of William IV, 1830–​1837 (London: Macmillan, 1984), 5. 16  Kathryn Chittick, Dickens and the 1830s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 24. 15 

Introduction   7 profession increasingly divided between a few “star” names and an undifferentiated “mass” of hack writers’ (557). And if the nineteenth century was the first age of literary celebrity, it did not follow that all ‘literary’ writers were celebrated or influential. Indeed, as Isobel Armstrong analysed so influentially in the early 1990s, poets in particular tended to experience a contraction of influence and a diminution of status as the market for culture expanded. In the new literary environment in which numbers of readers mattered as never before, the poet’s specialist craft struggled to compete with seemingly more accessible media. In Victorian Poetry, Armstrong describes the Victorian poet’s ‘modern’ consciousness of his/​her ‘secondary’ role in a culture which was no longer the undisputed preserve of the elite: ‘To be modern’, as she puts it, ‘was to be overwhelmingly secondary.’17 If there can be little doubt about the ‘difficult intangibility’ (Chapter 19, 369), to use Matthew Bradley’s term, of the idea of Victorian literary culture, it is this very difficult intangibility which makes OUP’s preferred title for this volume an inspired choice, particularly at this moment in the history of Victorian studies. While the combined insights of this volume offer the reader difficulty and multiplicity rather than simplicity and clarity, the Handbook nonetheless contends that the concept of Victorian literary culture is meaningful. It suggests that it is time to allow the prodigal idea of the literary to rebalance our critical conversations, as both distinctive and integral to a broader sense of literary culture as well as cultural formations. It is particularly important that we do so now, in the grip of a global economic crisis, when the market has proved itself other than sacrosanct but its logic, paradoxically, is everywhere being reinforced. A crude application of this logic doubts the value of the arts and humanities because they do not seem to fit models of utility and economic productivity which underpin notions of common sense that the market has naturalized. The long nineteenth century of course felt itself to be in the first throes of a clash between the logic of political economy and that of the arts, dramatized oppositionally for polemic effect by Dickens in Hard Times (1854) and to some extent propelling Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy. Both these texts have been seen—​rightly or wrongly—​as promoting the superiority of what we might call artistic or cultured thinking over utilitarian or economic logic and in so doing to suggest a fundamental divide between two incompatible world views. Supremacist cultural logic is subject to accusations of elitism, simplification, or lack of realism and it is perhaps because of this that contemporary defenders of the arts have tended to be wary of revisiting the warnings, rehearsals, and indeed arguments of our nineteenth-​century ancestors, so pertinent in many ways to current-​day dilemmas. Yet scholars of the Victorian period are in a position to play a leading role in articulating the value of the arts and humanities today, armed with the perspective of a particularly resonant retrospect. And there seems an emerging sense now that a case can and should be made for the distinctive value of literary culture, and that this can be done via a mode of 17 

Victorian Poetry, 3.

8   Introduction cultural analysis which is dialogic and historically situated rather than binary and universalist. The idea of ‘Victorian literary culture’ foregrounded by this volume’s title encourages this integral thinking and raises the key questions underpinning not only Victorian literary and cultural studies but also our historical understanding of modern cultural formations: for example, what was Victorian literary culture? How did the Victorians see ‘Literature’ and ‘Culture’? How do we? What makes the period so important to our understanding of the history of ‘literary culture’? How do Victorianists today justify the value of their work and the importance they place on the literature and culture of this particular era? There are important claims we can make for the uniqueness of the Victorian period in the history of literature, culture, and literary culture. One is that it witnessed what Guy calls ‘an insistent questioning about what constituted literariness’ (Chapter 3, 74–5). The idea of ‘the literary’ mattered as never before and the period produced answers which have framed debate ever since. The same can be said about culture. It was in the Victorian period that culture became ‘a thing in itself ’—​except the ‘thing in itself ’ that was culture was habitually defined in relation to the literary and vice versa. ‘Literary culture’ thus became the object of particular scrutiny, as Armstrong explains: ‘since the very notion of a culture was new, and the idea of the minority intellectual, this entailed constructing the idea of culture and defining in particular what a literary culture was’.18 It is thus perhaps no surprise that it was in the Victorian period that the study of post-​ classical literature and culture was consolidated in university education.19 One of the reasons they seemed to matter was that particular historical and material conditions conspired to allow a more pervasive and mainstream literary culture to exist than at any time previously or since. In the new age of literacy which had yet to experience the counter-​attractions of the moving image and mass technological media, readers and writers wielded unrivalled power. What characterizes the period is not then some intangible quality that its literature possesses but the extent to which Victorian literature and the broader culture had to be integrated and mutually constitutive. To argue for the unique breadth and power of Victorian literary culture is not to argue that its literary culture was cohesive; nor is it to posit one particular definition of the literary. But it is to argue the following: the broader culture was literary to an unrivalled extent; literature felt under a new pressure to be culturally porous if it was to avoid ‘secondariness’; it was for the last time possible to avoid ‘secondariness’, but only if attention was paid to the large numbers of readers who participated in competing constructions of the ‘literary’. It was possible, that is, for literary writers to have demonstrable and broad social impact. The extent to which literary culture in the Victorian period was integrated, constitutive, influential, and permeative was unprecedented and will not reoccur in a globalized, multimedia, mass culture. Victorians like Arnold were thus attempting to capture something new whose pastness was imminent. The attempted reification of the idea of culture in the period was therefore a centrifugal response to centripetal forces, a rhetorical attempt to invoke the idea of the literary as a mystical demarcator of 18  19 

Victorian Poetry, 27. See n. 5 above.

Introduction   9 a special cultural sphere in the face of the reality of a literary culture which was in fact newly and temporarily pervasive. There is a new appetite today for explaining why literary culture continues to matter in a changed context where its ‘secondariness’ rather than its centrality tends to be assumed. There is moreover a wholeness of approach to so doing which the rise of interdisciplinary study in the last thirty years has facilitated. The conflict between theory and humanism and the other oppositional debates which grew from it (history and politics vs. aesthetics, high vs. low culture, English vs. cultural studies, etc.) have given way to a less dramatic but more integrated, nuanced academic landscape. Critical theory has become naturalized in the arts and humanities, its insights informing the work of all literary and cultural criticism to a greater or lesser extent. Its assimilation has paradoxically allowed for the revisiting—​and more importantly, re-​evaluation—​of concepts whose humanist or New Critical inheritance theory had persuaded many to distrust, avoid, or devalue: thus aesthetics, form, emotion, character, for example, are all back on the critical agenda. Less revisionist attention has been paid, interestingly, to the idea of the literary. The literary has been for too long the elephant in the room of an English studies more at home with an idea of itself as interdisciplinary than with the founding values of the literary discipline which led to its establishment. This volume suggests that intellectual conditions are currently ripe for a reassessment of the idea of Victorian literary culture. In 2003, Josephine Guy identified with admirable clarity a binary habit which can attend approaches to literary history: A certain sort of literary history can take as given a particular definition of literary identity and value and proceed to document and interpret in any one period those works which answer to such a label; alternatively, another sort of literary history can be conceived more critically, as a mode of analysis which seeks to uncover the historical processes whereby at any one moment in time only certain sorts of works come to be labelled and valued as literature. Choosing between these two possibilities in turn rests upon assumptions about the relationship between literary history and other accounts of the past, such as social, intellectual, economic or political history.20

The evidence of this volume suggests that contributors feel less pressure to choose between attaching a particular value or definition to the literary and acknowledging that the idea of the literary is always a historical construction. While there seems to be consensus that there are always historical processes in play ‘whereby at any one moment in time only certain sorts of works come to be labelled a literature’, there is an increasing willingness to claim, with Guy, ‘sympathy with the idea that there is a quality to aesthetic experience which cannot be collapsed wholly into the political or ideological’ and to explore the ‘literary’ dimensions to this experience.21 Not all contributors would 20  Review of Philip Davis, The Oxford English Literary History. The Victorians. Volume 8: 1830–1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), Reviews in History, 336 (2003)—​http://​​ reviews/​review/​336 [last accessed: 10 March 2015]. 21  Review of Philip Davis, The Oxford English Literary History. The Victorians. Volume 8: 1830–1880.

10   Introduction embrace this aesthetic turn but neither would they attribute its rise to a new Leavisite agenda. What is stirring is a desire to wrest the literary from its humanist past without denying that past. Discussions of the ‘literary’ inevitably involve a reaching for nebulous notions of belief, emotion, creativity, and imagination, which are steeped in an Arnoldian and Leavisite tradition—​and indeed, as several contributors explore, in a religious past. The idea of the literary can also encourage value judgement, morally inflected critique which current critical orthodoxy tends to position as less sophisticated and ideologically aware (or less truthful) than political analysis. But there is no necessity that concepts should carry past ideological baggage in perpetuity: as theoretically informed literary and cultural critics, we should know that. Some of the best new work today is on affect and religion, for example, two areas seemingly at odds with the historicist, politicized, and materialist approaches that have pervaded Victorian studies for some time. But the fact that they seem ‘at odds’ is in fact the source of their value. Much has been written in recent times about the need to replace a suspicious or ‘symptomatic reading’ in respectable critical practice with less cynical and adversarial reading practices.22 The most prominent model proposed to replace the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’—​or our professional habit, post-​theory, of reading against the grain—​is the practice of ‘surface reading’ which tries to rediscover the grain.23 ‘Surface reading’ has had its detractors, most notably, one of the contributors to this volume, John Kucich, who has mounted a fine defence of the value of the hermeneutics of suspicion.24 The fact that several contributors to this Handbook, by contrast, seek to move beyond both suspicion and surface reading to discover a new ‘amicable reading practice’ (Chapter 17, 343), in Emma Mason’s words, suggests that Victorianists are far from united not just about what the literary is but also about how we should approach it.25 What is notable, however, is the interest in exploring concepts that seem at odds and the acceptance of difference. In practice, moreover, the differences between Victorianists are less schismatic than headline arguments imply. Mason’s emergent theory of reading the Victorians, for example, is driven by a desire to respect and understand the terms in which Victorians understood their own religious and literary experiences as grounded in ‘compassionate and affective aspects of faith that are not objectively measurable’ (333). Her intention is to ‘complement historical and social perspectives’ (333) rather than to posit a naïve universality or apoliticism. Similarly, Mark Knight’s proposed practice of ‘sympathetic reading’ 22 

The idea of a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ derives from Paul Ricoeur who identified in the interpretative habits of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud a ‘school of suspicion’—​see Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, trans. D. Savage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 32. 23  Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus suggest a new practice of ‘surface reading’ in place of ‘symptomatic’ or suspicious reading in their ‘Surface Reading: An Introduction’, Representations, 108 (2009), 1–​21. 24  Kucich, ‘The Unfinished Historicist Project: In Praise of Suspicion’, Victoriographies, 1 (2011), 58–​78. 25  Mason argues that we should read ‘with kindness and care’ (333). She is primarily referring to the reading of Victorian religious writing but she seems to suggest that ‘amicable’ reading should inform literary response more generally.

Introduction   11 emerges not from a blanket rejection of critical suspicion but from his alertness to the ‘danger in allowing the hermeneutics of suspicion to be our exclusive or primary mode of interpretation’ (386). Kucich’s defence of suspicion is actually predicated on ‘a situated understanding of a text’s cultural difference’, construing suspicion as ‘an effort of sympathetic understanding’.26 His own account in this volume of ‘organic imperialism’ gives weight to literary alongside cross-cultural agency, arguing for novels’ ‘unique ability to demonstrate how models of social order were transformed through colonial encounters, because they particularize individual relationships to social structures’ (254). What these Victorian critics are currently grappling with then is how far it is possible or desirable to make the leap of imagination, faith, or belief that allows us to understand in the most meaningful way a literary culture both at odds with our own and constitutive of it. The evidence of this Handbook suggests to me neither a dominant hermeneutics of suspicion, nor an abandonment of suspicion among Victorianists (nor indeed an acceptance of ‘surface reading’), but a critical practice which balances suspicion with affective and intellectual generosity. The volume is in fact characterized by a hermeneutics of integrity, a word which I use both because and in spite of its associations with moral earnestness, to suggest a wholeness of critical approach which allows not simply for a committed consciousness of one’s own moral, political, and aesthetics beliefs, but also for a willingness to inhabit and understand the beliefs of others. To adapt the words of Paul Ricoeur, ‘Perhaps I cannot incorporate the other’s interpretation into my own view, but I can, by a kind of imaginary sympathy, make room for it’.27 Victorianists today seem confident enough to be at odds—​not to be at loggerheads, but to accept shared ownership of ideas through respect for, and recognition of, the views and agendas of others, other times, and indeed other selves. This is a wholeness of approach that interdisciplinary study should allow for but that disciplinary histories have sometimes seemed to work to block. Thus, an acceptance of multiplicity and complexity, a post-​tribalism, characterizes the new phase we are in. The possibility of a literary critical ‘third way’ consequently emerges in many of the essays in this volume which posits a model of literature as both dialogic and distinct. If we are thinking about politics, for example, then literature is both political and distinctive as a mode of experiencing and understanding (and we can equally discern this post-​tribalism in attitudes to art or science, among other modes of perception or understanding explored along with the literary in this volume). The work in this Handbook all seems to be characterized by an impulse to be faithful to the then as well as the now. It seems to respect or believe in the force of the idea of the literary as a form of creative verbal expression whose parameters and boundaries are constantly in flux, subject to continuous disintegration and recreation under the myriad pressures of its own and surrounding impulses to innovate, critique, and imagine the world as otherwise. In the idea of ‘literary culture’ explored afresh here, the ideas of the ‘literary’ and 26 

‘The Unfinished Historicist Project’, 73. ‘The Conflict of Interpretations: Debate with Hans-​Georg Gadamer’, in A Ricoeur Reader: Reflection and Imagination, ed. Mario J. Valdes (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1991), 216–​41, at 241. Mark Knight also discusses this remark in his essay in this volume. 27 

12   Introduction the cultural are enmeshed and integrated; paradoxically, they are dependent on each other for the dual impulses to identification and self-​definition or distinction which the twinned terminology of the label ‘literary culture’ seems to suggest. Self-​definition will always of course be as elusive as achieved integration. In the idea of ‘literary culture’, the twin terms are necessarily together and at odds; drives to sameness and difference, integration and separation are held in a dialectic which is both cohesive and stressed. The paradoxes underlying the idea of literary culture in many ways echo those underpinning interdisciplinary thought more generally. In the phrase ‘literary culture’, for example, ‘literary’ is an adjective and ‘culture’ is a noun: does this suggest that the idea of the literary, as the qualifying term, is secondary to the more substantive ‘culture’, or does word order give the word ‘literary’ primacy? Interdisciplinarity in Victorian studies (and the arts and humanities more generally) has become normative in research if not in institutional contexts; Victorian studies, for example, has internalized the findings and methodologies of cultural studies to the extent that, as in the Victorian period, literary and cultural thought is thoroughly interdependent. But interdisciplinarity nonetheless performs a process of integration which is by definition incapable of completion. As several contributors to this Handbook make clear, interdisciplinarity is a concept and practice which purports to wholeness but is always at odds. Alice Jenkins’s essay ‘Beyond Two Cultures: Science, Literature, and Disciplinary Boundaries’, for example, captures the intellectual and methodological challenges and possibilities that have preoccupied ‘literature and science studies’ as a ‘distinct and separately constituted body of scholarship’, which is nonetheless part of the ‘mainstream’ of Victorian studies (401). Her identification of ‘analogy’ and ‘causation’ as ‘two fundamental problems in the explanatory procedures of literature and science studies’ (401) could equally be applied to other interdisciplinary areas of Victorian studies: the relationship between art and the literary explored so consummately by Hilary Fraser, for instance, or that more specifically between illustrations and the texts in which they sit by Julia Thomas. Does one influence the other in a process of causation, and if so, what are the implications in terms of power of the order of cause and effect? And is analogy any less problematic a methodological model in avoiding the idea of origin and influence that propels causation, at eschewing the elevation of one mode of seeing or understanding over another? The ‘inter’ in interdisciplinarity indicates, literally, a space in between, neither one ‘discipline’ nor another but a new linking sphere. Jenkins’s essay makes clear why any space between is never entirely distinct but always dependent for its modes of speaking and understanding on its origins in disciplinary thought, and indeed on the idea of origins. If the idea of analogy is more successful at avoiding causal thinking, it risks eliding difference with sameness and eliminating the possibilities of a new[er] space between. Where two terms or disciplines are yoked together, it is in fact impossible to avoid the visible shaping force of preference, priority, judgement, and power. There are limits even to sympathetic or ‘kind’ reading practices, for example, as there should be; otherwise, even what Mason calls ‘pastoral’ (333) response eschews criticism and judgement, undermining the values which constitute its claims to worth. The best current work in Victorian studies seeks to balance the exercise of preference with a ‘situated

Introduction   13 understanding’ of the preferences of others. The essays in this Handbook wield judgement with integrity; they ‘make room’ for the opinions of others with diverse acts of ‘imaginary sympathy’ which suggest the exercise of individual taste and judgement within a surprisingly cohesive hermeneutics. Thus though Sally Shuttleworth and Alice Jenkins both embrace interdisciplinary literature and science studies, Shuttleworth advocates that the future of the field rests on ‘an essential partnership between science and the humanities’ (437), while Jenkins looks for anomaly, asking: ‘how do we draw the bounds of literature and science studies; is there any kind of writing in the nineteenth century that is not potential material for us?’ (415). Similarly writing about the relationship between visual and literary culture in the period, Fraser emphasizes that ‘the Victorian period was an era of extraordinarily fertile exchange between the literary and visual arts’ (639) while Thomas argues for an ‘emergent illustration studies’, which regards illustration as ‘a distinct object of criticism’ requiring specific critical procedures (621). Victorian studies has thought of itself for some time as habitually interdisciplinary but there is a growing mood of self-​reflection about the nature of this interdisciplinarity and the ‘disciplines’ from which it purports to be constituted, as well as about the processes and languages adopted to merge and negotiate disciplinary paradigms. Fraser draws on Walter Pater’s discussion of the German concept of Anders-​streben to explore modern theoretical attempts to understand the ways in which ‘image/​text interactions enable a transcendence of the dimensional limitations of each individual art form’ (654–5). Pater suggests the idea of a metamorphic continuum or spectrum within the arts: although each art has thus its own specific order of impressions, and an untranslatable charm, while a just apprehension of the ultimate differences of the arts is the beginning of aesthetic criticism; yet it is noticeable that, in its special mode of handling its given material, each art may be observed to pass into the condition of some other art, by what German critics term an Anders-​streben—​a partial alienation from its own limitations, through which the arts are able, not indeed to supply the place of each other, but reciprocally to lend each other new forces.28

The attraction of this idea for those attempting to rethink the idea of ‘literary culture’ within a predominantly interdisciplinary Victorian studies is that it allows for an effort to understand distinctiveness whilst refusing to reify or petrify difference. It makes room for an element of the ‘untranslatable’ in aesthetic experience whilst allowing for the shaping processes of cultural and indeed historical change. It enables an idea of literary culture which is the product not only of socio-​historical conditions and philosophical will, but also of an aesthetic instinct or intelligence. For scholars wishing to further understanding of literary culture and indeed of aesthetic experience more generally, there has been an array of difficulties: the Arnoldian and Leavisite baggage of such discussions; the rise within the academy of a model of professionalism associated with rationalist and scientific paradigms; and the more general binary habits of debate which tended (until the 28 Pater, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (London: Macmillan Library Edition, 1910), 133–​4.

14   Introduction relatively recent upsurge of theoretically informed interest in ‘intangibles’ such as affect) to associate an interest in the intangible with an apolitical and ahistoricist outlook. Isobel Armstrong’s criticism has done a great deal to break down these binary assumptions within Victorian Studies. Her plenary talk at the 2014 British Association of Victorian Studies annual conference at the University of Kent was a forensic and passionate dissection of the ways in which in the rise of historicism in the last thirty years in Victorian studies has created a rather unbalanced practice of interdisciplinarity whereby texts are seen to be subject to the originary force of History (with a capital H), and aesthetic analysis has thereby occupied a secondary space as the product of historical forces.29 In arguing that it is time for a rebalancing which emphasizes the creative agency of the aesthetic, she is not relegating historicist modes or claiming to be able to evade the logic of causation explored in this Introduction, but neither is she invoking analogy. She is inviting Victorianists to show boldness and integrity in reinstating the aesthetic more prominently into our pictures of the Victorian past. The aesthetic is clearly important to rethinking the idea of literary culture but its movement in and out of focus in this volume suggests its integration or commingling in today’s Victorian studies with other ways of seeing. While introductions such as this invite vision statements about the future of the field, the tendency of ‘visions’ to date suggests that a visual analogy may have more longevity than a vision. The kaleidoscope is perhaps the most evocative symbol for Victorian literary culture viewed through the ages, suggesting as it does its original meaning, ‘observer of beautiful forms’, invoking the machine age, and ‘constituted from pattern and randomness, freedom and repetition, order and chance’.30 It is fitting that the kaleidoscope was a nineteenth-​century invention named so in 1817 by the Scottish inventor David Brewster, and first given figurative and literary life by Byron, who had received one as a gift from his publisher, John Murray.31 The union it suggests of beauty and new technology reminds us of the polymathic or ‘interdisciplinary’ map of the nineteenth century and partly explains its symbolic power during 29  The V21 Collective seeks to frame a ‘Victorian Studies for 21st Century’ by offering theoretical and formalist alternatives to ‘positivist historicism’, though the combative tone of its manifesto is somewhat at odds with its professed desire to interrogate ‘habitual oppositions’—​see http://​​ manifesto-​of-​the-​v21-​collective-​ten-​theses/​ [last accessed 2 June 2015]. 30  http://​​definition/​english/​kaleidoscope [last accessed 13 June 2015]. Etymologically, it is made up of elements from the Greek words kalos ‘beautiful’, eidos ‘form’, and skopein ‘to look at’—​also the root of scope. Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination, 1830–​1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 342. 31  The Oxford English Dictionary defines this figurative meaning as ‘A constantly changing group of bright colours or coloured objects; anything which exhibits a succession of shifting phases’, linking this definition to Byron’s use of the term in Don Juan (1819): ‘This rainbow look’d like hope—​Quite a celestial kaleidoscope’ (II. xciii. 165). Oxford Dictionaries and others define the figurative use of the term more broadly to mean, ‘A constantly changing pattern or sequence of elements’—​http://​www.​definition/​english/​kaleidoscope [last accessed 13 June 2015]. See Samuel Smiles, A Publisher and His Friends: Memoir and Correspondence of the Late John Murray, with An Account of the Origin and Progress of the House, 1768–​1843, 2 vols (London: John Murray, 1891), i. 397–​9, for the correspondence between Murray and Byron about the kaleidoscope.

Introduction   15 the industrial era.32 Most memorably, seeking to capture the experience of modernity in ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ (1863), Baudelaire described the flâneur among the crowd as ‘A kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness’.33 In cultural terms, the ways in which the centrifugal forces of the kaleidoscope attempt to impose shape, definition, and stasis in the face of centripetal forces which seek to decentralize and destabilize the picture invoke the forces that drove attempts like Arnold’s to ‘capture’ and centralize culture. In literary terms, the constant movement between the margins and the centre and out again suggests the processes, always subject to history, of canonicity. The kaleidoscopic picture of Victorian literary culture to follow taps into the multiplicity and instability that both critical theory and period-​based scholarship have foregrounded in Victorian models of identity and culture. Approaches such as feminism, Marxism, queer theory, psychoanalysis, postcolonialism, and New Historicism have enabled a metamorphic pluralism of research questions. Likewise, the application of information technology to literary study has begun a process of canon expansion which is potentially endless as texts become increasingly available and ‘new’ texts are published online. Electronic resources have, moreover, facilitated interdisciplinary study, enabling easier access to resources in the theatrical and visual arts, for example, and facilitating dialogue between print and other cultures. This collection aims to harness these developments without neglecting more familiar texts and debates, which are themselves subjected to emergent modes of critical scrutiny rather than simply reiterated. Again, though it seeks to reflect the impact of a variety of new ways of thinking about and viewing the Victorians, it also revisits the old with the benefit of academic hindsight. It brings ‘modern’ values to bear on the Victorians as well as demonstrating the Victorian roots of this modernity. This Handbook aims to indicate, moreover, where theoretical or technological developments have had a particularly significant impact on Victorian studies. Work on Darwin and the history of science has been a major current of intellectual enquiry in the field; though such has been the focus on Darwin, as Amy King explains, that now ‘[t]‌he field increasingly seeks to disturb the centrality of Darwin’ (441). An interest in 32 

All the figurative uses of the term listed in the OED are from the nineteenth century.The literary and symbolic suggestiveness of the kaleidoscope has been discussed by Robert Crawford and Helen Groth among others. See Robert Crawford, The Beginning and the End of the World: St Andrews, Scandal and the Birth of Photography (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2011), 7–​8; and Helen Groth, ‘Kaleidoscopic Vision and Literary Invention in an “Age of Things”: David Brewster, Don Juan, and “A Lady’s Kaleidoscope” ’, ELH 74 (2007), 217–​37, at 217. Crawford discusses Macaulay’s use of the invention ‘as an image for the poet’s consciousness’, for example, as well as its application to Turner, Holman Hunt, and Robert Chambers. Groth examines various metaphorical usages to suggest ‘the cosmopolitan gaze’, ‘standardised market driven spectatorship’ (218), the age itself, and Byron’s own association between the kaleidoscope and ‘a moment of potential transformation, a fleeting prophetic vision of hope and natural beauty that borders on the sublime’ (220). 33 In The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays (London: Phaidon Press, 1964), 10. Armstrong argues that he used the image to convey ‘the ludic freedoms he sought to define as “modernity” ’ (Victorian Glassworlds, 255), though she reminds us later that ‘the kaleidoscope also thematises the limits of experience and change’ (342).

16   Introduction identity politics—​national identity, class, gender, and sexuality—​has been integral to thinking about this age of empire, reform, and early women’s rights agitation. There is a significant upswell of interest in place, space, and the urban, which brings the insights of cultural geography together with what Alex Murray calls the ‘city space provided by literary texts’ or, drawing on Robert L. Patten, the ‘ “hermeneutics of literary geography” ’ (313–14).34 The study of popular, material, and visual culture in an age of rapid cultural expansion has reshaped our sense of the Victorian field, as many of the essays published here attest. While the study of religion has at times been submerged by the revisionist tide, it is now making its voice heard, as the strong section on religion in this Handbook makes clear. The writings of Foucault have had an enormous impact on thinking about the nineteenth century in various fields (madness, bureaucracy, sexuality, prisons, surveillance), but most fundamentally in Victorian studies, perhaps, on conceptions of the individual. Interestingly, the influence of Foucault is implicit and naturalized rather than obvious in this Handbook, essays by Rae Greiner and Trev Broughton suggesting new ways of thinking about ‘the Victorian subject’ in its own terms rather than solely as a discursive and ideological construct. Jonah Siegel’s fine exploration of the historical, pre-​Victorian roots of the problems attending current attempts to ‘recognize the aesthetic aspirations of the Victorians’ argues that in our inevitable inability to resolve them, ‘we may find more than failure. We may begin to recognize the form of our inherited Victorian aesthetics’ (579). There are surprises (war, old women), an expert section on politics and economics, and a concluding section on theatrical culture which suggests deep veins of unexplored territory in Victorian studies, unexplored because the theatre was so often excluded from the category of the literary. The fact that theatrical and literary studies in the period have so often been constructed as ‘at odds’ means that this book does not conclude comfortably. It does not in fact purport to conclude but hopes to suggest, deepen, and provoke, to leave both trails and gaps. Some of those gaps were apparent and became more so in the years that it took this volume to grow to completion (if not conclusion). The Victorians’ place in time has become a resonant and multidimensional area of research, ‘neo-​Victorianism’ in particular occluding the more familiar interest in the blurred boundaries between the Victorians and their immediate predecessors the Romantics or their modernist successors. Interest in how the Victorians have been constructed through today’s creative arts has become so widespread in fact that neo-​Victorianism is already conflicted about its own status: is it a subfield of Victorian studies or closer to postmodernism? At the millennium, before ‘neo-​Victorianism’ became the label formally attached to creative and self-​conscious contemporary reworkings of Victorian material, John Sutherland identified ‘a strikingly new topic of critical discussion’ in such attempts.35 But do they, in fact, 34  Patten, ‘From House to Square to Street’, in Helena Michie and Ronald R. Thomas (eds), Nineteenth Century Geographies: the Transformation of Space from the Victorian Age to the American Century (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 191–206, at 192. 35  ‘Foreword’ to Alice Jenkins and Juliet John (eds), Rereading Victorian Fiction (Houndmills: Macmillan, 2000), pp. xi–​xii, at p. xi. Sutherland’s identification of this ‘strikingly new topic of critical discussion’ is often omitted in familiar accounts of critical neo-​Victorianism which tend

Introduction   17 represent a new field? Neo-​Victorianism’s historicizing of the present echoes in some respects the prominent recent interest in the ways in which the Victorians constructed themselves as makers and objects of ‘heritage’ and fashioned their own past. Work in this area now goes beyond classicism and medievalism to an interest in the practices, politics, and affective significance of the heritage and museum industries today and in the Victorian period, which arguably witnessed the birth of the heritage industry as we now understand it. All this post-​millennial focus on the Victorians and time has in common an interest in the framing of the Victorians by themselves and others as both subjects and objects of the historical (or heritage) gaze. There is much to suggest that reading internationally is the expanded future of Victorian studies, with all the possibilities and challenges that this poses for new critical practices shaped by notions of sympathy and integrity. Where languages are unknown, academic cultures are only partly alike or understood, then the barriers to a ‘situated understanding’ are more than temporal. These challenges are worth the attempt, even if we can never fully overcome them. In the effort to do so, we may need to situate our tightly held notions of rigour, professionalism and scholarship more relatively. If we want to develop a better understanding of how George Eliot, for example, has been read in a global context, we may have to accept that the picture and quality of evidence will sometimes be patchy, ‘amateur’, and anecdotal.36 The expansion of the literary field enabled by reception studies can moreover engender a complex repositioning of the literary textual base as more remote and less familiar, even while translation studies draws attention back to the activities of language and the textual base which was perceived as the source of value in the first place. Literary study of the canon still underpins the survival and indeed popularity of Victorian literature in global classrooms. The increasingly prevalent interest in immaterialism or the ‘intangible’ in the Victorian period has been driven by the renewed attention to affect as well as by the felt value of revisiting Victorian self-​conceptualizations with the benefit of post-​Victorian shifts in knowledge and understanding. It is thus perhaps inevitable that religion should once more have become a major current in Victorian studies. What will be interesting, however, given the ‘theologically lite’ (397) (to borrow Mark Knight’s phrase) inheritance of many of today’s students and indeed scholars, is whether renewed attention to Victorian religion among critics will result in more curriculum time devoted to this area in our universities. Ours is an age of information overload where we expect access to knowledge to be quicker and easier; the intellectual and reading stamina necessary for many students to access Victorian religious debate could mean that it remains an elite though cutting-​edge area to start with the 2007 Exeter conference Neo-​Victorianism: The Politics and Aesthetics of Appropriation, the 2008 establishment of the Journal of Neo-​Victorian Studies, and Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn’s Neo-​Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-​First Century, 1999–​2009 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). 36  The Bloomsbury series The Reception of British and Irish Authors in Europe represents a major advance in scholarly understanding of international global reception; the problems faced in compiling its volumes—​of translation and incomplete records—​are exacerbated when reception beyond Europe is mapped.

18   Introduction of academic enquiry. Nineteenth-​century theatre studies perhaps has more chance of a higher profile in the mainstream of Victorian studies as digital technology makes available an expanded archive of materials through which we can flesh out our cultural maps of the period. The factors which made theatre peripheral to literary culture—​its commercialism and ‘thingness’—​arguably make it accessible in the current age of mass culture. Though Victorian studies has embraced materialism and science, there is no doubt more we can do in these areas. Eco-​criticism has grown so much as to become established though it is certainly not exhausted. Mathematics, as Alice Jenkins has suggested, is an area of Victorian studies that is virgin territory for many excluded by the disciplinary barriers that still structure Western education. If Victorianists engage with science in very particular ways, at the other end of the disciplinary spectrum, Victorian critics appear to engage very little with artistic practitioners. In this respect, neo-​Victorian artists are pioneering. Methodologically, would scientists and installation artists, for example, regard the staple offerings of Victorian studies as operating at the interdisciplinary cutting edge? This seems unlikely. There are still, it seems, limits to our interdisciplinariness as there are to our conceptualizations of disciplinariness. As academic fields are so often self-​defining, blind spots can occur which are more obvious to futurity and to those at a remove from debates and (inter)disciplinary histories which become naturalized. While much of this Introduction has focused on debates between academics within the Victorian research field, we should remember that the shape and future of the field looks different when we take full account of the fact that the reality of Victorian studies—​even within the academy—​is shaped by forces outside it. I am not talking here about the greater political forces of class, race, and gender which are so widely understood but about the ‘smaller’, more contingent influences of educational policy and institutional politics (with a small ‘p’). It is here that the fraught status of ‘Victorian literary culture’ comes sharply into focus. The controversial recent remodelling of the school syllabus in the UK by Michael Gove, the former Secretary of State for Education, made the study of ‘literary heritage’, exemplified in the main by Shakespeare and nineteenth-​century literature, core to a new secondary school curriculum, particularly to public examinations taken at 16 and above. The forceful privileging of Victorian literature on the national secondary curriculum was in one way a vote of confidence in its public ‘value’. But this value was articulated as a conservative (with a big and a small ‘c’) response to the perceived occlusion of the literary in the classroom by identity politics and the downgrading of cultural ‘heritage’ beneath a trendy presentism. While the Leavisite echoes of this move were opposed by a large majority of teachers and educationalists, including Victorianists, in the UK, the move should give pause for thought. Politicians, teachers, students, and funders play a large role in shaping the curriculum as well as the canon and the Victorian period seems to have become an important battleground for competing visions of the future as well as the past. When viewed through the multiple perspectives which comprise this prism, conceptions of Victorian literary culture are so much at odds that the field of Victorian studies starts to lose even heterogeneous coherence.

Introduction   19 For some conservative British politicians, the Victorian literary past and its ‘great’ works need saving. The compulsory foisting of heavyweight Victorian works on sociologically mixed cohorts of students as young as 14 has of course been troubling to professional Victorianists well versed in the politics of canon formation and wary of the coercive veneration of a certain version of ‘national’ heritage attempted through this act of educational engineering. But for all that, attention to the literature of the Victorian period by future generations of students is not something that we can necessarily take for granted. The increasing avoidance of longer Victorian texts by students, and the refashioning of many university curricula to accommodate the decline in reading stamina, suggests that there is a decline in attention. While numbers of staff and students in Victorian studies are currently healthy, there is an increasing reluctance to support projects that are seen as ‘literary’ and this reluctance has largely gone unchallenged. Single-​author research, similarly, is all too often assumed to be at odds with the prevailing spirit of interdisciplinarity, despite an acknowledgement of the polymathic world of the Victorian writer and the importance of the idea of authorship for the Victorians themselves as an organizing principle. The recent job search for a successor to John Jordan, the Director of the Dickens Universe at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for example, gained institutional approval under the title Professor of Nineteenth-​ Century English Literatures in Global/​Transnational Perspective. The title suggests a gap between the perspective of the institution and that of the hundreds of Dickensians attracted to the Dickens Universe each year by interest in an author they know to be dead but whose works they believe to have transnational, global significance. But literary culture and its organizing principles need not be positioned oppositionally in relation to the prevailing modes of interdisciplinarity in today’s academy, and presentism can work dialogically rather than deterministically as we seek to balance our own knowledge with that of the past. This balancing can never be assumed, however, and must always be self-​conscious. Thus, while it is common to celebrate the expansion in knowledge of the past that new technology can enable, the information overload that can accompany the digital revolution can also mean that selective pathways through the mass of new text(s) are forged, often by academic experts or the priorities of institutions and funding bodies, to the detriment of paths not taken. There is also the danger of forgetting or of not wanting to know what the Victorians knew or valued. In this respect, the ‘expansion’ of our map of Victorian cultural landscape which my own research has worked to further has brought far greater attention to the cultural and historical margins but a diminished interest in, and understanding of, ‘high Victorianism’. The ‘sages’ or writers of non-​fiction prose valued as teachers during the period are now largely passed over on undergraduate courses which tend to be packed with ‘identity politics’, but ‘lite’ on theology and indeed Classics. Even George Eliot, the high priestess of realism and the novelist who during her own period boasted the highest cultural capital, seems to be losing her automatic claim to prominence. While it seems difficult to imagine that Eliot will ever go unread, school and university syllabi increasingly give the long, heavy ‘great’ works like Middlemarch (1871–​2) or Daniel Deronda (1876) a wide berth. It is tempting to argue that today’s ‘revolution’ away from Leavisite literary studies to a broader

20   Introduction cultural studies represents a renewal in the sense of a return to the earlier interdisciplinary map of the Victorian period; but more accurately, today’s interdisciplinarity has evolved rather than revolved, submerging the polymathic map of the Victorian period beneath a rather different contemporary schema. There is of course much to be applauded in the wholeness of critical approach that has allowed today’s heterogeneous and capacious field of Victorian studies to evolve. The challenges to Victorian ideologies and cultural hierarchies that have allowed multiple and marginalized voices to be heard have undoubtedly enriched our sense of then and now. But thinking and reading with integrity demands that we continue to be both self-​ conscious and self-​critical about our own efforts at ‘sympathetic understanding’. It is inevitable and desirable that we remake the past, but self-​suspicion ensures that historicism is always something other than narcissism. There are signs, as this Introduction has argued, of a growing self-​consciousness among Victorianists of their uneasy neglect of the idea of literary culture; there are also signs of a desire to remedy this neglect. To do so is important partly because literary culture (and indeed the idea of literary culture) has provided Victorian studies with its base as well as its baggage. Yet there is much to imply, not least from the perspective of the coming future, that the literary culture which has sustained Victorian studies and given it much of its contemporary cultural force, is in a more precarious state than the prolific energies and rude health of work in the Victorian field would suggest likely. At a time when the perceived value of the arts and humanities is increasingly questioned, it need not signify a return to Arnoldianism to remind ourselves that Victorian literary culture has been fundamental to Western industrial and post-​industrial conceptions of literature and culture. The ironic after-​effect of the tradition of critical humanism has been to effect an occlusion of the literary. The challenge for Victorianists today is to articulate the value of literary culture in ways that go beyond the humanist and heritage accounts which have historically colonized this territory. In its exploration of Victorian ways of being, understanding, and communicating, this Handbook is a collective effort at new ways of seeing.

Acknowledgements I am extremely grateful to Matthew Bradley, Alice Jenkins, and Ruth Livesey for commenting so thoroughly on drafts of this Introduction, and to Helen Maslen for research assistance.

Select Bibliography Armstrong, Isobel, Victorian Glassworlds:  Glass Culture and the Imagination 1830–​ 1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Armstrong, Isobel, Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics (London: Routledge, 1993).

Introduction   21 Arnold, Matthew, Culture and Anarchy, ed. J. Dover Wilson (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1932; 1994). Best, Stephen, and Marcus, Sharon, ‘Surface Reading: An Introduction’, Representations, 108 (2009), 1–​21. John, Juliet, and Alice Jenkins (eds), Rethinking Victorian Culture (Houndmills: Macmillan, 2000). Kucich, John, ‘The Unfinished Historicist Project: In Praise of Suspicion’, Victoriographies, 1 (2011), 58–​78. Leavis, F. R., Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture (Minority Pamphlet No. 1; Cambridge: The Minority Press, 1930). McElvy, William, The English Cult of Literature:  Devoted Readers, 1774–​ 1880 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007). Ricoeur, Paul, Freud and Philosophy, trans. D. Savage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970). Williams, Raymond, Culture and Society, 1870–​1950 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1958).

Pa rt  I

WAYS OF B E I N G Identity and Ideology

The Individual and Subjectivity

Chapter 1

The Victoria n Su bj e c t Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects Rae Greiner

Thinking Subjects In Victorian Subjects (1991), the literary critic J.  Hillis Miller reminded his readers of an etymological fact: that to be a subject is to be ‘thrown under’—​to be, as it were, beside oneself. Like literature, with its capacity to tell one story while calling forth another (and another), subjects are beside or something other than—​are non-​identical to—​themselves. No person is at any given moment equal to all that she has ever been. Subjects of investigation or debate (say, academic subjects) are always changing and incomplete. In emphasizing the unfixed and unfinished quality of human subjects—​ the ways in which ‘the self is always subject to something other than itself, something beneath it or beyond it that may be experienced more as an abyss than a ground’—​Miller unsettled any sense of subjects, especially human ones, as stable or fully knowable, even to themselves.1 At the same time, the phrase ‘Victorian Subjects’ knits together several salient meanings at once by pointing to the subjects studied and popularized by scholars of the Victorian period, as well as those that were important to the Victorians themselves. These include the development of a political ideal emphasizing individual self-​ governance, as illustrated by the passage of the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867, and 1884–​5, which by expanding voting privileges redefined political subjectivity and paved the way for universal suffrage; and England’s imperial mission, dramatically expanding global empire by increasing the number of persons and places subject to Queen Victoria’s rule. For the purposes of this essay two subjects take precedence. The first is history, a subject important to many nineteenth-​century writers in Britain (about which more later). The second is among the more lasting and debated of Victorian inventions: the liberal


J. Hillis Miller, Victorian Subjects (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), viii.

28    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture subject, a type of person and a particular understanding of personhood that was central to a number of cultural and political theories affiliated under the banner of political liberalism. Although ‘subject’ is a contested term insofar as it is taken to refer to distinctly modern, Enlightenment ideas of personhood, some scholars argue that Victorian political liberalism produced a distinctive kind of subject by promoting the belief that one’s private psychology and personal store of memories, thoughts, and emotions defined personhood as individual and unique.2 Rather than conceiving of people in terms of their relationships to a family, community, geographical locality, social class, or belief system, the liberal subject thriving at the Victorian mid-​century was, pre-​eminently, a self. Driving this phenomenon was a new sense of the political value of personal opinion or taste. As Elaine Hadley writes, political liberalism involved an understanding of individualism as ‘synonymous with choice, with predilection, with judgment’. Habits of thought and ‘moralized and moralizing qualities of mind’ now designated the self. To be ‘an individual capable of self-​government, visible as a citizen in the public sphere, one needed character’, which consisted of ‘certain mental capacities’.3 Where the Romantic philosopher and legal reformer Jeremy Bentham considered questions of taste and aesthetic judgement inconsequential to legislative or policy matters, the Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill considered people’s ‘likings and dislikings’ to be ‘full of the most important inferences as to every point of their character’. As he wrote in ‘Bentham’ (1838), a person’s tastes showed him ‘to be wise or a fool, cultivated or ignorant, gentle or rough, sensitive or callous, generous or sordid, benevolent or selfish, conscientious or depraved’.4 In stressing how certain ‘mental capacities’ enable political and personal selfhood, Mill sought ways to better develop ‘character’, those qualities of mind, feeling, and judgement cultivated by the best sorts of subjects. For Mill and other Victorians, good character depended on one habit of mind in particular, the ability to generalize, to step outside the self and take on perspectives other than one’s own. To use the terms with which we began, we might say that this understanding of character requires the self actively to subject itself to something (and somebody) else, for the mentality most worth pursuing thinks with other, and different, minds. As Mill puts it, ‘the collective mind does not penetrate below the surface, but it sees all the surface; which profound thinkers, even by reason of their profundity, often fail to do’ (‘Bentham’, 147–​8). No ‘whole truth is possible’, he continues, ‘but by combining the points of view of all the fractional truths, nor, 2  See, for instance, Lee Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991). For an early post-​Victorian account of Victorian individualism, see Carle C. Zimmerman, ‘The Nineteenth Century Atomistic Family’, in Family and Civilization (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947), 141–​164. 3  Elaine Hadley, Living Liberalism: Practical Citizenship in Mid-​Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 7. 4  John Stuart Mill, ‘Bentham’, in John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, Utilitarianism and Other Essays, ed. Alan Ryan (London: Penguin, 1987), 132–​176, at 173. Further references to this essay will be given in the text.

The Victorian Subject: Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects    29 therefore, until it has been fully seen what each fractional truth can do by itself ’ (151). To comprehend an abstract concept such as ‘national character’, for instance, requires a level-​headed mentality that can ‘rise to that higher generalization’ rather than remain blinkered by a ‘fractional’, too-​narrow imagination or personal experience (157). Despite being one of ‘the two great seminal minds in England of their age’ (Coleridge is the other), Bentham had in Mill’s view failed so entirely in this endeavour that ‘other ages and other nations were a blank to him for purposes of instruction’ (132, 149). A ‘half-​ thinker’, he was incapable of generalizing about human experience. Having ‘never been made alive to the unseen influences which were acting on himself, nor consequently on his fellow creatures’, he ‘den[ied] or disparage[d]‌all feelings and mental states of which [he had] no consciousness’ in himself (149–​151). As much as he prefers ‘complete thinkers,’ however, Mill also sees value in thinking by halves. ‘We have a large tolerance for one-​eyed men, provided their one eye is a penetrating one,’ he writes; ‘if they saw more, they probably would not see so keenly’. Bentham had turned this deficit to such advantage that Mill concludes, ‘Almost all of the rich veins of original and striking speculation have been opened by systematic half-​thinkers’ (‘Bentham’, 151). By beginning ‘all his inquiries by supposing nothing to be known on the subject’, Bentham made his mind a blank, a vantage from which he could better cut through the errors of habit and customary trains of thought (145–​146). Mill’s interest in the virtues of half-​thinking may resonate with readers of Victorian fiction—​say, the novels of George Eliot, which consider both the problems and benefits of mental smallness. If better known for her attempts at expanding human sympathy, which often in her fiction requires overcoming egotism to inhabit perspectives other than one’s own, Eliot also depicts the darker subjectivities of those who cannot shut others out. Latimer, the narrator of The Lifted Veil (1859), is a twisted version of the ‘complete thinker’, a miserable clairvoyant who cannot help but take in others’ thoughts. Here and elsewhere in her fiction, as when in Middlemarch (1872) she describes human unconsciousness of the sound of grass growing, the squirrel’s heartbeat, and numberless other noises buzzing around us, Eliot expresses gratitude at being ‘well wadded with stupidity’, for such stupid obliviousness enables human thriving, and survival.5 It shelters us against bombardment by all that the sensorium filters out. At the same time, fin-​de-​siècle novelists looking back on the period perceived a related, less advantageous stupidity at the heart of the novelistic enterprise. Henry James portrayed Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope as versions of the half-​thinking genius whose novels, despite certain achievements, failed to abstract from mundane experience general insights into human mental life. In James’s view, Dickens’s characters weren’t complete people but were (to use Mill’s term) ‘fractional’ at best (‘Bentham’, 151). All weird gestures and verbal tics, they lacked psychological depth, were mere forms: animate, but devoid of life. Trollope’s portrayals of contemporary life were accurate and abundantly detailed, but they too ‘vulgarize[d]‌experience’ by dealing ‘wholly


George Eliot, Middlemarch, ed. David Carroll (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 182.

30    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture in small effects’.6 Trollope offered a ‘multitude of real things’ but did not generalize from them, having failed to observe ‘great things’ as well as small (James, ‘Miss Makenzie’, 70–​ 73). Of Trollope’s Miss Makenzie (1865), James writes: It may be said […] that the emotions which depend upon such facts as these cannot be too prosaic; that as prison discipline makes men idiots, an approach, however slight, to this kind of influence perceptibly weakens the mind. We are yet compelled to doubt whether men and women of healthy intellect take life, even in its smallest manifestations, as stupidly as Miss Mackenzie and her friends. (‘Miss Makenzie’, 71; original italics)

Trollope dumbs down his readers with trivial details left unexamined, prosaic sentiments un-​elevated by reflective thought (‘Miss Makenzie’, 73). Of another Trollope novel, The Belton Estate (1865), James writes, ‘People and things are painted as they stand,’ but in the flesh only: ‘men healthy, hearty, and shrewd, but […] utterly without a mind’.7 Trollope, he concludes, ‘is simply unable to depict a mind in any liberal sense of the word’ (‘Belton Estate’, 127; original italics). The coming pages consider these broad themes—​the cultivation of (good and bad) mental habits, the merits and demerits of stupid, too-​ trivial, or egotistical understanding—​in relation to the narration of historical, specifically wartime, experience in a selection of writings by the essayist and novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–​63). Thackeray is today perhaps best known for the biting social satire of novels such as Vanity Fair (1847–​8). Adopting a snob persona in such early works as Snob Papers (1846–​7), and publishing under satirical pen names such as George Savage Fitz-​Boodle, Thackeray had by mid-​century crafted himself as tastemaker and social critic. As Hippolyte Taine would write in 1866, Thackeray ‘calls on us with a mocking pleasantry to look at the baseness and stupidity of poor human nature’, which he saw everywhere he looked.8 Yet everyday English stupidity of the sort lampooned in Vanity Fair is not Thackeray’s principal target in certain of his wartime works. The following pages consider Thackeray’s interest in stupid, ‘fractional’ understanding in relation to the wartime contexts in which these works were written and set. The early years of Thackeray’s literary career saw the publication in England of a substantial number of war memoirs and autobiographical writings, some written by men of rank, but also—​for the first time ever—​by enlisted men. Despite their historic achievement, however, the first literate army could not be understood as fully intelligent. For although their writings were admired by some, others saw in them a widespread—​or widely worried over—​ representational flaw: the narrowness of view they afforded, which was too partial, local,


Henry James, ‘Miss Makenzie’, in Notes and Reviews, ed. Pierre de Chaignon La Rose (Cambridge, Mass.: Dunster House, 1921), 68–​76, at 75. Further references will be given in the text. 7  Henry James, ‘The Belton Estate’, in Notes and Reviews, 124–​131, at 126. Further references will be given in the text. 8  Hippolyte Taine, ‘M. Thackeray’, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, 1 (1866), 210–​214, at 212.

The Victorian Subject: Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects    31 or small. That the same complaint can be made of Thackeray’s wartime fictions, which are fashioned as the memoirs of knuckleheaded men, suggests that it is one he took pains to invite. The remainder of this essay asks of Thackeray’s one-​eyed soldiers: to what uses are their perceptual limitations put?

Wartime Subjects Thackeray was among the first Victorians. Around the mid-​1830s, roughly coincident with Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne (in 1837), he began publishing his first journalistic work, having by now gambled away an inheritance and abandoned his studies for a career in law. But born in Calcutta to Anglo-​Indian parents in July 1811, then sent to England in 1816 to attend English schools (where he was, by his own account, a mediocre student), Thackeray came of age in the Romantic era. A painful, unsettled period defined by the Napoleonic Wars (1803–​15) and their aftermath, these were revolutionary years during which many global contests were fought.9 Many of Thackeray’s novels qualify as historical fiction and, in keeping with novelistic conventions of the time, are set in these and in earlier, tumultuous decades in British history. The protagonist of The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. (1852), for instance, fights in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–​14) and engages in a series of doomed efforts to restore James Francis Edward Stuart, Prince of Wales (the ‘Old Pretender’), to the throne. Finally, Thackeray’s literary career took off around 1848, an unprecedented ‘Year of Revolution’ during which a series of political conflicts occurred across Europe and beyond. If it is for these reasons unsurprising that soldiers feature so centrally in Thackeray’s early work, less obvious is why they should be so obtuse. A case in point is the moral idiot and protagonist of The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan (1838–​9), an Irishman serving in the British army and stationed in India, arriving in 1802 ‘at our barracks at Dum Dum’.10 Gahagan announces early in his narrative that he is ‘a gentleman, and live[s]‌at least in DECENT society’, but soon reveals that he murdered his own brother in a duel over a ‘very trivial dispute’ involving a gold toothpick-​case (4). From there, Gahagan spins increasingly tall tales of callous murder and mass casualty, claiming gruesome responsibility for killing 134 elephants by severing their trunks with a single shot, or for the deadly assault on one Loll Mahommed, felled by 117 Spanish olives fired in the absence of bullets. His cavalier attitude towards the devastation he

9  Including, to name only a few, the First Anglo-​Burmese War (1823–​6), the Decembrist Revolt in Russia (1825), the Java War (1825–​30), the Russo-​Persian War (1826–​8), the Liberal Wars (1828–​34) which involved Portugal, Spain, France, and the UK, the July Revolution (1830), several American Indian wars, and colonial uprisings such as the Baptist War between white settlers and slaves in Jamaica (1831–​2). 10  William Makepeace Thackeray, The Tremendous Adventures of Major Gahagan (Lexington, Ky.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013), 8. Further references will be given in the text.

32    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture wreaks—​‘killing these fellows was sheer butchery’ he drily relates of the death of 700 men, all but forty of them ‘bayoneted as they ran’—​is amplified to comic effect by his habit of precise calculation, a numerical hyperrealism that comes across as ridiculous (23). He enumerates, for instance, ‘no less than three hundred and eighty-​eight tails’, each one attached to an elephant standing ‘twenty-​five feet high’ and carrying a ‘two-​storied castle on its back’, with ‘sleeping and eating rooms for the twelve men that formed its garrison’ (52). Gahagan’s moral judgement—​and narrative—​is off balance, overrun by ‘a multitude of real things’, small rather than large (James, ‘Miss Makenzie’, 70). This imbalance is also reflected in his expressions of wounded disbelief towards those who doubt the accuracy of his account (Gahagan, 23). Insisting that he has not ‘willfully perverted history’, Gahagan denies deviating from the facts: ‘No: though my narrative is extraordinary’, he writes, ‘it is nevertheless authentic: and never never would I sacrifice truth for the mere sake of effect’ (19, 22). Men and women of healthy intellect cannot be expected to take life as stupidly as this. Gahagan’s facts cannot be believed, but then neither can other tropes and events drawn less from life than from literary models: the hero-​in-​disguise—​Gahagan blackens his face and hands with ‘Burgess’s walnut catsup’ to pass as a famous Indian warrior—​or the marriage between Gahagan and his Belinda that closes the book (Gahagan, 49). The novel lampoons the falsifying conventions of many genres and modes, including the sentimental novel, as when the fictional ‘editor’ interrupts the narrative to announce having ‘dock[ed] off ’ twelve-​and-​a-​half (of thirteen) pages of writing. While accurately capturing Gahagan’s feelings, he explains, these pages nevertheless overdo it: the event described had lasted ‘at the very most not ten seconds’ (68). Grave flaws in Gahagan’s character are revealed not only in his many acts of overt cruelty but also in errors of ‘taste’: his unchecked feeling, but also his lazy reliance on artificial literary conventions. Physical violence and violations of taste are linked. In bringing war crimes and aesthetic crimes together, Thackeray may also be registering the difficulties of using existing literary models to express wartime experience. ‘Writing the simple TRUTH’ of war seems increasingly impossible with each mode, genre, or convention—​mythic, heroic, sentimental, Gothic—​Gahagan tries. Where olives and Dutch cheeses become bullets, considerations of taste and of war are literally one and the same, and Gahagan won’t let us forget that his is wartime writing through and through. Describing himself as ‘alone, in the most inaccessible and most bomb-​ proof tower of our little fortalice’, seated at the ‘desk where I write’, he exclaims: ‘Meet implements for a soldier’s authorship!—​it is CARTRIDGE paper over which my pen runs so glibly, and a yawning barrel of gunpowder forms my rough writing-​table’ (Gahagan, 48). Personal egotism only partly explains Gahagan’s thick-​headedness. For a sense-​fracturing wartime also warps his narrative of martial life, insinuating itself so fully into his story that it supplies the very instruments with which he writes. If Gahagan’s memoir is a product of wartime in an exaggerated sense, the stupid soldier-​memoirist and the challenges of representing wartime were themes to which Thackeray would return. His second full-​length novel, Barry Lyndon, published serially in Fraser’s Magazine in 1844, features a callous Irish soldier cut directly from the

The Victorian Subject: Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects    33 Gahagan cloth, and subsequent writings offer variations on that theme. Although the sensitive, devoted Esmond of Henry Esmond is far less brutal than Gahagan, it isn’t hard to see him as another refashioning of the type, for his narrative too betrays remarkable misapprehension of his own experience. While his fidelity to an imbecilic prince can be explained on widespread political and religious grounds—​as his narrative (and history) demonstrates, Esmond is hardly alone in supporting that particular lost cause—​his memoir details other and more pointed oblivions, as in his long-​unrecognized passion for his stepmother, Lady Castlewood, harboured yet overtly repressed throughout his retrospective narration, and hinted at only by proxy as an infatuation with his cousin Beatrix. The love Esmond describes in his memoir’s final, hurrying paragraphs as a kind of knowing felt in ‘the highest faculty of the soul’ seems anything but.11 And it isn’t the first time Esmond admits to utterly missing out on a momentous experience. At the Battle of Blenheim (of 1704), Esmond manages to behold the ‘two great armies facing each other in a line of battle’, and ride ‘with orders from one end to the other of the line’, only to be ‘knocked on the head […] almost at the very commencement of this famous day’ (238). Details of the ensuing fight are dutifully recorded, but they are not details he remembers, for beyond that moment, ‘Mr. Esmond knows nothing; for a shot brought down his horse and our young gentleman on it, who fell crushed and stunned under the animal; and came to his senses he knows not how long after, only to lose them again’ (238–​239). It is with great irony that Esmond names unconsciousness as the ultimate memento mori. It occurred, he says, ‘as if to make his experience in war complete’ (238). Thackeray links what might seem merely individual opacities—​in this case, the repression of taboo inclinations—​with other and more impersonal suppressions of wartime experience. The subjects of history, even mass catastrophe, can remain unremembered or incomplete. Major events can at times go unrecorded, as happens here of a final effort to restore the exiled king. Though Thackeray invents the incident, he suggests that such things might have occurred but left no trace. As ‘the little army disappeared into the darkness out of which it had been called’, Esmond writes, so too does any proof of the men’s involvement: ‘there had been no writings, no paper to implicate any man’ (Henry Esmond, 450). At the same time, using paper to fill in historical gaps presents other problems. Esmond wants his narrative to bear witness to the disappearances of wartime, the ‘thirty thousand […] slain and wounded’, the ‘dreadful slaughter’ that leaves him and his fellow soldiers mute. ‘We dared not speak to each other, even at table, of Malpaquet, so frightful were the gaps left in our army by the cannon of that bloody action’, he writes (318–​19). Poetic conventions, however, produce their own blanks. Of Joseph Addison’s The Campaign (1705), commemorating the Battle of Blenheim, Esmond complains that the poem’s wartime murders are ‘done to military music, like a battle at the Opera’, exclaiming: ‘You hew out of your polished verses a stately image of smiling victory; I tell you ’tis an uncouth, distorted, savage idol [… .] You great poets should show it as it


William Makepeace Thackeray, The History of Henry Esmond, Esq., ed. Donald Hawes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 462. Further references will be given in the text.

34    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture is—​ugly and horrible, not beautiful and serene’ (255). Once again, when war crimes and aesthetic crimes come together, ‘fractional’ understanding results. In this, the novel recalls Sir Walter Scott’s The Antiquary (1816), another historical novel of wartime (1794) and written after Scott’s visit to the recently bloodied field at Waterloo. Addressing a young soldier as ‘my dear Hector’, the obstinately single-​minded antiquary, Jonathan Oldbuck, tries bombastically to convince his new friend of the value of old poems in times of war: ‘in the strange contingencies of the present war which agitates every corner of Europe, there is no knowing where you will be called upon to serve’, he states; so ‘what could be more convenient than to have at your fingers’ ends the history and antiquities’ of those many nations in which you may fight? With a one-​eyed insistence on seeing only the poetical side of battle, Oldbuck envies the soldier’s chance to visit the ‘mother of modern Europe, the nursery of those heroes’ who ‘smiled in death’, extolling, ‘How animating […] at the conclusion of a weary march to find yourself in the vicinity of a Runic monument, and discover you had pitched your tent beside the tomb of a hero!’ When the soldier replies that he’d rather pitch his tent near a poultry-​ yard, Oldbuck laments, ‘No wonder the days of Cressy and Agincourt are no more.’12 For key reasons, battles over literary representations of history had new relevance in the era of Scott (who, only forty years older than Thackeray, lived until 1832). One had to do with changing conceptions of war and the mentality needed to comprehend it. As Mary Favret has shown, the 1771 Encyclopedia Britannica ‘grants thirty-​eight pages to moral philosophy and forty to the science of midwifery’, yet it ‘accords a mere sentence to the ancient art of war, and that sentence treats warfare as human failure’.13 The entries for ‘military’ and ‘soldier’ each receive half a sentence, that on ‘militia’ only slightly more. But in the third edition, of 1797, the entry ‘War’ runs to eighty-​eight pages. War there is declared ‘a great evil’, but it is also now ‘inevitable and often necessary’. Moreover, an entirely new subject appears. Just as war had ‘become itself encyclopedic’, the kind of soldier it required needed to possess encyclopedic understanding—​a ‘comprehensive genius’—​of that ‘science of sciences’, war. Favret explains that this ‘new evaluation of the man of war and his place in the realm of knowledge is confirmed elsewhere, outside the Anglophone world’, by the German naturalist and philosopher Lorenz Oken, who in Elements of Physiophilosophy (1810–​11; trans. 1847) describes ‘the art of War [as] the highest, most exalted art; the art of freedom and of right’. As in poetry, he writes, ‘all arts have been blended, so in the art of war have all sciences and all arts’.14 ‘We are a far cry from the thought that war brings confusion and perplexity’, Favret concludes; ‘on the contrary, war has become the highest operation of intellect’.15


Sir Walter Scott, The Antiquary, ed. Nicola J. Watson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 292. On Scott’s historical method and alternatives to it, see Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). 13  Mary Favret, War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 181–​182. 14  Quoted in Favret, War at a Distance, 183. 15 Favret, War at a Distance, 183.

The Victorian Subject: Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects    35 At around the same time, history’s written record began to include personal histories of persons great and small. The early decades of the nineteenth century saw a surge of interest in biography and autobiography, though these genres were not clearly defined.16 As James Treadwell notes, though the Quarterly reported in 1809 on ‘an epidemical rage for autobiography’, and while in Sartor Resartus (1833–​4) Thomas Carlyle described ‘these Autobiographical times of ours’, the conventions of Life writing in this period were in flux.17 Some readers found memoirs overly intimate, their contents offensively small. For them, even such works as Jean-​Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions (1782) revealed what should have remained private, the petty littleness of their human subjects and the vulgarity of personal life.18 While Carlyle cheered John Wilson Croker’s 1831 edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, saying, ‘this Book of Boswell’s will give us more real insight into the History of England during those days than twenty other Books, falsely entitled “Histories,” which take to themselves that special aim’, even Croker complained that the lives ‘of second-​and third-​rate people’ were flooding the literary market.19 Many believed that, to be worthwhile, autobiography must serve some public purpose. Autobiographies thus usually made their public aims explicit: ‘documentation of experiences that appear to have some public interest (as in many travel memoirs), exhortations to the reader to learn from a pattern of industry or virtue’ and the like; they had ‘little to do with self-​expression’.20 An ‘unfolding of the inner life, whether understood psychologically or rhetorically, accounts for virtually no published texts from the period’, Treadwell explains. Among ‘the most characteristic gestures’ of the era’s Life writing ‘is an outright denial of self-​expression’.21 In such a context, the memoirs of common soldiers occupy a complex position with respect to matters of taste and representational value. Unequipped with the ‘comprehensive genius’ required of their commanders, such men would have smaller purviews. Yet because they described wartime, their narratives were not merely personal but offered local insight into globally significant events. Though it has long been noted that Thackeray’s fictional memoirs are modelled on such literary works as Jesse Foot’s The Lives of Andrew Robinson Bowes, Esq. and the Countess of Strathmore (1810) and the Memoirs of Casanova (appearing in 1822), he was also likely capitalizing on this recent trend.22 Of the Peninsular War of 1808–​14, the historian Neil Ramsey writes, ‘None of Britain’s earlier wars had produced anything like this outpouring of soldiers’ writing’,

16  See Mark Salber Phillips, Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740–​1820 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000) on nineteenth-​century biographical interest. 17  James Treadwell, ‘Reading Romantic Autobiography’, Nineteenth-​Century Prose, 28, no. 2 (2001), 1–​27, at 4. 18  See Treadwell, ‘Reading Romantic Autobiography’, on the confusion of early reviewers of Rousseau’s Confessions. 19  Thomas Carlyle, ‘Boswell’s Life of Johnson’, in The Works of Thomas Carlyle, 30 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1904), xxviii, 80. Cited in Phillips, Society and Sentiment, 296. 20  Treadwell, ‘Reading Romantic Autobiography’, 2. 21  Treadwell, ‘Reading Romantic Autobiography’, 2–​3. 22  Also relevant is the novel’s debt to accounts of real-​life criminals, such as Henry Fielding’s Jonathan Wild (1743), and to satirical Irish portraiture such as Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent (1800).

36    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture diaries and reminiscences ‘on a large scale and in great numbers’, written and published by infantrymen and private soldiers.23 Many of the most popular were those of common soldiers whose military escapades gave them something worth writing about, and whose ‘plain soldier-​like manner’ of writing was seen to authenticate their accounts. ‘Rather than marking the soldier’s incapacity as an author,’ Ramsey writes, ‘lack of polish and simplicity were increasingly viewed as indicative of homely, true, and markedly British sentiments, in which the soldier’s “plain, unvarnished tale” told of an inherently adventurous life’.24 Unlike the ‘“dry, confused, and uninteresting” reportage of an official dispatch’, the soldier’s memoir held for some the piquancy of the novitiate’s unrefined but honest report.25 In response to the 1826 publication of the Naval Sketch-​Book, a reviewer in Blackwood’s wrote: ‘Dang your Spenserian stanza—​your octosyllabics—​ your long and shorts; your heroics and blank-​verse, feckless as blank cartridge—​but give us Jack himself […] spinning a long yarn’.26 Detractors found many things to hate in these amateur works, not least their bad poetry, lack of style, and habit of self-​aggrandizement. In a memoir excerpted in Blackwood’s, an officer asks why so many published accounts of recent military events were nonetheless ‘so intolerably dull’, concluding that it was because their writers were ‘for ever heralding the exploits of [their] own little squad or battalion […] and disgusting us, who care nothing about him, with some story of a rifleman sending a bullet through his thick legs, or a lancer breaking his sabre on his still thicker skull’.27 These were writings by what were called, in military slang, a ‘newcome’ or ‘Mr. Newcome’, an inexperienced or young soldier (the term appears in another of Thackeray’s fictional memoirs, The Newcomes of 1855). More often, the charge against such writings was that they failed at what was representationally most important: generalizing from private experience. They could not possibly add to a more global understanding of war’s causes, mechanisms, or effects. The London Magazine said of Joseph Donaldson’s Recollections of an Eventful Life, chiefly passed in the army (1824), ‘a private soldier is not in a situation to give, from his own experience, a general account of a war. He sees nothing but detached incidents, and if he describes more he must rely upon newspapers and despatches—​a task he had better leave to others.’28 Exciting as were these tales of travel and adventure, they could depict only the particulars of war, seen in stupid isolation. They could not help anyone understand war as an abstraction—​not what caused it, how to win or how to end it. What they could provide, however, was insight into individual 23 

Neil Ramsey, The Military Memoir and Romantic Literary Culture, 1780–​1835 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), 1. Military officers too were sometimes viewed as lacking the ‘refinement, education, and virtues’ required of professional authors. Vicesmius Knox argued in 1795 that the military had given rise ‘to many instances of illiterate fine gentlemen’ (quoted in Ramsey, Military Memoir, 60). 24 Ramsey, Military Memoir, 67. 25 Ramsey, Military Memoir, 64. 26  Quoted in Ramsey, Military Memoir, 68. 27  ‘Campaigns of the British Army at Washington &etc, by an Officer’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 9, no. 50 (1821), 180–​187, p. 180. 28  ‘The Eventful Life of a Soldier’, London Magazine, 3 (1825), 363–​380, p. 380.

The Victorian Subject: Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects    37 suffering on the ground. ‘If we had no other reason for recommending these little volumes’, the London Magazine concludes, ‘it would be sufficient that they will instruct unthinking people in the real nature of war and military glory’.29 With this in mind, we turn to Barry Lyndon, a strange, early novel in which Thackeray takes up such considerations in earnest. Originally The Luck of Barry Lyndon, Esq., the novel was republished as a single volume in 1856 with a telling new name: The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq., of the Kingdom of Ireland. Unlike Scott, who typically relied in his historical novels on third-​person omniscience, Thackeray turns once again to ‘limited’ narration, the first-​person account of a common soldier. Like those narrow-​minded, hidebound subjects against whom Mill’s ideal liberal subject was defined, Barry’s class and familial loyalties prevent him from seeing beyond his own experience or generalizing from it—​at least, most of the time. In representing another, altered version of the ‘Dum-​Dum’ soldier, Thackeray faces squarely the challenges of historical narration, challenges that had been compounded in the tumultuous recent decades out of which the early Victorian period took shape. In identifying the Seven Years’ War (1756–​63)—​ Barry’s war—​with the beginning of a new conception of wartime, Favret characterizes these years in a way that helps to clarify what have seemed to readers of Barry Lyndon the novel’s inconsistences and mistakes. With its newly massive geographical scale, she explains, war could no longer be understood by way of discrete events or even distinct temporalities: here and there, then versus now. Wartime is now ‘an affective zone, a sense of time that, caught in the most unsettled sort of present, without knowledge of its outcome, cannot know its own borders’.30 The final pages see Barry Lyndon as Thackeray’s first major attempt at capturing the ‘real nature’ of this history and this wartime: spatially dispersed and time-​scrambled, war not so much intellectually—​or individually—​ comprehended as collectively experienced and felt.

Barry Lyndon’s War An Irish soldier serving first with the English army, then with the Prussian, during the Seven Years’ War, Barry Lyndon tells a story that moves in and out of wartime, including the Peninsular War, the American Revolutionary War (in which Barry’s stepson, Bullingdon, fights), and the Napoleonic campaigns occurring during the last years of his life. An inveterate scoundrel who, in latter days, from a cell in the Fleet Street prison, recounts a career of treachery and wrongdoing, he fumes throughout that his ancient pedigree failed to guarantee him the prosperity he deserves. Declaring his family ‘so old, noble, and illustrious’ that ‘no gentleman in Europe […] has not heard of the house of Barry of Barryogue, of the kingdom of Ireland’, Barry exclaims, ‘my family was the 29 

‘The Eventful Life of a Soldier’, 374.

30 Favret, War, 18. On Thackeray’s historiographic techniques, see David Kurnick, Empty

Houses: Theatrical Failure and the Novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).

38    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture noblest of the island, and, perhaps, of the universal world’.31 Like Gahagan, Barry is shameless. His hypocrisy knows no bounds. An acknowledged murderer, liar, and thief, he insists to the last on exonerating his wicked behaviour. Defending a phantom honour, he sees his worst actions as justifiably done. Not for him Pip’s late, grave realization, ‘the inaptitude […] had been in me’.32 In his final, bitter remarks, Barry regrets only his poverty: ‘we manage to eke out a miserable existence’, he complains, ‘quite unworthy of the famous and fashionable Barry Lyndon’ (Barry Lyndon, 307).33 Though he seems a cruel moral idiot, a half-​thinker committed only to his own pleasures and class, Thackeray’s early readers didn’t know quite how to take Barry—​or Barry—​a fact which may explain certain revisions Thackeray made to the text. From the single volume, Thackeray eliminated several editorial asides present in the original, having been put there, according to one of his biographers, Gordon Ray, to ‘put obtuse readers on the right track’.34 Thackeray had resorted to ‘the inartistic device’ of explanatory footnotes, many of which offer seemingly needless warnings of the implausibility of Barry’s claims, because readers reading the novel serially took Barry at his word: ‘Thackeray’s motives for telling the story were misunderstood and his irony taken literally’, says Ray.35 James Brander Matthews voices a similar complaint in his 1901 The Historical Novel and Other Essays, where he lambasts Thackeray for speaking ‘out of his own mouth’ thoughts that could not possibly belong to Barry, such as ‘the reflections upon the horrors of war at the end of the fourth chapter’. Though Matthews is unusual in considering Barry Lyndon Thackeray’s best book, he criticizes Thackeray for explaining in editorial footnotes what should be obvious: Thackeray ‘sinks’ to new lows when, for instance, instructing readers that Barry is ‘no mere hero of romance, but a callous brute’. According to Matthews, an author ‘must heartily despise his audience if he feels called upon to come before the curtain, pointer in hand, and expound the real meaning of his drama’.36 That he thinks his readers very stupid indeed if he believes they could so entirely miss the truth about Barry is a possibility Thackeray appears to admit when he says that he has failed ‘to take this great stupid public by the ears’.37 31  William Makepeace Thackeray, The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq., ed. Andrew Sanders (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 3. Further references will be given in the text. 32  Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, ed. Margaret Cardwell (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 439. 33  Thackeray found writing the novel difficult, describing ‘B.L.’ as ‘lying like a nightmare on my mind’, and writing from his travels to Malta: ‘Wrote Barry but slowly and with great Difficulty’; ‘Wrote Barry with no more success than yesterday’; ‘Finished Barry after great throes late at night’ (Barry Lyndon, 4). In Walter Jerrold, ‘Biographical Note’, Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray, Penn State Electronic Classics Series, 2008, 3–​7, online, http://​​faculty/​jmanis/​thackeray/​barry-​ lyndon6x9.pdf [last accessed 4 March 2013]. 34  Gordon N. Ray, Thackeray: The Uses of Adversity, 1811–​1846 (New York: McGraw Hill, 1955), 346. See also Ray’s The Buried Life: A Study of the Relation between Thackeray’s Fiction and His Personal History (London: Oxford University Press, 1952). 35 Ray, Thackeray, 346. 36  James Brander Matthews, The Historical Novel and Other Essays (1901; Detroit: Gale Research, 1969), 159. 37  Quoted in Ray, Thackeray, 347.

The Victorian Subject: Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects    39 But Barry’s stupidity—​or occasional lack thereof—​is most at issue in those passages Matthews singles out for being so frustratingly out of character, passages in which the constitutionally one-​eyed Barry engages in rather more complete thinking by generalizing about his wartime experience. The end of c­ hapter 4 is one such moment in which Barry grows keenly conscious of the horrors of battle. ‘Such knaves and ruffians do men in war become!’ he declares; ‘It is well for gentlemen to talk of the age of chivalry; but remember the starving brutes whom they lead—​men nursed in poverty, entirely ignorant, made to take a pride in deeds of blood’: ‘It is with these shocking instruments that your great warriors and kings have been doing their murderous work in the world’ (Barry Lyndon, 71). Noble sentiments these, yet prior to this Barry brutalizes nearly everyone he meets. His viciousness is well in place before he flees Irish shores—​though not even these are sheltered from wartime effects. ‘I did not stop to break his bones, as I would on another occasion’, Barry says of an English dragoon encamped at his Castle Brady, who injures his feelings with a minor verbal insult. Moments later, Barry sees his cousin Nora strolling with a young English captain, Quin, and becomes jealously enraged: ‘I was resolved to pass [my blade] through the body of the delinquents, and spit them like two pigeons’, he says (31). After he is tricked into believing that he has murdered Quin in a duel, Barry finds himself on the run, but without regrets: ‘I did not dream of the death of Quin, as some milksops, perhaps, would have done; indeed I have never had any of that foolish remorse consequent upon any of my affairs of honour’: ‘he is a fool to be ashamed because he wins’ (49). But Barry is broke, and so he joins the English army, which in these times is no more troubled by Barry’s crimes than he is. Approaching a sergeant, Barry admits ‘frankly that […] he had killed an officer […] and was anxious to get out of the country’, but adds: ‘I need not have troubled myself with any explanations; King George was too much in want of men to heed from whence they came’ (62). The wretched military conditions and worse company in which Barry finds himself seem to bother him more than does the sanctioned violence he is soon called upon to commit. Though ‘it calls the blush into [his] old cheeks to think’ of the ‘ploughmen, poachers, [and] pickpockets’ with whom he served under the British crown, it is with far less shame that Barry reports slaying ‘a poor little ensign’ at the Battle of Minden, a boy ‘so young, slender, and small, that a blow from my pig-​ tail would have dispatched him, I think, in place of the butt of my musket, with which I clubbed him down’ (62, 70). Barry’s depravity is hard to square with his high-​minded condemnations of war. In the main, he draws no parallels between the King’s carnage and his own, instead scourging war’s out-​scale horrors without counting himself among the destroyers of the peace. He sneers that while the public admires ‘the “Great Frederick”’ for his ‘military genius’, I, who have served him, and been, as it were, behind the scenes of which that great spectacle is composed, can only look at it with horror. What a number of items of human crime, misery, slavery, to form that sum-​total of glory! I can recollect a certain day, about three weeks after the battle of Minden, and a farm-​house in which

40    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture some of us entered; and how the old woman and her daughters served us, trembling, to wine; and how we got drunk over the wine, and the house was in a flame, presently: and woe betide the wretched fellow afterwards who came home to look for his house and his children! (Barry Lyndon, 71)

Yet if life ‘behind the scenes of […] that great spectacle’ gives Barry but a ‘fractional’ insight into war’s causes, tactics, or effects, comprehensive knowledge of war, the novel suggests, may also be a delusion. As Gillian Russell writes of the years 1793–​1815, ‘Part of the politics of making war possible has involved the privileging of the vision of the civilian audience: the viewer at home must “see” more than even the ordinary soldier in the field, assuming the position of a Wellington or a Napoleon.’38 But public speeches, theatrical spectacles, military parades, and mass print might also leave the public overconfident in its understanding, with an inflated sense of what it knows. Barry Lyndon refuses this, offering instead the highly circumscribed view of one on the ground who understands little. In a scene later reworked as the Battle of Blenheim, of which Esmond ‘knows nothing’ (Henry Esmond, 238), Barry engages in the Battle of Minden but in a place ‘two miles off ’ from that fight. ‘[N]‌one of us soliders of the line knew of what had occurred until we came to talk about the fight over kettles in the evening, and repose over a hard-​fought day’, Barry explains; ‘It would have been easy for me to have said I  was present’ (Barry Lyndon, 70; original emphasis). But he does not. Recounting instead how he steals from the little ensign’s corpse ‘fourteen louis-​d’or, and a silver box of sugar-​plums’, Barry reasons: if ‘people would tell their stories of battles in this simple way, I think the cause of truth would not suffer by it. All I know of this famous fight of Minden (except from books) is told here above’ (70–​1). In Barry Lyndon, where ‘fisticuff facts’ are chronicled on nearly every page, national history is never unbound from Barry’s littleness and distortions (17). But wartime also causes his one-​eyed obstinacy, and class loyalties, to fray. Barry during wartime allies himself with ‘the Fencibles’, members of the volunteer army, saying, ‘all my sympathies are in the ranks’ (100). Bemoaning the fading away of ‘the old times’, Barry’s scorn cuts both ways: even as he complains aristocratically that Napoleon was ‘conquered in his turn by our shopkeepers and cheesemongers of England’, he also sees that ‘Bonaparte brutalized Europe with his swaggering Grenadiers’ (134). And where Scott’s Waverley (1814) ends in national reconciliation, Barry’s memoirs detail the war crimes Scott leaves out. Some readers ‘will cry out […] that I am encouraging insubordination and murder’, Barry remarks after defending an attempt at desertion by thirty men, led by a disaffected Frenchman; but had they served as privates in the Prussian army from 1760 to 1765, they would not be apt to take objection. This man destroyed two sentinels to get his liberty; how many


Gillian Russell, The Theatres of War: Performance, Politics and Society, 1793–​1815 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), n.p., Oxford Scholarship Online, http://​ edu/​view/​10.1093/​acprof:oso/​9780198122630.001.0001/​acprof-​9780198122630 [last accessed 10 April 2013].

The Victorian Subject: Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects    41 hundreds of thousands of his own and the Austrian people did King Frederick kill because he took a fancy to Silesia? How many men, in later days, did Napoleon Bonaparte cause to die by shot or steel, or cold or hunger, because he wished to make himself master of Russia? (100)

Barry refuses to give ‘any romantic narrative of the Seven Years’ War’ because the Prussian army was ‘composed for the most part of men hired or stolen, like myself, from almost every nation in Europe’, kidnapped and sold by recruiters who ‘market in human flesh’ (101, 80). An important effect of this inconsistency in Barry’s character is that the rage, pain, and confusion recorded in his memoir are not his alone. Desolation and horror exceed and surround him, as in a stretch of Germany that, five years into the war, is ‘desolate beyond all description’, a ruthless ‘seller of men’ having so ‘exhausted the males of his principality, that the fields remained untilled, [and] even the children of twelve years old were driven off to the war’ (Barry Lyndon, 80). While in Waverley, a distance of sixty years enables a more measured relation to the national past, the passing of time does little to temper the wartime feelings of Barry and his fellows. ‘For God’s sake, don’t talk of that time’, cries a French officer whom Barry encounters some decades later; ‘I wake up from my sleep trembling and crying even now’ (Barry Lyndon, 102). As Barry comments, the punishment of soldiers had been so ‘incessant’, especially for ‘the broken-​ spirited yokels who had been forced or coaxed into the service’, that it was in peace ‘more cruel than in war’ (102, 95–​96). Not only Barry’s pain but also his obliviousness is widespread. In this wartime, it seems, the two are impossible to entirely unlink. ‘It would require a greater philosopher and historian than I am to explain the causes of the famous Seven Years’ War’, Barry writes, ‘and, indeed, its origin has always appeared to me so complicated, and the books written about it so amazingly hard to understand, that I have seldom been much wiser at the end of a chapter than at the beginning’. With the arrival of Pitt as prime minister, ‘all of a sudden […] the rest of the empire applauded the war as much as they had hated it before’, he continues; ‘“the Protestant hero,” as we used to call the godless old Frederick of Prussia, was adored by us as a saint a very short time after we had been about to make war against him [… .] Now, somehow, we were on Frederick’s side’ (Barry Lyndon, 67). Not knowing why he is fighting, Barry longs for death—​‘a general action and ball to finish me’—​adding, ‘I looked to hear my own death march played’ (68–​9). Several chapters into his memoir, Barry adds, parenthetically, that the conflict he has been describing was ‘afterwards called the Seven Years’ War’, a reminder of all that is impossible to know from within wartime: how long it lasts, what to call it, when it ends (80). With this in mind, we can consider another of the novel’s apparent flaws, a series of chronological errors so pronounced that it is hard to know whether the mistakes are Barry’s or are part of Thackeray’s design. As Terence McCarthy points out, it is impossible to say when Barry dies. It may be in 1807–​8, after Barry has lived

42    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture ‘nineteen years an inmate of the Fleet Prison’ (Barry Lyndon, 307). But Barry cannot have died then, since he is not dead in 1811 when his estate falls into the hands of the Tiptoffs. Barry may have written his memoirs ‘about 1800’, as Fraser’s readers were told. Or, as we learn in ­chapter 17, he may have written them in ‘about the year 1814, in that calm retreat which Fortune had selected for the author at the close of his life’ (Thackeray, Barry Lyndon, 10, 247). Or he may have written them in 1833.39 Through some rather ingenious math, McCarthy even manages to show that Thackeray’s dating makes it possible to surmise that the memoirs were compiled by the fictional editor ‘in about 1851—​seven years after the novel’s publication!’40 Though some readers have been persuaded by the enormity of such errors to conclude that they are intentional—​perhaps a by-​product of the chronic liar’s inability to keep track of his own lies—​this would be, in McCarthy’s view, wrong. ‘Thackeray’s own carelessness must ultimately undermine any theory of the intentional inconsistency of Barry’s chronology,’ he says. While Thackeray would go on to ‘commit much graver chronological sins than these’, Barry Lyndon’s many mistakes are ‘more regrettable than similar inconsistencies in other novels, like Jane Eyre […] where the drama remains at a personal level’.41 The problem here is historical as well as aesthetic. While Barry ‘insists on the reliability of his assertions, neither he nor Thackeray takes the trouble to make the memoirs historically possible, nor to make any real artistic use of their inaccuracy’.42 Yet it is possible to rank this chronic problem among those measures taken by the novel to capture wartime. Perhaps by stunning its readers, stupefying our intelligence, the novel seeks to elicit a structure of feeling in which time, unbound by official timetables or political stops and starts, extends its shocks well past the moment at which war officially ceased. Returning again and again to the subjects of wartime in the uneasy peace that follows and, in his case, precedes war, Thackeray seems committed to making wartime palpable to even those readers who take up the novel in an hour of peace. Not even McCarthy is immune. Although he eventually decides that the novel’s chronological errors ‘pass entirely unnoticed by average reader’, he also describes feeling ‘bombarded with dates’. He leaves the impression of having been assaulted by the novel’s ‘mad chronology’ and seems exhausted by the effort undertaken to comprehend this ‘monstrously inaccurate’ work.43 McCarthy may be right that Thackeray, with a ‘general disregard for matters of chronology altogether’, simply lost the story’s temporal thread and that this is why the second edition contains fewer of such errors than the first.44 But the novel may also frustrate


Terence McCarthy, ‘Chronological Inconsistencies in Barry Lyndon’, English Language Notes, 21, no. 2 (1983), 29–​37, at 37. 40  McCarthy, ‘Chronological Inconsistencies in Barry Lyndon’, 36. 41  McCarthy, ‘Chronological Inconsistencies in Barry Lyndon’, 35. 42  McCarthy, ‘Chronological Inconsistencies in Barry Lyndon’, 37. 43  McCarthy, ‘Chronological Inconsistencies in Barry Lyndon’, 34. 44  McCarthy, ‘Chronological Inconsistencies in Barry Lyndon’, 37.

The Victorian Subject: Thackeray’s Wartime Subjects    43 one historicizing imperative by inventing another, refusing to make the memoirs historically possible in matters of dating, or even, thanks to Barry’s lying, to make them true, so as to make them historical in another way, by depicting ‘real’ history. As Ina Ferris argues, ‘both the scientific and sentimental turns’ in Romantic era historiography ‘agreed in valorizing the witness-​narrative’, because each ‘understood historiography less as a synthetic mode of explanation and evaluation than as the collection and collation of primary documents through which access to the lived past could be gained’. Thus, in an important way, ‘history’s business was coming to be seen to be the “real” as much as the “true”’: or, more precisely, the true now had to take the real into account, as had not been the case when new histories were mostly derived from previous ones. Under an emergent historicism that posited historical change as substantial rather than superficial, the reality of the past was understood to inhere in an alterity to which material ‘remains’ provided access. At the same time, the truth of the past continued to be (as it always had been) a matter of present determination, that is, a function of the judgment of the historian.

These ‘two imperatives of history’, the real and the true, implied different kinds of authorship and different formal protocols.45 Where old ‘literary remains’, such as Romance, could be internalized ‘with only minimal effort’, having occupied ‘a transtemporal aesthetic realm confirming identification across time’, historical remains resisted any easy translation into discourses of permanence and continuity. The ‘real’ might be that which could not be assimilated, not ‘gathered into a structure of some kind’ or made intelligible.46 Where Barry Lyndon struggles to make sense of the crumbling world around him, where his guiltless conscience cannot be judged entirely apart from the bloody battlefield of his life, the story he tells immerses its readers in what may be seen as productive confusions. By disordering the familiar conventions of historical novels such as Scott’s, by rewriting recent history for a new era newly resistant to clear-​cut historical thresholds and tidy conclusions, perhaps Thackeray hoped to make palpable a ‘fractional’, inassimilable subject, the lived stupefactions and half-​understandings of historical—​historical-​ as-​subjective—​experience. If Barry remains to the end a throwback of an earlier era, unwilling to think like a good liberal subject—​too much ego, with a never disinterested stance—​Barry Lyndon, understood as a product of wartime, may offer something else: a feeling of embodied personhood that, extending beyond individuals, inheres in a people or shared moment rather than a self.


Ina Ferris, ‘Scholarly Revivals: Gothic Fiction, Secret History, and Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’, in Jillian Heydt-​Stevenson and Charlotte Sussman (eds), Recognizing the Romantic Novel: New Histories of British Fiction, 1780-​1830 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008), 267–​284, p. 272. 46  Ferris, ‘Scholarly Revivals’, 274.

44    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture

Select Bibliography Favret, Mary, War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). Hadley, Elaine, Living Liberalism:  Practical Citizenship in Mid-​Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). Matthews, James Brander, The Historical Novel and Other Essays (1901; Detroit: Gale Research, 1969). Mill, John Stuart, and Jeremy Bentham, Utilitarianism and Other Essays, ed. Alan Ryan (London: Penguin, 1987). Miller, J. Hillis, Victorian Subjects (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991). Phillips, Mark Salber, Society and Sentiment: Genres of Historical Writing in Britain, 1740–​1820 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). Ramsey, Neil, The Military Memoir and Romantic Literary Culture, 1780–​1835 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011). Ray, Gordon, Thackeray: The Uses of Adversity, 1811–​1846 (New York: McGraw Hill, 1955). Russell, Gillian, The Theatres of War:  Performance, Politics and Society, 1793–​1815 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995). Trumpener, Katie, Bardic Nationalism: the Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).

Chapter 2

Life Wri t i ng and the Victoria ns Trev Broughton

Writing in 1862 to Isabella Blackwood, sister of her publisher John Blackwood, the recently widowed Margaret Oliphant remarked I don’t yet know exactly when the book of the season, as you so flatteringly call it, is to be out [ … .] I do believe I have done my best, and the issue will most likely be more critical and important to me and my bairnies than anything I have ever done. For their sake I regard with a little awe and trembling this new step into the world. [ … ] I must say in confidence that I should be much disappointed if this book does not make some little commotion. There never was such a hero—​such a princely, magnanimous, simple heart.1

While the success of today’s misery memoirs and ghostwritten celebrity Lives raises scarcely an eyebrow, we might be nonplussed to find a two-​volume biography of Edward Irving, a Scottish millenarian preacher once celebrated, then disgraced, but dead for thirty years, contending with Great Expectations and Lady Audley’s Secret for ‘book of the season’ in 1862.2 Granted a little mutual buttering-​up between a writer and her publisher’s family, the letter reminds us that Life writing,3 in various forms, was significant to the Victorians both as fashionable talking point and as serious cultural intervention. Their often uncritical respect for the reputation of the deceased (Life writing was nearly always published after the death of its subject, often by relatives), their unspoken assumption that biographical length correlated to biographical significance, and their generous padding of miscellaneous documentation, have between them stifled the 1  Margaret Oliphant to Isabella Blackwood [n.d.], in Autobiography and Letters of Mrs Margaret Oliphant, ed. Mrs. Harry Coghill, introd. Q. D. Leavis (1899; Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1974), 183–​4. References to this edition given hereafter in parentheses. 2  Margaret Oliphant, The Life of Edward Irving, Minister of the National Scotch Church, 2 vols. (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1862). References to this edition given hereafter in parentheses. 3  I use the term ‘Life writing’ to include the overlapping genres of memoir, biography, autobiography and edited correspondence, as well as their various subgenres and hybrid forms.

46    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture reputation of Victorian Lives. They come down to us not so much shapeless as a particular shape: the coffin. According to the familiar narrative, this realization begins almost at the moment of Victoria’s death, with Gosse’s description of biography as a ‘monstrous catafalque of two volumes’ (1901).4 It is then confirmed by Lytton Strachey in his influential Eminent Victorians (1918): the Victorian Life is ‘two fat volumes [ … ] as familiar as the cortege of the undertaker’.5 The nail is retroactively hammered home by William Gladstone’s widely quoted dismissal of John Cross’s George Eliot’s Life, as Related in her Letters and Journals (1885), ‘It is not a Life at all. It is a Reticence, in three volumes.’ The provenance of the last epithet is telling: the source for Gladstone’s dinner-​party quip is the ‘Three Monumental Figures’ chapter of E. F. Benson’s 1930 memoir As We Were: A Victorian Peep-​Show, a genealogy that aptly combines the twin modernist urges to solidify the Victorian Life into cliché and to peer behind for its supposed repressions.6 To this vociferous consensus one might retort that many nineteenth-​century commentators, notably Gladstone, and including Oliphant herself, were as aware as their modernist successors of the mortifying effects of indiscriminate prolixity and over-​discriminate respectability, and argued forcefully for a more rigorous approach to biographical ethics and aesthetics. One might point out, too, that like the novel, Life writing was subject to the power of the circulating libraries to enforce anodyne propriety and a multi-​volume format on any author aspiring to commercial success. Such special pleading, however, does not explain biography’s popularity or the commotion Oliphant anticipated. It is worth pausing to consider why the mid-​century might have been an exciting and profitable time to write a Life. By the time Oliphant came to it, biography was already a hybrid genre, straddling the outer limits of print culture and balancing, with greater or lesser success, rival understandings of the purpose and potential of the published Life. Since the seventeenth century, the various Protestant denominations had fostered and circulated spiritual Lives, especially edited journals and conversion narratives, after their own models of Christian progress and according to their own cultures of exemplarity. Religious memoirs had benefited from and contributed to nineteenth-​century evangelicalism in all its forms, promising not just wholesome leisure (the provincial ladies in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s The Doctor’s Wife [1864] chat about the newest patterns in crochet and the latest popular memoir of a departed evangelical curate), but guidance and inspiration. ‘People buy, by the million, those well-​intentioned publications—​it is to be supposed that people also read them,’ wrote Oliphant in 1858, before complaining that an unaccustomed reader loses himself in those wildernesses of words, and finds nothing but tedium and vexation in books which, if they truly did what they undertake to do, should be safe companions and counsellors for every one, examples of all the manifold and unlimitable diversities of the Christian and the human life.7 4 

Edmund Gosse, ‘The Custom of Biography’, Anglo-​Saxon Review, 8 (March 1901), 195. Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians (London: Chatto and Windus, 1918), i. 6  E. F. Benson, As We Were (London: Longman, Green, 1930), 111. 7  [Margaret Oliphant], ‘Religious Memoirs’, Blackwood’s, 83 (June 1858), 705. 5 

Life Writing and the Victorians    47 By the mid-​century, the hagiographical tradition had competition, with a multitude of subgenres and approaches jostling for attention and legitimacy. The post-​Romantic fascination with identity and genius (and especially with the minutiae of authorship) had in part been fuelled by, and certainly contributed to, the cachet of Life writing: a development to which changes in copyright legislation, and the transmission to literary legatees of a longer interest in their benefactor’s sales, lent fiscal urgency. With its emphasis on the truth and moral import of experience, including secular experience, the German Bildungsroman had circulated from Goethe, via Carlyle and Coleridge, to George Henry Lewes and George Eliot, bringing with it a revitalized sense of what was possible in the written life. Meanwhile the anecdotal, table-​talkative model of James Boswell’s 1791 Life of Samuel Johnson, still revered by many as foundational of ‘English’ Life writing, had undergone a resurgence with the publication in 1831 of John Wilson Croker’s edition. John Forster’s critically acclaimed Life and Adventures of Oliver Goldsmith (1848) propelled the ‘Life and Times’ format, with its relish for social context and commentary, into the cultural mainstream even as it prompted controversy about the kinds of property vested in biographical evidence. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), also widely respected, was generating its own cottage industry of commentary, rebuttal, and revision. Exemplary Lives of worthy citizens, individually in pamphlets and collected in anthologies, had long been staples of the ‘useful’ knowledge offered to working-​class, female, and juvenile readerships, and at this moment were being reconfigured by Samuel Smiles as the motor for aspirational ‘self-​help’. Missionary Lives were cross-​fertilizing with travel narratives to feed the appetite for entertaining, dramatic, and informative modes of cultural self-​congratulation. In 1858–​9, ‘biography and history’ together with ‘travel and adventures’ made up around 35 per cent of Mudie’s new stock of volumes for his vast circulating library. Together these constituted a heterogeneous, complex, and vibrant cultural field.8 8 

A few examples must suffice to indicate the scholarship in this huge field. On the hagiographical tradition and religious memoirs see for instance Christopher Tolley, Domestic Biography: The Legacy of Evangelicalism in Four Nineteenth-​Century Families (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997); Linda H. Peterson, Traditions of Women’s Autobiography: The Poetics and Politics of Life Writing (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999), especially ­chapters 1–​3 on women’s contribution to various branches of spiritual autobiography; on the fascination with lives of geniuses, and the role of Romanticism in the ‘rise’ of Life writing, see James Treadwell, Autobiographical Writing and British Literature, 1783–​1834 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); on the legacy of Romanticism for biography, see Arthur Bradley and Alan Rawes (eds), Romantic Biography (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003). Ian Hamilton, Keepers of the Flame: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography (London: Random House, 1993) makes a persuasive case for the impact of changes in copyright on the Life writing industry. On the transmission of Goethean ideas and tropes in Britain and their influence on Eliot, Froude, and other biographers, see Elinor S. Shaffer, ‘Shaping Victorian Biography: From Anecdote to Bildungsroman’, in Peter France and William St Clair (eds), Mapping Lives: The Uses of Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 115–​34. On the surprising persistence of Boswell’s Johnson in the ninteenth-​century biographical canon, see Richard D. Altick, Lives and Letters: A History of Literary Biography in England and America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965), 73–​4. On the role of biography in the construction and policing of disciplinary boundaries, see David Amigoni, Victorian Biography: Intellectuals and the Ordering of Discourse (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993). Linda H. Peterson discusses Gaskell’s innovations in Becoming a Woman of Letters: Myths of Authorship and Facts of the Victorian Market

48    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Oliphant’s appearance as the biographer of Edward Irving was to mark, she hoped, a watershed in her status as author. Though not yet thirty five, Oliphant had been publishing novels—​one, sometimes two a year—​as well as frequent non-​fiction essays for Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine since 1849, and had been supporting her family of three children entirely by her pen since her husband’s illness and death in 1859. She had been signing some of her fiction since the mid-​1850s and had recently adopted the emphatically married name Mrs Oliphant, with which she hallmarked what she considered her most valuable work. Although the nature of cultural value, and what it meant to do one’s ‘best’ as a working mother, were and remained vexed questions for Oliphant, authorship itself, even authorship as a woman with ‘bairnies’ to consider, was not the issue here. At stake was a sense that Lives mattered, and mattered differently from the other genres to which she turned her hand. Edward Irving would, she hoped, consolidate her importance not just as a novelist, but in the arena of public debate. It would make her mark as a writer of substance, and enable her to contribute directly and openly to that most Victorian of discussions: who counted as a hero?9 In few of the nineteenth-​century manifestations of Life writing had there emerged a decisive distinction between (what we might now recognize as) autobiography and biography. The favoured titles fudged the author–​subject relationship, and hence questions of cultural and economic agency as well as perspective: Life of, Memorials of, Memoirs of, and later Reminiscences of. With few exceptions, those who put the Lives of near contemporaries before the public presented themselves less as authors manufacturing a product for the marketplace than as executors, dutifully passing on a legacy from a departed relative, friend or colleague, to posterity. The nature of that bequest was the deceased’s exemplary conduct and evolving outlook, rendered chronologically and in his or her own words. This four-​cornered myth of editorial selflessness, narrative completeness, subjective transparency, and public benefaction—​what we might call the dominant ideology of nineteenth-​century Life writing—​was, like all ideologies, unstable and contested.10 From Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1833–​4) to Henry James’s The Aspern

(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 131–​50. On the Smilesian tradition of Life writing and its pedagogic uses, see Juliette Atkinson, Victorian Biography Reconsidered: A Study of Nineteenth-​Century ‘Hidden’ Lives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 65–​111; on anthologies of Lives, see Alison Booth, How to Make It as a Woman: Collective Biographical History from Victoria to the Present (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2004). On missionary Lives, see Atkinson, Victorian Biography Reconsidered, 175–​82. The figures for Mudie’s stock come from Guinevere Griest, Mudie’s Circulating Library and the Victorian Novel (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1970), 38. 9  The debate over the conditions and uses of heroism in political, spiritual, and cultural life was galvanized by the work of Thomas Carlyle, notably his lecture series published as On Heroes, Hero-​ Worship and the Heroic in History (London: Fraser, 1841). 10  Oliphant consistently critiqued the kind of biography that was ‘a series of funeral orations […] broken up by bits of narrative of a corresponding kind’ ([Margaret Oliphant], ‘New Books: Biographies’, Blackwood’s, 121, no. 736 [February 1877], 183–​4). For a contemporary exploration of some of the model’s horizons, particularly its emphasis on successiveness, see Philip Davis, ‘Why Do We Remember Forwards and Not Backwards?’, in Vincent Newey and Philip Shaw (eds), Mortal Pages, Literary Lives: Studies in Nineteenth-​Century Autobiography (Aldershot: Scolar, 1996), 81–​102.

Life Writing and the Victorians    49 Papers (1888) and J. M. Barrie’s Tommy and Grizel (1900), fiction restlessly probed the myth’s vanishing points, its productive incoherencies, and its severely bracketed erotics. More recently, critics such as Holly Furneaux have begun to explore ‘the queer possibilities of the biographical form’ itself, showing how the very terms of the genre, posthumousness, editorial passivity, succession and posterity, enabled the generation of rich and versatile languages of—​often non-​heteronormative—​love and longing.11 One reading of Oliphant’s choice of Irving as a subject is as a way of sidestepping biography’s funereal atmosphere. Writing much later of the ‘ethics of biography’, she would argue that ‘he who has been dead twenty years, has, as it were, emerged from death altogether. He has been, and to our senses is, no longer; but the mystery and awe have departed.’12 The span of a generation, in other words, lifted the task from the moral, where personal loyalty and indebtedness should hold sway, to the ethical, where judicious evaluation might be possible. At the time she accounted for the project in divergent ways: ‘great personal attraction towards the man for one thing, and a great desire to do him justice with the world’, ‘a rather liberal offer from my London publisher’, and the feeling that this work would be a great relief and refreshment to my mind at such time as this when the heavy griefs of my own life disgust me often at those light troubles of fiction which it is my trade to make and to mend—​Such a work, just now, would I am sure invigorate and strengthen me.13

A professional author already, but one who prided herself on working in ‘the little second drawing-​room where all the (feminine) life of the house goes on’ (24), Oliphant construed biography as a new kind of labour: vigorous, outward-​looking, productive. In opting for a subject that required active research outside her own archive, she aligned herself with those biographers whose understanding of the task went beyond mere mediation, to encompass matters of evidence and interpretation, as well as questions of moral agency and accountability, and of the relationship between the individual and society. In other words, she aspired to join the ranks of those who, like Thomas Carlyle, practised biography and history as branches of the same endeavour. David Amigoni has traced the complex role of biography in the discursive and institutional genealogies of ‘literature’ and ‘history’ as disciplines in the nineteenth century.14 As a largely self-​educated woman Oliphant was marginal to such debates, though with 11  Holly Furneaux, ‘Inscribing Friendship: John Forster’s Life of Charles Dickens and the Writing of Male Intimacy in the Victorian Period’, Life Writing, 8, no. 3 (2011), 243–​56. See also Oliver S. Buckton, Secret Selves: Confession and Same-​Sex Desire in Victorian Autobiography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998). 12  M. O. W. Oliphant, ‘The Ethics of Biography’, Contemporary Review, 44 (July 1883), 78. 13  Letter from Margaret Oliphant to Miss Martin (5 March 1860). See Edward Irving Letters, 25–​8, Archives of Regent Square United Reform Church, in the care of the United Reformed Church History Society and held in the library of Westminster College, Cambridge. I am grateful to Barbara Waddington of the Lumen Church for introducing these papers to me and to the trustees of these Archives for permission to reproduce quotations. 14 Amigoni, Victorian Biography, passim.

50    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture the example of Gaskell’s Brontë before her, and an established reputation of her own, she was emboldened, as Gaskell had been, to travel around the country interviewing strangers, collecting documents, and visiting relevant locales. While the offer of a sympathetic ear to a garrulous interviewee could be presented as an extension of her ‘feminine’ sensibilities (‘like the art of driving a hoop, that I give a little touch now and then, and my victim rolls on and on’ [79]), she saw her role as biographer as both requiring and to a degree entitling her to suspend some of the proprieties of her class and gender. Though she began her enquiries with Irving’s kin by marriage, with whom she had a distant cousinship, she soon went further afield, tracing his networks and contacting his acquaintance. She investigated his library records, tracked down correspondence, read satirical pamphlets, presbyterial court records, and newspaper reports. She bemoaned the ‘terrible amount of sermons which I have to read and remember. If Irving had been an ordinary preacher I must have succumbed long ere now’ (173). The bold decision to call upon the renowned Thomas Carlyle for information about his friend Irving—​to ‘beard the lion in his den’ rather than writing to him or relying upon an intermediary—​ she attributed to the ‘courage that comes to one when one is about one’s lawful work, and not seeking acquaintance or social favour’ (75). The sense of enfranchisement Oliphant experienced from this ‘lawful work’, and from the twenty-​plus-​year moratorium between herself and Irving’s passing, had limits. In her research, as in Life writing at the time, the boundaries between amateur and professional, between private and public, were unpredictable and porous. With multiple reputations at stake, those boundaries were transected by informal relationships of patronage, dependency, and collaboration: factors still undertheorized in literary histories of the genre.15 For her respondents, furthermore, Irving occupied living memory—​ a term that seems to have come into circulation in the law courts in the 1820s—​and thus their evidence could be as compromised, or as perverse, as the graveside pieties she had sought to displace. She frequently found herself enmired in the ‘wilderness of words’ she so detested in parochial biography. She recounted later how, holed up in the gloomy guest room of the manse at Rosneath, known in the minister’s family as ‘a field to bury strangers in’, she was confronted by, not the expected cache of Irving letters, but a mass of ‘diabolical handwriting, which was not Irving’s at all [ … ] but only letters addressed to him’. She feelingly recalled ‘the chill that grew upon me, and the gradual sense of utter stupidity that came upon me’ (74). The very pleasure of reminiscence sometimes misled her interlocutors into confidences they would not want to see in print. Jane Welsh Carlyle, for instance, followed up the intimate conversation they had on first meeting in the summer of 1860 with a letter on 2 December confessing that she had forgotten ‘you were seeking information 15 

These ideas have, however, been pursued in work on self-​representation and its relationship to various generic, social, and psychological ‘others’: see for instance Martin Danahay, A Community of One: Masculine Autobiography and Autonomy in Nineteenth-​Century Britain (New York: State University of New York Press, 1993); Liz Stanley, The Auto/​Biographical I: The Theory and Practice of Feminist Auto/​ Biography (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992).

Life Writing and the Victorians    51 about Edward Irving to put into a Book, and almost everything I told you about him was “betwixt woman and woman”—​under seven seals of secrecy!’16 Oliphant wrote back on 28 December, patiently reiterating her plea for ‘publishable information’. On about 29 April 1861 Jane sent her one of Irving’s letters, accompanied by more prevarications: If you were here—​beside me—​I dare say I might give you some of the details you want—​your questions would suggest them—​or they would suggest themselves in the natural course of conversation. But to write them down—​to order—​all in a row, with ‘the reciprocity all on one side’—​the idea of ‘to be printed’ lowering over me—​Oh my Dear!17

It is hard to imagine a more devastating critique, or a more effective queering, of the genre’s premises. Oliphant replied on 7 May that such ‘letters and references’ were ‘so many coals of fire’: to be handled with care, if at all. However she acknowledged a mite ruefully that a certain hard-​headedness was an occupational hazard: ‘I suspect there must be no creature so entirely devoid of feeling as an unfortunate litterateur in search of materials.’18 At the time she joked ‘in the profoundest confidence’ of her intention ‘to disclose the tribulations of a historian in search of information to the sympathetic world’; later she would ‘remember making the discovery already noted—​which, of course, I promulgated to all my friends—​that every one I saw on this subject displayed the utmost willingness to tell me all about themselves, and quite a secondary interest in Irving’ (184, 76). The code-​switching in such anecdotes between confidentiality and broadcast, between formal and informal (so that the ‘historian’s’ relationship to the ‘sympathetic world’ is continually renegotiated) finds Oliphant quietly theorizing her own role in mediating Irving’s affective significance to the public, or perhaps, to adapt Lauren Berlant’s formulation, in forging an ‘intimate public’ receptive to memoir as a genre.19 It is worth noting, however, that she places as much emphasis on the ‘historical’ as the ‘sympathetic’ here. The ‘profoundest confidence’ disclosed earlier was addressed to the minister of Rosneath, whose collaboration we have already noted. Her encounter with Revd Robert Herbert Story (1835–​1907) is interesting for the collision it illuminates between rival conceptions of Life writing itself: as a practice, as a genre, as an occupation. Most biographers of Oliphant concur in detecting a mutual attraction between the recently widowed Oliphant and the young minister when, in the winter of 1860, he

16  The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle (ed.), Ian Campbell, Aileen Christianson, and David Sorenson, xxxvii (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2009), 64 (emphasis in the original). I am grateful to Aileen Christianson and Dale Trela for pointing me towards this episode. 17  The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, xxxvii. 37, 156. 18  Mrs Oliphant’s side of the correspondence is given in D. J. Trela, ‘Jane Welsh Carlyle and Margaret Oliphant: An Unsung Friendship’, Carlyle Annual, 11 (Spring 1990), 34–​5. 19  See Lauren Berlant and Jay Prosser, ‘Life Writing and Intimate Publics: A Conversation with Lauren Berlant’, Biography, 34, no. 1 (Winter 2011), 180–​7; see also Kay Ferres, ‘Gender, Biography, and the Public Sphere’, in France and St Clair (eds), Mapping Lives, 303–​20.

52    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture called on her in Edinburgh to offer his help in her research on Irving. Story was born after Irving’s death, but his father, also a minister, also a Robert Story, whose biography he was writing, had been a close friend of Irving’s. The unmarried Robert Herbert invited her to the manse to stay with himself and his mother. After an initial short visit (in the dreaded burial ground for strangers), Oliphant rented a house nearby for the summer and the two families shared expeditions to local beauty spots while the aspirant biographers compared notes about working methods and the value of visiting local sites. There’s a consensus that they flirted at this time, and an impression that at some stage Story proposed to Oliphant and was rejected, perhaps because, despite her grief, despite financial pressure and the trials of lone parenthood, she was rather enjoying being in charge of her life.20 By what must have seemed a remarkable coincidence, the pair were working at the same time on the same period of Scottish ecclesiastical history, on biographies of two figures, both ministers of the Church of Scotland, who were friends, had friends in common, whose stories overlapped in important ways, and whose archives were reciprocally relevant. They could be useful to each other, though of course they were also potential rivals in the marketplace. They helped each other. Story patiently explained the fine questions of doctrine upon which Edward Irving’s alleged heresy, and consequent expulsion from his natal Church, hung, while Oliphant listened to and commented on his manuscript as it progressed.21 Both their subjects, in different ways, were evangelicals. As ministers in the Church of Scotland, Robert Story and Edward Irving came from a distinctive religio-​political culture with its own cautious take on evangelicalism, but could not help being influenced by the atmosphere of seriousness and the culture of self-​review it brought to early nineteenth-​century religious life.22 Christopher Tolley has given the name ‘Domestic Biography’ to the mode of Life writing that emerged from this kind of milieu. This was not primarily biography about the domestic, for though familial ties and culture were implicitly at its heart, it was shaped by reticence about domestic life and marriage. Rather, it was a practice of biography founded within and powered by the culture of early nineteenth-​century evangelicalism, and based on the middle-​class, educated family as a cherished repository of documents, as a site of pride and source of instruction, and as a privileged channel of values from generation to generation. The impulse could be and was shared among members of the family firm: ministers commemorated their predecessors in the manse or vicarage, and as part of their rite de passage junior statesmen or military officers would write up their departed seniors. Domestic biography in this sense is ‘a family prerogative and involves a sympathetic 20 

See Vineta Colby and Robert A. Colby, The Equivocal Virtue: Mrs. Oliphant and the Victorian Literary Market Place (Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1966), 77–​8; Elisabeth Jay, Mrs Oliphant: ‘A Fiction to Herself ’ (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995). 21  [Elma Story and Helen Constance Story], Memoir of Robert Herbert Story (Glasgow: James Maclehose, 1909), 53. 22  Irving’s phase as a celebrity preacher brought him into contact with many prominent evangelicals such as Zachary Macaulay and William Wilberforce. He was, however, mistrustful of the politically reformist and organizational elements of the movement.

Life Writing and the Victorians    53 family readership’.23 The evangelical emphasis on spiritual experience and conversion, and on regular self-​examination and moral accountability, lent itself to intensive self-​ documentation and family archive. Tolley enumerates some of the genres generated by this impulse: memoirs, deathbed narratives, autobiographical reminiscences, travel journals, diaries, memoranda of conduct, collections of letters, notes on genealogies, to which one might add documents intended for public consumption such as speeches, sermons, pamphlets, and authorized biographies.24 Like other biographers of their generation, both Oliphant and Robert Herbert Story had access to considerable archives, spanning not only the spiritual progress of their subjects, but political movements and important waves of revivalism as well as crises in the history of the Church of Scotland.25 Oliphant’s biography quoted directly and generously from a huge range of sources, and included what was at the time regarded as a coup: a whole chapter devoted to Irving’s private letter-​journal addressed to his wife. In the course of their collaboration, the novice biographers shared friends and acquaintances, and in doing so unknowingly exchanged biographical projects. Story shared with Oliphant his friends the Tullochs, to whom she had recently been introduced by the Blackwoods in St Andrews. The Tullochs were to become, along with the Blackwoods and the Storys, Oliphant’s closest friends in Scotland, especially the theologian John Tulloch, principal of St Mary’s College (University of St Andrews) whose biography she would later write.26 Story also introduced her to the noted preacher Robert Lee, whose biography Story would write, complete with—​notwithstanding her impression of him as ‘a galvanic cast-​iron man, quite unworthy of a mile’s walk through the rain’ (174)—​a preface by Oliphant.27 When we add to this that Tulloch would later review Oliphant on Irving and Story on Story; that Story would review Oliphant on Irving, and later Oliphant on Tulloch, and that Oliphant would review Story on Story, the expansive sociability of these months in the west of Scotland begins to look like an inward-​looking micro-​industry for the production and consumption of ecclesiastical memoirs. The impression is misleading. ‘There never was such a hero’, Oliphant had boasted. One of the many legacies of the ‘Stracheyan turn’ away from nineteenth-​century modes of Life writing has been the repudiation of the narrowly defined, self-​congratulatory criteria of ‘eminence’ it supposedly endorsed and circulated. Juliette Atkinson has shown that Victorian categories of importance were surprisingly flexible and capacious: extending, 23 Tolley, Domestic Biography, 6.

24 Tolley, Domestic Biography, 56–​7. 25 

Story subtitled his Memoir of the Life of the Rev. Robert Story (Cambridge: Macmillan, 1862) ‘Including passages of Scottish Religious and Ecclesiastical History during the Second Quarter of the Present Century’. 26  Mrs Oliphant, A Memoir of the Life of John Tulloch (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1888). In a further turn of the biographical wheel, Tulloch’s son would later write an obituary of Oliphant. See W. W. Tulloch, ‘The Reader’, The Bookman, 12, no. 71 (August 1897), 113–​15. 27  See Mrs Oliphant, ‘Introduction’ to Robert Herbert Story, Life and Remains of Robert Lee, 2 vols. (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1870), vol. i, pp. xi–​xxiv.

54    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture within limits, to working-​class as well as middle-​class achievement, celebrating quiet distinction as well as public acclaim, and accommodating heroic failure as well as success. For Atkinson, Oliphant’s Edward Irving occupies the heroic-​failure category, and certainly the tragic arc Oliphant plots for his career, with its rise to national celebrity and power, and its martyrdom to overwork, misjudgement, and disappointment, suggests this.28 The heroic is, of course, a social and spatial concept as well as a historical and narrative one. As Oliphant noted, Thomas Carlyle, foremost advocate of ‘heroes, hero-​worship and the heroic in history’, had regretted in his obituary the ‘Scottish uncelebrated Irving’, and she distinguished throughout the biography between the hysteria of his (mainly) metropolitan followers and the wistful sorrow of the ‘sober Scotch remnant’ (ii. 196) who could sympathize with him but not, in the end, agree with him.29 Recent work on Life writing, as well as identifying marginalized, colonized, and diasporic subjects and voices, has investigated Life texts—​including those of the ‘White, male, middle-​class’30—​through the lens of ‘critical geographies’, examining how ‘subjects are embedded in national imaginaries and in transnational and global circuits of exchange and identification’.31 In the case of Oliphant’s account of Edward Irving, we might situate both author and subject within the demographic drift from provincial Scotland to metropolitan England. Further, given Scotland’s education system, with its wider access at school and university level, we might see both as participating in a socially diverse Scottish intelligentsia as it asserts itself over the cultural life of the English capital.32 From the opening lines, in which she juxtaposes the 1792 of the ‘outcries and struggles’ of Revolutionary France with that of ‘the peaceful little Scotch town’ of Irving’s birth, Oliphant highlights locality, but also, to a surprising degree, relatedness. Oliphant proceeds to emphasize Irving’s ‘long-​established local kindred’ while acknowledging

28 Atkinson, Victorian Biography Reconsidered, 131–​9. Oliphant was herself quite prepared to ‘reverse

the laws of literary magnitude’, reviewing Smiles’s Life of a Scotch Naturalist—​a celebration of a working-​ class autodidact, and for Oliphant a ‘record of success in unsuccess’—​ahead of Frances Kingsley’s piously commemorative Charles Kingsley: His Letters and Memorials of his Life. See ‘New Books: Biographies’, 183, 176. 29  The phrase is from Thomas Carlyle’s unsigned obituary ‘Death of the Rev. Edward Irving: II’, Fraser’s Magazine, 11, no. 61 (1835), 102. 30  The allusion here is to Catherine Hall, White, Male and Middle-​Class: Explorations in Feminism and History (Cambridge: Polity, 1992). 31  Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Intepreting Life Narratives, 2nd edn. (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 222. See also Frédéric Regard (ed.), Mapping the Self: Space, Identity, Discourse in British Auto/​Biography (Lyons: Université de Saint-​ Étienne, 2003); Iain McCalman, Jodi Parvey, and Misty Cook (eds), National Biographies and National Identity (Canberra: HRC, ANU, 1996). 32  Liam Upton points out that Irving’s Scottishness, and hence his version of nationalism, was partial and exclusive: rooted in Lowland folk culture; provincial-​cosmpolitan but at odds with the cerebral and secular elements of the Scottish Enlightenment; fiercely Protestant (and hence hospitable to Britishness), anti-​Jacobite, and, until the very end of his life, completely identified with the traditions and practices of the Church of Scotland. See ‘ “Our Mother and Our Country”: The Integration of Religious and National Identity in the Thought of Edward Irving (1792–​1834)’, in Robert Pope (ed.), Religion and National Identity: Wales and Scotland c. 1700–​2000 (Cardiff: University of Wales, 2001), 242–​67.

Life Writing and the Victorians    55 certain forefathers who were French Protestant refugees (i. 1). Nineteenth-​century biography’s characteristic stress on genealogy is often read as part of a master narrative of succession and entitlement; it is just as persuasively seen as a claim to rootedness and recognition in the face of the threat of dispersal and dispossession. But here even ‘long-​established local’ credentials are shown to be a function of geographical negotiation: the families on both sides claim no wealth except ‘a little patriarchal foundation of land and cattle, from which the eldest son might perhaps claim a territorial designation if his droves found prosperous market across the border’ (i. 1, 3).33 Writing in the wake of David Livingstone’s hugely popular Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (1857), Oliphant draws connections between Irving’s missionary revivalism and the more explicitly colonial endeavours of the Annan boys with whom he grew up: his brother John, a medical officer in the East India Company ‘struck down by jungle fever’ (i. 4); his neighbour Hugh Clapperton, ‘the African traveller’ whose ‘adventurous instinct’ Oliphant identifies as an influence on her subject. Of these three boys, ‘not one lived to be old; and their destinies are a singular proof of the wide diffusion of life and energy circling out from one of the more obscure spots in the country’ (i. 21–​2). She persistently identifies Irving’s missionary impulse with the constraints of Scottish provincial life and the lure of colonial endeavour: ‘The countryman of Mungo Park and schoolfellow of Hugh Clapperton’ who ‘loved his country with a kind of worship’ nevertheless longs to find ‘room for a missionary according to the apostolic model’ (i. 87). Harnessing the countervailing discursive energies of mission and of home, Oliphant, in a striking reversal, represents the metropolis as Irving’s version of the colonial encounter, his personal ‘contact zone’.34 In one of the biography’s most vivid passages, she evokes an image of the notoriously tall and imposing Irving relaxing in a Bloomsbury square: There are various doubtful traditions in existence which describe how he used to be seen lying upon the sooty London grass of the little oasis in Burton Crescent, his great figure extended upon the equivocal green sward, and all the children in those tiny gardens playing about and around him, which was most like to be the case, though I will not answer for the tale. This entire district, however, most undistinguished and prosaic as it is, gathers an interest in its homely names, from his visible appearance amid its noise and tumult. His remarkable figure was known in those dingy, scorched streets, in those dread parallelograms of Bloomsbury respectability. The greater number of his friends were collected within that closely populated region, to which the new Church in Regent Square now gave a centre, as it still gives


Many examples could be given of the ways genealogy signified to readers of Victorian Lives. On the way, for instance, Jane Welsh Carlyle’s teasing assumption of a ‘gypsy’ ancestry was taken up and circulated within biographies, and indeed enlisted by a late-​Victorian pro-​gypsy advocate James Simson in The Gipsies, as illustrated by John Bunyan, Mrs. Carlyle, and others. And do snakes swallow their young? (New York and Edinburgh: Miller, MacLachlan and Stewart, 1883), see Aileen Christianson, Jane Welsh Carlyle, Biography and Biographers (Edinburgh: The Carlyle Society, 2008), 14–​16. 34  Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992), 4.

56    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture a centre to a little Scotch world, half unaware, half disapproving, of Irving, who tread the same streets, and pray within the same walls, and are as separate and national as he. (ii. 74–​5)

Though it draws as generously on the tonalities, rhythms, and descriptive skills of the novelist as on the repertoire of the biographer, the passage illustrates the way Life writing, here freely hybridizing travel narrative, missionary memoir, and local antiquarianism, could work and rework the grounds of identity, the conventions of recognition of self and other. The scene derives its piquancy from unexpected juxtapositions and oxymorons, from sudden shifts in tense and focalization, and from snags in the reader’s sense of who knows what. The familiar ‘green sward’—​with its echo of Cockney romanticism—​can be ‘sooty’ and ‘equivocal’; ‘respectability’ can be ‘dread’; a ‘homely’ locality can borrow the glamour of an ‘oasis’ from Irving’s presence. For all its emphatic topographic knowingness, the sketch invites the reader to consider what, in this time of migration, urbanization, and colonization, when folk memories and local gossip contend with other less ‘doubtful’ ways of knowing, constitutes a ‘centre’, a ‘world’, a ‘home’? The biography can be read as an extended meditation on what it means to be ‘separate and national’. It has been argued that religious memoirs—​‘personal, immediate, and unworldly’—​were the antithesis of national biography.35 For Oliphant, they were a site for mapping identities, a way of imagining community. When her work on it was completed, the confidence her biography had lent her emboldened Oliphant to angle for a favour she had never hitherto received from John Blackwood, her Edinburgh publisher. Would he, she wondered aloud to his sister Isabella, grant ‘that friendly office which he has done to almost all his contributors except myself, I mean get me a review?’ (185). He would and did, as did too the editors of most of the major, and some of the minor, periodicals of the day. As a signed work of non-​fiction in receipt of national press coverage, The Life of Edward Irving brought to Oliphant welcome publicity, sales, and serious consideration as an author. Meanwhile she lobbied hard on Story’s behalf with publishers. First she besieged John Blackwood (‘now pray be merciful. Once upon a time we too were young [ … ] I will be your devout bedeswoman—​can you resist such a feminine appeal?’ (174–​5)) and when that failed took Story to see her established London publisher Blackett and her new one Macmillan. Macmillan agreed to take on Story’s book.36 When his Life of his father came out, Story was swept up by the Oliphant publicity machine. The coincidence of their publication date and overlapping subject matter allowed for joint reviews, and Story thus benefited from respectful notice in prestigious journals otherwise inaccessible to a first-​time author. John Tulloch did the honours in the Edinburgh Review, reading his friends’ books together, though Edward Irving earned


Colin Matthew, ‘Dictionaries of National Biography’, in McCalman et al. (eds), National Biographies and National Identity, 2. 36  The Blackett contact would prove useful the following year when Story needed a publisher for Poems by a Parson (1863) and again in 1870 when his Life and Remains of Robert Lee was completed.

Life Writing and the Victorians    57 thirty-​four pages to Robert Story’s one.37 With the bit between her teeth, Oliphant suggested Story as a possible reviewer of her book for the newly launched Macmillan’s Magazine. The suggestion was taken up, and Story’s review appeared in May 1862 (‘My first article in a leading magazine’, he crowed).38 She volunteered herself to the same organ as reviewer of Story’s memoir of his father, and, her offer declined and the promised review by another hand failing to materialize, smuggled a latish plug for her friend’s book into Macmillan’s under the title ‘Clerical Life in Scotland’. As George J. Worth has recounted, for Oliphant this essay, combined with Macmillan’s own favourable opinion of her Irving, marked the start of an almost forty-​year career as Macmillan’s contributor.39 Where Story discreetly signed himself ‘R.S.’, Oliphant insisted that, contrary to Macmillan’s usual practice, her article show ‘no name please—​not even initials’, presumably to counter any public suspicion of a ‘mutual admiration-​and-​aid society’.40 Their plugs for each other’s biographies in Macmillan’s are revealing. Story’s review of Oliphant’s Irving was admiring. In it, Story confesses to ‘a certain misgiving’ that Irving’s biographer was to be the ‘distinguished novelist’, doubting whether ‘feminine genius, however versatile and keen’ could master the necessary theological debates. Oliphant’s attempt may not be ‘methodical and exhaustive’—​that would have been ‘little short of a miracle’, but it is nonetheless ‘admirable: here and there a little too detailed and lovingly minute, as was natural in a female biographer; but, on the whole, presenting a most living, consistent, vivid picture of Irving’. But the lack of ‘method’ is ‘inevitable, probably, in a feminine biographer, who must needs digress from the most abstract heights to chronicle the birth of a baby, or the minutiae of a summer excursion’.41 Oliphant, a writer of far greater scope and experience, couched her praise for the ‘skill and grace’ of Story’s execution within a wide-​ranging essay outlining the distinctive features of the Church of Scotland, ‘Clerical Life in Scotland’. While she did not qualify her praise for Story, she did, in a passage about another Scottish ecclesiastical memoir, quietly defend an approach that was not all ‘heights’. Commenting on A. H. Charteris’s Life of the Rev. James Robertson (1863), she complained of the ‘whirl of public occupation, dispersing with its stony glare all the softer lights and shadows of human character’. ‘Mr Charteris describes the subject of his memoir as possessing warm affections and a genial nature; the evidences of them are swallowed up in the records of work which it requires a deeper knowledge of the recent proceedings of the Church of Scotland than we possess to decipher clearly.’42 Their differing approaches are clearly gendered, with Story seeing domestic affection as a feminine supplement to the main narrative, and Oliphant regarding it as both a key index of personality and a context necessary to the legibility of ‘public occupation’. The second point is crucial in differentiating their approaches: for 37  [John Tulloch], review of ‘The Life of Edward Irving’, Edinburgh Review, 116, no. 236 (October. 1862), 426–​60. 38  [Elma Story and Helen Constance Story], Memoir of Robert Herbert Story, 53. 39  George J. Worth, Macmillan’s Magazine, 1859–​1907: ‘No Flippancy or Abuse Allowed’ (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), 101, 98–​146. 40 Worth, Macmillan’s Magazine, 1859–​1907, 101. 41  R.S., ‘Edward Irving’, Macmillan’s Magazine, 6, no. 31 (May 1862), 72, 76. 42  [Margaret Oliphant], ‘Clerical Life in Scotland’, Macmillan’s Magazine, 8, no. 45 (July 1863), 219.

58    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Oliphant the point of biography is not to conciliate an existing audience but to make a new one: to prove that ‘Clerical Life in Scotland’ might be appealing outside the manse and the General Assembly, and might contribute to the self-​understanding of differently ‘national’ constituencies. This episode of coy flirtation by critical applause throws dappled light on the sexual politics of mid-​century journalism. For my purposes here, however, it is mainly interesting for what it suggests about the proliferating and overlapping subgenres of, and audiences for, biography, and for the way Life writing could fit into divergent writing lives. While Story, with his university education and the comfortable manse conferred on him by his father’s patron the Duke of Argyll, was of the two the more securely ensconced in the middle class, it was Mrs Oliphant who was the senior partner where authorship was concerned. It was Oliphant who took Story to tea with his hero Thomas Carlyle in Cheyne Row.43 And it was Oliphant who badgered her editor friends to give Story commissions: ‘I wish you would shake that young man up and make him do magazine work. If you would only get him into harness, I am sure he would prove a valuable addition to your team.’44 Meanwhile she was maximizing the return on her investment in Irving. Just as she had ploughed ideas and research from her earlier Blackwood’s essays—​on ‘Religious Memoirs’ (June 1858), on ‘Edward Irving’ (November 1858), and on ‘Sermons’ (December 1858) into her biographical work, so she recycled her thinking on biography and clerical life in essays on Dean Ramsay of Edinburgh (‘Scottish National Character’, June 1860) and on Irving’s friend, the missionary Joseph Wolff (August 1861). Even the two sightseeing trips she took with Story during their collaboration were fictionalized for Blackwood’s as ‘Three Days in the Highlands’ (August 1861) and ‘Among the Lochs’ (October 1861).45 By 1869, Oliphant’s research on the Gareloch revival—​directly borne out of their joint investigations into Irving and Story senior—​had been reconfigured as the fictional three-​decker The Minister’s Wife. By contrast, for all Oliphant’s efforts to launch him on the literary scene, Story’s career in authorship remained narrowly focused. While both were of course ambitious to reach an audience beyond their literal family, I suspect they parted company over the extent to which Life writing should in some sense remain ‘in house’, the memorialization of the ‘family firm’, the continuation of a family tradition, and the perpetuation of a stable set of ‘family values’. Apart from his parsonic poems, and a pamphlet on ‘Health Haunts of the Riviera’ (1881), Story never stretched himself as an author beyond sermons, Scottish ecclesiastical biography, and history, nor left behind what Tolley calls the ‘corporate ethos’ of domestic biography.46 Robert Herbert Story is visible to us now within a distinct genealogy of domestic biography: his father had been the biographer of his saintly 43 

[Elma Story and Helen Constance Story], Memoir of Robert Herbert Story, 54; see also Worth, Macmillan’s Magazine, 1859–​1907, 101. 44  Undated letter, probably 1862, quoted in Colby and Colby, The Equivocal Virtue, 79. 45  See [Elma Story and Helen Constance Story], Memoir of Robert Herbert Story, 46. 46 Tolley, Domestic Biography, 2.

Life Writing and the Victorians    59 parishioner Isabella Campbell in 1829, his daughters would in turn memorialize him in 1909. Meanwhile he kept authorship in the family by marrying novelist Janet Leith Maughan in 1863. In an undated letter to Story during the process of writing the biography, Oliphant had written, I am ashamed to think how often I have made you go over the same ground with my reiterated applications for help, but the sublimity of the moral spectacle afforded by two rival authors thus fraternally consulting, and on one side helping each other, will, I hope, afford consolation to your feelings, as, when our lives are written, I have no doubt it will edify the world.47

This view of himself as Oliphant’s ‘rival’ was no doubt flattering to Story. It is arguable whether Story’s theological and ecclesiological pointers were as indispensable to her venture as Oliphant’s contacts, business savoir faire, and knowledge of the market were to his. But the very fact of the trade-​off was itself exciting. Meeting as the representatives of Edward Irving and Robert Story senior, they could explore ways of working and of interacting that would otherwise be inaccessible to a middle-​aged widow and a young minister. Whether they construed their collaboration as a meeting of minds, a mutual education, or in Oliphant’s deliberately teasing version of the fantasy, a temporary suspension of professional competition, it offered unforeseen possibilities of heterosociality. But for the transaction to work as a friendly quid pro quo, Oliphant had to play down what must have been obvious to both: the divergence in their conceptions of both biography and the role of biographer. The process had given Oliphant a glimpse of a quaint world in which exemplarities (‘moral spectacles’) were manufactured and managed by loyal, local authors primarily for loyal, local customers; where an amateur biographer, buoyed by a steady income, the prospect of promotion, and the probability of a cosy desk in university administration, could afford to inhabit an authorial niche, and to have more regard for a modest reputation conserved between generations than for sales. It must have seemed an all-​too-​cosy alternative to the realpolitik of the biographical marketplace as she had understood it. Her own vision and practice was, as we have seen, very different. For Oliphant, while it might be pleasant to satisfy Irving’s friends and family, this would not satisfy her. She aimed to persuade readers not just of the heroism of Irving as an individual, but of the significance of Scottish history, and of distinctively Scottish systems of class mobility, education, and religious organization for a broader debate about national identity. As the century progressed, Life writing, especially biography, did not just map the possibilities of national belonging and exclusion, it also participated, through such large-​scale projects as the English Men of Letters series and the Dictionary of National Biography, in the formation of an uneven and contested but recognizably ‘national’ official culture. Throughout her career, Oliphant would find in Life writing a way of interrogating the 47 

[Elma Story and Helen Constance Story], Memoir of Robert Herbert Story, 53.

60    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture assumed ‘Englishness’ of that culture: her final biography would be the story of Irving’s Glasgow mentor Thomas Chalmers: Preacher, Philosopher, and Statesman (1893), published, significantly, for Methuen’s English Leaders of Religion series. By the time she had finished with it, the Irving story was in circulation everywhere from the heavyweight reviews Edinburgh and Blackwood’s to the popular rag Leisure Hours, and would receive the double-​edged accolade of a sceptical response in Thomas Carlyle’s Reminiscences.48 Procrustean and commodious, a cultural field rather than strictly a genre, biography proved in her hands continuous with essay-​writing, fiction, and cultural commentary. It would also, ultimately, prove generative in her own reminiscences. Looking back in 1894, after the death of her last surviving child Cecco, she would describe ‘the future biographer of Irving’ as a disconcertingly ‘young person, rather apt to be led astray and laugh with the young people’: How strange it is to me to write all this, with the effort of making light reading of it, and putting in anecdotes that will do to quote in the papers and make the book sell! It is a sober narrative enough, heaven knows! and when I wrote it for my Cecco to read it was all very different, and now that I am doing it consciously for the public, with the aim (no evil aim) of leaving a little more money, I feel all this to be so vulgar, so common, so unnecessary, as if I were making pennyworths of myself. Well! What does it matter? (75)

If she had ever aspired to be the subject of full-​scale, reverential domestic biography, that was now no longer a possibility, though the ‘Autobiography’ cobbled together by her second cousin, the Canadian novelist Annie Walker Coghill, from her manuscript reminiscences, bulked out to a single volume with some letters, is one of the jewels of nineteenth-​century Life writing.49 The Edward Irving episode suggests that this tradition was never really in her sights. On 11 October 1861, as the project drew to a close, she had written to Isabella Blackwood, ‘I like biography. I have a great mind to set up that as my future trade and tout for orders. Do you know anybody that wants his or her life taken? Don’t fail to recommend me if you do’ (176). Looking ahead with characteristic 48 

See for example ‘The Life of Edward Irving’, Athenaeum (19 April 1862), 525–​6; ‘ “Life of Edward Irving” by Mrs. Oliphant’, Christian Remembrancer, 44, no. 118 (1862), 291–​332; [J. Tulloch], ‘Mrs. Oliphant’s Life of Edward Irving’, Edinburgh Review, 116, no. 236 (1862), 426–​60; [C. K. Paul], ‘Edward Irving’, Fraser’s Magazine, 67, no. 397 (1863), 62–​73; [W. L. Collins], ‘The Life of Edward Irving’, Blackwood’s, 91, no. 560 (1862), 737–​57. ‘Edward Irving’, Leisure Hour, 566 (1862), 696–​700; ‘Edward Irving. II.’, Leisure Hour, 567 (1862), 714–​17. James Anthony Froude (ed.), Reminiscences by Thomas Carlyle, 2 vols. (London: Longmans Green, 1881), i. 69–​338. 49  See Linda H. Peterson, ‘Audience and the Autobiographer’s Art: An Approach to the Autobiography of Mrs. M. O. W. Oliphant’, in George P. Landow (ed.), Approaches to Victorian Autobiography (Athens, O.: University of Ohio Press, 1979), 158–​74; Gail Twersky Reimer, ‘Revisions of Labor in Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography’, in Bella Brodzki and Celeste Schenck (eds), Life/​ Lines: Theorizing Women’s Autobiography (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), 203–​20; Elisabeth Jay, ‘Freed by Necessity, Trapped by the Market: The Editing of Oliphant’s Autobiography’, in D. J. Trela (ed.), Margaret Oliphant: Critical Essays on a Gentle Subversive (Selingrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1995), 143–​4.

Life Writing and the Victorians    61 elasticity, she could envisage Life writing on a par with the newly emergent business of commercial photography: one might briskly ‘take’ a life as one might ‘take’ a portrait. She could foresee, with a twinkle in her eye, that the relationship between subject and biographer might be shaped by mutual interests, by an expansive sense of what ‘national’ biography might encompass, and by a free market in reputations. She could imagine biography as something riskier, and more exciting, than the pious record of departed worth.

Acknowledgements The author would like to thank the participants of the conference celebrating the work of Joanne Shattock, 26 November 2011, for their thoughts on this work, as well as Joanne herself and Lis Jay, peerless Oliphant editors.

Select Bibliography Altick, Richard D., Lives and Letters: A History of Literary Biography in England and America (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1965). Amigoni, David (ed.), Life Writing and Victorian Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006). Atkinson, Juliette, Victorian Biography Reconsidered: A Study of Nineteenth-​Century ‘Hidden’ Lives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). Booth, Alison, How to Make It as a Woman: Collective Biographical History from Victoria to the Present (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2004). Broughton, Trev Lynn, Men of Letters, Writing Lives (London: Routledge, 1998). Danahay, Martin A., A Community of One:  Masculine Autobiography and Autonomy in Nineteenth-​Century Britain (New York: SUNY Press, 1993). Gagnier, Regenia, Subjectivities:  A  History of Self-​ Representation in Britain, 1832–​ 1920 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). Marcus, Laura, Auto/​ Biographical Discourses:  Theory, Criticism, Practice (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994). Peterson, Linda H., Traditions of Women’s Autobiography: The Poetics and Politics of Life Writing (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999). Tolley, Christopher, Domestic Biography:  The Legacy of Evangelicalism in Four Nineteenth-​ Century Families (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).

Political Cultures and Classes

Chapter 3

P olitics and th e L i t e ra ry Josephine M. Guy

Separate Spheres ‘Nothing can be more unlike in aim, in ideals, in method, and in matter, than are literature and politics.’ So claimed the journalist, biographer, and (from 1883 to 1908) Liberal MP, John Morley, during an address delivered at the Mansion House on 26 February 1887 to the London Society for the Extension of University Teaching.1 Morley went on to cite a number of cases which might have seemed, like his own, to contradict this assertion: men like William Ewart Gladstone and Arthur Balfour—​someone of a different political persuasion would likely have included Benjamin Disraeli—​who, Morley suggested, were just as capable of ‘earning their bread as men of letters’ as they were as politicians. Nonetheless the idea that literature and politics were discrete spheres of intellectual activity, requiring different skills and embodying different values, would have resonated with many of Morley’s contemporaries, not least because for much of the Victorian period the dominant way of thinking about the literary, and about artistic culture in general, was in terms of its opposition to the localism, sectarianism, and corruption commonly held to characterize contemporary political life. In that same address Morley wearily described politics as a ‘field where action is one long second-​best, and where the choice constantly lies between two blunders’ (190), an attitude perhaps unsurprising given that Gladstone’s second Liberal government had recently been supplanted by a Conservative-​Liberal-​Unionist coalition led by Lord Salisbury. In Henry James’s The Tragic Muse (1890), Nick Dormer sees matters in much the same way: fulfilling his ambitions to be a painter, an element of the ‘dreaminess’ that defines his character, requires that he ‘throw up’ his newly won seat in the Commons, thereby

1  The quote occurs near the beginning of the address which was reprinted in John Morley, Studies in Literature (London and New York: Macmillan, 1891), 189–​228. Subsequent references appear in the text in parentheses.

66    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture relinquishing any aspiration for a political career.2 That a choice between art and politics is one that has to be made is accepted by his family—​his mother Lady Agnes exhorts him not to ‘mix up things that are as wide asunder as poles’ (170)—​even though (and with the exception of his sister Biddy) it perplexes and disappoints them that Nick opts for what in their eyes is the manifestly inferior occupation. These values are apparently shared by Nick’s fiancée Julia Dallow, whose lack of interest in all things cultural, in what she terms ‘caring so much for the fine arts’ (191), is of a piece with her fascination with political life and her determination, through Nick, to exercise political influence (the only way in which she can, as a woman, be part of the political process). In an early encounter Nick half-​humorously accuses her, ‘you’re so political’, going on to observe: ‘but you haven’t an idea, you know—​to call an idea. What you mainly want is to be at the head of a political salon; to start one, to keep it up, to make it a success’ (76–​7). For Nick, politics is power, nothing more; by implication, intellectual activity—​‘ideas’—​is confined to the sphere of art, an opposition apparently endorsed by Julia’s later confession: ‘I hate art, as you call it. I thought I did, I knew I did.’ It is this hatred, as much as the sexual jealousy provoked by her surprise encounter with Nick and his ‘lolling’ model, the actress Miriam Rooth, which leads Julia to break off their engagement. She is, as Nick puts it, ‘the incarnation of politics’, and the tragedy of her life, he realizes, is that her hoped-​for second husband has turned out to be a mirror image of her first, the latter having been a man whose ‘flat, inglorious taste for pretty things [and] indifference to every chance to play a public part’ had been the ‘mortification of her youth’ (297–​8). Nick also describes Julia in these terms—​as ‘a very political woman’—​to Mr Carteret who had ‘sat for fifty years in the House of Commons’ and, as the childless friend of Nick’s late father, is Nick’s putative benefactor, or ‘providence’ (61) as Nick phrases it, using his wealth to live through Nick in a manner not dissimilar to that of Julia. When Nick reports that Julia’s diplomat brother Peter Sherringham, who is then working ‘as a secretary in Paris’, happens to take ‘a great interest in the theatre’, Carteret is described as ‘looking as if he scarcely understood’ (204); the aesthetic sensibilities of this man of politics turn out to be just as blunted as those of Nick’s ‘political woman’. However, in the novel’s denouement we discover that Sherringham, despite that enthusiasm for the theatre, also senses the need to make choices, demanding of Miriam, with whom he is infatuated, that she can be the wife of a diplomat or pursue a career on the stage, but not both. His entreaty to her is an ironic reiteration of the opposing value-​systems that earlier separated Julia and Nick: ‘Give it up—​give it up’, he stammers: ‘I’ll marry you tomorrow if you’ll renounce [… .] The things of my profession—​of my life—​the things one does for one’s country, the responsibility and the honour of great affairs; deeply fascinating when one’s immersed in them, and more exciting than the excitements of the theatre. Care for me only a little and you’ll see what they are, they’ll take 2  Henry James, The Tragic Muse (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), 9. Subsequent references are to this edition and appear in the text in parentheses. James made numerous small-​scale stylistic revisions to The Tragic Muse when it was republished in the 1908 New York ‘Definitive Edition’; the text of the Penguin edition, which was first brought out by Rupert Hart-​Davis in 1948, is preferred here on historical grounds, because it reprints the 1890 first edition.

Politics and the Literary    67 hold of you [… .] The stage is great, no doubt, but the world is greater [… .] We’ll go in for realities instead of fables, and you’ll do them far better than you do the fables.’ (463–​6)

But Miriam refuses to ‘see’; or rather, she perceives more clearly than Sherringham the sexual double standards underlying the sacrifice he requires of her, and so rejects his proposal, preferring her art over his politics. In that choice it might seem that The Tragic Muse largely endorses Morley’s suggestion of a fundamental incompatibility between literature and art on the one hand, and politics on the other, while at the same time suggesting that it is the former sphere of activity which has the higher value because it offers rewards more enduring than the ‘second-​best’ of politics. However, in dismissing Sherringham, Miriam betrays a ruthless self-​knowledge which aligns her more closely with Julia’s ambitions than with those of Nick, and it is these traits which are a key element of the sexual attraction of both women to their conspicuously vacillating and partly self-​deceived men. As Nick acknowledges when Julia rejects him: The fact that she could drop him even while she longed for him—​drop him because it was now fixed in her mind that he would not after all serve her determination to be associated, so far as a woman could, with great affairs; that she could postpone, and postpone to an uncertainty, the satisfaction of a gnawing tenderness and judge for the long run—​this exhibition of will and courage, of the large plan that possessed her, commanded his admiration on the spot. (297)

Each woman may operate, or hope to operate, in opposing arenas, but in both of their chosen domains—​whether politics or the theatre—​success seems to depend on the selfsame qualities: a determination that can seem callous, a facility for promotion (whether of oneself in Miriam’s case, or of another in Julia’s), and, of course, money. In the late nineteenth century art as much as politics needs what Nick vulgarly terms ‘cash’: no poète maudit, his South Kensington studio, ‘incongruous as such a retreat might seem in the case of a member of Parliament’ (61), is paid for by other people’s money (that of Carteret and later of Julia), and his commissions for portraits come about through political contacts: he paints the ‘wives and daughters’ of his constituents and, in a decisive act of patronage, eventually Julia herself. By the same token, Miriam’s magnetic performances, her ‘triumphs’, seem to be due as much to clever marketing as to innate acting flair or learned craftsmanship—​to, that is, the good offices of the ‘indispensable’ and ‘practical’ actor Basil Dashwood, whose familiarity with the ‘actual theatre’, with ‘receipts and salaries and expenses and newspaper articles’, leads Sherringham to muse on how matters that were of ‘superficial concern’ to him could, for Miriam, be ‘the natural air of her life and the essence of her profession’ (326–​7). That Miriam ends up marrying Dashwood rather than Sherringham further reinforces Dashwood’s claim, underwritten by his ‘talk of the shop’ and ‘expansiveness of the commercial spirit’, to know more about Miriam than anyone else, ‘as if he [rather than Sherringham] had invented or discovered her, were in a sense her proprietor or guarantor’ (329). Ultimately, then, The Tragic Muse suggests that the spheres of art and politics, far from being completely ‘unlike in aim, in ideals, in method, and in matter’, may in practice be

68    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture discomfortingly close, certainly when they are considered in the light of an emergent professionalism, a phenomenon that had come about through a fundamental transformation over the course of the Victorian period in the conditions of literary, artistic, and theatrical production. At the heart of that transformation was a new accommodation between art and the market, one which brought with it precisely the kind of contingency that defined—​and in the view of many, marred—​political life. In the opening of the novel the mercurial aesthete Gabriel Nash alludes to these changed conditions when asked whether he still ‘writes’: ‘I haven’t the least desire for that [… .] Literature, you see, is for the convenience of others. It requires the most abject concessions. It plays such mischief with one’s style that really I have to give it up.’ When the conversation turns to a career in politics Nick, anticipating Nash’s response, suggests: ‘That, no doubt you’ll say, is still far more for the convenience of others—​is still worse for one’s style.’ Nash’s personal solution to this conundrum is that ‘merely to be is such a métier’; he proudly claims to have ‘no profession […] no état civil’ (27–​8). But this is not a position endorsed by the narrative voice. Nash is, after all, something of a parody or exaggeration of the aesthete, his ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ just another form of the parasitic, proxy-​ influence practised by Julia or Carteret.3 Indeed at the novel’s close Nash appears as a rather pathetic figure; in a delicately ironic passage the reader is invited (through Nick’s musings) to see that Nash’s other-​worldliness, which was an essential part of his attraction as Nick’s ‘private philosopher’, is in practice indistinguishable from failure: Nick, at any rate, never discovered [Nash’s] academy [… .] There were moments when he was moved to a degree of pity by the silence that poor Gabriel’s own faculty of sound made around him—​when at least it qualified with thinness the mystery he could never wholly dissociate from him, the sense of the transient and occasional, the likeness to vapour or murmuring wind or shifting light. It was for instance a symbol of this unclassified condition, the lack of all position as a name in well-​kept books, that Nick in point of fact had no idea where he lived, would not have known how to go and see him or send him a doctor if he had heard he was ill. (505)

By the close of the nineteenth century, and despite legislation such as the 1854 Corrupt Practices Act and successive extensions to the franchise, anxieties about the debasement both of politics and of literary and artistic culture by the ‘commercial spirit’ associated with professionalism were rife. In this respect it is significant that the elliptical, indirect method of narration in The Tragic Muse never fully divulges to the reader the nature of either Nick’s or Miriam’s talent; their achievements are mediated through the eyes of characters whose critical credentials are consistently called into doubt. As a result we have no firm idea whether their artistry is indeed any ‘greater’ than the ‘great affairs’ of politics that Sherringham and Julia aspire to (‘greatness’, like ‘sacrifice’, is a loaded term in this novel, one which has no secure referent). By leaving unresolved the 3 

Modern readers are often tempted into viewing Nash as a parody of Oscar Wilde, an identification which has, however, been contested; see e.g. D. J. Gordon and John Stokes, ‘The Reference of The Tragic Muse’, in John Goode (ed.), The Air of Reality: New Essays on Henry James (London: Methuen, 1972), 81–​167.

Politics and the Literary    69 question of what happens to the integrity of art or literature when they become, like politics, a form of paid work, The Tragic Muse questions Morley’s assumed separation of the literary from the political while simultaneously showing why that opposition may never have seemed more desirable, certainly for artists and writers. In this way, James is able, in a sense, to have his cake and eat it: to show how art (like politics) may be corrupted and artistic (like political) ambition self-​deluded, but without completely foreclosing the possibility of an aesthetic that can transcend the limitations of political expediency.

The Political Functions of the Literary Modern critics, too, have been sceptical about Morley’s opposition between the literary and the political. Most obviously, and as explained later, this scepticism derives from the strong evidence throughout the Victorian period of persistent and sometimes draconian attempts, both official (though legislation) and unofficial (through those commercial pressures that worried James), to police literary culture, activities which only make sense in a climate in which literary works were recognized to have significant social consequences, and where reading was never thought of simply as a private activity, nor just as a means of entertainment.4 Seen in this context, the assumption that the domain of the literary is above or beyond the domain of the political looks naïve at best; at worst, it seems itself to be suspiciously political in that it conveniently disguises the ways in which literariness—​or more accurately, the distinguishing of certain kinds of works as possessing a literary identity—​may be deeply ideological insofar as such labelling serves the needs of particular interest groups by normalizing the values which those works embody. Denying the label literature to some kinds of writing could, after all, be a useful way of marginalizing them. Second, there are many Victorian literary works, particularly those of prose fiction, which take as their subject matter explicitly political themes and which often have an overt campaigning element to them. Well-​known examples include the critique of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and the degrading conditions of the workhouses in Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1837–​9) and Frances Trollope’s Jessie Philips (1842–​3), Elizabeth Gaskell’s portrayal of poverty and the violent class conflict associated with Chartist agitation in Mary Barton (1848) and North and South (1854–​5), Charles Kingsley’s exposure of exploitative employment practices in the clothing or ‘sweating’ trades in Alton Locke

4  Nineteenth-​century reading practices have been the subject of a number of studies; see in particular Kate Flint, The Woman Reader (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, 1995); Patrick Brantlinger, The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literary in Nineteenth-​Century British Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998); and Mary Hammond, Reading, Publishing and the Formation of Literary Taste in England: 1880–​1914 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006).

70    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture (1850), a theme later taken up by Margaret Harkness writing under the pen name of John Law in A City Girl (1887), and Charles Reade’s vivid descriptions of the conditions in contemporary mental asylums in Hard Cash (1863) and A Terrible Temptation (1871), topics which had earlier been important in the subplots of the now forgotten, but at the time immensely popular, Peter Simple (1832–​3) by Frederick Marryat and Valentine Vox, the Ventriloquist (1840) by Henry Cockton. In other works of Victorian fiction, such as Anthony Trollope’s The Three Clerks (1857), George Eliot’s Felix Holt (1866–​7), and George Meredith’s Beauchamp’s Career (1875) (a novel which was first serialized in the Fortnightly Review under Morley’s editorship),5 it is the limitations of the political process, whether they are to do with reforms to the civil service and the electoral system, or the lifestyle of a politician, which are of interest. Then there are also numerous but less direct examples of political engagement, such as the way in which the portrayal of the schoolteacher Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend (1864–​5) has been held to comment on the educational policies of Sir James Kay-​Shuttleworth and the 1862 Revised Code, or the means by which sensation fiction in general, and novels like Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (1860) and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Aurora Floyd (1862–​ 3) in particular, provided a forum in which allegedly ‘unspeakable’ topics like domestic violence could be addressed to the extent, it has been argued, of influencing contemporary legislation.6 Finally, there are instances where literary devices, especially those associated with Victorian melodrama, were used in explicitly political discourses, such as the radical writings of the anti-​Poor Law movement.7 How are these uses of literature and of literary tropes as vehicles to address, or to intervene directly into, topical political debates to be reconciled with Morley’s sense of an inherent opposition between the ‘aim’ and ‘ideals’ of the literary and the political? In the view of many Victorian writers, including Dickens, Gaskell, Kingsley, and Eliot, it was precisely the assumption that the literary was a privileged discourse—​one able, as Morley optimistically put it, to ‘awake the diviner mind’ (202)—​that made literary art an ideal medium to engage with political issues. In this definition, literature appeared to possess the potential to overcome the partisan character of contemporary political debate while at the same time exposing what was popularly viewed as the gross malfunction of contemporary political and legal institutions. It is worth reiterating that even the sceptical James does not entirely abandon this idea, although he identifies this property 5  As well as being influenced by Morley’s writings on the ‘new radicalism’ in the Fortnightly Review, Meredith’s portrayal of Nevil Beauchamp’s political ambitions drew on the experiences of Frederick Maxse; a member, through his maternal lineage, of the Berkeley family, Maxse controversially (and unsuccessfully) stood for the Radical interest at Southampton in the general election of 1868. 6  See e.g. accounts of these novels in, respectively, Lauren Goodlad, Victorian Fiction and the Victorian State: Character and Governance in a Liberal Society (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), and Marlene Tromp, The Private Rod: Marital Violence, Sensation, and the Law in Victorian Britain (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000). 7  An identification persuasively argued for by Sally Ledger, ‘Radical Writing’, in Joanne Shattock (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1830–​1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 127–​46; see also Elaine Hadley, Melodramatic Tactics: Theatricalized Dissent in the English Marketplace, 1800–​1885 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995).

Politics and the Literary    71 of the literary with different formal features from those found in the realist novel, and suggests that the ‘truth’ which literature can disclose is provisional and relative rather than quasi-​divine. As he explains in his essay ‘The Future of the Novel’ (1899), the ‘strength’ and ‘life’ of the ‘prose picture’ is that it can ‘do simply everything’, its ‘plasticity, its elasticity are infinite’. James goes on: ‘[i]‌t has the extraordinary advantage—​a piece of luck scarcely credible—​that, while capable of giving an impression of the highest perfection and the rarest finish, it moves in a luxurious independence of rules and restrictions’, and in that independence it is of course quite unlike politics.8 In other words, a basic assumption concerning the autonomy of the literary, understood as a category of writing, could encompass widely divergent views about what constitutes literary form or style (including whether one should be prescriptive about such matters), as well as differing views about the nature of the experience or knowledge which engagement with the literary was held to vouchsafe—​a point to which I will return. In the early and mid-​decades of the nineteenth century this special quality predicated of the literary was particularly valued in works directed towards those groups in the population, including women, the working classes, and ethnic and religious minorities, whose voices were largely excluded from the political process. It is exactly this view of the literary which appears to underlie the emergence of nineteenth-​century subgenres like religious ‘conversion’ literature and the ‘industrial’ or ‘social-​problem’ novel. In this last example, fiction was held to provide an alternative, and in some ways superior, forum in which to examine anxieties about contemporary class conflict and the mysterious workings of the market—​those social problems which contemporary politicians were conspicuously failing to resolve. As Gaskell explained in her ‘Preface’ to Mary Barton, when deciding to write a ‘work of fiction’, her ‘first thought was to find a framework […] in some rural scene’; but as she reflected on the ‘unhappy state of things’, a new subject urgently pressed upon her: that of giving utterance ‘to the agony of suffering’ with a view to speeding up ‘public effort […] in the way of legislation’.9 Although some contemporary reviewers were ambivalent about the consequences of what the Athenaeum termed Gaskell’s attempt to ‘make Fiction the vehicle for a plain and matter-​of-​fact exposition of social evils’, most recognized the potential of this use of the literary—​Gaskell’s desire, that is, to address political topics but without writing what a notice in the Examiner termed a ‘political novel’.10 In reference to ‘the modes of thought and the conflict of tendencies generated’ by ‘our Northern seats of manufacturing industry’, an unsigned piece in the Prospective Review stated that a ‘phenomenon so vast and startling—​so ominous of good or of ill to future generations—​demands a literature, at once for its interpretation and guidance’.11

8  Henry James, ‘The Future of the Novel’, in James, The House of Fiction, ed. Leon Edel (London: Rupert Hart-​Davis, 1957), 53. 9  Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton, ed. Thomas Recchio (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co.), 5. 10  These reviews are reproduced in Gaskell, Mary Barton, 365–​8. 11  Also reproduced in Gaskell, Mary Barton, 374.

72    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture This distinction between a ‘political novel’, and a novel which uses literary devices to provide an alternative engagement with political topics, takes for granted precisely that ontological distinction between the literary and the political assumed by Morley: it was what Morley referred to as its ‘non-​practical’ qualities, or what the Prospective Review described as ‘the license conceded to art for the sake of making a deeper impression on the imagination’, which made the literary, for many Victorians, a uniquely useful medium for engaging in political debate. Moreover, this quality of the literary was never more important than when literature was being used for what modern commentators see as explicitly party-​political ends. In the case of traditions of Chartist poetry and later of socialist utopian fiction the imaginative resources of literature were an essential vehicle for persuading readers of the possibility of achieving social change. This was particularly so for a figure like William Morris; an active campaigner and energetic public speaker, fiction and poetry became increasingly significant vehicles for his polemic following events like the Trafalgar Square ‘Bloody Sunday’ massacre in November 1887 which had seemed to make the ‘reality’ of revolution in Morris’s lifetime an ever more distant prospect. But it was not only radical writers who utilized the literary in this way: Disraeli’s ‘Young England’ trilogy of novels also used fictional tropes as propaganda for his one-​nation Toryism. For modern critics, however, the question of whether works like Coningsby (1844), Sybil (1845), and Tancred (1847) or Morris’s A Dream of John Ball (1888) and News from Nowhere (1890) are ‘political novels’, or examples of literary devices being used (to appropriate the words of the Prospective Review) for ‘interpretation and guidance’, is moot. What will matter more is the validity of the different politics articulated in these novels and the effectiveness of the rhetorical devices used for their expression. In other words, describing the ways in which the Victorians understood the connection between the domains of the political and the literary is a different matter from analyzing the politics of any particular Victorian poem, novel, or play. This last task involves determining whether or not Victorian literary works functioned in the ways claimed for them, an undertaking which is complicated by the fact that among modern theorists there is significant disagreement both about the general relationship between the literary and the political and the political functions of individual Victorian works. These disagreements, which have tended to centre on the interpretation of Victorian fiction (rather than of poetry or drama), have given rise to the following questions: can the use of certain formal devices provide a means of exposing the limitations to, or fractures in, contemporary political ideologies, even if, as Pierre Macheray suggested, this may occur unintentionally? Or do the formal properties of literary works merely function to replicate and normalize those ideologies, socializing readers into the values of a dominant culture, as some Marxist critics of Victorian realism have claimed? What role did literary works play in what have been identified (using Foucault’s terminology) as Victorian ‘regulatory’ discourses, such as those which controlled mental, physical, and sexual health, as well as the management of pain, risk, finance, criminal behaviour, and urban sanitation. To date, these continue to be contested issues, and it is beyond the scope

Politics and the Literary    73 of the present chapter to engage with them in detail.12 What can be attempted, however, is the more modest task of mapping Victorian attitudes towards the interrelatedness of the literary and the political, and describing the political implications of that Victorian understanding. Taken together, these areas of enquiry provide a useful purchase on why the topic of politics and the literary proved to be so contentious in this period of literary history, as well as why, at the end of the nineteenth century, both a politician (Morley) and a writer (James) felt it to be sufficiently important to bring to public attention.

The Politics of Literary Taste The remainder of this chapter will concentrate on describing competing definitions of literary taste in the Victorian period, and the reasons why, and mechanisms by which, a critical elite attempted to control literary culture. A useful place to begin is with the processes of Victorian canon formation and the discrepancies between Victorian literary taste and modern evaluations. These can be glimpsed in the changing reputation of a writer like Thomas Carlyle; although held in high esteem in early-​and mid-​nineteenth-​ century literary circles, relatively little of the diverse oeuvre of the ‘sage of Chelsea’ is read today, or read in any detail, certainly outside university syllabuses. By the same token, works that are now taken to be modern classics, such as Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, sold poorly and received mainly negative reviews on their first publication. One reason for these differences is that the main (but not exclusive) moulders of literary opinion for much of the Victorian period were middle-​and upper-​class men.13 The early decades of the nineteenth century had witnessed the rise of a new type of professional critic. Enfranchised by a rapidly expanding periodical press, they saw it as their business, as Walter Bagehot phrased it, to tell ‘the modern man […] what to think’,14 and they typically undertook that task with a keen sense of the role which reading played 12  A brief outline of these positions is given in Josephine M. Guy and Ian Small, A Concise History of Nineteenth-​Century Literature (London: Routledge, 2010), 79–​90. Central to these disagreements are arguments about form. In recent years both early Marxist and some Foucualdian interpretations of Victorian literary works have been criticized as reductive and insensitive to the subtleties of formal devices. Moreover, critics who have voiced these complaints often seek, either implicitly or explicitly, to reinstate Victorian literary works as a privileged discourse. An exemplary instance is the recent research of Isobel Armstrong; much admired for her revaluations of Victorian poetry she has now turned her attention to the novel in a bid to reclaim this medium, too, as a site of radical critique. These concerns were outlined in a paper entitled ‘Thinking a Democratic Imaginary in the Nineteenth-​Century Novel’ delivered at a Colloquium to Celebrate the Works of Joanne Shattock (26 November 2011), University of Leicester. 13  The contribution of female voices to nineteenth-​century critical debate, of figures like Anna Jameson, Margaret Oliphant, George Eliot, Harriet Martineau, Mary Ward, and Eliza Lynn Linton, has only been recognized relatively recently. 14  Walter Bagehot, ‘The First Edinburgh Reviewers’, in Bagehot, Literary Studies, ed. R. H. Hutton, 2 vols. (London: Longman, Green, 1884), i. 2; quoted in Joanne Shattock, ‘The Culture of Criticism’, in Shattock (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 77.

74    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture in socialization, evaluating literary works in relation to contemporary class and gender norms—​an activity which had a more formal counterpart in the application of the laws against blasphemy and obscenity and the continued legal control of the public stage through the office of the Lord Chamberlain. As might be expected, among professional critics and public officials alike there were particular concerns about the reading and theatregoing habits of women and the working classes—​that is, the activities of those groups whom middle-​and upper-​class men had most interest in controlling. By the mid-​decades of the century, the lowering of the cost of books combined with increased leisure time and improved literacy meant that both these groups, and especially the latter, had much greater access to reading materials than ever before, including a variety of radical writing. A boom in theatre building in the late 1820s and 1830s, especially in London’s East End, led to the working classes having their own dramatic entertainments. Of greatest appeal for this last group was stage melodrama, a form, as Sally Ledger has argued, that was ‘forged as an aesthetic of protest in the French Revolution’ and which acquired, as one of its defining characteristics over the course of the Victorian period, an idea of ‘working-​class solidarity in response to external threats to working-​class domesticity’.15 Together with the popularity of the lurid tales of murder and criminality that appeared in the penny dreadfuls, and the later and more widespread successes of literary subgenres that drew upon these forms, such as sensation and detective fiction, fairy, ghost, and adventure stories—​these preferences were indicative of tastes that were markedly different from those of a professional critical elite who complained constantly about the alleged lack of discrimination of general or ‘ready’ readers (to use Swinburne’s term),16 as well as those readers’ excessive susceptibility to what were deemed inappropriate influences. A recurring preoccupation of various Select Committee hearings into the Victorian stage was the class composition of the audiences and the respectability (or otherwise) of the theatrical entertainments on offer. Concerns centred on the music halls which had proliferated in the East End initially in the 1830s and 1840s; numbers increased again following a further wave of theatre building in the 1860s. The easy availability of alcohol in such venues—​which was a major attraction for the mainly working-​and lower-​middle-​ class men who patronized them—​engendered an often lively, carnivalesque atmosphere in which the boundaries of what was considered ‘polite’ taste were constantly and deliberately transgressed. It is no accident that for much of the Victorian period it was rarely conceded that contemporary drama, or much popular fiction and poetry, even possessed a literary identity, in part because of the impermanence associated with performance culture, but also, one suspects, because of its association with values to which that critical elite was hostile. In these ways the growth of popular cultural forms over the course of the nineteenth century was accompanied by an insistent questioning about


Ledger, ‘Radical Writing’, 128. The phrase is used in Swinburne’s discussion of reactions to Robert Browning’s poetry in a digression in his 1875 essay on George Chapman. 16 

Politics and the Literary    75 what constituted literariness—​that is, about those features which defined literary style as well as the subject matter thought appropriate to a literary work. At issue, too, was the normative role literature played in social life. By the late 1880s and 1890s literary culture in general was widely perceived, certainly by that elite, to be in a state of crisis. Of interest, however, is not so much the ‘reality’ of any such crisis; after all, the abundance and variety of reading materials and dramatic entertainments made available by the nineteenth-​century explosion in print culture and the expansion in theatre building were probably viewed in exactly the opposite terms by the majority of readers and theatregoers. More significant are the politics at play in its identification. In the writings of early-​and mid-​Victorian critics, pre-​eminently those of Carlyle and, a little later, Matthew Arnold, the need to control contemporary literary sensibilities was framed in terms of a larger rhetoric of social disintegration and impending anarchy, one that can be traced back to anxieties provoked by the French Revolution, and the attempt by conservative critics to contain its potentially disruptive impact on British culture through conflating popular activism with the irrationality of the mob. For these commentators, it could seem but a short step from the disregard for all forms of institutional authority that had been exhibited at the Parisian barricades to the sense of ‘social freedom’, as Michael Booth terms it,17 on display in some elements of Victorian popular entertainment, especially, as noted, in the theatre. At issue was a deep apprehension about growing class antagonisms, in which anxieties about cultural as well as political challenges to middle-​and upper-​class interests were sublimated into the uncontrollability of mass taste—​that dense and enveloping aggregation of inchoate views which threatened to overwhelm the educated opinions of a self-​styled ‘rational’ minority. Of course on occasion, particularly in the later decades of the century, these attempts to police literary taste can seem like little more than the exercise of cultural snobbery, the association of popular literary forms with what Grant Allen viewed as a deplorable ‘decay’ in literary standards,18 acting as a thin disguise for the professional critic’s unease about his own waning influence in the face of a range of competing opinion-​formers. These included, from the late 1870s onwards, a new type of literary journalist who wrote for cheap dailies and weeklies, and whose favoured forum was the pithy and, it was condescendingly suggested, less considered review, as opposed to the discursive essay which had been the mainstay of the expensive monthlies and quarterlies and the critical medium of Arnold and Carlyle. In voicing such complaints, figures like Allen conveniently overlooked the ways in which literary critical discourse—​and therefore attempts to define literary value—​had always been subject to ideological manipulation, whether through the Victorian practice of journalistic anonymity (which held sway until the late decades of the century), the editorial imposition on contributors of a corporate voice (many Victorian periodicals were overtly party-​political), the age-​old practice of log-​rolling, or the related habit of individual critics posting multiple 17  Booth is describing music-​hall entertainments; see his Theatre in the Victorian Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 11–​12. 18  Allen, ‘The Decay of Criticism’, Fortnightly Review, 37 (1882), 339–​51.

76    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture reviews of the same works, thus potentially limiting or distorting the range of opinion available to the reader.19 In the writings of a later generation of commentators, most famously Max Nordau, the main target was not popular culture, but its polar opposite: figures associated with a literary and artistic avant-​garde. The reasons, however, were broadly similar and centred, once again, on the perceived threat of these movements to established culture, or—​more precisely—​to its very possibility, and therefore to the potential of the literary to function, as Arnold’s rhetoric implied, as a form of social engineering. It is relevant, for example, that writers associated with the Decadent and Symbolist movements had explicitly taken their cue from external (and often French) influences, and they typically disseminated their work—​whether through private theatre clubs or specialist, limited edition publishing—​in ways which guaranteed their restriction to a like-​minded coterie. In the writings of Walter Pater this exclusiveness seemed to be justified by what amounted to a privatization of literary experience in which the responsibility of the critic was limited to describing a work’s appeal only in relation to a particular individual: ‘What is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to me?’, Pater famously asked in the ‘Preface’ to The Renaissance (1873).20 For Pater, the responsibility of the literary artist was solely to ‘his sense of fact rather than the fact’, to the ‘representation of such fact as connected with soul, of a specific personality, in its preferences, its volition and power’21—​a definition of literary creativity in stark contrast to Arnold’s proposition in the ‘Preface’ to the first edition of his Poems (1853) that it was the ‘eternal objects’ of poetry, actions ‘which most powerfully appeal to the great primary affections’ and to the ‘elementary feelings which subsist permanently in the race’, that gave it value. For Arnold, ‘an allegory of the state of one’s own mind’ could ‘never’ produce ‘a great poetical work’;22 by contrast, Pater’s arresting description of critical appreciation in the ‘Conclusion’ to The Renaissance was that of ‘the individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a solitary prisoner its own dream of a world’ (187–​8). For Oscar Wilde, literary art was simply the ‘most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known’, its main function being the expression of difference, and the danger from which it needed protection was the ‘barbarous authority’ of ‘the community’.23 At stake for those critics like Arnold, Allen, and Nordau who prized literary works because of their potential to engage with social and especially national life, and ultimately for their promotion of a cultural homogeneity, was the assumption that the literary was a realm of absolute value. It was only by virtue of this property that works of 19  Such practices have not prevented modern critics, notably Laurel Brake, arguing for the vibrancy of debate in the Victorian periodical press; see Brake, Subjugated Knowledges: Journalism, Gender and Literature in the Nineteenth Century (London: Macmillan, 1994). 20  Walter Pater, The Renaissance, ed. Donald Hill (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980), pp. xix–​xx. Subsequent references appear in the text in parentheses. 21  Walter Pater, ‘Style’, in Appreciations (London: Macmillan, 1912), 10. 22  Matthew Arnold, Selected Poems and Prose, ed. Miriam Allott (London: Dent, 1993), 117, 121. 23  The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, iv. Criticism, ed. Josephine M. Guy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 248.

Politics and the Literary    77 literature could be claimed to counteract what was perceived as a tendency towards sectarianism, whether religious, political, or cultural in origin, and thereby promote social cohesion. However, it was exactly this property of the literary that seemed to be threatened by the growth of literary coteries, especially those which, like the Aesthetic movement, understood the special character of the literary to reside in its ability to articulate a unique subjectivity, and so too to testify to the relative nature of experience. Nordau interpreted this apparent eschewal of mainstream opinion as a form of self-​belief that was pathological, an asocial tendency that amounted to what he termed in Entartung (1892) an ‘incapacity’ to adapt ‘to existing circumstances’ and which was a symptom, in his view, of mental degeneracy. Moreover it was a characteristic which avant-​garde writers and artists shared with what he referred to as ‘revolutionists and anarchists’ and which identified them, in Nordau’s eyes, with a wholesale process of national degeneration. As with early-​and mid-​nineteenth-​century reactions to the growth of popular literary forms, we find at the end of the Victorian period a similar conflation of political and cultural activity, although in this last case the cause was held to be biological as much as social, leading to an altogether more apocalyptic identification of elements of contemporary literary and artistic practice with the concept of the fin de siècle and, ultimately, the ‘fin du globe’. Nordau’s rhetoric is extreme, and the influence of his Entartung (translated into English as Degeneration in 1895) can be overestimated. There is nonetheless a significant element of continuity between his diagnosis of cultural disintegration and the anxieties exhibited earlier by Arnold, one which is perhaps easier to appreciate in the more measured voices of writers like William John Courthope or William Shairp. Both Shairp and Courthope were establishment figures who followed Arnold in holding the position of Professor of Poetry at Oxford; both responded to the suggestion that literary culture was in a state of ‘morbid’ decline—​to use the term then current—​by calling for the development of a more ‘healthy’ and unifying national literature, one which would exemplify what at the time was contentiously termed the ‘noble English style’. Looking back from the vantage point of 1901, and invoking again the seismic impact of the French Revolution, Courthope, in the conclusion to his Oxford lectures (published as Life in Poetry: Law in Taste) characterized the century just past in terms of the rise to prominence of what he called the ‘master passion’ of ‘Liberty’, defined as a desire for ‘complete freedom of action’.24 In Courthope’s view, this ‘leaving [of] each man as a separate unit to think, speak and do as he likes’ had come to pervade all aspects of social life: political (in the form of ‘democracy’), religious (in the form of a sectarianism that disempowered the ‘corporate Religion of the State’ or Anglican Church), and cultural. Moreover, although ‘simple and attractive at the outset’ it had been the cause of ‘a thousand difficulties’, including what Courthope identified as the current ‘multiplicity and 24  William Courthope, ‘Conclusion’, in Life in Poetry: Law in Taste (London: Macmillan, 1901); repr. in Josephine M. Guy (ed.), The Victorian Age: An Anthology of Sources and Documents (London and New York: Routledge, 1998, 2002), 446–​59; subsequent references are to this later edition and appear in the text in parentheses.

78    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture self-​contradiction of modern tastes, and the complete absence of any recognised standard of judgment in contemporary literature’. His remedy for this cultural laissez-​faire, encapsulated, he suggested, in the popular maxim de gustibus non est disputandum, was to re-​establish an ‘authoritative standard’. It was based on a conflation of Aristotle’s ‘Law of the Universal’ with Courthope’s own idea of a ‘Law of National Character’, explained as a ‘social instinct which compels the artist unconsciously to individualise his idea of the Universal in the light of the race tendencies, the methods of education, and the political history and character of the nation to which he belongs’. Courthope asserted that ‘man is a great painter or poet, and his work becomes a monumental standard by reference to which the quality of other artistic work produced in his nation can be judged’ only insofar as his sense of the ‘Universal’ represents ‘faithfully the sum of national life’. Like Arnold before him, Courthope was attracted to a concept of ‘the Universal’ as a standard of literary taste because it was ‘something absolutely existing in itself ’, even if it could ‘only be reflected through the medium of minds differing in constitution and character’ (452). The idea that cultural and social fragmentation might be countered through an overtly politicized process of canon formation helps explain the appearance in the late decades of the century of multi-​volume projects like Courthope’s own History of English Poetry (1895–​1910), T. H. Ward’s The English Poets (1880–​94) and English Prose Selections (1893–​7), as well as Edmund Gosse’s A Short History of Modern English Literature (1898) and George Saintsbury’s A Short History of English Literature (1898). These undertakings in turn found a counterpart in persistent, if initially unsuccessful, efforts in the 1880s and 1890s to institutionalize the study of literariness through the incorporation of English as a new subject in universities, an ambition which was part of an ongoing process of reformation and expansion in higher education that had begun in the 1850s. Surprisingly, perhaps, Arnold had opposed this last development, having been sceptical of the idea that literary study could or should be part of the academy; two decades later, Courthope took the opposite view, complaining that in the mid-​and late-​nineteenth century universities had abnegated their social responsibility for what he termed the ‘training of taste’, retreating instead into a monastic pursuit of ‘Self-​Culture’ (455). For the modern reader, the identification of both ‘democracy’ and ‘self-​culture’ with a destructive, antisocial spirit—​in Arnold’s resonant phrase, that habit of ‘each man doing as he likes’—​may seem odd. But what united these groups—​Swinburne’s ‘ready reader’ of popular fiction with Nordau’s avant-​gardist and Courthope’s ivory-​tower academic—​ was an apparent refusal, in the eyes of their detractors, to pay due respect to the judgements of those attempting to regulate literary culture. A further and related threat to these regulatory ambitions was what was perceived as the rampant commercialization of literary culture that had accompanied the dramatic growth of the nineteenth-​century publishing industry alluded to earlier. In diagnosing the ‘anarchical conditions of things’, Courthope had run together a ‘passion for novelty’ and ‘the instinct of democracy’ with what he referred to as ‘the commercial interest’: all three factors, in his view, favoured ‘the assertion of [an] unrestricted liberty of taste’ which threatened ‘civilisation and refinement’ (454). The problem, as Courthope and

Politics and the Literary    79 others perceived it, was to do with the way the mechanisms behind the expansion in the literary market from the late 1830s onwards had made profitability from literary publishing dependent on the volume of sales—​on numbers of units sold. In this environment literary success—​indeed, even the possibility of becoming a published author—​seemed increasingly to depend on crude sales figures alone, on the ability of an author to appeal to as large a number of readers as possible. Moreover, in practice, profits from literary works were mainly driven by the lucrative reprint market; as a consequence, works of poetry, fiction, and drama tended to be packaged and repackaged in an inventive array of formats in order to increase their sales, practices which required a more explicit use of advertising techniques and the willingness of writers to participate in marketing processes, to the extent of selling themselves as much as their works. Here both work and author alike became commodities, a process which was routinely disparaged for ruining the careers of young writers by promoting or ‘booming’ them far beyond any talent they might possess and encouraging the production of formulaic works. This perceived commodification of literature, where literary works seemed to be treated like any other disposable consumer good, was thus further grist to the mill of those hostile to the development of popular literary forms. Or, to be more accurate, invoking an opposition between the values of commerce on the one hand, and those of Courthope’s ‘civilisation’ on the other, was a convenient way of legitimating some tastes at the expense of others. Any perception of cultural decline—​whether it is attributed to a commercialization and/​or a democratization of taste—​must assume, even if silently, some earlier, unsullied state of literary grace from which contemporary practice has fallen away. In this respect, it is salutary to be reminded that the ‘civilized’ or ‘purist’ writer (as Peter McDonald has termed it25) who stood aloof from the market rarely, if ever, existed, certainly in the Victorian period. As historians such as Tom Mole have argued, the cult of the author as media celebrity can be dated back at least as far as the Romantics;26 by the same token, the private correspondence of figures rarely associated with monetary gain, like Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, and Robert and Elizabeth Browning, shows that they were deeply concerned with the profitability of their writing, and tailored works for particular markets. In the Victorian period, anxieties generated by the collapsing together of literary and economic value might therefore be better recast in terms of the frustrations of arbiters of taste at their inability to use price as a way of policing literary culture. When, as in the eighteenth century, books were expensive and print runs relatively small, it was easier for a critical elite to dictate literary standards, even if, in practice, the cultural homogeneity to which those standards claimed to testify was illusory. By the second half of the nineteenth century the dramatic fall in price of reading matter had brought a whole range of new agents—​both as readers and authors—​into the literary marketplace, and as a result traditional cultural hierarchies and traditional conceptions 25  See Peter D. McDonald, British Literary Culture and Publishing Practice: 1880–​1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). 26  See Tom Mole, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity: Industrial Culture and the Hermeneutics of Intimacy (Houndmills: Palgrave, Macmillan, 2007).

80    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture of cultural authority were inevitably and irrevocably challenged. That this occurred simultaneously with, and was partly prompted by, a recognition (as I have suggested) of the enormous potential, given a much more literate populace, for works of literature to shape social and national life, only served to heighten critics’ anxieties about their loss of influence. Paradoxically, the ideas of a single or monolithic literary culture and of a single, homogenous literary readership—​such as we see underlying Courthope’s proposals for a national literature—​were most desirable at precisely the moment when the competitive nature of the mid-​and late-​nineteenth-​century literary marketplace made them manifestly unrealizable. It is in this discrepancy between ambition and reality that power operates, and the gap between politics and the literary that Morley insists upon begins to close.

Conclusion This tension between the realities of Victorian reading and theatregoing practices on the one hand, and contemporary prescriptions concerning the social function of the literary on the other, is perfectly caught in Morley’s celebration of what he terms ‘the spread of literature’ as measured in the ‘numbers of books that are taken out from public libraries’, and his simultaneous lament that what is being read is ‘not all that we could wish’ (202). ‘[T]‌he point’, Morley explains in his Extension lecture, ‘is not that men should have a great many books, but that they should have the right ones’ (205)—​when ‘right’, of course, is to be defined by figures like Morley (or Arnold or Allen). In a manner reminiscent of Courthope, Morley then draws an analogy between literature and commerce. ‘Many people’, he suggests, ‘think of knowledge as of money’; he goes on to explain that they want their experience of literature to be as cheap as possible, cheap both in terms of the cost of a book and in terms of the time spent reading it. As a counter to this consumerist attitude, Morley advocates spending a longer amount of time reading fewer works; appreciation of the literary, in his view, is derived from a process of repeated reading: ‘most books worth reading once’, he points out, ‘are worth reading twice, and—​what is most important of all—​the masterpieces of literature are worth reading a thousand times’. Lists of such ‘masterpieces’, often in the form of ‘a Hundred Best Books’, abound in the later part of the Victorian period, as do works like Charles Francis Richardson’s The Choice of Books (1881), a volume which Morley recommends on account of the fact that it provides a guide to the ‘region of pure literature’ (209).27 Ironically, however, this identification of literary taste with a principle of limitation—​ the assumption that less is always more—​rather than circumventing the commercial values that Morley and Courthope deprecate turns out to be barely distinguishable from 27  Morley mistakenly gives Frederic Harrison as the author of this volume; On the Choice of Books was also the title of Thomas Carlyle’s inaugural address as rector of Edinburgh University; it was reprinted from The Times in 1866 by J. C. Hotten.

Politics and the Literary    81 them, for in the abundance of a consumerist society the highest form of worth always equates with that which is most scarce. There was a further difficulty with Morley’s position: what distinguished his prescriptions for quality over quantity from the reverence for exclusivity that issued in what Courthope and Nordau had viewed as an unhealthy ‘self-​culture’? Where was one to draw the line between a literary ‘masterpiece’ that required what Morley termed ‘reading with reflection, comprehension, and memory all alert and awake’ (206) and the kinds of textual difficulties typically referred to by the pejorative term ‘obscure writing’, and that were held to be a consequence of a pathological self-​absorption, one deliberately cultivated, in the view of critics like Nordau, so as to be impenetrable to, and thus incapable of being appreciated by, the general reader?28 Likewise, when was the material rarity associated with the production of expensive, hand-​printed, de-​luxe editions, as well as, in the late decades of the century, a thriving rare-​book trade, a sign of literary value—​an accolade (as writers from Carlyle to Thomas Hardy saw matters) which distinguished a work from the disposability of popular culture thus helping to safeguard its value for posterity? And when were such publishing practices merely a cynical marketing ploy: expensive-​looking books were often cheap to produce and there is evidence that some publishers, notably the Bodley Head, printed more copies than advertised in a limited run in order to increase the profits from alleged rarity. In short, the politics underlying complaints about a decline in literary standards over the course of the Victorian period were more complex than a simple opposition between popular and elite interests. As significant was the competition between elites; or, to be more accurate, between different concepts of elitism and different forms of exclusivity, each of which predicated a distinct role for the literary in social life. For Arnold, Allen, Courthope, and Morley, it was only by dint of the absolute literary ‘standards’ which they arrogated to themselves the authority to fix, that literature, as Arnold phrased it, could aid the ‘cultivation of the sympathies and imagination’, the ‘quickening of the moral sensibilities, and the enlargement of the moral vision’. For Pater the literary could also promote an ethical attitude, but only by virtue of attuning the individual to the provisional and relative nature of all knowledge—​to be sympathetic, we might say, to difference. For Wilde, too, literary art had a social value; paradoxically, however, it was one which centred on the way it facilitated Individualism, or the development of personality. When Wilde describes the value of literary art as being inversely proportionate to its utility, he meant its appropriation for non-​aesthetic ends (Wildean Individualism is realized in lives which, as he puts it in ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ (1891), are ‘free [and] beautiful’). In different ways these arguments all endorse that separation between the literary and politics to which Morley draws attention, but for reasons which the modern commentator will see as profoundly self-​interested and also, therefore, as profoundly political. 28  See e.g. Allon White, The Uses of Obscurity (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981); and Josephine M. Guy, ‘The Politics of Obscurity’, in The British Avant-​Garde: The Theory and Politics of Tradition (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), 81–​97.

82    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture

Bibliography Brantlinger, Patrick, The Reading Lesson: The Threat of Mass Literacy in Nineteenth-​Century British Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998). Erikson, Lee, The Economy of Literary Form:  English Literature and the Industrialization of Publishing: 1800–​1850 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). Flint, Kate, The Woman Reader 1837–​1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, 1995). Guy, Josephine M., and Ian Small, ‘The British “Man of Letters” and the Rise of the Professional’, in A. Walton Litz, Louis Menand, and Lawrence Rainey (eds), The Cambridge History of Criticism, vii. Modernism and New Criticism (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2000), 377–​88. Hammond, Mary, Reading, Publishing and the Formation of Literary Taste in England: 1880–​ 1914 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006). Jordan, John O., and Robert Patten (eds), Literature and the Marketplace: Nineteenth-​Century British Publishing and Reading Practices (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1991). Raven, John, ‘The Promotion and Constraints of Knowledge:  The Changing Structure of Publishing in Victorian England’, in Martin Daunton (ed), The Organisation of Knowledge in Victorian Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 263–​86. Sutherland, John, Victorian Fiction: Writers, Publishers, Readers (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995). Vincent, David, The Rise of Mass Literacy:  Reading and Writing in Modern Europe (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000). Weedon, Alexis, Victorian Publishing: The Economics of Book Production for a Mass Market, 1836–​1916 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003).

Chapter 4

The Literat u re of Chart i sm Ian Haywood

There is a moment in Elizabeth Gaskell’s industrial novel Mary Barton (1848) where the tragic hero John Barton sits down to read ‘an old Northern Star borrowed from a neighbouring public house’.1 He is absorbed in the paper’s support for the Ten Hours Bill, but had he wanted to read something a little more entertaining, elevated, or inspiring, he could have turned straight to the ‘Arts’ pages of the paper. There he would have found a rich selection of poems including the contributions of now forgotten Chartist scribblers, texts by more established Chartist ‘laureates’, and a range of complete and excerpted works by canonical authors (Burns, Byron, and Shelley being particular favourites). The Chartist poems on offer ranged from the overtly didactic, agitational, and rousing—​such as ‘The Lion of Freedom’, a song composed by Thomas Cooper to celebrate the release of the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor from prison in 1841 (‘The lion of freedom comes from his den, | We’ll rally around him again and again’)—​to seemingly non-​political ‘Parnassian’ lyrics which, despite their lack of radical subject matter, demonstrated the aspirations of Chartists to compete with or appropriate the emotional, moral, and aesthetic conventions of mainstream literary culture. Chartist poetry was evidence that the working class was both intelligent and sensitive: the poetic imagination was irrefutable proof that the politically excluded masses had both an impressive level of education and a refined sensibility, qualities denied to them by an intransigent political establishment that believed (or asserted) that the masses were intellectually, culturally, and politically immature. (Thomas Carlyle, for example, described Chartism as the ‘inarticulate cries’ of a ‘dumb creature in rage and pain’.2) Had John Barton lived a little longer he could have seen these humane credentials amply illustrated in a full-​length Chartist novel, Thomas Martin Wheeler’s Sunshine and Shadow, serialized in the Northern Star from 1849 to 1850; Barton may even have taken some solace and counsel from seeing the hero 1 


Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton (London: Penguin, 1970), 123. Thomas Carlyle, Chartism (1840), in Selected Writings (London: Penguin, 1988), 149–​232, at 189.

84    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture of that story, Arthur Morton, survive a string of personal and political setbacks. A fuller appreciation of Chartist literature could have saved Barton’s life. The Chartist movement was first and foremost a mass campaign to secure political rights for the majority of the (male) British population who were excluded from the so-​ called ‘Great’ Reform Bill of 1832, but the Chartist vision of a more just and equal society was also intensely literate. To begin with, at the core of its programme was a simultaneously real and symbolic document, the sacred ‘Charter’, a radicalized Magna Carta that represented an attempt to give Britain a proper written constitution: in the words of Joseph Radford, the Charter was the ‘land-​mark of ages—​sublimely grand’; like a biblical scripture it was ‘deeply engraved On the high-​beating hearts of millions enslav’d’.3 The three colossal petitions that were presented to Parliament in 1839, 1842, and 1848 comprised hyperbolic expressions of what might be termed Chartist ‘logo-​cracy’, a faith in the political power of the written word. To take the 1842 petition as an example: how could the government ignore the demands of over 3 million signatures, almost a third of the adult population and three times the size of the existing electorate?4 Nor was the spreading of the Chartist gospel limited to the flagship weekly newspaper the Northern Star: from the late 1830s to the mid-​1850s, the Chartist movement spawned dozens of substantial and more ephemeral periodicals and newspapers in addition to pamphlets, addresses, collections of poetry and stories, decorative membership cards, and ‘galleries’ of portraits—​in total, a flourishing and relatively autonomous print culture. Chartists were only too aware that they had inherited the democratic mission of the ‘grand march of the intellect’ from their reforming predecessors, the corresponding societies of the 1790s, the ‘heroic’ radical journalism of the Regency and Peterloo years, and the ‘unstamped’ wars of the 1830s. Friedrich Engels was so impressed by this aspect of working-​class culture in the 1840s that he concluded that ‘the proletariat has formed upon this basis a literature, which consists chiefly of journals and pamphlets, and is far in advance of the whole bourgeois literature in intrinsic worth’.5 As the veteran Chartist Allen Davenport stated in the conclusion to his autobiography (1845): What a change has come over the spirit of this country since the days of my youth [… . W]e now see young men scarcely out of their teens, taking part in discussions and delivering lectures on subjects, where a considerable portion of learning is 3  Joseph Radford, ‘The Charter’, Northern Star (2 January 1841); reprinted in I. V. Kovalev, An Anthology of Chartist Literature (Moscow, 1956), 96–​7. On the historical evolution of the Charter, see Miles Taylor, ‘The Six Points: Chartism and the Reform of Parliament’, in Owen Ashton, Robert Fyson, and Stephen Roberts (eds), The Chartist Legacy (London: Merlin Press, 1999). 4  These figures are taken from Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 205. 5  Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845 in German; translated into English 1892; London: Grafton, 1984), 165–​6. See also H. Gustav Klaus, The Literature of Labour: Two Hundred Years of Working-​Class Writing (Brighton: Harvester Press), 49; Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 36–​9; Ian Haywood, The Revolution in Popular Literature: Print Politics and the People 1790–​1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), ch. 6.

The Literature of Chartism    85 required [… .] And will the government and legislature of this country still look on and remain stationary, while every thing is changing around them?6

Davenport’s self-​conscious celebration of the ‘intellectual struggle that is being made by the working classes’ is just one of a number of manifesto-​type declarations that litter the Chartist press and Chartist literary texts. These statements show with great clarity the importance that Chartists placed on challenging the bourgeois hegemony of literature. The Chartist Circular declared in 1840 that ‘When the people shall have their own authors and press, to do them justice, they will sweep away the corruptions of literature from the haunts of social life, and the proud motto of Knowledge and Equality shall wave triumphantly on the noble banner of Literary Reform’. The leading Chartist author Thomas Cooper declared in his periodical Cooper’s Journal or Unfettered Thinker in 1850 that ‘It now becomes a matter of the highest necessity, that you all join hands and heads to create a literature of your own’, while the renowned Chartist poet Ernest Jones stated that ‘Chartism is marching into the fields of literature with rapid strides [… .] We say to the great minds of the day, come among the people, write for the people, and your fame will live for ever’.7 Though Chartism was as much the culmination of a longer period of democratic struggle as it was a new beginning, the explosion of ‘cheap’ popular publishing in the 1830s and 1840s gave Chartism an unprecedented opportunity to reach huge numbers of people across the length and breadth of the country. At the peak of its popularity in the late 1830s the Northern Star may have been read (and heard) by hundreds of thousands of Chartists. This was a formidable and commanding audience not only for Chartist orators, whose speeches were reproduced and recycled in the paper, but also for aspiring poets and writers. Indeed, the Northern Star was regularly overwhelmed with an unsolicited ‘jackass load of poetry’ and frequently had to remind its readers that contributions were judged on literary merit rather than mere solidarity.8 This high-​minded attitude reflected the important role that literature played in the Chartist ‘imaginary’.9 Poetry (and to a lesser extent fiction) was the highest expression of an individual’s creative and human potential: in the words of the ‘red republican’ Gerald Massey, poetry was ‘to be lived […] with its beauty and its plenty, its freedom and its happiness’.10 Chartism took from the Romantics the notion that poets were the unacknowledged legislators of the world,11 and it is no coincidence that many of its leading activists were

6  The Life and Literary Pursuits of Allen Davenport, ed. Malcolm Chase (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1994), 27–​8. 7  Chartist Circular (15 February 1841); Cooper’s Journal or Unfettered Thinker, 1, no. 9 (1850), 129; The Labourer, 2 (1846), 95. 8  See Mike Sanders, The Poetry of Chartism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), ch. 3. 9  According to Sanders, the ‘Chartist imaginary […] both underpins the agency enjoyed by, and constitutes the unique form of historical knowledge embodied in, Chartist poetry’ (The Poetry of Chartism, 6). 10  Cited in Stephanie Kuduk Weiner, Republican Politics and English Poetry, 1789–​1794 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 68. 11  This famous phrase by Percy Shelley is from his essay A Defence of Poetry (1821).

86    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture also journalists, writers, editors, and publishers. The careers of Ernest Jones, Thomas Cooper, Thomas Martin Wheeler, George Julian Harney, W. J. Linton, Gerald Massey, and (more controversially) George W. M. Reynolds are equally notable for their political and literary achievements. These writers now comprise the core ‘canon’ of Chartist literature: their prominence, celebrity, and sheer volume of publications have placed them at the forefront of critical attention. On the other hand, as Mike Sanders cautions, it is misleading to focus solely on the ‘labour laureates’ at the expense of the forgotten writers who filled the poetry columns of the Northern Star week by week for over a decade.12 Sanders’s book The Poetry of Chartism has done an admirable and convincing job of celebrating the literary qualities and political efficacy of a very wide range of forgotten Chartist poetic texts. His determination to do critical justice to the Chartist poetic legacy follows on from the pioneering work of I. V. Kovalev, Martha Vicinus, and Anne Janowitz and establishes a new gold standard for the analysis of Chartist poetics.13 Yet, as already noted, Chartist literary production was more extensive than the material Sanders covers. The rest of this chapter will try to cover the full range of the ‘literature of Chartism’ including both poetry and fiction, indicating which areas of Chartist print culture may still be under-​researched.

Poetry Chartist poetry is in a critically healthy state and continues to attract the attention of both literary scholars and labour historians. Major literary studies include Sanders’s The Poetry of Chartism, Anne Janowitz’s Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, Ulrika Schwab’s Poetry of the Chartist Movement, Brian Maidment’s The Poorhouse Fugitives, Mary Ashraf ’s Introduction to Working Class Literature in Great Britain, and Martha Vicinus’s The Industrial Muse. Chartist poetry also features in Stephanie Kuduk Weiner, Republican Politics and English Poetry, 1789–​1794, and in Isobel Armstrong’s Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics.14 Book chapters and articles dedicated to Chartist poetry include Timothy Randall, ‘Chartist Poetry and Song’; a special issue of Victorian Poetry on ‘The Poetics of the Working Classes’ containing four articles on Chartist poetry (Stephanie Kuduk, ‘Sedition, Criticism and Epic Poetry in Thomas Cooper’s The Purgatory of Suicides’; Ronald Paul, ‘In Louring Hindustan: Chartism and 12 Sanders, The Poetry of Chartism, ch. 1.

13 Kovalev, Anthology; Martha Vicinus, The Industrial Muse: A Study of Nineteenth-​Century British

Working-​Class Literature (London: Croom Helm, 1974); Anne Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). 14  Ulrike Schwab, Poetry of the Chartist Movement: A Literary and Historical Study (London and Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishing, 1993); Brian Maidment, The Poorhouse Fugitives: Self-​taught Poets and Poetry in Victorian Britain (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1987); Mary Ashraf, Introduction to Working Class Literature in Great Britain (Berlin: GDR, 1978); Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics (London: Routledge 1996).

The Literature of Chartism    87 Empire in Ernest Jones’s the New World’; Kelly Mays, ‘Slaves in Heaven, Laborers in Hell: Chartist Poets’ Ambivalent Identification with the (Black) Slave’; Mike Sanders, ‘Poetic Agency: Metonymy and Metaphor in Chartist Poetry 1838–​1852’), Roy Vickers, ‘Chartist Election, Holy Communion and Psalmic Language in Ernest Jones’s Chartist Poetry’; Pamela K Gilbert, ‘History and Its Ends in Chartist Epic’.15 These critical investigations have been complemented by the work of Chartist historians who have provided invaluable biographical and contextual studies. Important books include Miles Taylor’s Ernest Jones, Chartism and the Romance of Politics and The Victorian Working Class Writer by Owen Ashton and Stephen Roberts; the Chartist press is the subject of Owen Ashton and Joan Allen’s edited collection of essays Papers for the People.16 Chartist poetry has often been divided into two types and phases: in the period of the late 1830s and early 1840s, poetry’s role was to mobilize and inspire a developing mass movement by providing an accessible discourse of class-​consciousness and solidarity to complement and enhance the ‘bread and butter’ ideological work of meetings, speeches, rallies, and print publishing. The poetry derived its power and persuasion from a vigorous simplicity and energy, the deployment of popular tropes inherited from oral and biblical tradition, the stark antitheses between good and evil (rulers and slaves), the sonorous use of the collective pronoun, and the idealistic appeal to a utopian future cleansed of class struggle. In Armstrong’s assessment, the poetry’s ‘impersonal language of hope and energy’ transformed ‘the deliberately banal material it worked with’.17 Vicinus calls this initial phase ‘exhortative and inspirational’, a view echoed by Armstrong’s phrase ‘millenial confidence’.18 The second phase of Chartist literary development saw the rise of the ‘laureates’ and the replacement of the collective voice with a self-​conscious lyricism and a tone of poetic elevation modelled on Byron and Shelley. In Janowitz’s words, the poetry became ‘less militant and more analytical’ though it retained its roots in the ‘communitarian’ impulses of the radical Romantic lyric.19 Chartist poets were unembarrassed by the adoption of High Romantic modes: as Ashraf notes, Chartists regarded ‘any poetry written or unwritten as a form of common property’ and ‘to fashion beautiful visions’ was to ‘compensate for poverty by noble ideas’.20 A striking illustration of this determination to harness existing poetic models is the Politics of Poets series that ran in the English Chartist Circular in 1839. Shakespeare, 15 

Timothy Randall, ‘Chartist Poetry and Song’ (1999), in Ashton, Fyson, and Roberts (eds), The Chartist Legacy, 171–​95; Victorian Poetry, 39, no. 2 (2001), special issue: ‘The Poetics of the Working Classes’; Roy Vickers, ‘Chartist Election, Holy Communion and Psalmic Language in Ernest Jones’s Chartist Poetry’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 11, no. 1 (2006), 59–​83; Pamela K. Gilbert, ‘History and Its Ends in Chartist Epic’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 37, no. 1 (2009), 27–​42. 16  Miles Taylor, Ernest Jones, Chartism and the Romance of Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Owen Ashton and Stephen Roberts, The Victorian Working Class Writer (London: Mansell, 1999); Owen Ashton and Joan Allen (eds), Papers for the People: A Study of the Chartist Press (London: The Merlin Press, 2005). 17 Armstrong, Victorian Poetry, 194–​5. 18 Vicinus, Industrial Muse, 95; Armstrong, Victorian Poetry, 192. 19 Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, 151–​2. 20 Ashraf, Introduction to Working Class Literature, 52, 37–​8.

88    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Milton, Marvell, Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Byron are all appropriated for a democratic poetics.21 In the work of Schwab, Maidment, Janowitz, and Sanders, the neat distinction between agitational and ‘literary’ Chartist poetry has been challenged, refined, and to an extent discarded. Three further issues have become central. First, there is a renewed emphasis on the lyrical tradition inherited from Romanticism, both as a space for meditating on passing events and as a means of elevating the collective role of the poetry: as Janowitz notes, ‘Chartist poetry offers a utopian counter-​statement to the notion of lyric as the terrain of landscaped solitude and secular transcendence through the extension of the unencumbered self, and whose conventional representations are modelled on the romantic poets’.22 In Chartist poetics, self-​discovery emerges from collective struggle. Second, there is a recognition that some Chartist poems (defined by author or place of publication) are not overtly political in their subject matter—​as Maidment notes, many poems were deigned to have a ‘cathartic effect rather than the persuasive one, so that the social aggression in the poem was sublimated or acted out rather than developed into action beyond the poem’,23 though this view has been challenged by Sanders who regards all Chartist poems as carrying political agency. Third, there is a new appreciation of the ways in which the structural complexities and patterns of Chartist poetry are attempting to negotiate a range of ideological problems including the patriarchal construction of gender roles (Armstrong is wary of the ‘battle image’ deployed by many Chartist poems, and Jutta Schwarzkopf sees Chartism as politically weakened by its conservative approach to gender, though the majority of critics are more forgiving of this allegedly unenlightened aspect of Chartist values24). The most important shift in studies of Chartist poetry is this willingness to regard the texts as worthy of close readings. Schwab sees all Chartist poems as having an ideological ‘nucleus’ or structure of feeling around which a variety of poetic genres are deployed to create ‘pensiveness’ or reflection.25 These ideas have some critical mileage, though Schwab’s fondness for ‘unity’ of form and content now seems methodologically old-​fashioned. Sanders uses Marxist theory to argue that poetry was a means to overcome the alienating effects of Victorian capitalism and connect both poet and reader in a simultaneously political and humanizing struggle: the best criticism of Chartist poetry will therefore show the ‘political effect of poetical affect’ and this can only be achieved through a series of detailed close readings of individual poems. Sanders admits that at first sight many Chartist poems can seem ‘rather crude and simplistic’ and therefore lacking in the ‘political ambiguities and ambivalences’ that are usually considered to be ‘the characteristics of “real” poetry’, but his analysis of the tripartite structure of 21 

In a similar vein, the Northern Star ran two series in 1840 called ‘Chartism from Shakespeare’ and ‘Chartism from the Poets’. 22 Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, 143. 23 Maidment, Poorhouse Fugitives, 37. 24 Armstrong, Victorian Poetry, 194–​5. Jutta Schwarzkopf, Women in the Chartist Movement (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991). 25 Schwab, Poetry of the Chartist Movement, 26.

The Literature of Chartism    89 ‘negation, opposition and transformation’ in many poems and his discussion of the Chartist appropriation of sublime and pastoral tropes refutes any notion of Chartist poetry as ‘failed’ Victorian literature.26 Inevitably and understandably, the ‘aesthetic turn’ in Chartist poetry criticism has led to a revaluation of the ‘labour laureates’ Thomas Cooper, Ernest Jones, W. J. Linton, and Gerald Massey (and, though Sanders cautions against this tendency, his final chapter is on Massey). Thomas Cooper’s most remarkable achievement was his polemical ‘epic’ The Purgatory of Suicides (1845), supposedly composed while he was incarcerated in Stafford jail for allegedly inciting miners to riot during the General Strike of 1842 (as Cooper notes wryly in his Preface, ‘My persecutors have, at least, the merit of assisting to give a more robust character to my verse’27). Each of the twelve books of this eccentric and furiously autodidactic poem comprises a vignette of the contemporary political scene followed by a dream-​vision of a Dantean Hell inhabited by suicides from both classical and modern times. One moment in the poem can be cited to illustrate Cooper’s extravagant satirical imagination. In Book 3 he consigns the Tory minister Castlereagh (recognizable to many Chartist readers from his prominent role as Murder in Shelley’s Mask of Anarchy (1819) ) to the same serpent-​infested cell as Judas. The heated dialogue between the two is both sensational and entertaining. Judas fires volley after volley of abuse at his vile cellmate;   Thou feel’st thy portion just; but like a lithe   And eager adder, ’neath the planted hoof   Of forest steed or ox, dost twist and writhe,   With madd’ning agony. Hah! How aloof   Thou stood’st from mercy, while on earth! Disproof   That millions starved and suffered, thy false tongue   Forged, daily: not a tear-​drop in behoof   Of suffering from thy stony eyes was wrung   For one of all the thousands that thy treachery stung!28

Chartists had long memories and many historical scores to settle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the obscurity and complexity of Cooper’s poem has attracted some negative responses from the moment it was published. In an early review of the poem, Douglas Jerrold regretted ‘the perpetual display of learning and allusions to subjects that can only be familiar to persons more than commonly well read, and not to the class with which the author so specifically delights to connect himself ’. As Vicinus notes, it is ironic that Cooper advised budding Chartist poets to ‘use plain words’ and avoid ‘inflation of expression—​over-​swelling words—​sound without sense—​and exaggerated sentiments’.29 These attacks on Cooper’s erudition ignore the fact that he made 26 Sanders, The Poetry of Chartism, 13, 29. 27 

Thomas Cooper, The Purgatory of Suicides: A Prison-​Rhyme (London: James Watson, 1850), 3.

28 Cooper, The Purgatory of Suicides, 100. 29 Vicinus, The Industrial Muse, 112, 109.

90    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture significant efforts to keep the cost of the volume as low as possible and that he provided explanatory notes to assist his readers.30 Kuduk Weiner interprets the poem’s lofty aesthetic ambitions as ‘part of a larger integration of the popular movement with the middle-​and upper-​class advocates of radical reform’, though there is no evidence that this was Cooper’s intention.31 Ernest Jones was perhaps the most self-​conscious of all the Chartist poets, as he seems to have plotted his ascendancy to the ‘laureate’ role with care and skill. Unlike Cooper, Linton, and Massey, Jones was born into an aristocratic background, but as Janowitz shows, the radical Romantic lyric provided Jones with the cultural vocabulary and authority to manage and capitalize on his ‘conversion’ to Chartism.32 Jones noted in his diary in 1846: I am pouring the tide of my songs over England forming the tone of the mighty mind of the people. Wonderful! […] I am prepared to rush forth, fresh and strong, into the strife or struggle of a nation, to ride the torrent or to guide the rills if God permits.33

Like Cooper, Jones produced many types of Chartist poems ranging from songs and prison lyrics to his internationalist epic The New World (1851). Perhaps his best known and most popular poem is ‘Song of the Low’ (1852):   We’re low, we’re low—​mere rabble, we know,   But at our plastic power,   The mould at the lordling’s feet will grow   Into palace and church and tower—​   Then prostrate fall—​in the rich man’s hall,   And cringe at the rich man’s door.   We’re not too low to build thy wall,   But too low to tread the floor.34

Numerous critics have pointed to the echoes of Shelley’s ‘Song to the Men of England’ (1819), but less attention has been given to the ironic consequences of inverting the point of view: where Shelley addresses the people (‘Men of England, wherefore plough | For the lords who lay ye low?’), Jones ventriloquizes the slave mentality of the dejected ‘rabble’. It is hard to imagine that much pleasure could be derived from the performing of this song (and its mimesis of degradation) without an awareness of the strategic, specifically literary nature of the satire.


See the Preface to the 1847 second edition, Purgatory, 8. A cheap edition of the poem was published by the veteran radical bookseller James Watson in 1847. 31  Kuduk Weiner, Republican Politics and English Poetry, 68. See also Armstrong, Victorian Poetry, 214–​17. 32 Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, 177–​78; see also ch. 6 passim. 33  Cited in Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, 179. 34 Kovalev, Anthology, 175.

The Literature of Chartism    91 Jones’s most neglected poem is actually his most ambitious. His ‘epic’ The New World (1851), later reissued as The Revolt of Hindostan (1857) to take stock of the Indian Mutiny, is only now beginning to receive due critical attention.35 Jones claimed sensationally that the poem—​a utopian vision of world revolution and the collapse of imperialism—​had been written in jail with his own blood. He placed the poem at the beginning of his periodical Notes to the People as a gesture of radical defiance and optimism in a political climate of post-​1848 European counter-​revolution. One of the most remarkable features of the poem is its Wellsian prediction of technological marvels including motorized flight and control of the weather. Jones sees climate control as a means to alleviate famine and pestilence but his benign imagining of the melting of the polar ice caps and the restoration of an antediluvian climate teeters on the brink of ecological satire (‘And frostsmokes, fleeting forth from each icy cape, | To Greenland yield once more the cherished grape’). This poem remains one of the jewels in the Chartist crown and is certainly worthy of further study. W. J.  Linton has received less critical attention than Cooper, Jones, and Massey, despite the fact that his output was massive: before he died Linton donated twenty volumes of his collected writings to the British Library.36 Linton was an ardent republican, an internationalist, and the producer of two innovative Chartist periodicals, The National (1839) and the English Republic (1851–​5). One of his talents was unique among Chartist writers and activists: as one of the Victorian period’s most gifted wood engravers, he participated in the visual revolution in popular print culture that occurred concurrently with the Chartist movement. In addition to engraving illustrations for the pioneering Illustrated London News (founded in May 1842, just before the General Strike), Linton was intimate with the Punch circle of artists and writers. He put this satirical experience to good use in the first part of his remarkable yet neglected illuminated poem Bob Thin; or the Poorhouse Fugitive (1845). The poem attacks the new Poor Law and the workhouse system by showing an honest artisan transformed into a pauper, but the originality of the text lies in its stunning array of grotesquely inventive capital letters that dance down the margin of the page like a parodic medieval manuscript. The second part of the poem is a quasi-​religious vision of a socialist Utopia in which the visual style shifts from the carnivalesque to the ‘floricultural’ in a manner anticipatory of William Morris. Linton’s contribution to the radical visual culture of the nineteenth century is still not fully appreciated: he played a vital role in reviving the reputation of William Blake by acting as chief engraver for Alexander Gilchrist’s important biography of Blake (1863); and by training the socialist artist and designer Walter Crane he also influenced the visual style of the Arts and Crafts movement in the last quarter of the century. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there has never been such a propitious time to study Chartist poetry. The poetry columns of the Northern Star are now easily accessible in digital form, while websites such as Minor Victorian Poets and Authors and Chartist 35  See Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, 186–​7; Paul, ‘In Louring Hindustan’; Gilbert, ‘History and Its Ends in Chartist Epic’. 36  The best discussion of Linton’s poetry to date is Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, 195–​216.

92    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Ancestors have made a wealth of literary texts and other Chartist documents freely available.37 John Goodridge’s monumental Labouring-​Class Poets reprint series and ancillary website has further augmented the expanding Chartist canon.38 I want to end this section, however, by drawing attention to a forgotten Chartist ‘epic’ that seems to have slipped through all the bibliographical nets. In 1839, at the height of the Chartist disturbances in Birmingham, Capel Lofft Junior self-​published Ernest; Or Political Regeneration, a book-​ length verse narrative about a German peasant who rebels against the local aristocracy and inaugurates a quasi-​socialist redistribution of the land. Superficially, this vision of agrarian justice may have seemed remote from the urban struggles of Chartism in 1839, but the poem’s allegorical celebration of physical force and expropriation of property was nothing short of literary dynamite. Faced with possible prosecution (the precise details are unclear), Lofft withdrew the poem, but not before it attracted the attention of the clerical journalist H. H. Millman who subjected the poem to an extensive, forty-​page denunciation in the Tory Quarterly Review.39 Ironically, this review has done much to preserve the poem’s ‘underground’ reputation. Millman’s article opens with an unambiguous declaration that Ernest ‘is the Chartist epic poem. It represents the growth, the heroic struggles, the triumph of Chartism’. Millman suspects that the poem is ‘rapidly and extensively, though cautiously and secretly, disseminated in the lower strata of society, or among the initiates’. Moreover, Millman acknowledges that the poem contains passages of ‘great beauty’ that merit ‘unreserved praise’. This makes the poem even more dangerous and hinders the aim of the review: to ‘read the Riot-​act of sober criticism’. The further irony is that the conventions of periodical reviewing undermine Millman’s ideological intervention: by quoting the poem extensively, the review reconstitutes rather than obliterates the ‘immense bulk’ of the absent Chartist text.40 A well-​researched recent article by Mark Allison has finally begun to address the unjust marginalization of this intriguing poem and its reception.41

Fiction42 As Timothy Randall has pointed out, Chartist writers faced the challenging task of chronicling a revolutionary political and social movement in an apposite ‘artistic 37  A free online edition of the Northern Star is available at Nineteenth-​Century Serials Edition: http://​​headnotes/​nss.html Both Minor Victorian Poets and Authors (http://​gerald-​ uk/​) and Chartist Ancestors (http://​​) are free sites. 38  John Goodridge (ed.), Nineteenth-​Century English Labouring-​Class Poets, 3 vols. (London: Pickering and Chatto, 1995). Goodridge is also the editor of the Labouring-​Class Writers database: http://​human.​research/​labouringclasswriters/​Index.htm 39  [H. H. Millman], ‘Ernest, or Political Regeneration’, Quarterly Review, 65 (1839–​40), 153–​93. 40  [Millman], ‘Ernest, or Political Regeneration’, 153, 155, 168, 158, 159. 41  Mark Allison, ‘The Importance of Ernest: Poetic Vanguardism and Popular Revolution in Capel Lofft’s Forgotten Epic’, Nineteenth Century Literature, 67, no. 3 (2012), 285–​311. 42  The following discussion of Chartist fiction draws on my previous work in this area, and the reader is referred to the relevant introductions to my three volumes of Chartist fiction (all published by

The Literature of Chartism    93 form’.43 But whereas Chartist poets could draw on both Romantic and plebeian models to aid them in their task, there was no equivalent tradition of popular political fiction. This might explain why there is comparatively little Chartist fiction until the appearance of several full-​length novels in the so-​called ‘late’ period around 1848. This lag is usually explained in generic terms: in the early stages of the campaign, poetry was the most appropriate mode to inspire and direct the Chartist imagination. Poems were more easily composed and published and could therefore respond more quickly to events (see, for example, both Janowitz’s and Sanders’s excellent discussions of the poems written in response to the Newport Rising of 183944). Poems could both ventriloquize the ‘voice of the people’ and explore the inner life of the poet. Stories, on the other hand, required a credible hero and sufficient print space to develop a meaningful narrative. All these factors posed serious obstacles to aspiring Chartist authors. Once Chartism had endured sufficiently to become a period or passage of history in its own right, it became what Bakhtin calls a ‘chronotope’, a configuration of time and place that provided a canvas for dramatic plotting and (to a lesser extent) character development. But in its early stages it was entirely logical that the first tentative Chartist steps into fiction took the form of ‘pre-​novelistic’ discourses, notably the vignette or sketch, moral fable, and short story.45 These early tales were often thinly disguised pieces of propaganda in which the reader’s identification with the usually tragic fate of the main character was meant to enhance the moral and political message. Authors could also draw on the emerging phenomenon of cheap popular fiction by depicting class-​based clashes and struggles in melodramatic and sensational ways, though the movement had to wait until the advent of George W. M. Reynolds in the late 1840s for the full realization of the Chartist ‘best-​seller’. Despite its callowness, early Chartist fiction is not devoid of critical interest. Two conventions that are deployed by most stories can be noted here: the abject masculine hero and the deus ex machina. Even though the first phase of Chartism (the period covering the first two petitions of 1839 and 1842) was both formidable and militant, Chartist authors conceived of heroism and the ‘condition of England’ it personified in essentially tragic terms. One motivation behind this approach was to establish as quickly as possible a popular demonology and martyrology in tune with the heinous new era of Whig modernization and betrayal. In ‘Will Harper: A Poor Law Tale’ and ‘The Widow and the Fatherless’, two stories that appeared in Cleave’s

Ashgate) for more detailed analysis: see The Literature of Struggle: An Anthology of Chartist Fiction (1995), Chartist Fiction (1999), and Chartist Fiction, ii (2001). 43  Randall, ‘Chartist Poetry and Song’, 191. 44 Sanders, The Poetry of Chartism, ch. 4; Anne Janowitz, ‘The Chartist Picturesque’, in Stephen Copley and Peter Garside (eds), The Politics of the Picturesque: Literature, Landscape and Aesthetics since 1770 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 261–​81. 45  Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), 52–​67, 84–​258.

94    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Gazette of Variety in 1838, the central scene is a confrontation with the workhouse overseer.46 The hero Will Harper is a respectable artisan who is crushed by the forces of unemployment, poverty, and—​finally and most humiliatingly—​the workhouse system. Written during the first year of Chartism’s existence, these two stories show that the movement was fighting for both political rights and socio-​economic justice. Harper’s fate is the ne plus ultra, the nightmare of pauperization that faced all respectable Chartist breadwinners. His decline into drink, neglect, and crime is not presented as a morality fable of personal failure but as a warning that economic and social injustice will continue without a truly representative political system that redistributes wealth: this message does not have to spelt out as it is implicit in the story’s Chartist credentials that derive from its place of publication. (Cleave was a veteran of the unstamped wars who also published the important English Chartist Circular, at half a penny the cheapest of all Chartist periodicals.) On the other hand, the absence of political levers and class agency within the stories leaves a void which can only be filled by the most contrived of all devices, the sudden appearance of benign help and resources. In this case Harper’s widow is rescued from pauperdom by a benevolent gentleman who (for once) is not a seducer, though it is her graceful figure which attracts him. The gender imbalance in the story is conspicuous (though not of course unique to Chartist fiction), as the widow is not allowed to be either a true victim or a heroine who controls her own destiny; she is certainly a survivor, though ultimately with middle-​class male support. Some feminist critics such as Jutta Schwarzkopf have criticized Chartist literature for its conservative portrayal of gender,47 and it is probably the case that the widow’s polite redemption was designed to raise the chivalrous hackles of the male Chartist reader, though other Chartist stories, notably Ernest Jones’s Woman’s Wrongs, take an innovative look at the Victorian oppression of women. The turbulent events of 1839–​40 saw Chartist riots in Birmingham, an uprising in Newport, and mass arrests and transportations. Faced with state retaliation, the safest way for Chartist authors to introduce more successful or ‘physical force’ heroic action was to displace the narrative setting in various ways: historically, geographically, and, in one spectacular case, into the realms of fantasy. Several stories in the Chartist Circular in 1840 looked back to the revolutionary Romantic period. ‘The Revolutionist’ describes the battle for Paris in the early stages of the French Revolution and, with a complete disregard for historical accuracy, the tale shows how a young ‘operative’ becomes a spontaneous revolutionary leader. A pair of stories about the two Irish rebellions of 1798 and 1803, ‘The Defender: An Irish Tale of 1797’ and ‘The Rebel Chief: A Scene in the Wicklow Mountains’, are more authentic works of historical fiction, incorporating factual references, political analysis, and even some Gaelic dialogue.48 The two tales reflect

46 See The Literature of Struggle, 26–​37. 47 

See Schwarzkopf, Women in the Chartist Movement.

48 See The Literature of Struggle, 60–​92.

The Literature of Chartism    95 the importance of Ireland in Chartist politics and literature: the repeal of the Union of 1800 was one of the demands of the 1842 petition; the Northern Star was named after the newspaper of the United Irishmen (probably due to the fact that Feargus O’Connor was the nephew of Arthur O’Connor, a United Irish leader); and one of Linton’s poetry collections was entitled Ireland for the Irish. Ireland was a constant source of outrage, fear, and admiration: outrage at colonial repression and exploitation; fear that a similar fate awaited the English working class if the Charter failed; and admiration at Irish resistance to tyranny. Understandably, Chartist authors were reluctant to preach an openly insurrectionist message, but in some rare cases, Chartists were presented with an unambiguous narrative of triumphal physical force. This was the case with Thomas Doubleday’s allegorical fantasy Political Pilgrim’s Progress, a serialized reworking of Bunyan’s classic that appeared anonymously in the radical Newcastle newspaper the Northern Liberator between January and March 1839. A separately published version sold around 6,000 copies, making it a local best-​seller. The story’s publication coincided with the first Chartist convention, and it is clear that the tale’s idealization of physical force was meant to influence the direction of Chartist policy. As the General Convention of the Industrious Classes convened in London in February 1839, Doubleday’s hero Radical left the City of Plunder and grasped his musket in readiness for his apocalyptic battle with Political Apollyon. Doubleday may have chosen religious fable and satire as disguises for a seditious message, but his imitation of Bunyan was also guaranteed to strike a chord with the radical reader. According to E. P. Thompson, Bunyan’s fable ranked alongside Paine’s The Rights of Man as a ‘foundation text’ of the English working class.49 Its enduring appeal stemmed from its inherently democratic values, vernacular language, witty imagination, and its promise of a better life to come. The Promised Land in Doubleday’s allegory is the City of Reform, a place where ‘every man possessing common industry was able to earn an ample livelihood, and bring up his family in ease and comfort’.50 This nostalgic Cobbett-​influenced fantasy of artisanal independence underpinned the mythology of mainstream, constitutional radicalism throughout the Chartist period and beyond. The core of its appeal was the reconstitution of Chartist masculinity, the antidote to the alienating and degrading forces of industrial capitalism and political corruption. In addition to advocating physical force, Doubleday may also have been responding to allegations of Chartist cowardice in the conservative press. Figaro in London, for example, lampooned the Chartist Convention as ‘a very cowardly set of political poltroons [… . T]he sight of a policeman scatters the mob of Chartists like chaff before the wind’, and similar smears would resurface in 1848.51 But Doubleday also met with a forceful literary riposte from within the ranks of Chartism. Between May and July 1839, Alexander Sommerville issued Defensive Warnings to the People on Street Warfare, a story that uses 49 

See E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London: Penguin, 1977), 34–​8. Chartist Fiction, 58–​9. 51  Figaro in London, 8 (1839), 201, 250, 147. 50 

96    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture fictional reportage to imagine the perilous consequences of a Chartist uprising. (Ernest Jones included a similar vision of urban slaughter in his novel De Brassier: A Democratic Romance.)52 Sommerville’s text was also a reply to Colonel Macerone’s popular manual of streetfighting, Defensive Instructions for the People (1832). While these internal divisions about the use of physical force give Political Pilgrim’s Progress an added charge, the modern reader is likely to be offended by the story’s anti-​Semitic portrayal of ‘jew-​ jobbers’, a feature that shows a negative aspect of Doubleday’s indebtness to William Cobbett. Important as they are, none of these ‘heroic’ stories provided a model for the development of what we can call Chartist anti-​realism, a mode of fictional representation that sought to portray ordinary lives in remarkable political circumstances and that consciously refused the customary narrative consolations of a happy ending and the settlement of property. The breakthrough came in the mid-​1840s with Thomas Cooper’s innovative short story ‘ “Merrie England”—​No More!’ (1845).53 This tale, composed in prison like The Purgatory of Suicides, shows a brief skirmish between a group of Chartist stockingers and a local recruiting sergeant. The Chartists force the sergeant to hand back one of their sons, but this fleeting triumph over an emissary of state power is not reflected in the story’s ending: There is no tale to finish about John or his lad, or Jem and his wife. They went on starving,—​begging,—​receiving threats of imprisonment,—​tried the ‘Bastille’ for a few weeks,—​came out and had a little work,—​starved again; and they are still going the same miserable round, like thousands in ‘merrie England’. What are your thoughts, reader?54

This is more than just an open ending: Cooper’s stumbling prose enacts the lack of narrative and social resolution. The story shows that Chartist authors had an acute understanding of the ideological significance of narrative forms and the means to challenge and subvert them (compare Cooper’s story to the deeply flawed representation of Chartism in Disraeli’s ‘two nations’ novel Sybil, published in the same year).55 Cooper established a new level of confidence and sophistication for aspiring Chartist authors.56 Just four years later the Northern Star serialized the first full-​blown Chartist novel, Thomas Martin Wheeler’s Sunshine and Shadow: A Tale of the Nineteenth Century. 52 

The Literature of Struggle, 106–​30, 148–​57. The Literature of Struggle, 53–​9. 54  The Literature of Struggle, 59. 55  For an interesting reading of Cooper’s short stories as a ‘broken’ Bildungsroman, see Greg Vargo, ‘A Life in Fragments: Thomas Cooper’s Chartist Bildungsroman’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 39, no. 1 (2011), 167–​81. See also Rob Breton, ‘Ghosts in the Machina: Plotting in Chartist and Working-​Class Fiction’, Victorian Studies, 47, no. 4 (2005), 557–​75. 56  In 1843 the Northern Star was still expressing reservations about the value of reading novels: ‘We think novel reading, at the best, only an indifferent substitute for a worse occupation of time. But we are not ignorant of the fact that however we may moralise, many hundreds of new-​born intellects of modern improvement and enlightenment look out for novels with avidity’ (28 January 1843). 53 

The Literature of Chartism    97 Wheeler’s novel appeared in thirty-​seven weekly ‘communions’ between March 1849 and January 1850. Wheeler proclaimed the originality of his project in the first instalment:  [the] fiction department of literature has hitherto been neglected by the scribes of our body, and the opponents of our principles have been allowed to wield the power of imagination over the youth of our party, without any effort on our part to occupy that wide and fruitful field.57

Unlike Charles Kingsley, whose novel Alton Locke (1850) can be regarded as a counterblast to Sunshine and Shadow, Wheeler had no intention of writing Chartism’s obituary, but he needed a narrative method that would allow him to present both the subjective experience of the central characters and the objective historical features of Chartism’s decade of existence. His solution was to focalize a ‘History of Chartism’ through the depiction of ‘one of yourselves struggling against the power of adverse circumstances’.58 This proletarianization of the Bildungsroman opened up the techniques of realism to the passions and discourses of political protest (and, as will be shown, Reynolds achieved the same result by more spectacular means). Though each chapter is short, Wheeler rarely loses an opportunity to launch into a passionate diatribe against a social or political injustice. Taking his cue from incidents in the story, he lambasts a whole range of Victorian evils including the oppression of women within marriage, the corruption of Parliament, the venality of the mainstream press, the perpetuation of plantation slavery in America, and the aristocratic ambitions of the new moneyed middle classes (the villain of the story is a wine merchant who becomes a peer). In one sense, Wheeler was using his story as the equivalent of an oratorical platform, but he was also integrating the fictional world of the story into the Northern Star’s discursive matrix. The same emphasis on the determining forces of history and politics is also applied to the hero Arthur Morton, whose character development is closely related to the fortunes of Chartism. (His love affair with the villain’s sister, for example, could not have occurred if Arthur had not fled England to avoid being arrested for his participation in the 1839 disturbances.) This methodology had the added advantage of making best use of the limited space available to Wheeler for complex character development.59 Though Arthur’s fate is determined by external forces, the depiction of his inner life justifies Wheeler’s claim that Chartists are capable of ‘high and generous inspirations’.60 By writing a Chartist love story, Wheeler was rebutting the post-​1848 stereotype of the debased or deluded 57 

Chartist Fiction, 72. Chartist Fiction, 192. 59  Left-​wing critics have judged Wheeler’s sketchy characterization rather harshly. See Jack B. Mitchell, ‘Aesthetic Problems of the Development of the Proletarian-​Revolutionary Novel in Nineteenth-​ Century Britain’, in David Craig (ed.), Marxists on Literature (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), 245–​66; Martha Vicinus, ‘Chartist Fiction and the Development of Class-​based Literature’, in Gustav Klaus (ed.), The Socialist Novel in Britain: Towards the Recovery of a Tradition (Brighton: Harvester, 1982), 7–​25. 60  Chartist Fiction, 192. 58 

98    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Chartist malcontent: ‘Chartism is the offspring of the imagination; the feelings must be aroused before reason will summons judgment to its assistance, and never was a cause more hallowed by refined feelings, by chivalrous devotion, and disinterested purity, than the Chartist cause’.61 Wheeler’s anti-​realism was a significant achievement, though it still relied on elements of the familiar romance plot. Chartist novelists could only modify rather than abandon the narrative conventions of romance: the core elements of exciting (if far-​ fetched) plotting, class villainy, heroic struggle, and sexual intrigue could be retained so long as the text remained committed to and conscious of a Chartist critique. Ernest Jones published two political ‘romances’ in his own periodicals: The Romance of a People (1847) and De Brassier: A Democratic Romance (1851–​2).62 The Romance of a People, was a protest against the Russian annexation of the Polish republic of Cracow in 1846; in 1854 it was reissued in cheap format as The Maid of Warsaw (1854). De Brassier gained some notoriety in Chartist circles, as its charlatan aristocratic hero was thought to be a thinly veiled portrait of Feargus O’Connor. Thomas Frost’s The Secret, published in O’Connor’s unstamped penny periodical the National Instructor in 1850, was another blatant conflation of implausible romantic plotting and Chartist reportage.63 Frost’s hero is Ernest Rodwell, a compositor and physical-​force Chartist who falls in love with Lizzie Vincent, a seduced maid. The ‘secret’ of the story’s title refers to the fact that Lizzie, like Disraeli’s Sybil, is a changeling. She is actually Lady Alicia, heiress to a fortune, but rather than give Ernest up, she renounces her title and the two are married. The shakiness of the plot suggests a strong degree of escapism, though the persistent use of the new term ‘proletarian’ and the narrator’s barbed attacks on class enemies keep the tale within Chartist readers’ horizon of expectations. As these examples show, the Chartist novel was one of the most memorable literary highlights of ‘late’ Chartism. The proliferation of long fiction both reflected and stimulated the demand for sustained, exciting narratives. Some critics have implied that this heavy investment in fiction derived from the defeat of Chartism as a mass movement: on the one hand, as if they were fighting a desperate rearguard action, Chartist authors pampered the movement with a consolation prize of undiluted sensation and escapism; on the other hand, the novels show that Chartism was already changing from an active movement into a period of history and a canvas for fictionalization. In John Plotz’s words, Sunshine and Shadow was ‘engineered to fail’.64 But this kind of critical approach underplays the extent to which ‘late’ Chartism represented a significant reinvigoration and reradicalization of the movement, and this sharp swing to the political left found a potent literary expression in the range and scope of the Chartist novel. Perhaps the


Chartist Fiction, 124. The Romance of a People (1847) appeared in The Labourer; De Brassier: A Democratic Romance (1851–​2) was published in Notes to the People. 63  The story appeared in the first volume of the National Instructor, 2 vols. (1850–​1). 64  John Plotz, ‘Chartist Literature’, in David Scott Kastan (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, i (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 440–​4, at 443. 62 

The Literature of Chartism    99 most significant breakthrough came from one of the most controversial ‘late’ recruits to Chartism, George W. M. Reynolds. Reynolds was already an established popular novelist and publisher when he burst onto the Chartist scene in March 1848.65 A renegade from the upper middle classes, Reynolds had led a chequered literary career in the sometimes murky world of the new mass fiction. He made his mark with Pickwick Abroad (1839), a plagiarism of Dickens, and followed this success with a voluminous quantity of original fiction that catered for the sensational appetites of the rapidly expanding, lower-​class urban reading public. His talents as an editor and popular publisher were demonstrated when he boosted the circulation of the London Journal (1845–​1928) and set up his own periodical, Reynolds’s Miscellany in 1846. Reynolds laced all these publications with an ardent republicanism, a racy exposure of upper-​class ignominy that translated readily into melodramatic formulae, and a commitment to popular enlightenment that rivalled the more conservative ideology of ‘useful knowledge’ advocates such as Charles Knight. When the French Revolution of February 1848 revived the fortunes of Chartism, Reynolds seized the opportunity to become a radical political leader. During the course of an anti-​income tax meeting held in Trafalgar Square in central London, Reynolds literally stormed the platform and demanded support for Chartism and the French Revolution. His inflammatory rhetorical skills were no longer confined to the printed page and the enraged crowd went on the rampage. Reynolds shot to Chartist prominence, and though his debut was not welcomed by many of the movement’s established leaders, he became an instant celebrity. Unlike other Chartist ‘laureates’, Reynolds already commanded a vast following of loyal fans, and he stood in the unique position of being able to mobilize this army of readers into support for the movement. Within weeks of his ascendancy to the highest ranks of Chartism, Reynolds re-​ enacted his Chartist coup in the pages of his phenomenally successful series The Mysteries of London (1844–​8). In the manner of a modern ‘newsflash’, he interrupted the story to announce both the French Revolution and his own messianic rise to Chartist fame. The radical disjunction between the ongoing fictional narrative and the dramatic political priorities thrust up by historical crisis was emblematized on the page: in a series of long footnotes containing newspaper reports from both France and London (including accounts of his speech in Trafalgar Square), Reynolds emblazoned a new type of popular literary culture in which fictional seriality was permeated by the immediate demands of political exigency.66 In one sense this was not a huge leap for his readers who were already schooled in his publications’ mix of entertainment and instruction, but the historical moment supercharged the disruption of the reading experience. This

65  The following discussion of Reynolds draws on chs. 6–​9 of Haywood, The Revolution in Popular Literature. 66  Rob Breton argues that the ‘generic fusion’ of ‘affective and analytical discourses’ in Chartist periodicals was ‘continuous with earlier working-​class expressions in England’ (‘Genre in the Chartist Periodical’, in Aruna Krishnamurphy (ed.), The Working-​Class Intellectual in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-​ Century Britain (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), 109–​28, at 117, 110).

100    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture dislocation was most evident in the incongruity between some of the stylized, melodramatic illustrations and the re-​engineered text. In one example, the same page contains a conventional image of romantic intrigue and the Six Points of the Charter. Given the importance of illustrations for the lesser educated reader, this mismatch may initially have caused some consternation, but the deeper point was that the cure for London’s melodramatic ‘mysteries’ was exactly what the Chartists were fighting for: greater political and social equality. Reynolds converted the page into a dynamic circuit of fiction and ‘news’, politics and pleasure, writing and speech. In order to grasp the scale of this achievement, one only has to consider the controversy that would have been ignited if Dickens had incorporated a similar radical diatribe into the monthly instalments of Dombey and Son. Dickens was only too aware of Reynolds’s popularity, and Household Words was one of several liberal periodicals established to counter Reynolds’s hold over a vast readership.67 But Reynolds also met resistance from within the Chartist laureateship. Reynolds’s main Chartist competitor was Ernest Jones, who published several serialized novels in his periodical Notes to the People. Unlike Reynolds, Jones had an uneasy relationship with popular culture. While Reynolds celebrated the continuity between his two careers in his inaugural speech in Trafalgar Square in March 1848 (‘in all the novels and romances he had written, he had never failed to push forward the great rights of humanity’), Jones agonized about taking a populist step too far, prefacing the first volume of Notes to the People in 1851 with a promise ‘not to pander to the sensuality of the public by meretricious writing—​not to degrade the literature of democracy to the level of the street walker [… .] Democracy is so holy, it must not be coupled with anything impure’.68 Despite these reservations, Jones knew that to boost the sales of his periodical he had to provide something more spicy and ‘meretricious’ than the usual fare of political essays and high-​minded poetry. To that end he published his innovative portmanteau novel Woman’s Wrongs (1852), a series of four (later five) stories that expose the oppression of women in different social classes.69 Following Victorian cultural conventions, Jones charts the tragic demise of respectable women ground down or betrayed by circumstances, and several of the stories contain both ‘streetwalkers’ and ‘impure’ couplings. But Jones’s radicalism lies in his refusal to condemn the heroines for their actions. After one of his heroines (a young milliner) has succumbed to her lover’s advances, Jones

67  In the ‘Preliminary Word’ to the first issue of Household Words Dickens attacked Reynolds (though not by name) as one of the ‘Bastards of the Mountain, draggled fringe on the Red Cap’ (Household Words: A Weekly Journal, 1 (30 March 1850), 1–​2). For discussions of the validity of Dickens’s low opinion of Reynolds, see Sally Ledger, Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 163–​77; and Juliet John, ‘Reynolds’s Mysteries and Popular Culture’, in Anne Humpherys and Louis James (eds), G. W. M. Reynolds: Nineteenth-​Century Fiction, Politics, and the Press (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 161–​78 (see 163–​5, 176–​7). 68 Haywood, Revolution in Popular Literature, 176; Jones, Notes to the People, p. xvi. 69 See Chartist Fiction, ii for the full text of Woman’s Wrongs. For a rare critical discussion of the novel, see Sally Ledger, ‘Chartist Aesthetics in the Mid Nineteenth Century: Ernest Jones, a Novelist of the People’, Nineteenth-​Century Literature, 57, no. 1 (2002), 31–​63.

The Literature of Chartism    101 declaims: ‘that young girl was better, more virtuous, more good—​aye! more pure—​than ninety-​nine out of every hundred of the sanctimonious tyrants who, in their self-​righteous morality, would trample that appealing spirit down into the street!’70 Woman’s Wrongs was clearly aimed at women readers and may even have been designed to dislodge some of Reynolds’s loyal female readership. This aspect of Chartist and radical fiction contravenes most of the assumptions about the gendered basis of Victorian reading habits and merits further investigation.

Drama? Though Chartism itself was undoubtedly a dramatic historical narrative, the almost complete absence of Chartist plays can perhaps be explained by the significant resources required to mount stage productions.71 Thomas Cooper’s ‘Shakespeare Chartist Association’ performed Shakespeare plays (often with Cooper in the lead), though these would have been very modest in scale. The only Chartist play known to exist is John Watkins’s verse drama about the 1839 Newport rising, John Frost. Written shortly after the actual events, an excerpt of the text was published in the Northern Star in 1841, but the play was never performed, perhaps due to fear of prosecution.72 Unless a cache of previously unknown Chartist plays comes to light, Watkins’s fugitive text will remain as the sole, tantalizing example of Chartist drama.

Conclusion The digitization of the Northern Star and the growing availability of online Chartist texts will hopefully sustain and facilitate a healthy critical interest in Chartist literature. But I want to end with a note of caution. One of the dangers of the relative ease with which students and scholars can now search for and retrieve Chartist literary texts (particularly those that appeared in periodicals) is the failure to engage fully with Chartist historiography: a weak grasp of the relevant debates and events can lead to misleading or superficial claims for a text’s political agency.73 Thankfully, Malcolm Chase’s Chartism: A New History provides a highly readable narrative and a wealth of information that will surely make it the starting point for students who are coming to Chartism for the first time.


Chartist Fiction, ii. 58. Paul Thomas Murphy, Towards a Working-​Class Canon: Literary Criticism in British Working-​Class Periodicals, 1816–​1858 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1994), ch. 5, esp. p. 152. 72  The excerpt from the play was reprinted in Kovalev, Anthology, 83–​5. 73  See Malcolm Chase, ‘Digital Chartism: Online Sources for the Study of Chartism’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 14, no. 2 (2009), 294–​7. 71 

102    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Chase’s book enables any Chartist text to be located and contextualized within the larger chronology of Chartism’s changing fortunes. The ‘literature of Chartism’ was, after all, a ‘literature of your own’.

Select Bibliography Armstrong, Isobel, Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics (London: Routledge 1996). Breton, Rob, ‘Ghosts in the Machina: Plotting in Chartist and Working-​Class Fiction’, Victorian Studies, 47, no. 4 (2005), 557–​75. Chase, Malcolm, Chartism: A New History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007). Haywood, Ian (ed.), The Literature of Struggle: An Anthology of Chartist Fiction (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1995). Haywood, Ian (ed.), Chartist Fiction:  Thomas Doubleday, ‘The Political Pilgrim’s Progress’; Thomas Martin Wheeler, ‘Sunshine and Shadow’ (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999). Haywood, Ian (ed.), Chartist Fiction, ii. Ernest Jones, ‘Woman’s Wrongs’ (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001). Janowitz, Anne, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1998). Sanders, Mike, The Poetry of Chartism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Vargo, Greg, ‘A Life in Fragments:  Thomas Cooper’s Chartist Bildungsroman’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 39, no. 1 (2011), 167–​81. Vicinus, Martha, The Industrial Muse:  A  Study of Nineteenth-​ Century British Working-​ Class Literature (London: Croom Helm, 1974).

Chapter 5

Liberalism a nd Literatu re Lauren M. E. Goodlad

I Was the Victorian era’s literary culture ‘liberal’? As with so many questions on this topic, the answer depends on how one defines the key term. Liberalism in the sense of a political agenda attached to a party did not fully exist until the years between 1847 and 1868, when the Whigs effected their transition into Liberals. By the late 1850s, writes Jonathan Parry, the Liberal Party had shed the appearance of narrow aristocratic interests to become a natural ‘ruling force’ in British politics.1 Yet, in 1886 when the Liberals split over home rule in Ireland, the demise of liberalism as a coherent platform was already clear. Old-​school liberals who continued to favour rigid individualism and laissez-​faire increasingly migrated to the Conservatives. In the late Victorian and Edwardian years, progressives inside and outside Parliament began to promote a ‘New’ Liberalism determined to alleviate poverty, adopt collectivist notions of social agency, and moderate imperial policy. But long before these movements culminated in the welfare state of the post-​war epoch, the Labour Party (founded in 1900) along with socialist groups of various stripes had supplanted the Liberal Party as the base for such political aspirations. As George Dangerfield argued in The Strange Death of Liberal England, Liberalism’s tenure as a ruling force in British politics expired in the years before the First World War.2 One result of the relatively short-​lived history of institutionalized liberal politics in Britain is a striking difference in terminology on different sides of the Atlantic. Whereas left-​leaning politics in the United States are usually called ‘liberal’, the same term is often 1  Jonathan Parry, The Rise and Fall of Liberal Government in Victorian Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 167. 2  George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (1935; Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997).

104    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture used by social democrats in the UK and Europe to describe free-​market ideologies or neo-​liberalism. Though it is sometimes discussed under neutral-​seeming terms such as ‘modernization’, neo-​liberal orthodoxy elevates market forces to the arbiter of all human affairs. As the geographer David Harvey puts it, neo-​liberalism ‘proposes that human well-​being can best be advanced by liberating individual freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade’.3 This position is ‘neo-​liberal’ because of the insistent return to the classical economic doctrines that prevailed prior to the regulatory and redistributive policies implemented between the late nineteenth century and the post-​war decades.4 Thus, despite significant differences between the two periods, one finds uncanny echoes of the Victorian rhetoric of liberal individualism in the political discourse prevalent since the Reagan–​Thatcher years. Considered as a political philosophy, ‘liberalism’ encompasses a diverse range of referents. Although John Locke, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and J. S. Mill are its best-​known British propounders, the civic republican tradition (as J.  G. A.  Pocock has extensively demonstrated) exerted a major impact on the political developments of Britain and the United States.5 The influence of Kant, Hegel, and other German Romantics, is also important to grasping the panoply of Victorian-​era liberal thought. Under the sign of British Idealism, exemplified by the influential work of T. H. Green, this school of philosophy dominated the British academy from the mid-​Victorian decades through the First World War, providing intellectual impetus for the transition from individualist to collectivist conceptions of the social world.6 Yet even before Green’s case for a holistic social ontology, John Stuart Mill, Britain’s most famous ‘liberal’ (though generally considered a radical in his time), had already anticipated the move towards eventual embrace of cooperative ‘socialism’ in some form. Although he is sometimes 3  David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 2. The economist Joseph Stiglitz concisely describes neo-​liberalism as a ‘simplistic model of the market economy’ in which ‘Adam Smith’s invisible hand works, and works perfectly’; Globalization and Its Discontents (New York: Norton, 2002), 74. But the so-​called free market of today is, in fact, heavily subsidized by government, and industrializing economies have historically relied, and continue to rely, on concerted state activity. 4  Yet, as Regenia Gagnier reminds us, few eighteenth-​and nineteenth-​century political economists ‘were prepared to say, as free marketers have been boasting’ since the fall of the Soviet Union that the market ‘was the highest form of society’; The Insatiability of Human Wants: Economics and Aesthetics in Market Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 9. 5  J. G. A. Pocock, Virtue, Commerce, and History: Essays on Political Thought and History, Chiefly in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). For a comprehensive discussion of civic republicanism, a political philosophy (connected to thinkers from Aristotle and Machiavelli to Mazzini and Arendt) which focuses on citizen participation and the kind of democratic and social institutions which foster it, see, for example, Erik Olsen, Civic Republicanism and the Properties of Democracy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991). 6  Following Green’s example, Hegel is usually the dominant influence in British Idealism. As Andrew Vincent notes, Green shared ‘Kant’s appreciation of the self-​conscious agent’, but ‘criticized Kant’s doctrine of the agent’s manifold independence’; ‘Becoming Green’, Victorian Studies, 48, no. 3 (Spring 2006), 488–​504, at 492.

Liberalism and Literature    105 mischaracterized as a proponent of Locke’s possessive individualism, an Enlightenment idealist like Kant, or a classical utilitarian like his mentor Bentham, Mill was in fact the progenitor of a hybrid modern liberalism that blended civic republicanism, historicism, German Romanticism, and the legacy of the Scottish Enlightenment, with a utilitarian theory renovated to focus on the collective good, not individual happiness.7 Thus, according to Raymond Williams, Mill’s effort to syncretize these modern inputs represents ‘a prologue to a very large part of the subsequent history of English thinking’.8 In On Liberty (1859), a work inspired partly by the Romantic thought of Wilhelm von Humboldt, Mill argued that a ‘rich, diversified, and animating’ culture facilitated ‘the tie which binds every individual to the race’.9 From the standpoint of the broad modern history Williams’s study describes, ‘liberalism’ shares strong affinities with, and is arguably inseparable from, a number of long-​ evolving and large-​scale ethico-​political ideals, processes, and endeavours. Frequently tied to (or defined in terms of) a democratic political structure, ‘liberalism’ can also signify a theory of progress, freedom, equality, or tolerance; a universalizing perspective; a cosmopolitan ethics; a procedural ethics rooted in theories of democratic consent; or an ideological basis for globalizing capital and/​or promoting (or rejecting) imperial pursuits. Of course, a liberalism defined to be all of these things at once quickly begins to contradict itself—​a problem that scholars sometimes address in their analyses. But even when the tensions and contradictions internal to liberalism in its various guises are not the main object of a particular study, scholarship on the topic should, at the very least, acknowledge the plurality of liberal discourse. As the political theorist Wendy Brown remarks, liberalism is ‘a nonsystematic and porous doctrine subject to historical change and local variation’.10 The point is not that scholars cannot tender specific arguments about liberalism, but that such arguments should specify the dimensions of liberal thinking or practice to which they apply. Although not all analyses of liberalism need to adopt historicist methods, the fact of liberalism’s variability over time cannot be ignored without a sacrifice of coherence and accuracy. And while not all scholarship need be comparative, almost any discussion of the topic can benefit from a basic awareness of the many differences between, for example, the ‘liberalism’ of French, Haitian, Bolivian, or Italian revolutionaries; early Victorian Whigs; evangelical missionaries in Jamaica; 7 

See, for example, Gal Gerson, ‘Liberal Feminism: Individuality and Oppositions in Wollstonecraft and Mill’, Political Studies, 50, no. 4 (September 2002), 794–​810; and Lauren M. E. Goodlad, ‘“Character Worth Speaking Of ”: Individuality, John Stuart Mill, and the Critique of Liberalism’, Victorians Institute Journal, 36 (2008), 7–​45. 8  Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, 1780–​1950 (1958; New York: Columbia Univerity Press, 1983), 49. On Mill’s ‘positive view of what the life of the individual should be’ in comparison to Green’s more developed notion of positive freedom, see Peter Nicholson, ‘The Reception and Early Reputation of Mill’s Political Thought’, in John Skorupski (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Mill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 464–​497, at 488. 9  John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, ed. Edward Alexander (1859; Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 1999), 109. 10  Wendy Brown, States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 141.

106    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture working-​class Chartists; Irish republicans; trade unionists; Prussian intellectuals in the German Empire; Indian nationalists; pan-​Africanists; African American claimants to civil rights; Tea Party advocates in the present-​day United States; and liberal detractors of Islam in Western Europe. While ‘liberal’ discourse is, thus, contextual and multivalent, the specifically literary reference points of the term are hardly reducible to political platforms, economic doctrines, philosophical stances, or ideological agendas—​however various and particular. Consider, for example, a single passage from Walter Pater’s Winckelmann chapter in his Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873). In a text first published in the Westminster Review in 1867 Pater describes Winckelmann’s first contact with classical antiquities: Hitherto he had handled the words only of Greek poetry, stirred […] by them, yet divining beyond the words some unexpressed pulsation of sensuous life. Suddenly, he is in contact with that life, still fervent in the relics of plastic art [… .] Winckelmann here reproduces for us the earlier sentiment of the Renaissance. On a sudden the imagination feels itself free. How facile and direct, it seems to say, is this life of the senses and the understanding, when once we have apprehended it! Here, surely, is that more liberal mode of life we have been seeking so long, so near to us all the while.11

As James Eli Adams observes, the passage ‘daringly insinuates the subversive power of an erotic liberation’ in a text that constructs ‘a model of homoerotic desire’ alongside a particular history ‘that authorizes its pleasures’.12 Without dissenting from that interpretation, I suggest that Pater’s invocation of ‘that more liberal mode of life’ extends beyond the stake in homoerotic desire in simultaneously standing for a liberal ideal expressed in various forms of Victorian literature. Considered in this light, it is doubtless obvious that while The Renaissance was written during the crest of the Liberal Party’s political ascendancy, Pater’s ‘liberal mode of life’ is hardly compassed by the conventional tenets of liberal individualism: for example, normative self-​help, the ‘night-​watchman’ state, laissez-​faire capitalism, ‘free’ trade, or methodological individualism.13 Instead, The Renaissance is part of that broader tradition of liberal thought (often designated as humanism) which Lionel Trilling has defined as ‘a large tendency rather than a concise body of doctrine’.14 11  Walter Pater, The Renaissance, ed. Donald Hill (1893; Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980), 146–​147. 12  James Eli Adams, Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Manhood (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), 169–​170. 13  For defence of the ‘night-​watchmen state of classical liberal theory’, which enforces contracts and protect citizens ‘against violence, theft, and fraud’, see Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1977), 26. ‘Methodological individualism’ is usually defined to describe outlooks that consider individuals as the basic unit for social analysis—​in contrast to the methodological holism that views society collectively. 14  Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society (New York: Doubleday, 1949), pp. vi–​vii.

Liberalism and Literature    107 As such, Pater’s evocation of a desired ‘liberal mode of life’ helps us to explore a division crucial to grasping liberalism’s conceptual complexity. This is the tension between negative and positive conceptions of freedom:  often characterized as the distinction between a freedom from external interference and the freedom to partake in or cultivate various practices, pleasures, and pursuits. Whereas negative liberty derives from classical liberalism where its historical task was to break down the regulatory structures of mercantilism and the ancien régime, positive liberty is often associated with the mid-​ to-​late-​Victorian turn towards collectivism. As Ellen Meiksins Wood has argued, the historical priority of negative liberty makes the Anglo-​American democratic tradition distinctly different from the conditions that gave rise to democracy in ancient Greece. Athenian democracy was achieved by breaking down the ‘division between rulers and producers’ through the enfranchisement of what had been a peasant class—​constituting freedom as a condition of citizenship and vice versa. By contrast, England’s Magna Carta marked the assertion of aristocratic privilege over the Crown on the one side and a disempowered multitude on the other. The notion of ‘popular sovereignty’ which emerged, unlike the Athenian demos, centred on the circumscribed power of this hereditary elite. The result was to enshrine not only exclusivity but also anti-​statism as a cardinal feature of English freedom—​that is, the freedom of feudal landowners to hold the royal state at bay.15 As Pater’s passage reminds us, the same principle of negative freedom could be invoked (as it was in Britain in the 1960s) to curb the state’s power to regulate sexuality. The point of Wood’s analysis is not, however, to dismiss the importance of challenging state intrusion, but to show how English democracy had to rediscover a foundation for the broader-​based citizenship that had been integral to Athenian democracy. This is why the advent of positive freedom—​germinal in Mill’s drift towards cooperative socialism and articulated more fully in Green’s Hegelian idealism—​is usually considered a defining moment in the transition to social democracy. When ‘we speak of freedom’ as ‘the greatest of blessings’ and ‘the true end of all our effort as citizens’, Green observed in a well-​known 1881 speech, We do not mean merely freedom from restraint or compulsion. We do not mean merely freedom to do as we like irrespectively of what it is that we like. We do not mean a freedom that can be enjoyed by one man or one set of men at the cost of a loss of freedom to others. When we speak of freedom as something to be so highly prized, we mean a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying, and that, too, something that we do or enjoy in common with others. We mean by it a power which each man exercises through the help or security given him by his fellow-​men, and which he in turn helps to secure for them. When we measure the progress of a society by its growth in freedom, we measure it by the 15  Ellen Meiksins Wood, Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 205. Especially relevant here is c­ hapter 7: ‘The demos versus “we, the people”: from ancient to modern conceptions of citizenship’. Of course, citizen equality in Athens was made tenable in large part by a non-​citizen class of slaves.

108    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture increasing development and exercise on the whole of those powers of contributing to social good with which we believe the members of the society to be endowed; in short, by the greater power on the part of the citizens as a body to make the most and best of themselves.16

Green’s definition of freedom combats the notion of liberty as a purely negative (and, thus, impoverished and atomistic) ethico-​political ideal. The second sentence—​‘We do not mean merely freedom to do as we like irrespectively of what it is that we like’—​ answers Matthew Arnold’s equation, in the second chapter of Culture and Anarchy (1867–​9), of British liberty with a dangerous predilection towards ‘Doing as one Likes’. Although Arnold describes this anarchic tendency as pervasive among Britons of every station, he regarded it as especially pernicious in the working classes who, at the time of his writing, were agitating for enlargement of the parliamentary franchise. Unlike their counterparts on the Continent, he emphasized, British labourers were not required to perform military service. Hence, in contrast to a French populace that learns ‘the idea of public duty and of discipline’ from soldiering, the British working classes, according to Arnold, were insubordinate, ‘raw and uncultivated’.17 Culture and Anarchy thus joined George Eliot’s Felix Holt, the Radical (1866) and Walter’s Bagehot’s The English Constitution (1866–​7) in voicing liberal opposition to expansion of the franchise just months before the Tories successfully steered the Second Reform Act through Parliament. By contrast, Green’s conception of citizenship as a social orientation towards the common good enabled him to embrace the adult male democracy that had become all but inevitable in the years leading up to the Third Reform Act (which enfranchised rural working men in 1884). Freedom as Green defined it could not be ‘enjoyed by […] one set of men at the cost of a loss of freedom to others’ because only a situation of relative equality among citizens could enable the mutual empowerment that underlay his optimistic social ontology. Civic equality required not only the right to vote but also educational and economic opportunities sufficient to enable ‘citizens as a body to make the most and best of themselves’. This definition of positive freedom derived from Hegel’s idea of Sittlichkeit (ethical life) which holds that the condition of citizenship should reconcile individual liberty with participation in and, thus, development through the community—​ensuring what Green describes as the ‘power which each man exercises through the help or security given him by his fellow-​men, and which he in turn helps to secure for them’.18 This collectivist view of the individual makes his or her poverty inimical to the community in diminishing ‘the whole of those powers of contributing to 16 

T. H. Green, ‘Lecture on Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract’, in Collected Works of T. H. Green, ed. Peter Nicholson (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1997), iii. 370–​371. 17  Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, in Culture and Anarchy and Other Writings, ed. Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 53–​212, at 84. 18  On Green’s Hegelianism, see Ben Wempe, T. H. Green’s Theory of Positive Freedom (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2004). On Hegel’s idea of Sittlichkeit, see G. W. F. Hegel, Hegel: Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Allen Wood and trans. H. B. Nisbet (1820; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Liberalism and Literature    109 social good with which we believe the members of the society to be endowed’. In 1893, the Cambridge economist Alfred Marshall illustrated how far these ideas had eroded the doctrinaire self-​help of the early Victorian era: ‘extreme poverty’, he testified before Parliament, ‘ought to be regarded, not indeed as a crime, but as a thing so detrimental to the State that it should not be endured’.19 To be sure, Green (who died in 1882 at the age of 45) never specified the means by which an enlarged male franchise transforms a market society predicated on private ownership of property into a body of substantively equal citizens each of whom enjoys the ‘positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying’. Nor does he explain how this citizenry determines which practices and pursuits are ‘worth doing or enjoying’ without trampling on diversity and individual liberty. Still less does Green’s philosophy address the unfreedom of non-​citizens such as women or the colonized subjects of Britain’s expanding empire. In the 1890s, these questions were taken up by a variety of New Liberals, trade unionists, and socialists who were alike in sharing a philosophical commitment to positive freedom underwritten by a holist social ontology. Indeed, Marx and Engels had already epitomized that commitment in their 1848 Manifesto which envisioned ‘an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’.20 This is not to ignore the differences between the New Liberal adumbration of social democracy and the Marxist vision of communism. Whereas New Liberals looked to the expansion of state welfare and to redistributive measures like the People’s Budget of 1909 to ensure a free body of citizens, Marxists (among other socialists) looked to the radicalization of the social body through the elimination of private property and the collectivization of wealth. Marxism never developed into a prominent influence on nineteenth-​ century British politics. Yet, among the Victorian era’s diverse socialist and utopian thinkers, one finds Oscar Wilde writing in 1891 that ‘Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-​operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and ensure the material well-​being of each member’.21 According to Wilde, the greatest potential benefit of this transformation of the social would be ‘Individualism’: that is, the ability of each to ‘choose [a]‌sphere of activity that is really congenial […] and gives [one] pleasure’ and, in doing so, contributes positively to ‘all Humanity’.22 That Wilde envisioned the collectivization of wealth and the universalization of freedom to entail the perfection of a socially beneficial ‘Individualism’ suggests how deeply syncretic liberalism of the Millean kind runs through the British imagination of ‘that more liberal mode of life’ which Pater evoked in the 1860s. Indeed, both 19 

Evidence of Professor Alfred Marshall, Monday, 5 June 1893, in Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor, 3 vols. (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1895), i. 544. 20  Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in The Marx–​Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (2nd edn., New York: Norton, 1978), 469–​501. 21  Oscar Wilde, ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’, in The Artist as Critic: The Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Ellmann (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 255–​289, at 257. 22  Wilde, ‘The Soul of Man under Socialism’, 257.

110    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Pater and Wilde mark the influence of On Liberty’s powerful idealization of an individuality constituted through—​and, in effect, liberated by—​participation in the social and civic. In a sentence that any aesthete might have written, Mill declared: ‘It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it forth […] that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation.’23

II So far this discussion has adhered to the usual contours of writing on ‘Victorian’ literary culture in emphasizing the discourse and practices particular to the British Isles. On closer inspection, however, it is already clear that ‘liberalism’ is an intrinsically transnational discursive constellation which requires reference to Celtic as well as English ideas, Continental as well as utilitarian philosophy, and classical as well as Anglo-​American republican ideals. But scholars must also recognize that British liberalism arose in conjunction with, and was therefore embedded in, material structures that included the Atlantic slave trade (abolished in Britain in 1807), the rise and post-​abolition decline of the West Indies sugar colonies, the colonization of Ireland, white settlement in temperate regions such as North America and Australia, a teeming commercial dominion in Latin America and East Asia, as well as an ever-​expanding and gradually formalized territorial empire on the Indian subcontinent and, eventually, Africa. The relation between liberalism and these diverse and evolving projects of expansion—​as of capitalist globalization more generally—​is dauntingly complex but essential to understanding liberal tensions and transformations over the course of the nineteenth century. In Liberalism and Empire:  A  Study in Nineteenth-​Century British Liberal Thought, Uday Singh Mehta proffers detailed analysis of early nineteenth-​century thinkers such as James Mill and Thomas Babington Macaulay in order to argue that liberalism is an intrinsically dominatory ideology, the hallmark of which is a Lockean imperviousness to the plurality of human experience.24 Since that time, Jennifer Pitts has suggested a more historically specific approach premised on the assertion that liberalism ‘does not lead ineluctably either to imperialism or anti-​imperialism’.25 Thus, while James Mill and Macaulay were pro-​imperial ideologues, eighteenth-​century precursors such as Adam Smith, Bentham, and (as Mehta also notes) Edmund Burke typically opposed imperialism. In the mid-​Victorian era, advanced liberals such as J. S. Mill and John Morley

23 Mill, On Liberty, 109. 24 

Uday Singh Mehta, Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth-​Century British Liberal Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). 25  Jennifer Pitts, A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 4. See also Andrew Sartori’s superlative review essay, ‘The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission’, Journal of Modern History, 78 (September 2006), 623–​642.

Liberalism and Literature    111 by and large approved the paternalistic logic of a ‘civilizing mission’ in India, whereas contemporaries such as Charles Dilke (the author of Greater Britain, 1868) and Anthony Trollope (the novelist and travel writer) tended to support white settlement colonies while expressing serious misgivings about the rule of non-​European peoples in the global south.26 By the turn of the century, New Liberals like J. A. Hobson were characterizing imperialism as the corrupt product of ‘industrial and financial interests’ determined to acquire access to ‘private markets’ at the public’s expense.27 Such varying attitudes towards imperialism responded not only to shifting historical circumstances but also to the disparate practices in question. The terms ‘imperialism’ and ‘colonialism’, in other words, refer to a sprawling web of structures that developed over centuries in response to particular economic, geopolitical, and cultural rationales. Either term can be used to describe, for instance, the subjugation of Ireland, Scotland, or Wales; the enthusiasm for a worldwide ‘Greater British’ network of white settlement colonies; or the seizing of the African Cape Colony in 1806 to protect the geopolitically valuable long route to India (after which South Africa became a desirable location for British settlers and, after 1867, the site of lucrative diamond mines). Moreover, the quest for commercial dominion, though seldom pursued with the goal of extending territorial sovereignty, involved the use of naval power to impose ‘free’ trade in regions such as China (where two nineteenth-​century wars were fought to open ports to the trade in opium). Britain’s self-​appointed efforts to police the slave trade created yet another set of opportunities to advance the nation’s geopolitical agenda while in pursuit of humanitarian projects.28 By far the most common Victorianist interest in imperialism has concerned the territorial empire of conquest which arose in South Asia under the auspices of the East India Company—​a mercantilist trading concern that gradually morphed into a bureaucratic governing apparatus before being abolished after the Indian rebellion of 1857–​8. This monumental uprising helped to usher in the more systematic ruling practices of the New Imperial era, much of which was implemented under Conservative leaders including Benjamin Disraeli (prime minister in 1868 and 1874–​80), the Earl of Lytton (viceroy of India between 1876 and 1880), and the Marquess of Salisbury (who was secretary of state for India in 1868 and cabinet minister or prime minister during much of the period between 1874 and 1902). The formalization of the British Raj was, thus, well under way in

26  On Dilke and other ‘Greater British’ liberals, see Duncan Bell, The Idea of Greater Britain: Empire and the Future of World Order, 1860–​1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). On Trollope in this vein, see Goodlad, The Victorian Geopolitical Aesthetic: Realism, Sovereignty, and Transnational Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), ch. 2. 27  J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study, ed. Philip Siegelman (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965), 106. 28  See, for example, Andrew Porter, ‘Trusteeship, Anti-​Slavery, and Humanitarianism’, in Porter (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, iii. The Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 198–​221. For a penetrating study of informal empire in Central America, see Robert Aguirre, Informal Empire: Mexico and Central America in Victorian Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004).

112    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture the decade before the Berlin Conference (1884–​5) launched the infamous ‘scramble for Africa’. In The Expansion of England (1883), a nearly contemporaneous set of lectures, the liberal historian J. R. Seeley made the famous remark that Britons ‘seem[ed], as it were, to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind’.29 That Seeley made this claim more than twenty-​five years after the 1857 rebellion and six years after the Tories made Victoria the empress of India suggests the extent to which Britons in general, and liberal Britons in particular, had disavowed the signs that the country they upheld as a beneficent trading power and beacon of liberal progress had, for some time, been an aggressive imperial state. The comforting notion that British expansion was, at heart, commercial and pacific had been the overarching message of metropolitan spectacles like the Great Exhibition in 1851 and the London International Exhibition in 1862. Such events helped to forge the proud conviction that the diffusion of Britain’s political and economic institutions was giving rise to a harmonious world economy. Thus, the roughly twenty years of Liberal Party political ascendancy between the end of the rebellion and the split over Irish home rule were also a time of mounting public confusion as liberal-​minded Britons, few of whom deeply understood the structures of global expansion, struggled to reconcile the growing reality of imperial violence with the idealized ‘empire of free trade’ which had so readily characterized the first half of the century.30 So-​called liberal imperialism is therefore a challenging but important topic for literary scholars to engage. If ‘liberal’ support for the empire generally meant enthusiasm for the globalization of trade, it only sometimes entailed the full-​blown embrace of territorial rule authorized by the paternalistic idea of the civilizing mission. Self-​styled liberals might praise white settler colonialism as distinct from such rule, or they might fuse these projects, conceiving Britons as destined to settle and spread free trade in the world’s temperate zones while civilizing non-​whites in the southern hemisphere. In regard to India, liberal ideologies of governance could involve unbending allegiance to anglicizing agendas (James Mill), or could resemble Tory strategies of ‘engraftment’ which claimed to blend Indian and British traditions (J. S. Mill).31 Liberals might thus adhere to Enlightenment universalism by rejecting racial essentialism, or they might embrace the pseudoscientific category of ‘race’ (as increasingly happened after the failure of the post-​abolition economies of the West Indies and the Indian ‘mutiny’ were attributed to racial flaws). And whereas liberal racialists might join Tories in offering racial difference to justify a territorial empire, they might instead shrink from long-​term rule over alien peoples (Trollope and Seeley). Negotiating such tensions, high-​minded liberals might 29  J. R. Seeley, The Expansion of England, ed. John Gross (1883; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971). 30  See, for example, Bernard Semmel, The Rise of Free Trade Imperialism: Classical Political Economy, The Empire of Free Trade and Imperialism, 1750–​1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970); and David Armitage, Ideological Origins of the British Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), esp. ch. 5. 31  On Mill and imperialism, see, for example, Lynn Zastoupil, John Stuart Mill and India (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995).

Liberalism and Literature    113 exhort their countrymen to meet the highest possible standard of imperial ethics, or urge them to recognize that territorial empires were invariably corrupt and corrupting. Discussing liberalism and its contradictions could therefore involve an almost infinite parsing of tensions and debates alongside the overarching narrative of increasing ideological fissure. For even as the Liberal Party came into its own in the 1850s it was beset by a series of imperial crises that began with the Indian rebellion and went on to include the Governor Eyre controversy in Jamaica, the Ilbert Bill debate (a liberal measure to enable Indian judges to preside over European defendants), and the split over Irish home rule. These signs of the profound dissonance between imperialism and liberal emphases on freedom and equality either divided liberals (as did the split over Ireland) or resulted in the failure of liberal positions in a climate of increasing racism (for example, vindication of Eyre’s brutal repression in Jamaica and the failure of the Ilbert Bill to survive opposition). ‘It is not by chance’, writes the historian Thomas Metcalf, ‘that the era of greatest imperial enthusiasm, from 1885 to 1905, was also a period of Conservative predominance in British politics.’32 When a generation of English-​educated Indians such as Debendranath Tagore (father of the famous philosopher) began to claim the kind of governing power which Macaulay had foretold in his ‘Minute on Indian Education’ (1835), the unwillingness of India’s rulers to make good on the promise of their ‘civilizing mission’ became all too clear. Erstwhile supporters of British rule such as J. S. Mill began to lament the reactionary influence of imperialism on India: rejecting an offer to take part in Indian governance after the abolition of the East India Company, Mill turned to more proximate affairs. As a radical Liberal MP in the 1860s, he proposed the enfranchisement of British women, the reform of Irish land, and the decriminalization of Fenian political prisoners.33 At the turn of the century, New Liberals began to criticize territorial imperialism—​albeit in writings often riddled with contradiction. For all its notable trenchancy, Hobson’s Imperialism was no call for European exit from Africa. If Western governments simply renounced their colonial projects, Hobson reasoned, the effect would be to ‘abandon the backward races to [the] perils’ of ‘private plunder’.34 Sounding more like Mill and Macaulay than their critic, he insisted that ‘there can be no inherent natural right in a people to refuse that measure of compulsory education which shall raise it from childhood to manhood in the order of nationalities’.35 Thus, while Hobson realized that 32 

Thomas Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 65. See also Karuna Mantena, Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). 33  On Mill’s support for ‘revolutionary land legislation’ in Ireland, see E. D. Steele, ‘J. S. Mill and the Irish Question: Reform, and the Integrity of the Empire, 1865–​1870’, Historical Journal, 13, no. 3 (September 1970), 419–​450, at 419; on his years in Parliament, see Bruce L. Kinzer, Ann P. Robson, and John M. Robson, A Moralist In and Out of Parliament: John Stuart Mill at Westminster, 1865–​1868 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992); and on the reactionary influence of British rule, see Mill, ‘Maine on Village Communities’, in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. J. M. Robson, 32 vols. (1871; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), xxx. 213–​228. 34  J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (1903; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965), 231. 35 Hobson, Imperialism, 229.

114    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture imperialism was legitimating exploitation under the guise of ‘care and education’, his response, in the final analysis, was the hope for a more authentic civilizing mission.36 Then, too, Hobson also evinced the kind of anti-​Semitism to which Liberals had become remarkably prone in the years since Disraeli’s imperial policies became the object of strident partisan critique.37 Beginning with his criticism of the Boer War, he became one of the most high-​minded exponents on record of the theory that ‘a small group of international financiers, chiefly German in origin and Jewish in race’ were sufficiently powerful to manipulate Europe’s foreign policy.38 Though he was more circumspect in Imperialism, reluctant perhaps to perpetuate what he referred to as ‘Judenhetze’ (Jew-​baiting) in his earlier work, he continued to warn his readers that a ‘cosmopolitan organization’ of financiers, ‘situated in the very heart of the business capital of every State’, was controlled by ‘men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience’—​a statement unlikely to be lost on Europe’s Jew-​ baiters.39 Thus riven by deep-​seated imperial and racial tensions and challenged from the Left by trade unionism and socialism, liberalism’s political agenda underwent its ‘strange death’ in the early twentieth century, its progressive elements eclipsed by or subsumed into the emergent project of social democracy. Nonetheless, if liberalism remains a subject of ongoing interest for nineteenth-​century scholarship, one reason is the burgeoning exploration of liberalism in India (and other postcolonial locales): not as passive receptacle of British ideas, but as co-​shaper of metropolitan thought and contributor to a hybrid body of world liberalism. For example, Sukanya Banerjee, a literary scholar, focuses her analysis of imperial citizenship around four leading figures:  Dadabhai Naoroji, a founding member of the Indian National Congress; Mohandas Gandhi who, as a young transplant to South Africa, argued for equal citizenship for Indian settlers; Cornelia Sorabji, a legal advocate for Indian women in purdah; and Surendranath Banerjea, one of the first native entrants to the Indian Civil Service.40 In a comparable study of Indian as well as British liberal thought, the historian Theodore Koditschek demonstrates how intellectuals including Banerjee, the older Tagore, and R. C. Dutt reconfigured their Macaulayan principles so as both to radicalize and Indianize their cultural and political agendas.41 Reversing the logic of orientalism, Lynn Zastoupil’s Rammohun Roy and the Making of Victorian Britain shows how the life and work of Roy, a celebrated early-​nineteenth-​century Indian philosopher, religious reformer, and champion of the free press (who died in 1833 during a visit to Britain), not only rendered British liberalism in a form that later independence movements could 36 Hobson, Imperialism, 243. 37 

On Liberal anti-​Semitism, see, for example, Anthony Wohl, ‘Dizzi-​Ben-​Dizzi: Disraeli as Alien’, Journal of British Studies, 34, no. 3 (July 1995), 375–​411. 38  J. A. Hobson, The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Effects (New York: Macmillan, 1900), 189. 39 Hobson, The War in South Africa; and Hobson, Imperialism, 57–​59. 40  Sukanya Banerjee, Becoming Imperial Citizens: Indians in the Late-​Victorian Empire (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010). 41  Theodore Koditschek, Liberalism, Imperialism, and the Historical Imagination: Nineteenth-​Century Visions of a Greater Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Liberalism and Literature    115 adapt, but also co-​created such thought in what was, to some degree, an Indo-​European public sphere.42 As C. A. Bayly writes in the most recent study in this vein, despite ‘the profound inequalities of foreign rule, Indian understandings of liberalism and modernity were fed […] back to the West, influencing British, European and American attitudes to the world’.43 In his study of liberalism’s turn to the concept of ‘culture’ in eighteenth-​and nineteenth-​century Bengal, Andrew Sartori takes this historiographic project in a decidedly global direction. Subject to the commodifying effects of capital, Sartori shows, the writing of the Bengali intellectual Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, which engaged Seeley’s work on Western religion, demonstrates a particular instance of the impact of global material structures. In the 1880s, when Bankim turned from British liberalism to a specifically Hindu articulation of universalism—​drawing on Seeley’s commentary in so doing—​Bankim ‘was not challenging Western universalism from a colonial outside of native particularity’ but, rather, ‘attempting to participate in a metropolitan rethinking of specific liberal modes of universalism that no longer seemed adequate to a changing historical situation’.44 What is salient, in other words, is not the mere fact of a Hindu challenge to Western universalism but, rather, the evidence that Bankim’s Hindu universalism and the Seeleyan disenchantment which enabled it sprang from historical conditions with which both the Bengali and the British thinker were ‘respectively grappling [ … ] more or less contemporaneously’.45 Hence, with capitalist globalization as its organizing structure, Sartori offers a framework for the transnational analysis of liberalism which takes us beyond the agonistic dyad of colonizer and colonized.

III Given such various referents and the multiple theoretical and interdisciplinary approaches that enliven them, Victorianist literary study of liberalism has, unsurprisingly, taken numerous forms in the last fifteen years. Victorian Literature and the Victorian State: Character and Governance in a Liberal Society, my own contribution to the topic, is a historicist study that shows why the Victorian era’s profoundly anti-​ statist culture requires a more nuanced account of liberalism and British literature than is likely to emerge from scholarship heavily indebted to Michel Foucault’s analyses of modern discipline on the Continent. Foucault’s later essays on liberalism and ‘governmentality’, the book proposes, provide more fruitful guides for probing the paradoxes 42 

Lynn Zastoupil, Rammohun Roy and the Making of Victorian Britain (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). 43  C. A. Bayly, Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought in the Age of Liberalism and Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 4. 44  Andrew Sartori, Bengal in Global Concept History: Culturalism in the Age of Capital (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 128. 45 Sartori, Bengal in Global Concept History, 129.

116    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture of governance which haunt fiction by Frances Trollope, Dickens, Harriet Martineau, Anthony Trollope, George Gissing, and H. G. Wells along with debates over poor law, public health, educational, and civil service reform. At the same time, scholars have begun to make a robust case for reconsidering the ethico-​political value of a ‘liberal’ literature (in the broad humanist sense evoked by Trilling). Notable among such studies is David Wayne Thomas’s Cultivating Victorians which explores the connection between liberalism and aestheticism. An explicitly recuperative work, Thomas’s book sets out ‘to get past the reduction of aesthetics to ideology while still giving ideological critique its due’.46 The operative figure for this enterprise is Immanuel Kant who makes aesthetics a constitutive feature of critique (integral to such noteworthy theoretical projects as Hannah Arendt’s work on judgement, Jürgen Habermas’s continuation of the Enlightenment’s ‘incomplete’ modernity, and Seyla Benhabib’s feminist revision of the latter enterprise).47 Thomas’s neo-​Kantian focal points, however, are the liberal aesthetics particular to the nineteenth century including Victorian literati like Arnold, Eliot, J. S. Mill, John Ruskin, and Wilde. Although his purpose is to demonstrate the critical ‘agency’ such examples facilitate, the result is not a straightforward celebration of Kantian autonomy. For example, analysing Wilde’s articulation of the human condition as ‘at once absolutely free and […] absolutely determined’ in De Profundis (written in Reading Gaol in 1897), Thomas refuses to explain this oxymoron as the product of a man imprisoned for non-​normative sexual conduct. To the contrary, Wilde’s statement, he suggests, is a representative instance of how the ‘modern liberal vision of agency can be understood and practised’ which speaks to the author’s playful ironization of the limitations of artistic originality—​a ‘self-​location in paradox’ which helps to explain the enduring fascination with Wilde.48 One finds a comparable effort to explore Victorian literature’s resources for a capacious liberal thought in Amanda Anderson’s influential study, The Powers of Distance:  Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment.49 Whereas Thomas’s focus is aesthetics, Anderson’s is ethics: in particular, the ethos of detachment which enables ‘cosmopolitanism’ to thrive in the works of essayists like Arnold and J. S. Mill; novelists like Charlotte Brontë, Dickens, and Eliot; and playwrights like Wilde. In defining cosmopolitanism, The Powers of Distance is in dialogue with contemporaneous theoretical works such as Bruce Robbins and Pheng Cheah’s Cosmopolitics: Thinking and 46 

David Wayne Thomas, Cultivating Victorians: Liberal Culture and the Aesthetic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), p. ix. 47  For Kant’s work on aesthetics, see his Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner Pluhar (1790; Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987); for Arendt, see Lectures on Kant’s Philosophy, ed. Ronald Beiner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); for Habermas, see ‘Modernity—​an Incomplete Project’, in Hal Foster (ed.), The Anti-​Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture (Seattle: Bay Press, 1983), 3–​15; and for Benhabib, see Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (New York: Routledge, 1992). 48 Thomas, Cultivating Victorians, 165, 184. 49  Amanda Anderson, The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

Liberalism and Literature    117 Feeling beyond the Nation.50 Anderson’s definition is, thus, less to do with the modes of transnationality specific to Victorian-​era capitalism and imperialism than with the present-​day renovation of Enlightenment ethics in a form that recognizes the importance of embodiment. Her approach to cosmopolitanism explores literary works that exemplify ‘reflective distance from one’s original or primary cultural affiliations, a broad understanding of other cultures and customs, and a belief in universal humanity’—​a focus on ethos that extends to her more conceptual writing in The Way We Argue Now:  A  Study in the Cultures of Theory.51 This ethical approach has inspired several discussions of British literature including Christopher Keirstead’s study of Victorian poetry as the vehicle for a cosmopolitan universalism tempered by respect for cultural difference.52 In Individualism, Decadence and Globalization: On the Relation of Part to Whole, 1859–​1920, Regenia Gagnier combines similar ethical concerns with a focus on late Victorian aestheticism:  her ‘genealogy of liberalism’ demonstrates how creative thinkers like Wilde, William Morris, and Friedrich Nietzsche envisioned cosmopolitanism as a kind of holistic and communally embedded individualism.53 As Julia M. Wright and I noted in a special issue on ‘Victorian Internationalisms’, the term cosmopolitanism has a complex history extending back to classical Greece.54 Moreover, the classical and Enlightenment-​era notion of cosmopolitanism as world citizenship was often in tension with the nineteenth century’s emphasis on nationality. Cosmopolitan unrootedness implicitly calls into question the modern nation-​ state’s work of constituting sovereignty within specific boundaries (cultural as well as geographic). By the same token, the ideal of world citizenship highlights the exclusions endemic to the Victorian civic order—​including the reluctance to enfranchise working-​ class men, women of any class, and colonized subjects (whom, as we have seen, even Hobson described as children ‘in the order of nationalities’55). In part for these reasons, nineteenth-​century usages of ‘cosmopolitan’ often tend towards the pejorative, signifying those deracinating modern forces that threaten to disrupt sovereign nations from within and without. Tellingly, the Oxford English Dictionary’s first entry for the word, takes capital, rather than human personality, for its object.56 50  Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins, Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998). 51  Amanda Anderson, The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). 52  Christopher Keirstead, Victorian Poetry, Europe, and the Challenge of Cosmopolitanism (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2011). 53  Regenia Gagnier, Individualism, Decadence, and Globalization: On the Relationship of Part to Whole, 1859–​1920 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010). 54  Lauren M. E. Goodlad and Julia M. Wright. ‘Introduction and Keywords’, ‘Victorian Internationalisms’, Special issue of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net (November 2007) http://​​iderudit/​017435ar [last accessed 1 September 2013]. 55  J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (New York: Gordon Press, 1975), 223–​285, at 229. 56  The reference is to The Principles of Political Economy, in which J. S. Mill averred that ‘capital is becoming more and more cosmopolitan’; Collected Works, ii. 588. This picture of an increasingly homogenous global modernity is even more vividly articulated in a second 1848 usage of ‘cosmopolitan’ (not cited by the OED). For Marx and Engels, capitalism’s need to ‘nestle everywhere, settle everywhere’

118    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture These tensions between cosmopolitan ethics and the instrumentality and violence of an expanding empire are explored in one of the most sophisticated studies of the topic to date, Tanya Agathocleous’s Urban Realism and the Cosmopolitan Imagination in the Nineteenth Century. Whereas Gagnier’s window into the relation of part and whole is the communally embedded individual, Agathocleous’s focus is the oscillation between worm’s-​eye and bird’s-​eye views: from the ‘visible world of the polis’ or city, to the ‘invisible, idealistic world of the kosmos’.57 Her study of ‘cosmopolitan realism’—​defined as the merger of concrete city with imagined world—​extends from William Wordsworth’s The Prelude (1850) to Dickens’s multi-​plot novels, Henry James’s proto-​modernist fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective narratives, and William Morris’s utopian romance. Agathocleous thus provides an account of the diverse literary forms through which the phenomenon that we today call globalization was experienced by the nineteenth-​ century readers of the most ambitious metropole of its day. What happens when this worlded city itself becomes a kind of alien place? When the word ‘cosmopolitan’ appears in Trollope’s The Prime Minister (1876), it is used by an English landowner to describe the dubious rootlessness of a man who ‘isn’t of [his] sort’—​one Ferdinand Lopez.58 Such pejorative meanings, in which ‘cosmopolitan’ stands not only for the social impact of capitalism, but also, by extension, for the attributes of pernicious others (such as Jewish speculators and financiers), became a kind of fixture of later Victorian liberal discourse. In Trollope’s fiction of the 1870s, Gladstone’s contemporaneous Midlothian campaign, and turn-​of-​the-​century imperial critiques like Hobson’s, one finds this rhetoric used not only to reprobate Disraeli’s policies but also to associate the less desirable features of global capitalism with the un-​English and foreign. Thus, in 1879, Gladstone described a plutocratic class of ‘hybrid or bastard men of business’ bound to one another ‘by the bond of gain; not the legitimate toil of hand or brain’ and driven by an amoral ‘pursuit of material enjoyment’.59 In my new has ‘given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption’ the world over, displacing ‘old-​ established’ cultures and social relations in favour of ‘new industries’, ‘new wants’, and the ‘universal inter-​dependence of nations’ (Manifesto, 476). 57  Tanya Agathocleous, Urban Realism and the Cosmopolitan Imagination in the Nineteenth Century: Visible City, Invisible World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. xvi. 58  Anthony Trollope, The Prime Minister, ed. David Skilton (1876; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996), 141. 59  W. E. Gladstone, ‘Lord Rector’s Address’, in Political Speeches in Scotland, November and December 1879 (Edinburgh: Andrew Elliott, 1879), 237–​238. Unlike Trollope and Hobson, Gladstone did not use ‘cosmopolitan’ to describe this ‘hybrid’ business class, perhaps because his opponent Disraeli had used the term in 1872 to align the Liberal Party’s ‘cosmopolitan principles’ with Continental influence as opposed to the ‘Imperial’ greatness sought by patriotic Tories; see ‘Conservative and Liberal Principles; Speech at Crystal Palace, June 24, 1872’, in Selected Speeches of the Late Right Honourable the Earl of Beaconsfield, ed. T. E. Kebbel, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, 1882), ii. 534. According to Peter Cain, this often anti-​Semitic mode of mid-​to-​late-​Victorian liberal critique was the effect of Disraeli’s ‘re-​activation’ of a popular radicalism ‘not seen since Cobden’s day’; see ‘Radicalism, Gladstone, and the liberal critique of Disraelian “Imperialism” ’, in Duncan Bell (ed.), Victorian Visions of Global Order: Empire and International Relations in Nineteenth-​Century Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 215–​238, at 216.

Liberalism and Literature    119 book, The Victorian Geopolitical Aesthetic:  Realism, Sovereignty, and Transnational Experience, I connect these liberal anxieties over foreignness and ethical malaise to a genre of naturalistic fiction whose principal British exemplar was Trollope. The naturalistic ‘narrative of capitalist globalization’, I suggest, focalizes the perception of breached individual and national sovereignties by concentrating the effects of capitalist globalization in cosmopolitan figures such as Emilius in The Eustace Diamonds (1871–​3), Melmotte in The Way We Live Now (1874–​5), and, most tragically, Lopez.60 The use of ‘sovereignty’ to capture the ideals at stake for many mid-​Victorian liberals exemplifies yet another current motif in Victorianist scholarship: the multifaceted interest in political theory. Manifest in the neo-​Kantian theoretical investments of Anderson and Thomas, the turn to political theory takes a different form in Kathy Alexis Psomiades’s ongoing exploration of how Victorian anthropology helped to naturalize a gendered form of the social contract that underwrote the liberal order.61 At the same time, poetry scholars such as Stephanie Kuduk Weiner and Julia F. Saville have demonstrated how in-​depth familiarity with political philosophy—​especially the civic republican tradition elucidated by historians such as Pocock and Eugenio Biagini—​ is crucial to elucidating the contemporary movements that animated poetry from William Blake and the Chartist Thomas Cooper, on to mid-​Victorian poets including Robert Browning, Arthur Hugh Clough, and Algernon Charles Swinburne.62 Although nineteenth-​century republicanism celebrated civic virtues deemed important to rescuing British politics from the impact of bourgeois materialism, it was especially active in connection with liberationist movements like the Italian Risorgimento (whose most famous champion was Giuseppe Mazzini, the exiled leader of a failed revolution in 1848). The republican strain in British politics thus shaped a variety of transnational poetic encounters—​from support for Italy’s emancipation in the 1840s and 1850s to the growing enthusiasm for Walt Whitman’s homosocial republican poetry in the 1880s and after—​even as it influenced novelists including Eliot and George Meredith. Recent literary engagement with this strong civic current includes such diverse studies as Mike Sanders’s exploration of Chartist poetry, Daniel S. Malachuk’s discussion of Eliot’s use of ‘Risorgimento mythology and […] republican womanhood theory’ in Romola (1862–​ 3), Richard Dellamora’s look at how homophile understandings of friendship inflected democratic politics, and, in a more Foucauldian vein, Pamela K. Gilbert’s work on the


As one of the most prolific and most political Victorian novelists, Trollope is the object of a thriving literary scholarship interested in liberalism, one recent example of which is Margaret Markwick, Deborah Denenholz Morse, and Regenia Gagnier (eds), The Politics of Gender in Anthony Trollope’s Novels (London: Ashgate, 2009). 61  Kathy Alexis Psomiades, ‘The Marriage Plot in Theory’, Novel, 43, no. 1 (Spring 2010), 51–​59. 62  See Julia Saville, ‘Cosmopolitan Republican Swinburne, the Immersive Poet as Public Moralist’, Victorian Poetry, 47 (Winter 2009), 691–​7 13; and Stephanie Kuduk Weiner, Republican Politics and English Poetry, 1789–​1874 (Basingstoke, Palgrave 2005). For a recent example of Biagini’s work on republicanism, see ‘Neo-​roman Liberalism: “Republican” Values and British Liberalism, ca. 1860–​1875’, History of European Ideas, 29 (2003), 55–​72.

120    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture novel as a medium through which the citizen’s body became the site for a biopolitical focus on public health.63 In Malachuk’s Perfection, the State, and Victorian Liberalism, the turn to political theory becomes a turn to moral philosophy.64 Perhaps the most polemical of the recent efforts to recuperate select aspects of Victorian liberalism, the book rebuts a range of sceptical standpoints, from Richard Rorty’s pragmatism to Michel Foucault’s post-​ structuralist analysis of power. As he explores the writings of J. S. Mill and Arnold as well as American contemporaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Malachuk finds affirmation of the idea ‘that human beings, with the help of the state, can achieve an objective moral perfection’. A more concertedly literary use of moral philosophy, this time modelled on the example of Stanley Cavell, is at the heart of Andrew H. Miller’s The Burdens of Perfection: On Ethics and Reading in Nineteenth-​century British Literature.65 Miller defines moral perfectionism as a ‘means of improvement […] in which individual transfiguration comes not through obedience to […] codes, but through openness to example—​through responsive, unpredictable engagements with other people’.66 By extending this open-​ended ethos to literature, Miller describes an ‘optative’ mood (defined as ‘the retrospective assessment of lives one has not lived’) at work, for example, in Robert Browning’s poetry and Dickens’s Dombey and Son (1846–​8).67 Though the book does not weigh in on liberalism per se, Miller’s evocation of the perfectionist strain in Victorian literature complements the ethical discussions developed through Anderson’s focus on liberal detachment, Thomas’s on aesthetics, and Malachuk’s on liberalism’s will-​to-​improvement. These ethical and aesthetic perspectives anticipate yet another innovation in recent scholarship:  an interest in the lived dimensions of liberalism. As Bayly notes, the Indian liberals of Victorian-​era Calcutta and Bombay, ‘were not simply trying to build institutions or author a political language; they also sought to create a new subject’. ‘The lived life of ideas’, he continues, ‘is important […] because it is this performative aspect of liberalism which provides the intermediation between intellectual and social history.’68 Indeed, a performative focus is also the aim of Elaine Hadley’s Living Liberalism: Practical Citizenship in Mid-​Victorian Britain. Through a method she aligns 63  Mike Sanders, The Poetry of Chartism: Aesthetics, Politics, History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Daniel Malachuk, ‘Romola and Victorian Liberalism’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 36, no. 1 (2008), 41–​57, at 42; Richard Dellamora, Friendship’s Bonds: Democracy and the Novel in Victorian England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004); Pamela K. Gilbert, The Citizen’s Body: Desire, Health, and the Social in Victorian England (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007). 64  Daniel S. Malachuk, Perfection, the State, and Victorian Liberalism (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005), 2. Even if one cannot accept his arguments on behalf of moral objectivism, Malachuk’s survey of liberal political theory in his opening chapters offers a lively introduction to the topic. 65  Andrew H. Miller, The Burdens of Perfection: On Ethics and Reading in Nineteenth-​century British Literature (2008; Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010). 66 Miller, The Burdens of Perfection, 3. 67 Miller, The Burdens of Perfection, 111. 68 Bayly, Recovering Liberties, 132.

Liberalism and Literature    121 with ‘historical epistemology’, Hadley’s work stands out for its determination not to passively replicate liberal ideas such as ‘diversity of opinion’ or ‘free thought’, but, instead, to regard them as ‘formal principles that structure what is thinkable as liberal’.69 This is not the kind of formalism which focuses on qualities of writing such as style or genre (the intermittent focus on literature, including close readings of novels by Trollope and Eliot, does not differ much from the writing on Gladstone’s speeches or essays in the Fortnightly Review). Nor does Hadley’s discussion of liberal formalism dwell for long on the familiar tension between the liberal commitment ‘to inclusion’ and ‘an era of increased political heterogeneity’.70 Instead, her focus is on how a certain formalism inflects ‘mid-​Victorian liberalism’s conception of cognition’ as it ‘uniformly relocates the generative site of rationality from the highly idealized public sphere of collaboration, debate, and circulation to an equally idealized private site of cognition, mental deliberation, and devil’s advocacy’.71 Readers of Biagini, J. W. Burrow, Pocock et al. and of Victorianist scholars of republican poetry will understandably question the extent to which this ‘relocation’ from public argument to private cognition took place.72 But even if one needs to insist that Hadley is describing an important strain or mood in mid-​Victorian liberalism and not the more comprehensive formulation her language sometimes suggests, one will be rewarded by her elaboration of ‘abstracted embodiment’ as a constitutive feature of Victorian life. In Hadley’s own words, abstracted embodiment is a ‘purposefully paradoxical neologism’ developed to ‘encompass liberalism’s desire for a political subject who is abstract (and capable of abstract thought) but also individual, abstract and yet concretely materialized, “free,” though in its place’. This is the optic for the book’s ambitious effort ‘to specify the peculiarly sociocognitive contributions of this era of political liberalism and thereby 69  Living Liberalism: Practical Citizenship in Mid-​Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 31, 28. 70  Living Liberalism, 50. This aspect of liberalism’s problematic formalism, familiar from the critiques of feminists and critical race theorists among others, is, of course, largely anachronistic for Hadley’s mid-​Victorian focus. At a time when many liberals were prone to marking the differences between male landowners and their counterparts in business, the salient point was not the formal pretence to universal citizenship (which rightly concerns scholars working on democracies in and after the twentieth century)—​but, rather, the various kinds of cultural, racial, ethnic, and sexual essentialisms that were mobilized in defence of overt exclusions and long-​standing hierarchies. 71  Living Liberalism, 50. 72 Burrow’s Whigs and Liberals: Continuity and Change in English Political Thought (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988) demonstrates the persistence of strong republican and Scottish Enlightenment strains in Victorian liberalism at least to the 1860s. But even without stipulating any republican derivation for the continued investment in public ‘collaboration, debate, and circulation’, the assertion that liberals of any stripe would idealize ‘private’ cognition and deliberation in isolation from public discussion remains questionable (not least since mental deliberation and public discussion are hardly mutually exclusive). Hadley is more persuasive in suggesting the difficulty of realizing liberal ideals through public enactment than in arguing that private cognition was idealized at the expense of such public forums as were available—​as if in enjoining reflection and internal dialogue, liberals were simultaneously welcoming isolation from actual dialogue in the spheres of public and civic participation. Mill, to name one important example, goes out of his way to insist on the importance of live discussion and debate throughout the second chapter of On Liberty.

122    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture to deepen our account of liberalism’s genealogy more generally’.73 That Hadley does not try to substantiate the claim that the mid-​Victorian era’s version(s) of lived liberalism were any more ‘peculiarly sociocognitive’ than, say, the Indian counterparts described in Bayly’s study, the liberalism of Trilling’s time, or even the neo-​liberalism of the present day is, I suspect, part of the book’s subtle appeal. There is an implication, though never an assertion, that we should consider liberalism’s unlivable reliance on abstraction to be endemic—​not unique to the version of liberalism developed in Hadley’s examples from the 1860s and 1870s. And so we should consider it. Reading the book, one is inspired to ponder a host of interesting questions the stimulation of which may be one of the finest achievements of Hadley’s work along with the rich body of criticism to which it responds. For example, what would ‘living liberalism’ look like if we chose Pater’s erotic encounter with classical art to exemplify liberalism’s embodiment? Does literary form have any impact on the lived aspects of liberalism: is poetry more or less conducive to concrete embodiment than novels like Phineas Finn (1867–​8)? Sensation fiction more than realism? Serialization a more or less embodying medium than novels published in toto like Eliot’s Felix Holt? Then too, the book provokes methodological questions: for example, would the observation of abstraction be different if the method itself were less distanced from the lived effects of dramatic events like the Governor Eyre debate (which absorbed Mill during the late 1860s); from the systemic features of commodification; or from capitalist debacles such as the stock market crashes and financial crises that recur in mid-​ Victorian fiction?74 Moreover, would abstraction seem so unlivable if instead of an abstract individual’s focus on abstract thought the sociocognitive abstraction in question were an imagined identification with people of different genders, races, religions, and nationalities? What was it like to live a liberal (or socialist) political orientation less focused on achieving disinterested thought and more on eradicating poverty, building citizenship, organizing labour, enfranchising women, achieving sexual liberty, or promoting a more richly aestheticized ‘liberal mode of life’? Finally, in terms of a longer liberal arc, if we take seriously Hadley’s method of theorizing ideas as ‘formal principles that structure what is thinkable as liberal’, how might these formal principles differ if the ideas in question (instead of diversity of opinion) were, for example, equality of opportunity, social justice, or human rights? To be clear, I do not pose these questions to insulate mid-​Victorian (or any other) liberalism from trenchant critique. As this essay has strived to show, critique (though itself embedded in contexts that scholarship on liberalism can help us to identify) is an enterprise that the study of liberalism requires, not least at a time when social democracy is under attack and market capitalism and anti-​statism are proclaimed as freedoms of the highest order. Nor do I pose these questions because I believe that the answers will provide some exemplary Victorian roadmap to utopia. Rather, along with Hadley 73 

Living Liberalism, 18. On financial crises, see, for example, Tamara S. Wagner, Financial Speculation in Victorian Fiction: Plotting Money, 1815–​1901 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2010). 74 

Liberalism and Literature    123 I believe that the study of liberalism can be helpful to an overarching project of historical epistemology, defined by Mary Poovey as a history of ‘the assumptions and conventions that constitute the epistemological field that underwrites the salience acquired by identity categories at various times. […] This epistemological field allows for the production of what counts as knowledge at any given moment. This field changes over time.’75 A historical epistemology of the dynamic mid-​Victorian decades would, of course, require elaborating the assumptions and conventions of social actors who did not inhabit the lifeworld of upper-​middle-​class men in the British metropole. A historical epistemology of liberalism, moreover, would require an account of multiple discourses developed over long arcs of time and diffused and hybridized across wide spans of geopolitical space. Finally, a historical epistemology would require elucidation of the social relations and structures through which this discursive field of assumptions and conventions ‘changes over time’. In this way, literature and the lived life of ideas informs that important bridge, touched on by Bayly, between ideas about liberalism (and about politics in general) ‘at any given moment’ and the social relations and structures that sustain their change over time.

Select Bibliography Anderson, Amanda, The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). Bayly, C. A., Recovering Liberties:  Indian Thought in the Age of Liberalism and Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). Gagnier, Regenia, Individualism, Decadence, and Globalization: On the Relationship of Part to Whole, 1859–​1920 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010). Goodlad, Lauren M.  E., The Victorian Geopolitical Aesthetic:  Realism, Sovereignty, and Transnational Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). Goodlad, Lauren M. E., Victorian Literature and the Victorian State: Character and Governance in a Liberal Society (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003). Hadley, Elaine, Living Liberalism:  Practical Citizenship in Mid-​Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). Harvey, David, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Mantena, Karuna, Alibis of Empire:  Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). Parry, Jonathan, The Rise and Fall of Liberal Government in Victorian Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996). Thomas, David Wayne, Cultivating Victorians: Liberal Culture and the Aesthetic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003).


Making a Social Body (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995) 2, quoted in Hadley, Living Liberalism, 31–​32 n. 65.

Chapter 6

Gl obaliz at i on and Ec on omi c s Ayşe Çelikkol

In 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels articulated the global character of capitalism with stunning clarity:  ‘The need for a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.’1 As the drive for profit compelled entrepreneurs to seek markets in distant lands, new regions were continually integrated into the capitalist order. From the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth, Britain played a special role in this world system. Prior to the long nineteenth century, Dutch merchants had controlled financial networks, but their power waned as the Dutch government struggled for sovereignty. In the late eighteenth century, Britain established a new regime of power by seamlessly combining territorial and capitalist expansion. The tributes that Britain secured through its vast territorial holdings in the Indian subcontinent, Australia, Africa, and North America were invested in financial networks in Continental Europe as well as South America and the Middle East. Through the course of the nineteenth century, Britain became the centre of the world economy by attracting foreign surplus capital to London, exporting domestic capital via bankers and brokers for high returns, and developing a bustling entrepôt system in which shipping companies from various parts of the world utilized British ports. With capitalist expansion came an increased awareness of wide-​scale interconnection, often driven by the desire to invest lucratively. In and beyond Britain, individuals paid much attention to seemingly distant developments: By the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century, world commodity prices were the central reality in the lives of millions of Continental peasants; the repercussions of the London money market were daily noted by businessmen all over the world; and 1 

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 6.

Globalization and Economics    125 governments discussed plans for the future in light of the situation on world capital markets.2

Circulating swiftly and widely, news items alerted individuals to the ways in which developments in any one particular locale were dependent upon events taking place elsewhere. It was not always the drive for profit that motivated individuals to attend to what took place beyond the borders of the nation. Inheriting Enlightenment values, many Britons professed an ethical commitment to the well-​being of people living in distant lands and debated which commercial practices would best serve the interests of nations around the world. Extensive webs of commercial and financial exchange not only provided the material structure in which the Victorians found themselves embedded, but also constituted a topic of private reflection and public debate. Although the material fabric of everyday life was transformed by wealth derived from foreign markets, to be more fully cognizant of the global scope of economic transactions, individuals had to rely on representations. Alongside such financial signifiers as stock share certificates, literary narratives that portrayed overseas speculation, maritime travel, and colonial adventures, enabled Britons to grasp an economic system whose geographical scope exceeded the limits of their day-​to-​day experience. Drawing attention to the ways in which local experiences were embedded in wider social and economic frameworks, Victorian literature registered and cultivated an awareness of global formations, while at the same time questioning whether commercial and financial ties could suffice to forge meaningful interconnection. What we might in retrospect call global consciousness in the nineteenth century flourished in part through the realist novel’s well-​known claim to chronicle provincial life. To be sure, by focusing on local customs and manners, Victorian novels could posit a British—​or sometimes exclusively English—​way of life. Recent literary criticism recognizes this pattern, but relates it to Britons’ growing desire to understand their nation’s destiny in terms of its relation to the rest of the world. As James Buzard argues in his revisionist account, realist fiction by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Charlotte Brontë, and others asserted a national identity precisely because steady territorial and capitalist expansion turned Britishness into a cultural export, threatening to divest it of its presumed distinctness.3 The faster commodities and people moved across national borders, the stronger was the desire to reassess the significance of local and national attachments. Epitomizing Victorian realism’s focus on local community, George Eliot’s Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (1871–​2) explores how provincial lives become integrated into larger frameworks, commercial, professional, and even philosophical. Residents of Middlemarch must turn their gaze to distant lands to manage their own affairs. When the Reform candidate Mr Brooke invites the electorate to ‘look all 2  Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001), 18. 3  James Buzard, Disorienting Fiction: The Autoethnographic Work of Nineteenth-​Century British Novels (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).

126    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture over the globe […] “from China to Peru,” ’ he parades his credentials: ‘I’ve been in the Levant, where some of your Middlemarch goods go—​and then, again, in the Baltic.’4 The speech meets a mocking echo, accompanied by laughter from the crowd. As his reference to commerce falls flat, Mr Brooke fails to establish the worldly wisdom that he values so highly. More successful in this respect is the narrator, who relentlessly invites connections between the local and the global, for instance in Lydgate the physician’s credo that ‘a man’s mind must be continually expanding and shrinking between the whole human horizon and the horizon of an object glass’ (602). Just like Lydgate, who wishes to ‘do good small work for Middlemarch, and great work for the world’, the narrator zooms in and out between the particular and the general, always positioning the human subject in extensive social webs (139). Foiling the narrator’s success in establishing interconnection, Mr Brooke’s failed campaign speech invites a critique of facile ties of commerce: however extensive commercial networks may be, they offer only an empty echo of the moral endeavour to connect the self to distant others. Capitalism’s inability to inspire adequate global consciousness also surfaces in Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son (1846–​8), in which the eponymous merchant treats the world as if it were nothing more than a vast market: ‘The earth was made for Dombey and Son to trade in, and the sun and moon were made to give them light. Rivers and seas were formed to float their ships.’5 This piece of free indirect speech conjures up a totalizing vision that subsumes the entire universe under the profit-​driven ego. The narcissistic tendency to render the world subservient to the self also surfaces in the history of Mrs Pipchin, the old lady in Brighton who keeps the boarding house where Mr Dombey sends his son. Her acquaintances discuss her husband’s death: ‘Her husband broke his heart in—​how did you say her husband broke his heart, my dear? I forget the precise circumstances.’ ‘In pumping water out of the Peruvian Mines,’ replied Miss Tox. ‘Not being a pumper himself, of course,’ said Mrs Chick (104)

It is speculative investment in the mines that leads to Mr Pipchin’s death, but ‘Miss Tox had spoken of him as if he had died at the handle’ (104). Miss Tox’s comment conflates the physical operation of the mines with the act of investing in them from a distance. As this conflation suggests, for the Pipchin family and their circle, the mine is not so much an actual entity in its own right as an abstraction that is easily reducible to its contribution to their own lives. Both present and absent in the text, the Peruvian mines cannot become concrete: ‘Mrs Pipchin’s husband having broken his heart of the Peruvian mines was good. It had a rich sound’ (104, emphasis mine). The world of commerce appears to cultivate self-​absorption despite its vast geographical scope. Inviting 4  George Eliot, Middlemarch (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 474. All subsequent references are to this edition and appear parenthetically by page number. 5  Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 2. All subsequent references are to this edition and appear parenthetically by page number.

Globalization and Economics    127 an awareness of this paradox, the novel provides the critical global perspective that its narcissistic characters lack. As Victorian literature weighed the significance of commercial interaction across distance, it considered the source of the nation’s wealth, attended to acts of violence that made British economic prowess possible, and offered reassuring fantasies of equitable exchange. Had the nation become dependent on foreigners? Was national self-​ sufficiency possible or desirable? Could commerce generate equitable ties of mutual help? Literary works that raised and addressed these questions employed complex narrative strategies to represent extensive webs of economic activity whose vast scope eluded the individual desire to comprehend them. Violent acts that brought one region of the world into forced interdependence with another haunted these texts, inspiring fantasies of self-​sufficiency or dreams of equitable commerce alongside critiques of domination. The following sections turn to actual practices of exchange and production (slavery, the opium trade, ‘free’ trade, high finance, and colonization) and explore literary forms and tropes (Gothicism, mythological imagery, the theme of speculation, and treasure-​hunt plots) that disclose—​or obscure—​asymmetrical and forced economic relations involved in each practice. Before I begin to explore these connections, however, I will briefly discuss some challenges presented by the effort to historicize globalization.

Historicizing Globalization One of the controversies surrounding globalization today is whether late capitalism, thriving on technologies and organizations peculiar to the twentieth and the twenty-​ first centuries, has introduced a definitive break with global formations of the past. In contemporary political theory, whereas David Held and Anthony McGrew argue that round-​the-​clock finance markets and transnational corporations in late capitalism have given rise to a state of interconnection qualitatively different from what former stages of capitalism had to offer, Paul Hirst and Graham Thompson contend that the world economy in late capitalism is a direct continuation of the international system established in the nineteenth century.6 As Anthony Giddens summarizes, for some scholars, ‘continuities with the past are much greater than the differences’, while others ‘see a world breaking radically with the past’.7 Such cross-​historical comparison is far beyond the scope of this essay, but what this controversy makes clear for us is that the endeavour


David Held and Anthony McGrew, ‘Introduction’, in Held and McGrew eds., The Global Transformations Reader: An Introduction to the Globalization Debate (New York: Polity Press, 2000), 3–​4, 24–​5; Paul Hirst and Graham Thompson, Globalization in Question: The International Economy and the Possibility of Governance (New York: Polity, 2001), 2. See also Jan Aart Scholte, Globalization: A Critical Introduction (New York: St Martin’s, 2000), 19, 20. 7  Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1991), 3.

128    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture to historicize globalization must recognize the peculiarities of each epoch, examining materialities and ideologies that emerge and mutate in specific historical moments. Even a cursory look at political economy, the discourse that sought to disclose the putatively universal laws governing the accumulation of wealth, would reveal that Victorian economic discourse, like its present-​day counterparts, explored processes of globalization—​although the term itself did not come into use until the 1960s. For example, in Principles of Political Economy (1848), John Stuart Mill discussed the migration of capital, highlighting that it was not only the exchange of goods but also production itself that could involve two or more nations. While he acknowledged that capital did not ‘remove to remote parts of the world as readily, and for as small an inducement, as it moves to another quarter of the same town’, he also asserted that ‘to France, Germany, or Switzerland capital moves almost as readily as to the colonies’. ‘The inducement of a very great extra profit’ could even motivate entrepreneurs to invest in ‘countries still barbarous, or, like Russia and Turkey, only beginning to be civilized’.8 Mill claimed that in addition to maximizing profit, the liquidity of capital transformed culture and affect: ‘capital is becoming more and more cosmopolitan; there is so much greater similarity of manners and institutions than formerly, and so much less alienation of feeling, among the more civilized countries’ (507). Even though circuits of production and consumption expanded through violent acts of conquest and subjugation, Mill, like many of his contemporaries, remained optimistic about both the nature of such expansion and the cognitive and cultural shifts that it would inspire. With processes of production and exchange cutting across national borders in the past as they do in the present, how can we address transformations in capitalist formations across centuries? World system theory, which maintains that global capitalism consists of consecutive cycles of accumulation, offers one model capable of accommodating change and continuity at once. Focusing on continual restructuring, Immanuel Wallerstein and Giovanni Arrighi argue that Dutch, British, and American powers each established their own hegemony by restructuring the world economy.9 While the Dutch hegemony in the long seventeenth century rested on establishing control over worldwide financial networks, Britain in the long nineteenth century introduced a territorialist approach, whereby the acquisition and governance of colonies provided funds for haute finance—​the bustling system of banking, credit, and investment in Europe. Subsequently, the American regime of power—​already in decline in the second half of the twentieth century—​produced transnational corporations that resist state authority.10 World system theory on its own does not illuminate cultural developments that


John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy (New York: Prometheus Books, 2004), 537. All subsequent references are to this edition and appear parenthetically by page number. 9  Immanuel Wallerstein, ‘Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comparative Analysis’, in Wallerstein, The Capitalist World-​Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 1–​36; Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times (New York: Verso, 2010), 1–​14. 10 Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century, 37–​85.

Globalization and Economics    129 accompanied capitalist expansion, but it does reveal the crucial role that historicist perspectives need to play in discussions of globalization. Victorian studies, a field whose very name announces a historical framework, highlights material and ideological contingencies in its approach to global formations. What scholarship on nineteenth-​century contact zones and border-​crossings must negotiate is in part the vexed relation between the nation state and capitalism. Historically, the two were mutually enabling: the nation state guaranteed private property rights and facilitated the accumulation of capital, securing its own existence in doing so. However, the power of the nation state arguably declined in the twentieth century, as transnational corporations and non-​governmental organizations became increasingly influential.11 Whatever the eventual fate of the nation state may be—​many scholars argue convincingly that its presumed decline is nothing but a myth—​it was a ruling power on the world stage in the nineteenth century, and its sovereignty overlapped with, and even warranted, transnational exchange.12 In referring to the transnational, I aim to indicate the presence of alliances and networks that cannot be contained within the bounds of individual nation states, but do not imply a political or ideological move beyond nationhood. To address the complex ways in which nationhood and the transnational were interrelated, Lauren Goodlad and Julia Wright choose to employ ‘internationalism’, which ‘describes any outlook, or practice, that tends to transcend the nation towards a wider community, of which nations continue to form the principal units’. Goodlad and Wright seek to acknowledge the nation state’s efficacy as a mode of political organization while at the same time treating it ‘as the product of transnational, translocal, regional, and post-​colonial conditions of possibility’.13 As a critical paradigm, internationalism does not preclude powerful state apparatuses or national identity, but considers them in relation to material and ideological flows across national borders to suggest that the national and the transnational are mutually constitutive. As Goodlad and Wright point out, this use of ‘international’ revises the nineteenth-​century connotations of the term and places them under critical scrutiny. If, for many Victorians, the international arena offered a venue for showcasing the nation’s presumed superiority in manufacturing and technology, current critical practices seek to offset that tendency by refusing to contain economic production and artistic invention within the borders of the nation state. Cosmopolitanism, which has gained increasing prominence in Victorian studies after Amanda Anderson’s Powers of Distance (2001), similarly nods towards the mutually constitutive relation between the national and the global. At times, ‘cosmopolitan’ for 11 

Susan Strange, The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). 12  Hirst and Thompson, Globalization in Question, 256–​80; Michael Mann, ‘Has Globalization Ended the Rise and Rise of the Nation-​State?’, Review of International Political Economy, 4, no. 3 (1997), 472–​96. 13  Perry Anderson, ‘Internationalism: A Breviary’, New Left Review, 14 (2002), 5–​25, at 6; quoted by Lauren M. E. Goodlad and Julia M. Wright in ‘Introduction and Keywords’, RaVon: Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, 48 (2007), 1–​34, at 2 (part of a special issue on Victorian Internationalisms, ed. by Goodlad and Wright).

130    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture the Victorians signalled utopian loyalty to a worldwide community of human beings; at others, it signified spatial mobility and compression, as embodied in the city of London.14 Both of these senses conjured up ideologies of nationhood. Cosmopolitan sentiment made possible ‘profound reflection on how different forms of affiliation—​to family, community, nation, and world—​might best be practiced’.15 Cosmopolitan spaces such as the the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace were a matter of national pride, attesting to the prowess of the far-​reaching empire that turned the capital city into a crossroads for the world. Agathacleous notes, ‘the Exhibition provided an occasion to celebrate not only London’s cosmopolitanism but that of the nation’.16 In addition to exposing complex relations among global, national, and local networks, cosmopolitanism undertakes the difficult task of relating material structures to individual affect. For Lauren Goodlad, the Victorians’ cosmopolitan ethos of care is inseparable from the geographically uneven development that they witnessed. Cosmopolitan subjects were aware of, and responded to, geopolitics. Further, it was narrative and other symbolic engagements of geopolitics that articulated, perhaps obliquely, a ‘redemptive cosmopolitan ethics’. For Goodlad, ‘geopolitical aesthetics’—​the realm offering symbolic expressions of capitalist formations—​is where we encounter both the wide-​scale structure of capitalism and the subjective experience of it.17 Regenia Gagnier similarly maintains that Victorian cosmopolitanisms, however focused they might be on individuals’ inner worlds and their ethical goals, did not ignore material reality. By definition ‘concerned with the right relation of the self to the other’, cosmopolitan subjectivity emerged by recognizing and critiquing domination.18 Seeking to establish fair and symmetrical forms of interconnection, cosmopolitanism draws attention to existing ties between the self and the distant other, which capitalist ideology, for all its fetishization of global transactions, often obscures or undermines.

Slavery, the Opium Trade, and Gothic Secrets When England’s overseas trade relations had a conspicuously exploitative character, the role they played in generating the nation’s wealth was nothing less than haunting. The 14 

Tanya Agathocleous, Urban Realism and the Cosmopolitan Imagination in the Nineteenth Century: Visible City, Invisible World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 2–​3. 15  Amanda Anderson, The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 119. 16 Agathocleous, Urban Realism and the Cosmopolitan Imagination in the Nineteenth Century, 37. 17  Lauren Goodlad, ‘Cosmopolitanism’s Actually Existing Beyond; Toward a Victorian Geopolitical Aesthetic’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 38 (2010), 399–​411, at 407, 406 (part of Editors’ Topic: Victorian Cosmopolitanisms, ed. by Tanya Agathocleous and Jason R. Rudy). 18  Regenia Gagnier, Individualism, Decadence, and Globalization: On the Relationship of Part to Whole, 1859–​1920 (New York: Palgrave, 2010), 144.

Globalization and Economics    131 very language that described colonial ties betrays the desire to suppress the benefits that Britain accrued through colonization. The word ‘dependency’, which from the seventeenth century onwards denoted ‘a subordinate place or a territory, especially a country or province subject to the control of another’, reflects the imperialist ideology according to which colonized territories depended on the metropole for commercial and technological advancement, as well as moral and intellectual guidance.19 What this term conceals—​profits accrued in the metropole through exploitation—​loomed large in the public conscience, surfacing not only in economic writing centring on national wealth, but also in fictional narratives that assessed moral character and social respectability. The Abolition Act of 1833 outlawed slave labour in the West Indies, but profits accrued from slavery were of course already in circulation in the British Isles by that point. John Stuart Mill’s Principles of Political Economy reveals the predicament of investing capital whose source remains unknown and may have originated from slave labour. Discussing accumulation, Mill first notes, ‘In a rude and violent state of society it continually happens that the person who has capital is not the person who has saved it, but someone who […] possessed himself of it by plunder’ (92). Then he transitions into the case of slavery, signalling through the conjunction that he is now addressing a more advanced economy: ‘And even in a state of things in which property was protected, the increase of capital has usually been, for a long time, mainly derived from privations […] not voluntary. The actual producers have been slaves’ (93). With moral weight, he writes of the ‘slender humanity’ of the masters, but his subsequent comments make slave labour disappear from the scene. Capital is continually ‘used and destroyed’ in the process of production and reproduced through the investment of newly acquired surplus. As a result, Mill claims, ‘the greater part, in value, of the wealth existing in England has been produced by human hands within the last twelve months’ (97). Even as the ‘perpetual reproduction’ of capital draws attention to the way in which capitalist processes unfold over time, it also marks a break between the past and the present, connoting cleansing, as if reinvestment wiped out the history of primitive accumulation (97). As Mill’s Principles suggests, in the Victorian period, the history of slavery in the West Indies prompted meditations on the hold of the past and the possibility of breaking it. Diachronic processes of capitalism—​what Mill evokes by ‘the perpetual reproduction of capital’ and what world system theorists call cycles of crisis and restructuring—​tend to remain elusive in everyday economic transactions. But the novel, a narrative form that typically traces the unfolding of events across time, was well poised to capture and foreground them. In particular, novels with Gothic elements, which characteristically hint at past acts of transgression that bear their mark on the present, provided fertile grounds for disclosing circuits of violence that underwrote national wealth. Wilkie Collins’s Armadale (1866), for example, employs Gothic conventions to represent the history of colonial plantations in the West Indies. In the convoluted plotline of this sensation novel, family secrets are imbricated in an economy based on slavery,


Oxford English Dictionary, http://​ [last accessed 25 August 2013].

132    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture in which the older generation was complicit. The young protagonist, Allan Armadale, shares his name with a man his age, whom he knows only as Ozias Midwinter. The shared name results from an intricate set of events that took place in the West Indies in the past. Armadale’s and Midwinter’s families are tied up with fortunes amassed from slave labour, which has brought some members of the families in conflict, motivating them to employ fraud and assume one another’s name. Even though the young men have only limited awareness of this history, they seem to be under a curse that condemns them to repeat the acts of violence and replicate the feelings of hatred that gripped the older generation. The plot revolves around the question of whether the legacy of the past, inherited from a historical moment evidently tainted with moral failure, will exert its hold on the young men’s lives. In an inspiring reading of the novel, Nathan Hensley points out that ‘Armadale chart[s]‌the contemporary global order from its genesis in the eighteenth-​century traffic in slaves to its modern “free” phase.’ The novel ‘expunges the dark past that it outlines, sealing it in the past in order to welcome a modern contractual present’.20 Even as the novel reveals the extent to which slavery haunted the British collective consciousness, it also reassures its audience of the possibility of leaving the past behind. The Gothic trope of the family secret draws attention to the suppressed geopolitics of profit. Just as Armadale presents the colonial histories of Armadale’s and Midwinter’s families as a curse, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) turns Rochester’s ties to the West Indies into a haunting past that cannot be hidden. As Jane finds out, as the younger son in an aristocratic family, Rochester married the daughter of a West Indian planter for financial reasons. References to Rochester’s Creole wife subtly but constantly hint at slavery, not only because her fortune is derived from slave labour, but also because she herself is figured as the racial other, embodying characteristics that were typically attributed to blacks in racist discourse. Her ‘black and scarlet visage’, ‘swelled black face’, and ‘swelled and dark’ lips racialize the threat that she poses to Rochester’s happiness.21 Susan L. Meyer argues that the secret that Rochester keeps under lock and key involves the nation’s complicity in slavery: The story of Bertha, however finally unsympathetic to her as a human being, nonetheless does indict British colonialism in the West Indies and the ‘stained’ wealth that came from its oppressive rule. When Jane wonders, ‘what crime … live[s]‌ incarnate’ in Rochester’s luxurious mansion ‘which can be neither expelled nor subdued by the owner,’ the novel suggests that the black-​visaged Bertha, imprisoned out of sight in a luxurious British mansion, does indeed ‘incarnate’ a historical crime.22


Nathan K. Hensley, ‘Armadale and the Logic of Liberalism’, Victorian Studies, 51, no. 4 (2009), 607–​ 32, at 625. 21  Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 310, 285, 284. 22  Susan L. Meyer, ‘Colonialism and the Figurative Strategy of Jane Eyre’, Victorian Studies, 33, no. 2 (1990), 247–​68, at 255, 254.

Globalization and Economics    133 When Brontë was composing Jane Eyre, British West Indian slaves had been fully emancipated. From the post-​emancipation perspective, slavery belonged to the past, but was no less haunting for that reason. Capital may have a tendency to be ‘used and destroyed’ for reinvestment as Mill would have it, but in the world of the Gothic each of its incarnations leaves a trace. Another Gothic novel that points towards explotative transactions in faraway lands is Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit (1855–​7), in which the protagonist, Arthur Clennam, returns to England in 1827 after trading in China for decades at the height of the infamous opium trade. The narrator is provocatively silent on the exact occupation of Arthur and his father in China.23 Historically, British tradesmen smuggled massive amounts of opium into China in the first few decades of the nineteenth century, succeeding in doing so despite all the measures that the Chinese government took to prevent it. Dickens was writing for an audience who would be familiar with the topic of Sino-​British commerce, as the Second Opium War—​an attempt to legalize the lucrative trade—​broke out while he was working on the instalments. Even though the state sought to legalize the opium trade, the public sentiment widely condemned the mercantile desire to turn profits at the expense of moral and physical suffering in Chinese society. In Little Dorrit, Arthur’s suspicious past—​the narrator’s failure to disclose it hints at unspeakable iniquities—​casts doubt upon the respectability of the Clennam house, which stands as much for moral uprightness as commercial success.24 A modern Gothic castle, the Clennam house with its stagnant atmosphere and deserted rooms turns into a ruin when it eventually burns down. Even though the collapse of the house is not connected to the Clennams’ economic activities in China, it initiates the process of renewal that Mill’s ‘perpetual reproduction’ of capital promises, rendering the past conveniently forgettable.

Free Trade and Myths of Mutuality Precisely because capitalism requires the continual integration of new markets into the system, wealth in any one location becomes dependent on transactions that take place elsewhere. For Britain, this dynamic produced a peculiar mix of dependence and sovereignty: the nation needed to trade with foreigners to establish its status as the world’s most powerful economic force. As merchants, financiers, and the state chose to enter transnational deals that they judged profitable, the nation’s wealth came to rely on foreign resources and markets. The violent mechanisms of acquisition that haunted Britons prompted them to seek mutually beneficial transactions in the world market. For many 23  Xu Wenying, ‘The Opium Trade and Little Dorrit: A Case of Reading Silences’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 25 (1997), 53–​66. 24  Ayşe Çelikkol, Romances of Free Trade: British Literature, Laissez-​Faire, and the Global Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 125–​8.

134    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Victorian liberals, it was free trade that guaranteed the equitable treatment of people around the world. The popular advocacy of free trade in the Victorian period owed much to political economic treatises published in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Following Adam Smith, James Mill and David Ricardo condemned prohibitively high tariffs and duties on importation. They argued against the mercantilist principle that importation was detrimental to national wealth and insisted that the state should not interfere with foreign commerce. In the 1830s and especially in the 1840s, the Corn Laws, which virtually prohibited the importation of grain, became the target of free trade proponents, with the leaders of the national Anti-​Corn Law League insisting that protective legislation served the landed interest at the expense of all the other classes. The Leaguers maintained that free trade would have prevented the Irish potato famine of 1845. After the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, free traders sought to repeal the Navigation Laws, which restricted foreign ships from trading in British waters. For liberals of the mid-​Victorian period, free trade was the perfect antidote to slavery and other ‘aspects of the old Empire’, including colonial monopolies like the East India Company.25 Free trade entailed the right to choose between employers, buyers, sellers, or transporters; for this reason, its advocates championed the cause as the antithesis of forced labour on the one hand and trade monopolies on the other. They promised peace and harmony around the world; however, once free trade measures were implemented from the 1840s to the 1860s, the resulting system did not usher in the age of mutuality that its early advocates had anticipated. When Britain opened its domestic market to commodities from all over the world, ‘British rulers created worldwide networks of dependence on, and allegiance to, the expansion of wealth and power of the United Kingdom’.26 Precisely because Britons built railways and provided shipping services for the rest of the world, and other nations found in Britain a market for their natural resources and other goods, Britain single-​handedly restructured the interstate system to suit its own needs and interests. However inequitable the results of free trade turned out to be in the second half of the nineteenth century, from the 1810s to the 1840s liberal rhetoric emphasized the need for reciprocity between sovereign nations. Political economists presented free trade as a system of symmetrical dependence. ‘All commerce is founded on a principle of reciprocity,’ wrote J. R. McCulloch in the Edinburgh Review.27 Innumerable defences of free trade treated the world economy as if it consisted of nothing more than the sum of individual acts of barter. France, for example, ‘had the advantage in the gift of soil and climate’ and Britain was ‘superior in her manufactures and artificial productions’; hence, ‘[h]‌aving each its own distinct staple—​having each that which the other wanted […] they were like two great traders in different branches, [and] they might enter into a traffic which 25  Frank Trentman, Free Trade Nation: Commerce, Consumption, and Civil Society in Modern Britain (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 165. 26 Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century, 56. 27  John Ramsay McCulloch, ‘Navigation Laws’, Edinburgh Review, 38 (May 1823), 478–​94, at 493.

Globalization and Economics    135 would prove mutually and greatly beneficial’.28 Boasting an ethics of symmetry, myths of barter obscured the processes of ruthless competition and lucrative financial intermediation that characterized the market economy. While free traders praised mutual dependence by describing the global market economy as an expanded form of primitive barter, protectionists, who supported legal restrictions on importation, valued self-​sufficiency. In the early nineteenth century, the conservative political economist William Spence defended the Corn Laws on the basis that Britain’s ‘riches, her greatness, and her power, are wholly derived from sources within herself, and are entirely and altogether independent of her trade’.29 Such isolationist ideas persisted in the 1830s and 1840s. For example, for the novelist and entrepreneur John Galt, ‘a reciprocal system, such as that of the free-​tradists’, was not feasible. In defense of the Navigation Laws, Galt wrote, ‘I should […] be glad to learn how our ships can be increased by permitting the ships of foreigners to come to our shores.’30 Arguing that Britain should secure its monopoly in the shipping industry, Galt found that reciprocal relations would weaken the national economy. Protectionists’ efforts, however, did not prevent the state from adopting free trade measures such as the repeal of the Corn Laws and, later, of the Navigation Laws. Poets and fiction writers extended political economy’s relatively secular treatment of free trade by offerings myths of barter and reciprocity that drew upon ancient Greek and Christian narratives. Ebenezer Elliott, who published a volume of poems to protest restrictions on the importation of grain, helped to establish this trend. His Corn Law Rhymes (1830) most directly highlighted the ways in which protectionist legislation impoverished rural and industrial labourers within Britain, but Elliott also offered a global perspective that ascribes religious significance to commercial interconnection between distant lands. Addressing God, the speaker of his radical hymn, ‘Oh Lord, How Long’, laments restrictions on international trade and pleads, ‘Methinks, thy nation-​wedding waves | Upbraid us as they flow.’31 Sanctioned by the marital metaphor, commercial bonds between nations appear timeless and natural, and any attempt to sever them seems to oppose God’s will. Through a Christian lens, Elliott redeemed those circuits of dependence that protectionists deemed unpatriotic. He presented self-​sufficiency as an illusion and maintained that international commerce served God, as well as the needy. This vision found fuller expression in the fiction of Harriet Martineau, which famously popularized principles of liberal economics. In ‘Sowers, Not Reapers’ (1834), ‘The Loom and the Lugger’ (1834), and Dawn Island (1846), Martineau embraced commerce with foreigners as congruent with the Christian call to love one’s neighbours.32 28 

John Ramsay McCulloch, ‘A Free Trade Essential to the Welfare of Great Britain’, Edinburgh Review, 32 (July 1819), 48–​74, at 58. 29  William Spence, Britain Independent of Commerce (London: W. Savage, 1808), 52. 30  John Galt, ‘The Free Trade Question’, Fraser’s Magazine, 6 (November 1832), 593–​8, at 595. 31  Ebenezer Elliott, The Splendid Village: The Corn Law Rhymes and Other Poems (London: Benjamin Steill, 1833), 33, 34. 32 Çelikkol, Romances of Free Trade, 67–​70.

136    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture The theme of mutual exchange also surfaced in R. H. Horne’s epic poem Orion (1843), which relocated free trade principles to the world of ancient Greek gods and goddesses. Like Britons, Ithacans in Orion benefit ‘by the skill | Of their artificers in iron and brass, | And by their herds of goats and cloud-​woolled sheep’. Commerce assures the even distribution of goods around the world (‘With other isles the Ithacans exchanged, | And each was well supplied’), with the eponymous protagonist, whose epitaphs are ‘The Worker’ and ‘the Builder-​up of things’, eventually becoming immortal.33 The sacredness of trade in Orion matches the embrace of exchange as a Christian value in Elliott’s and Martineau’s works. Ascribing an enchanting aura to a modern economic phenomenon, literary myths of free trade complemented liberal economic discourse’s emphasis on mutual help.

High Finance and the Theme of Speculation For the liberals of the 1830s and 1840s, international commercial competition, if unfettered by tariffs and duties, would herald the end of colonial monopolies in South East Asia and terminate slave labour in the New World; however, in the mid-​and late-​ Victorian period Britain’s commercial dealings with sovereign states—​especially in South America and the Middle East—​intersected with practices of conquest and subjection. Indeed, Britain invented a new regime of power precisely by combining territorial expansionism with laissez-​faire in an unprecedented manner.34 Wealth derived from the colonies fed into European circuits of banking and lending. For example, on the Indian subcontinent, Britain forcibly acquired labour power and natural resources along with direct payments. The state used part of these extractions to buttress the territorial empire, but imperial tribute was also ‘siphoned off in one form or other to London, to be recycled through circuits of wealth through which British power in the Western world was continually reproduced and expanded’.35 The colonies constituted a major source of the capital that Britain invested all over the world, in stock exchanges and the loan sector. In theory, territorialism (annexing new lands for the sake of geographical expansion) does not have to coincide with high finance (the investment of liquid capital in the money market), but in the nineteenth century the former came to sustain the latter. Boosted by tributes secured through colonial governance, finance capitalism matured from the 1870s onwards. The world economy entered a phase in which capital ‘sets itself free from its commodity form and accumulation proceeds through financial deals’.36 To 33 

Richard H. Horne, Orion: An Epic Poem (London: J. Miller, 1843), I. ii. 5–​6, 35–​9. Ellen Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital (New York: Verso, 2005), 73–​4. 35 Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century, 55. 36 Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century, 6. 34 

Globalization and Economics    137 invest profit, capital-​owners increasingly opted to keep part of their gains liquid, so as to channel it into the money market rather than trade or production. Much of surplus capital was not converted into new commodities. Institutions of high finance mediated between nation-​based powers, placing them in balance with one another to secure the survival of the international system. ‘Independent of single governments, even of the most powerful, [high finance] was in touch with it all; independent of the central banks, even of the Bank of England, it was closely connected with them,’ writes Polanyi.37 As territorial colonialism and high finance became mutually sustaining, new inter-​ regional connections burgeoned in the world economy. With colonial ports facilitating British merchants’ dealings with China, the Ottoman Empire, and newly independent states in South America, webs of commercial dependence expanded swiftly around the world, giving rise to economic circuits that were made possible by, but not contained within, empires. The vastness and intricacy of economic circuits challenged the effort to represent them. From the subjective point of view, activities as material as production, distribution, and exchange could appear infinitely abstract. Like capitalism’s expansive nature, its increasing reliance on high finance—​processes of lending, banking, and the stock exchange—​invited abstraction. As money became decoupled from the commodity form in this new stage of capitalism, economic investment seemed to have little to do with actual objects of exchange. Anxieties produced by the elusiveness of high finance found ample expression in the Victorian novel, particularly in the theme of speculation. In Anthony Trollope’s novels, the ubiquity of speculative investments indexes the capitalist tendency to build a world of abstraction. Portraying corrupt adventurers who float shares of fake business ventures, Trollope draws attention to the moral risks of financial intermediation. Consider, for example, the way Melmotte manipulates the public in The Way We Live Now (1874–​5). He invests in a railway project that he knows will not materialize, for the purpose of benefiting from shares that will skyrocket once the British public judges the project lucrative. The ‘scheme in question’ concerns ‘a South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway, which was to run from Salt Lake City, thus branching off from the San Francisco and Chicago line—​and pass down through the fertile lands of New Mexico and Arizona, into the territory of the Mexican Republic’. As Melmotte’s scheme reveals, the physical distance between the goods and the investors contributes to the public’s failure to recognize fraud. Mr Fisker, the mastermind behind the scheme, is convinced that Melmotte can make a fortune ‘before a spadeful of earth had been moved’.38 However focused The Way We Live Now may be on a specific act of fraud, it discloses the logic of capitalism at large: not unlike the dishonest scheme in which Melmotte participates, even the most proper transactions in high finance do not attach themselves to material goods. High finance relied extensively on representations, including paper money, stock shares, cheques, IOUs, and other paper documents comprised of textual and graphic

37 Polanyi, The Great Transformation, 10. 38 

Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now (New York: Penguin, 1994), 67, 68. All subsequent references are to this edition and appear parenthetically by page number.

138    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture signifiers. In addition to standard certificates of debt or investment, rumours and advertisements were forms of representation that played important roles in the finance economy.39 They shaped public opinion, which in turn influenced prices, regardless of their accuracy. In The Way We Live Now, Mr Fisker ‘display[s]‌his programme, his maps, and his pictures’ to recruit Mr Melmotte, who is not at all concerned with whether the text and the pictures have real-​life referents (72). Investors in Britain could not directly witness construction in America, even if it existed; as a result, flashy pictures hold more authority in a global economy than they could in a local one. Historically, failed investments and fraudulent schemes gave rise to a widespread mistrust of representation. In her interdisciplinary study on credit, Mary Poovey argues that this situation put pressure on novelists to position their work as a legitimate kind of fiction fundamentally different from the kind involved in finance, which in turn gave rise to the generic differentiation between economic and literary writing that many readers tend to take for granted today.40 If, in the finance economy, signifiers mattered more than the things they claimed to represent, realist novels such as Trollope’s exposed that pattern and offered a moral critique of it. As in The Way We Live Now, in The Prime Minister (1876) to aspire to wealth is to manipulate representations. The novel’s morally suspect Ferdinand Lopez declares that his ‘property consists of certain shares of cargoes of jute, Kauri gum, guano, and sulphur,’ speaking of paper certificates as if they were no different from land or material goods.41 For Lopez, the more abstract one’s property, the better: ‘What is the use of money you can see? How are you to make money by looking at it?’ (401). Melmotte and Lopez reveal the penchant for abstraction that was at the heart of finance capitalism. Both characters are marked as ethnic others, with abundant hints that they may have Jewish origins. The figure of the Jew bears the burden of the ills of finance capitalism, even though that system was key to Britain’s economic prowess in the nineteenth century.

Imperial Expansion and the Treasure Plot The cross-​fertilization of colonial conquest and finance capitalism turns into a plotline in the imperial romance, a genre that became highly popular in the late nineteenth 39 

Cannon Schmitt, ‘Rumor, Shares, and Novelistic Form: Joseph Conrad’, in Nancy Henry and Cannon Schmitt eds., Victorian Investments: New Perspectives on Finance and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 182–​201, at 184; Nancy Henry, ‘“Rushing Into Eternity”: Suicide and Finance in Victorian Fiction’, in Henry and Schmitt (eds), Victorian Investments, 161–​81, at 164. 40  Mary Poovey, Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth-​and Nineteenth-​ Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 25–​42. 41  Anthony Trollope, The Prime Minister (New York: Penguin, 1994), 395. All subsequent references are to this edition and appear parenthetically by page number.

Globalization and Economics    139 century. Imperial romances reflected Britain’s accelerated overseas expansion in that era, which brought Rhodesia, Egypt, Cyprus, and many other parts of Africa and the Middle East under British control. Perhaps two of the best known works in this genre, Robert L.  Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885), feature adventurous—​but respectable—​Englishmen who come into possession of diamonds or gold coins after strange and dangerous encounters abroad. In the metropole, the portable valuables that the Englishmen bring back are transfigured into money and other kinds of capital. In closure, the treasure plot converts precious metals and stones into abstract bearers of value, floating them free of the history of their acquisition in distant lands. Neither Treasure Island nor King Solomon’s Mines is set in a British colony; nonetheless, they both evoke territorial expansionism. In these novels, middle-​class Britons self-​ righteously fight indigenous populations—​or rivalling settlers—​and establish control over the territories they visit. As Patrick Brantlinger notes, King Solomon’s Mines ‘does not even hint’ that the lost civilization that the adventurers discover ‘should become […] part of the British Empire’.42 Nonetheless, when the Englishmen ‘penetrate into the unknown’ and facilitate a transition from tyranny to fair governance there, their rhetoric replicates colonizers’ perception of their mission.43 Similarly, the disciplined manner in which the protagonists secure their hold over the island in Treasure Island and their compassionate treatment of their enemies reflect those qualities that champions of colonization ascribed to colonial administrators. If protagonists in the imperial romance operate within the value system of colonialism, then the diamonds and gold coins that they bring home stand in for profits derived from territorial expansion. In King Solomon’s Mines, the Englishmen can invest the diamonds they acquire in Kukuanaland only after the narrative formally announces its termination. Once the oveseas adventure is over, ‘here, at this point, I shall end my history,’ announces the colonial hunter and trader Quatermain, explaining how he ‘bid farewell to all who have accompanied me through the strangest trip’ (290). After this narrative break, a letter from one of the other adventurers discloses that London dealers, upon seeing the diamonds, advise them to ‘sell [by] degrees, for fear [they] should flood the market’ (291). The African adventure is thus formally separated from the sale of the diamonds in London. The treasure that the adventurers claim as their own assumes a new life in the metropole, mimicking the channelling of colonial tributes into the world of high finance. The gold coins that the team of Englishmen recovers in Treasure Island also evoke the investment of colonial tributes. The titular treasure is indeed no more the rightful property of the middle-​class men who acquire it than it is of the pirates who buried it. Only a small boy, the protagonist accidentally comes into possession of a treasure map 42  Patrick Brantlinger, Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), 136. 43  H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (New York: Puffin, 1994). All subsequent references are to this edition and appear parenthetically by page number.

140    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture hidden in a pirate’s chest. The magistrate and the squire to whom he shows it decide to set sail towards the island where the treasure is buried, taking the boy along with them. Once on the island, the team overcomes the pirates who have come to claim what their formidable captain once buried. The triumph of the middle-​class team owes to their discipline and ability to strategize.44 While the pirates’ nature leans towards excess, middle-​ class adventurers ‘use [the treasure] wisely’: ‘Captain Smollett is now retired from the sea. Gray not only saved his money, but, being suddenly smit with the desire to rise, also studied his profession; and he is now mate and part owner of a fine full-​rigged ship.’45 The ‘wise’ investment of riches not only enables the profits to multiply, but also retrospectively justifies the initial acquisition of the plundered coins. As in King Solomon’s Mines, in Treasure Island the plot replicates in symbolic form what Mill describes as the perpetual rebirth of capital: the investment of precious stones and metals provides a clean slate, announcing a new phase in the protagonists’ lives. Novelistic closure hermetically seals the imperial adventure, as if it were possible to separate colonial economics from its metropolitan exchange. Romance adventures such as King Solomon’s Mines and Treasure Island involve two competing processes, embedding and abstraction. The treasure plot embeds metropolitan wealth in wide-​scale frameworks that include regions peripheral to capitalist development. But once the precious stones and metals from Africa and the Pacific islands arrive in the British Isles, they turn into abstract bearers of value that betray no trace of their origins. These two narrative strategies—​embedding and abstraction—​indeed characterize the literary engagement of global economic formations at large. Gothic novels, for example, tend to draw attention to past acts of violation lurking behind present riches, but they also signal the possibility of leaving that past behind. A similar ambiguity surfaces in the popular speculation plot. Financiers’ blatant disregard for material production is the target of moral criticism, yet the narrative itself, consisting only of linguistic signifiers, can never effectively bridge the gap between the abstract and the material. Through the interplay of embedding and abstraction, the global consciousness inspired by Victorian literature revolves around its own tenuousness and questions the conditions of its own possibility.

Select Bibliography Agathocleous, Tanya, Urban Realism and the Cosmopolitan Imagination in the Nineteenth Century: Visible City, Invisible World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011). Anderson, Amanda, The Powers of Distance:  Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011). Arrighi, Giovanni, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times (New York: Verso, 2010). 44  Naomi J. Wood, ‘Gold Standards and Silver Subversions: Treasure Island and the Romance of Money’, Children’s Literature, 26 (1998), 61–​85. 45  Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island (New York: Penguin, 1999), 190.

Globalization and Economics    141 Brantlinger, Patrick, Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies (Edinburgh:  Edinburgh University Press, 2010). Buzard, James, Disorienting Fiction: The Autoethnographic Work of Nineteenth-​Century British Novels (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). Çelikkol, Ayşe, Romances of Free Trade:  British Literature, Laissez-​Faire, and the Global Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Gagnier, Regenia, Individualism, Decadence, and Globalization: On the Relationship of Part to Whole, 1859–​1920 (New York: Palgrave, 2010). Goodlad, Lauren, ‘Trollopian “Foreign Policy”: Rootedness and Cosmopolitanism in the Mid-​ Victorian Global Imaginary’, PMLA 124 (2009), 437–​54. Hensley, Nathan K., ‘Armadale and the Logic of Liberalism’, Victorian Studies, 51, no. 4 (2009), 607–​32. Hirst, Paul, and Graham Thompson, Globalization in Question: The International Economy and the Possibility of Governance (New York: Polity, 2001). Meiksins Wood, Ellen, Empire of Capital (New York: Verso, 2005). Young, Paul, Globalization and the Great Exhibition:  The Victorian New World Order (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Chapter 7

P olitical E c onomy Kathleen Blake

‘New Economic Criticism’ Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen put a name to a new departure in their 1999 collection The New Economic Criticism.1 Victorian studies has long attended to money matters in Victorian literature, with its obvious concerns with ‘get[ing] a living’ (page 1 of Great Expectations, 1861), inheritance, the marriage market, work, capital, the Industrial Revolution, trade, fortunes made and lost, peers, parvenus, and paupers. Such attention has grown through the influence of feminist criticism, class analysis, and postcolonialism. And there has been the ‘linguistic turn’ towards analysis of sign systems—​if of words, then also of numbers. But with all this attention, on the subject of money itself Victorian studies has long wrung its hands and pointed its finger. Critics have hailed what they saw as a ‘literature of the age of capital [that] was thick with detractors’,2 or else they have acted as whistle-​blowers on ‘self-​betrayal’ within would-​be literary indictments of a commercial age.3 These samples come from the 1990s. There has been a change of tone since. In The Body Economic: Life Death and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel, Catherine Gallagher observes that ‘literary critics are now more curious and tolerant about economic logic than they were at any time in the twentieth century’.4 In Pleasures of Benthamism: Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy I applaud this shift and seek to advance it. As I see it, ‘Victorian studies exhibits a high-​cultural leaning in the


Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen (eds), The New Economic Criticism: Studies at The Intersection of Literature and Economics (London: Routledge, 1999). 2  Jeff Nunokawa, The Afterlife of Property: Domestic Security and the Victorian Novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 4. 3  Patrick Brantlinger, Fictions of State: Culture and Credit in Britain, 1694–​1994 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), 168. 4  Catherine Gallagher, The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and The Victorian Novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 192.

Political Economy   143 modern period and in the postmodern period a leaning towards ideology critique, whether right or left largely oppositional to Utilitarian, capitalist, liberal, bourgeois, values.’ But take a fresh look and ‘literature does not appear so much to challenge or else unwittingly collude with bourgeois philistinism […] A view takes shape of a broadly Benthamite, capitalist, and liberal age in pursuit of utility alike in commerce and industry and in socio-​economic-​political reforms, in good measure favourable to freedom and levelling in terms of class and gender.’5 Jonathan Rose asks whether ‘we are now witnessing the emergence of something quite unprecedented—​a capitalist criticism’ versus a criticism of capitalism.6 This marks a departure from the genteel Leavisite tradition and from the Marxist tradition that has fed post-​structuralism, Foucauldian criticism, and cultural studies. In their essay in The New Economic Criticism Regenia Gagnier and John Dupré call for precision in grasp of economic models on the part of non-​economists, i.e., literary critics. This has been subpar, with the exception of working knowledge of Marx. Gagnier sets a higher standard in her book Insatiability of Human Wants: Economics and Aesthetics in Market Society.7 While Nancy Henry and Cannon Schmitt hesitate to call a number of contributors to their essay collection ‘capitalist critics’, they note ‘the degree to which most […] concentrate less on a critique of Victorian capitalism per se than on overlooked dimensions of the culture of investment’.8 Francis O’Gorman says of his collection that it ‘is neither in love with the market, nor hostile to it’.9 After the financial meltdown of our own time, one might expect an up-​tick in outraged studies on Victorian crashes. But, if anything, consciousness has risen of the importance of the ‘real economy’. The mild tone of a number of works of new economic criticism marks a significant revision. Still, Marx and a censorious view loom large in Elaine Freedgood’s The Ideas in Things.10 Mary Poovey in Genres of the Credit Economy still concludes that literature at the end of the nineteenth century ‘denies virtually every relation except critique between imaginative writing and the market’ and leaves a legacy of just such distancing and disdain to literary criticism.11 Gallagher places literature in a more participatory role in capitalist culture. But while declaring ‘tolerance’, she still places political economy in an unflattering light. She calls it ‘the dismal science’, a familiar byword but of dubious credibility considering its

5  Kathleen Blake, Pleasures of Benthamism: Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 26–​7. 6  Jonathan Rose, ‘Was Capitalism Good for Victorian Literature?’, Victorian Studies, 46 (2004), 489–​501, at 489. 7  Regenia Gagnier, The Insatiability of Human Wants: Economics and Aesthetics in Market Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). 8  Nancy Henry and Cannon Schmitt (eds), Victorian Investments: New Perspectives on Finance and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 2. 9  Francis O’Gorman (ed.), Victorian Literature and Finance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 9. 10  Elaine Freedgood, The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006). 11  Mary Poovey, Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-​Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008),

144    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture far-​from-​creditable source in Thomas Carlyle’s ‘The Nigger Question’.12 Gallagher concludes with the thought that ‘the dismal science’ spawned a ‘dismal culture’.13 Themes of new economic criticism take shape in rereadings, regroupings, and rediscoveries of texts—​the rediscoveries being mainly of economic writings hitherto little known and little valued by Victorianist critics. Many literary rereadings are of ‘standards’, especially of fiction and non-​fictional prose. The subgenre of the Condition-​of-​ England novel holds interest, but there is range beyond that. Prose writers of social comment like Carlyle, J. S. Mill, Matthew Arnold, and John Ruskin come under consideration. One would expect more re-​evaluation of well-​known texts by Mill in light of widening awareness of his capitalist principles. Knowledge and a measure of appreciation of Adam Smith are growing, with a spur from historian Emma Rothschild.14 As concerns Thomas Malthus there remain more reluctance and distaste. Malthus might be voted most dismal. But study of Malthus is increasing, for instance, on the part of Gallagher, and more is certainly worth doing here. Bias and neglect continue as yet little changed regarding Jeremy Bentham, a figure allied as a utilitarian with political economy. I am the virtually lone standard-​bearer for Bentham. Mill as a political economist of the Smithian ‘classical school’ garners attention, but more acknowledgement is needed of the tie-​in to his utilitarianism. We see more on David Ricardo, also of the classical school, as in work by Claudia Klaver,15 though not yet enough. We see quite a lot of Karl Marx, but a great deal less than we used to. We see William Stanley Jevons, the ‘neoclassical-​school’ economist—​here Gagnier is a leading light. We see popularizers of political economy like Harriet Martineau, treated by Freedgood,16 and writers of the financial press like Walter Bagehot, treated by Poovey. Attention to connections between economic theory and concrete practices and policies is sometimes more, sometimes less. More such would expand understanding of the ‘political’ in political economy. Vis-​à-​vis the political, critics should face up considerably more than they do to political economy and empire. Gallagher is not alone in spending far less time on ‘authorial effects’ in economic than literary texts.17 Exceptions are Rothschild, Blake, Klaver, Freedgood,18 Poovey, and Gail Turley Houstson.19 Smith as stylist has been garnering appreciation, if most often in passing—​he is an easy, vivid, irresistibly intelligible writer. Mill will repay more stylistic analysis for his verbal elegance and power and 12 

Thomas Carlyle, ‘The Nigger Question’ (1849), in Works, ed. H. D. Traill, centenary edn., 30 vols. (New York: AMS, 1969), xxix. 348–​96, at 354. 13 Gallagher, Body Economic, 184. 14  Emma Rothschild, Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001). 15  Claudia C. Klaver, A/​Moral Economics: Classical Political Economy and Cultural Authority in Nineteenth-​Century England (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2003). 16  Elaine Freedgood, Victorian Writing About Risk: Imagining a Safe England in a Dangerous World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 17 Gallagher, Body Economic, 5. 18 Freedgood, Victorian Writing About Risk. 19  Gail Turley Houston, From Dickens to Dracula: Gothic, Economics, and Victorian Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Political Economy   145 his argument a fortiori. The darker, sometimes stricken eloquence of Malthus deserves much greater attention, and also Bentham’s love-​hate tangling with language, his word coinages, his playful, ironic, or scathing wit, his passion for system. I will proceed to some key principles of political economy that set key themes of new economic criticism. Political economy is becoming better known, which is very much to the good. But for many the exploration is truly of new ground, and this ground extends out into a very large and complex theoretical system in dynamic interaction with practical and policy actualities that are equally large and complex. It is not surprising that understanding can be piecemeal, or focus narrowed for manageable scope. I  offer a step back for a scan of the big picture, with my own observations on fundamentals of the theory as they interlock with each other and with historical specifics, and my own observations on what has and can be done to place the literature of the period in this grand-​scale, endlessly fascinating context.

Self-​Interest and Sympathy Self-​interest—​personal, strong, and predominating—​is a known principle in the conceptual systems of Smith and Bentham—​interest in ‘value-​in-​use’ or ‘utility’, i.e., satisfaction, pleasure. Less known but becoming more so is the principle of sympathy in Smith. This figures in interrelation with self-​interest, namely, as sympathy with others and interest in their sympathy with ourselves. Smith describes the dynamic in his account of the ‘impartial spectator’. This dynamic is the generator of ‘moral sentiments’. Not nearly so well known is sympathy according to Bentham. Again, this involves the interest for the self of regard turned on others and others’ regard turned on ourselves, and this forms a dynamic generating ‘the moral sanction’. Rothschild gives a sense of the Smithian conceptualization in the title of her book Economic Sentiments. This fuses the Smith of self-​interest and economics—​The Wealth of Nations (1776)20—​with the Smith of sympathy and morality—​The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759).21 For a concerted case conjoining Smith and Bentham on interest as a mental function that is economic in nature see Stephen Engelmann’s Imagining Interest in Political Thought: Origins of Economic Rationality.22 For a concerted case conjoining Smith and Bentham on interest and sympathy see my Pleasures of Benthamism. To pick out one key text for Bentham, that would be Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789),23 and I will 20 

Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), ed. R.H. Campbell, A. S. Skinner, and W. B. Todd, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), i. 21  Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), ed. D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976). 22  Stephen G. Engelmann, Imagining Interest in Political Thought: Origins of Economic Rationality (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003). 23  Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), ed. J. H Burns and H. L. A. Hart (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996).

146    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture add ‘Table of the Springs of Action’ (1817)24 and ‘Manual of Political Economy’ (1793).25 Bentham being so poorly understood by literary scholars, even new economic critics, let me also recommend Bentham scholar Philip Schofield’s Bentham: A Guide for the Perplexed.26 Tagging along with sympathy as an under-​recognized principle for Smith and Bentham is imagination. Many Victorianist literary scholars might line up with Romanticist John Whale in thinking of literature of the period as a pushback against—​ per Whale’s book title—​Imagination Under Pressure,27 that is, as a pushback against unimaginative-​utilitarianism-​cum-​political-​economy. Very different is Engelmann, who, in the title of his book, links ‘imagining’ to ‘interest’ as part of ‘economic rationality’. For him, imagination is most clearly at work in expectation—​time projection of interest. Great Expectations might come to mind. He loops imagination in with critical self-​consciousness as well. The latter is prominent in my book. Critical thinking is integral to the interplay of interest and sympathy, and it is at the heart of exchange, which runs on imaginative projection—​the projection that others have interests as well as we do ourselves, and that they have viewpoints on us and our interests as we do on theirs. This ties the critical thinking promoted by Mill in ‘On Liberty’ (1859) to his utilitarian political economy in Principles of Political Economy (1848).28 Another instance of imagination—​tied to the interest-​sympathy dynamic, tied to expectation, tied to exchange, tied to critical thinking—​is projection of costs and benefits. But to return to interest in its more primary sense, not transmogrified in interaction with sympathy, Gagnier puts that front and centre. ‘The insatiability of human wants’ is her book’s title phrase. She harks back to Smithian classical-​school political economy, with some allusion to utilitarianism, while focusing mainly on the later nineteenth-​ century neoclassical economics of Jevons, as in his Theory of Political Economy (1871).29 She stresses utility that is always ‘for someone’. It is subjective, stripped of a sense of the intrinsic as the basis of value and stripped of a sense of commensurability vis-​à-​vis utility that is ‘for someone’ else.30 This is the context for her analysis of a turn-​of-​the-​century transition towards a more avidly insatiable market society with a consumerism affecting literature and other cultural forms. For Gagnier, Arnold uneasily holds the line against this transition; Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, and the Decadents cross over it. A contrast is observable with Gallagher in her book from a past decade, The Industrial Reformation 24  Jeremy Bentham, ‘A Table of the Springs of Action’ (1817), in Deontology, together with A Table of the Springs of Action and Article on Utilitarianism, ed. Amnon Goldworth (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983), 5–​115. 25  Jeremy Bentham, ‘Manual of Political Economy’ (1793), in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. John Bowring, 11 vols. (Edinburgh: Tait, 1838–​43), iii. 33–​88. 26  Philip Schofield, Bentham: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Continuum, 2009). 27  John Whale, Imagination Under Pressure, 1789–​1832: Aesthetics, Politics, and Utility (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). 28  J. S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (1848), in Collected Works, ed. John M. Robson et al., 33 vols. (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1963–​91), ii–​iii. 29  William Stanley Jevons, The Theory of Political Economy (1871; 5th edn., New York: Kelley & Millman, 1957). 30 Gagnier, Insatiability of Human Wants, 44–​5.

Political Economy   147 of English Fiction. Gagnier and other new economic critics make it appear much more doubtful that, as Gallagher would have it, middle-​class literature and culture of the latter part of the century had discredited the ‘interests of the “ordinary self ”’ to favour disinterested gentry values.31 One bastion of sympathy versus interest had been located by earlier critics in the private sphere of the middle-​class home with its female ‘angel in the house’, separated from the public socio-​economic-​political sphere of men and providing an antidote to it. Bringing feminist and class analysis to this, Gallagher,32 also Nancy Armstrong,33 probed equivocations within the angel’s role, and Elizabeth Langland34 found private-​ sphere angels to be the bolsterers of the public sphere, giving it cover as they seemingly bowed out of it.

Economics of the Gift For more on sympathy, I will turn to gift theory. This is not part of political economy as such but provides a revealing contrast. In gifts selfish interest appears to be in abeyance and selfless sympathy to prevail. Gift exchange is archaic, largely at odds with and superseded by capitalism. Marcel Mauss in The Gift (1925)35 points out that an economic exchange rationale does exist in gift giving, but, as Pierre Bourdieu explains in ‘Symbolic Capital’,36 there must be ‘misrecognition’ of the economic for the proper functioning of gift exchange. Mauss and Bourdieu attest to the rooting of gift economics in older hierarchical social relations, and David Cheal37 and Margot Finn38 trace its partial persistence within emergent capitalism. This is especially notable where women are concerned. Jack Amariglio points to the uncertainty of return for a gift, which is unsecured by a contract such as secures a loan. But he calls such uncertainty a ‘ghost’ that is never entirely absent from any credit-​debt transaction.39 That political economy seeks to rein in an economics


Catherine Gallagher, The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction: Social Discourse and Narrative Form 1832–​1867 (Chicago: University Chicago Press, 1985), 266–​7. 32 Gallagher, Industrial Reformation. 33  Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987). 34  Elizabeth Langland, Nobody’s Angels: Middle-​Class Women and Domestic Ideology in Victorian Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995). 35  Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies (1925), trans. Ian Cunnison, introd. E. E. Evans-​Pritchard (New York: Norton, 1967). 36  Pierre Bourdieu, ‘Symbolic Capital’, The Logic of Practice (1980), trans. Richard Nice (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990), 112–​21. 37  David Cheal, The Gift Economy (London: Routledge, 1988). 38  Margot C. Finn, The Character of Credit: Personal Debt in English Culture, 1740–​1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 39  Jack Amariglio, ‘Give the Ghost a Chance! A Comrade’s Shadowy Addendum’, in Mark Osteen (ed.), The Question of the Gift: Essays Across Disciplines (London: Routledge, 2002), 266–​79.

148    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture of gifts is evident in its general promotion of contracts and in key legislative initiatives. One example of such initiatives is rationalization and restriction of government charity to the poor, with arguments out of Malthus and application in the 1834 Poor Law reform. Another is cutback in patronage in government hiring and funding systems in the Church and Civil Service, with Mill an important spokesman40 and various applications including the 1870 Order in Council for competitive Civil Service exams. In Pleasures of Benthamism I explore gift economics still operative alongside rising capitalism in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860). At issue are balances of power and balances of cost and benefit accruing to the different parties. I consider gifts involving men and more especially women and trace the shading of Maggie’s ‘selfless’ sympathy with others into self-​sacrifice. Here the association of gift giving with Christian morality comes in—​insofar as Christ gave away his life for sinners. There is deep-​ level resistance to Christian asceticism in political economy and utilitarianism, with the weight and legitimacy they give to the interest of each self. Bentham is scathingly direct in his indictment of asceticism such as that taught by Christianity. Mill is more circumspect. Still, gift exchange often stops short of wholesale giveaway. It operates under the veil of misrecognition to generate some recompense on both sides. In Giving Women Jill Rappoport treats gift giving in application to Jane in Jane Eyre, Esther in Bleak House, and Lizzie in ‘Goblin Market’ (1847, 1853, 1862), and she carries over to female gift experiences in Anglican sisterhoods, in New Woman eugenics, and in the gift-​book market in ladies’ annuals. She distinguishes instances of more or less reciprocal benefit from ones of one-​sided burdening with cost and sacrifice.41

Supply and Demand, Food and Population, Cost and Benefit Principles of supply and demand operate in all sorts of arenas. But as political economy teaches, beginning with Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population (1798, enlarged 1803)42 the demand for and supply of food are fundamental—​matters of flesh and blood, life and death, the viability of the population. Malthus’s is a scarcity model premised on the lesser rate of expansion for agricultural production than human reproduction. His theory is daunting but not fatalist or bereft of moral sentiments. Population need not be brought back into balance with food by the sanctions of famine, war, vice, and disease. 40 

J. S. Mill, ‘Reform of the Civil Service’ (1854), in Collected Works, ed. Robson et al., xviii. 205–​11. Jill Rappoport, Giving Women: Alliance and Exchange in Victorian Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). 42  Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1803), ed. Donald Winch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). See also Malthus, Principles of Political Economy Considered with a View to Their Practical Application (1820; Boston: Well and Lilly, 1821). 41 

Political Economy   149 A moral sanction can be put into effect, namely ‘moral restraint’. At the personal level this means, during Malthus’s day, later marriages, and further along in the century, birth control. At the level of public policy it means the reform of Poor Laws that subsidize large families and undercut the standard of living of individuals and workers as a whole. Sans reform, according to Malthusian logic, demand for food would rise beyond supply, causing higher food prices and hunger. And supply of labourers would rise beyond demand for them, causing falling wages, unemployment, and, again, hunger. The other classical-​school economists go on for pages on food, too. For instance, the corn yield per acre from the most to the least fertile fields, set in light of Malthus’s theory of population, becomes crucially important to Ricardo’s theory of rent, which figures in turn into his thinking on free trade in Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817).43 When I discussed Gagnier’s book, with its focus on the neoclassical school and late-​ century literature, I cited her emphasis on a lesser sense of the intrinsic in the value of consumer objects. This is suggestive of post-​scarcity, dematerialized thinking. Hark back to Malthus and consumption regains association with intrinsic value, with food, the material, the ‘real’ economy. A revisitation of literature’s engagement with Malthus, food, and population appears in a reading of Adam Bede (1859) by Lana Dalley.44 The novel contrasts the prudential delayed marriage of Adam and Dinah to the disastrously imprudent liaison of Hetty and Arthur. For a comic touch, it describes Bartle Massey’s fretting over the puppies of his too-​frequently littering dog that may eat him out of house and home. And of course it builds to tragedy, describing Hetty’s desperation over a new human mouth to feed and her murder of her child. Dalley steps into the earlier ‘separate spheres’ debate as a new economic critic. She contests any notion of a female domestic sphere even putatively separate from the economic, given women’s direct, literal economic involvement through food and motherhood. This betokens Malthus. So does the ‘body’ in Gallagher’s Body Economic. Gallagher coins the terms ‘bioeconomics’ and ‘somaeconomics’—​the former for physical life itself, the latter for physical sensations. She foregrounds not food but sexuality and parenthood, particularly motherhood. Maybe it isn’t surprising that, with her Malthusian focus, she reaches general conclusions about a dismal science and dismal culture. But in my view, if it isn’t surprising, that is only because of a still-​dominant misconception of Malthus as pure doomsayer. Malthusian agendas that are positive in terms of practical personal and policy applications hardly figure in Gallagher’s book, such as concerning moral restraint and Poor Law reform. Gallagher does recognize a ‘eudaemonic’ or pleasure-​oriented strain that links Malthus with utilitarians and also with Romantic poets for valuing sexual sensation. This brings me around to cost and benefit. As Gallagher looks at novels addressing the 43 

David Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817), in Works and Correspondence, ed. Piero Sraffa and M. H. Dobb, 11 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951–​73), i. 44  Lana L. Dalley, ‘The Economics of “a Bit o’ Victual”, or Malthus and Mothers in Adam Bede’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 36 (2008), 549–​67.

150    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Malthusian condition by Dickens and Eliot she sees a very big pile-​up of costs. Benefits, positive trade-​offs, practical personal and political ameliorations, disappear from view. She ends with a chapter on ‘the aesthetics of sacrifice’. The ‘eudaemonic’—​pleasure, benefit, utility, value-​in-​use—​fall out of the account.

Cost and Benefit, the Labour Theory of Value, Capital, Say’s Law But for political economists and utilitarians the unremitting task is to do the accounting, to project—​i.e. imagine—​what belongs in the tally, to critically examine, to undertake cost-​benefit analysis. Addressing labour, political economists and utilitarians conceive it as a cost only undertaken for its benefit in production of goods for consumption or sale or wages by which to buy other goods. This holds for the classical school and also for Marx, but not so strongly for the neoclassical school, which is more focused on consumption than production and thus pays less attention to cost in labour. Both The Body Economic and Pleasures of Benthamism connect literary renderings of work to classical economics. Work is hard. It carries cost, as appears in Carlyle’s insistence on an arduous Gospel of Work even in his jeu d’espirit Sartor Resartus (1834), and Dickens’s portrayal of even the circus performers of Hard Times (1854) as toilers for a living. Gallagher’s study finds costs that run very high; mine, by contrast, a net in the black between cost and benefit. Capital is frequently referred to in new economic criticism, but rather loosely, without the sustained grasp of the principle that should be expected. Capital constitutes past labour power saved and applied in aid of present labour. Phrases from Marx ‘s Capital (1867)45 capture this—​‘dead labour’ used as a ‘means of production’. Labour is at the heart not only of present work but of capital, and it is the creator of value, of benefits that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Thus the labour theory of value. This dictates a close correlation of prices on the market with labour/​capital costs. Further, in the pleasure-​oriented, non-​ascetic viewpoint of capitalism, labour can and should be recompensed for the costs incurred to create benefits: for the sweat of the brow, and for the delay or risk of entire forgoing of consumption in saving and investing capital. Indeed, benefits can and should exceed costs: in wages to the labourer, profits to the capitalist, and goods to the consumer. I will cite two studies, one again my own, that address saving and show the bearing of Say’s law. Both treat Eliot’s Mill on the Floss. For Deanna Kreisel, Maggie’s self-​sacrificial spirit, her ascetic courting of cost, is not so much antithetical to capitalism—​this, by contrast, is my


Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (1867), trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, ed. C. J. Arthur (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1992).

Political Economy   151 emphasis—​as part of its spirit of saving.46 Malthus expresses some concern over a possible excess of capital saving for its own sake. But Say’s law rules out the prospect of saving that exceeds opportunities for profitable investment, and Ricardo and the classical economists after him support Say. They theorize that production is limited by the capital available to invest, rather than by demand, in effect, holding demand to be ‘insatiable’, so that any amount of capital saving can be profitably invested in producing the supply to meet the demand. Still, the problem vis-​à-​vis capital and demand is not so fully resolved in political economy. Malthus—​also Ricardo and, more and more insistently, Mill—​advocate a boost in demand on the part of the working class, that is, rising expectations for their standard of living, lest this class ‘people down’ to mere subsistence. Per a reading of mine, Mill addresses limited demand in the extrapolated sense of demand for liberty (as itself a utility) in ‘On Liberty’. Per a reading of Gallagher’s (in Body Economic), Eliot seeks out stylistic innovations for Daniel Deronda (1876) in the face of sated demand for novels of the type she had previously written. Studies of latter-​century consumerism like Gagnier’s paint a picture of a culture eager to prompt demand. At the same time studies of investment spanning the period like the Henry-​Schmitt collection show a culture hardly in decline in respect of opportunities for investing capital.

Free Trade, Rent Theory A good part of the reason capital investment remains vibrant is free trade. Free trade is the signature policy of laissez-​faire, much promoted by political economists and utilitarians back to Smith and Bentham. Free trade favours labour organized according to division of labour, the purpose being efficiency, to achieve greater productivity at lower cost. For the same purpose, it favours competition and frowns on monopoly. Malthus’s principle of population provides Ricardo with a stepping stone towards his own further theorization of free trade. He articulates the principle of ‘comparative advantage’ between producers in wide international markets. The key battle is over free trade in corn (wheat), the key victory the 1846 Corn Law Repeal. Lifting duties that protect home-​grown grain from foreign competition enjoying ‘comparative advantage’ means importation of this foodstuff to meet the demand of a rising population and redeployment of that population from work in agriculture to work in industry and commerce. It is in industry and commerce that Britain gains its own comparative advantage. There is reduced cost of grain grown in advantageous conditions and reduced cost of bread to workers, who now earn more in factory and commercial jobs. They have more to spend. Non-​food demand goes up, driving up opportunities for capital investment, and driving up production, which is to say supply. As free trade boosts imports it boosts exports as well. Britain becomes the workshop of the world. There is increased investment and production of supply to satisfy increased foreign as well as British demand. 46  Deanna Kreisel, ‘Superfluity and Suction: The Problem with Saving in The Mill on the Floss’, Novel: A Forum on Fiction, 35 (2001), 69–​103.

152    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Ayşe Çelikkol explores some of the implications in her Romances of Free Trade.47 Foremost for her is the balancing act between individual self-​interest and competition on the one hand and mutual benefit on the other. She considers the smugglers of romance tales as an advance guard of free traders and sailors like those in Captain Marryat’s nautical fiction as exemplars of a kindred enterprising individualism. In ‘Dawn Island’ (1846) Harriet Martineau describes the benefits all around from the coming of a merchant ship to an eastern isle. Trade is associated not only with a welcome and peaceable exchange of goods but also with the benignancy of nature, love, and an improved lot for women. In the British setting of Shirley (1849) Brontë depicts more tensions. There is the overbearingness—​including to women—​of the individualist master of the textile mill Robert Moore, plus his conflicts with his workers. There is also his dissociation from Englishness—​including from the countryside that his factory intrudes upon—​through his involvement in a market that is global. He faces a Napoleonic-​era embargo that cuts off his US cotton supply, threatening unemployment for his workers and his own bankruptcy. In Çelikkol’s reading, Brontë represents the end of the embargo and freeing up of trade as just as important to re-​establishment of harmony at novel’s end as the caring intervention of women. Gender, labour, and love relationships and the relationship to country are not altogether resolved. Moore, if more spontaneous, is still pretty tough and detached, his factory still rather a blot on the landscape. Even so, Brontë describes a scene that is ‘romantic—​with a mill in it’. From free trade I will move to rent. The two are interrelated. Free trade and rent theory are both strongly formulated by Ricardo making use of Malthus and then advanced further—​much further as regards rent—​by the Mills. As discussed, Corn Law Repeal lends momentum to Britain’s shift from an agriculturally-​based to an industrially-​ commercially-​based economy. Agriculture had been the mainstay of the great landlords, the gentry and aristocratic owners of a vast extent of British land. Rent theory holds that landlords’ rent—​their take on the grain sales from land they lease out to farmers—​derives from a kind of natural monopoly. Population grows but not the amount of fertile land. Poorer land comes under cultivation, but grain from lower-​and higher-​yielding fields alike sells at a single price, which goes up as demand increases. Rising costs for capital investment, including more labour to cultivate poorer land, fall on the farmer, not the landowner. The farmer gets declining profit from greater investment in what still remains lesser productivity per acre. The worker gets work and wages, but bread gets costlier. Meanwhile the landlord gets rising payoff from rising prices on all grain. The landlord gets a windfall—​rent. Rent is not based on capital—​the product of past work saved and put in service of present work. Nor is it based on such present work. As J. S. Mill says, the landlord grows rich in his sleep. Corn Law Repeal cuts into this monopoly. It brings agricultural land in far places (the US, Russia) into competition with British land. Free trade in the form of Corn Law Repeal cuts deep, while with


Ayşe Çelikkol, Romances of Free Trade: British Literature, Laissez-​Faire, and the Global Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Political Economy   153 a gradualist thrust. Rent theory does not, at first, generate legislation so damaging to landlords. But Mill becomes an anti-​rent crusader on behalf of land-​tenure and land-​ tax reform.48 Legislative actions ensue, like the 1870 and 1881 Irish Land Acts and Lloyd George’s 1909 People’s Budget, and these mark a more and more aggressive taxation of land that bears very heavily against the landlord class. David Cannadine describes the process in The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy.49 For a literary reading addressing rent, I will cite a chapter of mine on Bleak House. The novel treats the great landlord Sir Leicester Dedlock and inheritance cases involving land in Chancery, a court cherished by Sir Leicester as a bastion of his landed order. The slum Tom All Alone’s is in Chancery—​city residential tracts as well as country estates participated in the economics of rent. The slum landlord Mr Krook rents out rooms far gone in decay, untouched by work or investment but paying out to him all the same. The novel’s anti-​rent, anti-​landlord messages include the humbling of the Dedlocks, the decrying of Tom All Alone’s, the spontaneous combustion of Krook, and the rise of a family formerly in service to the Dedlocks now bringing forth a captain of industry.

The Commodity The product of industry, the commodity, loses some of the character of a thing that has been produced by work with the late-​century neoclassical critique of the labour theory of value. And it takes a leap in the theorization of Marx to become the commodity fetish. However, for classical economists, also for Marx, products are produced by work with the aid of capital, saved product of past work serving as means of present production. At the same time, Marx charges capitalism with hiding this, such that work, workers, and the human relation of exchange of labour in exchange of products disappear from view. Perceived in alienated, reified form, dissociated from its source in labour, the product becomes less product than commodity, even fetish. Marx on the commodity fetish and Freud on the fetish more generally join in a mix of influences on new economic criticism that includes Walter Benjamin on Parisian department stores, historians on the Crystal Palace as display case for the world’s wares, Foucault on the surveying eye, Jean Baudrillard and Fredric Jameson on spectacle and simulation, Lacanian and Derridian psychoanalysis cum semiotics, and a gamut of structuralism, post-​structuralism, cultural studies, and postmodernism. Dating to the 1990s are a number of studies like Andrew Miller’s Novel’s Behind Glass: Commodity Culture and Victorian Narrative.50 48 

J. S. Mill, ‘Land Tenure Reform’ (1871), in Collected Works, ed. Robson et al., v. 687–​95. David Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990). 50  Andrew H. Miller, Novels Behind Glass: Commodity Culture and Victorian Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). 49 

154    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Studies since 2000 include Christopher Lindner’s on Fictions of Commodity Culture, with a Marxist focus,51 and Gagnier’s on turn-​of-​the-​century consumer society, with a focus on neoclassical theory. Gordon Bigelow takes notice of the neoclassical school too, though he traces a late nineteenth-​century consumerist attitude to earlier in the period and ultimately to individualist, subjectivist Romanticism.52 Krista Lysack discusses themes of shopping in women’s writing, including shopping with no aim to buy the commodity at all, which, according to her, signifies resistance—​to the subjection of women, to capitalism.53 Other critics are much more concerned with really-​demanded, really-​supplied, real-​ economy products. There is nobody like Malthus to rematerialize a sense of the commodity. Thus Gallagher’s Body Economic insists on the body. Freedgood’s Ideas in Things insists on the ‘thingness’ of things represented on the pages of Victorian literature, which no doubt registered in more material terms for Victorians than for us at our remove in time. The materiality she wants to recover is that of the work of making things. This harks back to the labour theory of value. There is a Marxist tendency in Freedgood’s emphasis on exploitative labour relations embodied in things, such as the calico curtains described by Elizabeth Gaskell in Mary Barton (1848). These carry ideas of hard mill work, the imperial connection to India, and a history as a trade-​good in the slave trade. But, unlike Marx, more like classical-​school economists, Freedgood believes labour relations do figure in the commodity under Victorian capitalism and that the commodity as referenced in literature would be apprehended in these terms by Victorian readers, not just as a fetish. It is we who miss too much, while we can learn to see better from criticism like hers. I too seek to rematerialize the commodity in Victorian literature for present readers and critics. The economics of cloth provides a very good reminder of the material. Consider, say, the Philosophy of Clothes that gives the measure of the age in Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus and themes of the British-​Indian textile trade, textiles as leading edge of industrialization, and the tie-​in to empire in Gaskell’s Cranford (1853) and Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World (1916). For me, the theoretical focus is classical political economy including its Benthamite aspect, stressing value-​in-​use, utility (satisfaction of interest, pleasure), and the odds of maximizing benefit over cost.

Money and Credit If the commodity can sometimes seem to lack materiality, so even more can money and credit. From Smith on, classical economists theorize wealth not as silver and gold, or

51  Christopher Lindner, Fictions of Commodity Culture: From the Victorian to the Postmodern (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2003). 52  Gordon Bigelow, Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). 53  Krista Lysack, Come Buy, Come Buy: Shopping and the Culture of Consumption in Victorian Women’s Writing (Athens, O.: Ohio University Press, 2008).

Political Economy   155 money, or credit and debt instruments, but as the productions of labour with the help of capital. It is these productions that have the much larger claim to material substance. In The Financial System in Nineteenth-​Century Britain, Mary Poovey sets out writings by Bagehot, editor of The Economist, and others on currency, credit, debt, and banking.54 Margot Finn55 gives a history of changing practices for securing credit-​debt obligations. These go from older forms reliant on gift economics and trust in character, to newer capitalist forms reliant on abstractions like contracts. Latter twentieth-​century theoretical commentators such as Marc Shell and Jean-​Joseph Goux dwell on the representational nature of precious metals, coins, paper money, and written obligations and draw a comparison to the representational nature of language and literature. In the 1990s, Patrick Brantlinger explores such a comparison with attention to Victorian literature and culture.56 The O’Gorman collection concerning finance shows the continuing concern of new economic critics with money and credit. The dominant emphasis in this area is on abstract, dematerialized representation, the linguistic-​discursive functioning of money and credit that makes these strangely literary in themselves and apt subjects for literature and literary criticism. So we get Poovey’s Genres of the Credit Economy. Poovey perceives an evolution of genres in economic writing and literature. These emerge, divide, and contest ground with each other, but, says Poovey, serve a common aim—​to mediate and manage what is threatening within the credit economy. The threat stems from the ‘problematic of representation’. The problematic of representation is inherent in a banknote that purports to be grounded on gold by a mechanism of credit or credibility but may prove irredeemable during a run on banks. It is likewise inherent in literature, which purports to be grounded on something real and of value while it too depends on credit or credibility, and, lacking that, may prove worthless for real-​world purposes. The problematic runs along a ‘fact-​fiction continuum’. Poovey describes poles that move further and further apart according to processes of ‘factualization’ and ‘fictionalization’. Economics more and more naturalizes fiction as fact. An example is the 1844 Bank Charter Act. It bolstered belief in the Bank of England by guaranteeing the notes of country banks and restricting its own note-​issue to a ratio with gold reserves. Its paper money came to seem as good as gold, still a fiction but less subject to doubt. This held up quite well even in bad times when the Act had to be suspended. Economic writing also ‘factualizes’ in this way. During the panic following the failure of the bill-​broking house Overend and Gurney, Bagehot writes to restore confidence. He adopts a stance of general survey, not descending to particulars such as naming the failed company, and deploys other devices of style to convey expertise and the assurance that the system, being so systematic, must be sound. Work by critics such as Freedgood and Klaver provide building 54  Mary Poovey (ed.), The Financial System in Nineteenth-​Century Britain (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). 55 Finn, Character of Credit. 56 Brantlinger, Fictions of State.

156    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture blocks for the analysis. Freedgood in Victorian Writing About Risk points to palliation of economic anxiety in Martineau’s popular illustrations of political economy in didactic story form. Klaver in A/​Moral Economics points to abstraction of style in Ricardo’s writing as a source for the growing authority of economic discourse. For Poovey, writings on the economy, while suggesting that someone comprehends it, actually encourage cultural toleration of ignorance, acceptance of ‘factualization’ as fact. For her, literature does something of the same thing by different means, especially in the novel. Though full of real-​world references including talk of money, the novel is ever more intensively ‘fictionalizing’. So Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice (1813) sets a money plot in motion that carries plenty of threat to her heroine but blocks a reader’s ability to track this plot or worry about it. The narrative transforms financial to romantic threat and resolves the latter. According to Poovey, Victorian literature assumes a stance of polar removal from and opposition to economics and economic writing, a stance that is then assumed by critics as well. Such a critical stance has been familiar enough in Victorian studies over the years. But some new economic critics question whether it is very on target in application to Victorian literature, whether it is very true to what we actually encounter when we read this literature. Poovey herself tells a tale of participation in the credit economy on the part of literary as well as economic genres, namely, through covert collusion in sustaining credibility by hiding threats. Gail Turley Houston is also concerned with threats involving money, credit, and financial panics, but she thinks these often show up right out in the open in economic writing and in literature and are not so different in the way they are cast. Marx and Bagehot and other writers in the financial press provide examples of a language of spectres, vampires, and lurking terrors. Such is the language of the Gothic, too, as in R. L. Stevenson’s ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Dickens’s Little Dorrit (1886, 1897, 1857). So there is not such a cover-​up but plenty of attention to the bad news of financial crisis.

‘Political’ Economy—​and Empire Besides the commodity fetish and money and credit, there’s the real economy—​work, capital saving and investment, production, consumption—​with personal and society-​ wide impacts where capitalist culture looks for some good news. The ‘political’ in political economy means Smith’s and Bentham’s theorizations on behalf of the wealth of the individual and the nation at large, the greatest happiness of the greatest number. It means Malthus’s proposed correctives to a population problem affecting everyone. It means Ricardo’s attention to taxation, naming it right along with political economy in his book’s title. Economic theory became less ‘political’ with neoclassicism, though Jevons still calls his book The Theory of Political Economy. Political economists and utilitarians backed measures that are overtly economic while at the same time political. I have already noted a number of these that saw legislative

Political Economy   157 action: Poor Law reform, the Bank Charter Act, Corn Law Repeal, the Order in Council for competitive Civil Service exams, the Irish Land Acts, the People’s Budget. The landowning aristocracy declined and fell. The general standard of living, including that of the working class, rose.57 Political economists and utilitarians also backed measures that are not so overtly economic, where the ‘political’ appears uppermost. But as measures advancing democracy these also have economic impact: extension of the vote, seen in Reform Bills of 1832, 1867, and 1884 (with Mill attempting unsuccessfully to include women in the 1867 Bill), and extension of popular education, seen in Forster’s 1870 Education Act and subsequent legislation. There is tremendous pace and magnitude of political-​economic transformation by century’s end. Rothschild notes how often the word ‘liberty’ appears in Smith’s writing. Bentham and the Mills launched the ‘Philosophic Radicals’ that J. S. Mill helped fold in with the Whigs to form the newly named Liberal party. Mill pens ‘On Liberty’ to champion and showcase free critical thinking, which, by the same mechanism as the free market per his economics, advances the individual and the general good. All this by way of observing that political economy, incorporating its utilitarian aspect, is part and parcel of liberalism. Many Victorian authors, as I see it, participate in a liberalism infused with its ideas. Still, the ‘political’ in liberal political economy includes connection with empire. After all, both Mills were employed by the East India Company. Postcolonial scholars in political science and other disciplines see blind contradiction or hypocrisy betraying a fundamentally authoritarian core of liberal imperialism,58 or else they see a core that includes liberating components,59 or else fundamentally anti-​imperialist principles in Smith and Bentham abandoned for a ‘turn to empire’ by the Mills,60 or else an imperialist component strong in Bentham and James Mill but mitigated by Mill Jr. as he sets distance between himself and these forebears.61 These views are far from reconciled, and the jury is still out. But new economic critics would do well to confront the issues as squarely. One sees more these days on empire from economically minded critics. This is only right considering that empire is so clearly bound up with the economic. Take rent theory, a favourite of mine, and its very consequential application to land tenure and taxation. This theory derives in good part from an interchange of critical thinking between Ricardo and James Mill. The exchange displays the crucial quotient of imagination, too, in its engagement with a sharply unfamiliar foreign perspective.

57  W. D. Rubinstein, Britain’s Century: A Political and Social History 1815–​1905 (London: Arnold, 1998). Roderick Floud, The People and the British Economy, 1830–​1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). 58  Uday Singh Mehta, Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth-​Century British Liberal Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). 59  Javed Majeed, Ungoverned Imaginings: James Mill’s The History of British India and Orientalism (Oxford: Clarendon, 1992). 60  Jennifer Pitts, A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). 61  Lynn Zastoupil, John Stuart Mill and India (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994).

158    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture In his History of British India62 Mill analyses the existing Indian land system and the ill effects of Britain’s imposition of a British-​style regime. With input from Ricardo on rent, Mill develops new ideas for a better solution, and here Mill Jr. adds critical-​imaginative momentum. This is by going back to the Indian system with adaptations and innovations. The result is a British-​Indian hybrid for incremental implementation in India from the 1840s, and, what is more, back-​importation for implementation in Ireland and England from the 1870s. So we see the Irish Land Acts and the People’s Budget and the tremendous economic-​political power shift that I have previously described from landlords to the middle and working classes. This exemplifies a ‘political’ factor that is—​even operating within imperialism with all the paradoxes involved—​authentically liberal. It tallies with a great deal else in political economy.

Select Bibliography Blake, Kathleen, Pleasures of Benthamism:  Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). Çelikkol, Ayşe, Romances of Free Trade:  British Literature, Laissez-​Faire, and the Global Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). Freedgood, Elaine, The Ideas in Things:  Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006). Gagnier, Regenia. The Insatiability of Human Wants:  Economics and Aesthetics in Market Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). Gallagher, Catherine, The Body Economic: Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and The Victorian Novel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006). Henry, Nancy, and Cannon Schmitt (eds), Victorian Investments: New Perspectives on Finance and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), Poovey, Mary, Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth-​and Nineteenth-​ Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). Poovey, Mary (ed.), The Financial System in Nineteenth-​Century Britain (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). Rappoport, Jill, Giving Women: Alliance and Exchange in Victorian Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Woodmansee, Martha, and Mark Osteen (eds), The New Economic Criticism: Studies at the Intersection of Literature and Economics (London: Routledge, 1999).

62  James Mill, The History of British India (1818), abr. and introd. William Thomas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975). See also J. S. Mill, Writings on India, in Collected Works, ed. Robson et al., xxx.

Sexing the Victorians

Chapter 8

T he Victoria ns , Se x , and Gende r Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn

In ‘Virgin Soil’ (1894) the New Woman writer George Egerton offers a narrative from girlhood to married life in two exchanges between a mother and her daughter. The first conversation is an aborted one: the mother is ‘scarcely less disturbed’ than her daughter, whose bridegroom is waiting downstairs in the family home; ‘flushing painfully, making a strenuous effort to say something to the girl, something that is opposed to the whole instincts of her life,’ the mother finds herself unable to speak beyond fragments: ‘You are married now, darling, and you must obey’—​she lays a stress upon the word—​‘your husband in all things—​there are—​there are things you should know—​ but—​marriage is a serious thing, a sacred thing’—​with desperation—​‘you must believe that what your husband tells you is right—​let him guide you—​tell you—​’.1

The girl, with ‘anxious impatience’, demands to know ‘What is it?’ but the duty-​bound mother cannot make explicit her knowledge. Five years later the daughter confronts her mother on the truths withheld: about marriage, the relationship between men and women, and the sexual claims a husband may lawfully make:  ‘He has stood on his rights; but do you think, if I had known, that I would have given such insane obedience, from a mistaken sense of duty, as would lead to this? I have my rights too, and my duty to myself; if I had only recognised them in time. Sob away, mother; I don’t even feel for you.’2

A compact conjoining of ideas around motherhood, the condition of women, the dom­ estic, sexuality, the law, and gendered and generational divides, Egerton’s tale encapsulates 1 

George Egerton, ‘Virgin Soil’, in Egerton, Keynotes and Discords, ed. Sally Ledger (Birmingham: Birmingham University Press, 2003), 127–​34, at 127. 2  Egerton, ‘Virgin Soil’, 133.

162    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture the difficulties faced by reader or critic in separating out the complexities of Victorian ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’. Against a backdrop of change and dissonance, the Victorians saw considerable upheaval across normative codes of social, sexual, and gendered behaviour. One cannot set these changes apart from wider issues: religion, science, class, and empire all had a role to play in the growing resistance to established discourses and the invocation of new approaches to the position of women, men, and sexuality. In this chapter we want to look at some current themes in Victorian gender and sexuality studies and place them into the contexts of the multiple cultural frameworks, identities, and discourses on rights that circulated in the period. Public debates developed from earlier contexts, such as the intellectual challenge posed by the eighteenth-​century ‘Bluestockings’, the equality discourses of the French Revolution, and the political writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the first British feminist manifesto, Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Closer to the start of the Victorian period, the Queen Caroline Affair of 1820, which saw George IV thwarted in his attempt to have his wife convicted of adultery in order to obtain a divorce, has been identified as an event which sparked widespread outrage and advanced calls for social reform related to women.3 The sharp legal differentiation between the sexes in favour of men—​in educational provision, access to the professions, marriage, child custody, property and citizenship rights—​ended only in the early twentieth century. Encompassing the variety of social and cultural changes across the Victorian landscape therefore necessitates an awareness of the periods both before 1837 and after 1901. Yet it is between these two dates that the richness and diversity of modern understandings of gender and sexuality took shape. While ‘new’ sexualities and gender positions were not entirely novel in themselves, the amount of attention devoted to questions of gendered and sexed selfhood and subjectivity grew exponentially during the years of Victoria’s reign. The focus of this chapter is ‘the massive and heated debate around sexuality [and gender] which took place in the […] nineteenth […] century’.4 While Sheila Jeffreys dates this debate to the latter years of the century, the foundations of the oppositional positions embraced by many late Victorians and the solutions to the dilemmas they proposed can be traced to much earlier decades. Such debates were often figured in the literature of the time in its broadest sense, with poetry and prose presenting particular challenges and opportunities for new ways of thinking. In a post-​Foucauldian critical context heavily influenced by the disciplinary knowledge conceptualized in The History of Sexuality (1976), there can be a tendency to obscure the disordered and contradictory nature of sexualized and gendered power relations during the nineteenth century. The return in Victorian studies to historicist modes on the one hand and affective discourses on the other poses specific problems for the assessment of gender and sexuality within the period. While thirty years separate two definitional publications by Steven Marcus (1966) and Michael Mason (1994), the last twenty years have demonstrated a shift from both 3  Susie L. Steinbach, Understanding the Victorians: Politics, Culture and Society in Nineteenth-​Century Britain (London: Routledge, 2012), 37–​8, 133. 4  Sheila Jeffreys, ‘Introduction’, in Jeffreys (ed.), The Sexuality Debates (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), 1.

The Victorians, Sex, and Gender    163 feminist and queer perspectives on the nineteenth century into a more fluid and fluctuating dynamic of cultural and social complications in sexing the Victorians. This shift goes beyond the juxtaposition in the popular imagination between stereotyped Victorian prudery and the growth in pornographic materials, and reflects something of the tension in attempting to understand the nineteenth-​century past, even through its literature, as a ‘knowable’ experience. What Lynda Nead has termed the ‘myths of sexuality’ in female representation5 can be extended into the mythical nature of the debates which we perceive to have defined the Victorians’ understanding of their bodies and identities. The limited opportunities for women in the early years of the period have often been placed into the context of the ways in which the female body was portrayed as subject to emotions unbecoming of virginal purity or domestic satisfaction. Ruskin’s ‘Of Queen’s Gardens’ (1865) presented the dutiful (middle-​class) woman determinedly serving her husband as part of a harmonious division of labour and love, yet his simultaneous aesthetic appreciation of the female pure form and his mythic repulsion at its real-​life fleshliness is itself part of the Victorian über-​narrative around sex and desire.6 Even as Ruskin and others poeticized and thus desexualized the relationship between women and men, the Victorians were conceptualizing women as a body that, individually and collectively, undermined purity and decorum. Cultural and medical discourse on female madness underlined the scientific objectives of locating the mysteries of female sexuality in a distorted sense of sexualized, bodily impurity. The physicality and reproductive function of the female body and any desires it might harbour were causes of deep male anxieties. Normative sexuality revolved around reproduction, generating ideas of the female’s responsive duty and the male’s naturalized need rather than desire. Even within marriage female passion and sexual longing transgressed against codes of domestic sexuality; active and ‘uncontrolled’ female sexuality was conceived as ‘the major, almost defining symptom of insanity in women’.7 Such regulation of female sexuality, within or outside of marriage, could take extreme forms: recommended treatment for sexually responsive menopausal women included ‘injections of ice water into the rectum, introduction of ice into the vagina, and leeching of the labia and the cervix’.8 A prominent example of medical interventionism was Isaac Baker Brown, who referred fellow practitioners to the excision of the clitoris as a panacea for female depression, insomnia, abdominal pain, uterine complaints, sterility, and even constipation. That ‘[u]‌sual operation’,9 which he performed with indulgence until his expulsion from the Obstetrical Society in 1867, is described in On Some Diseases of Woman Admitting Surgical Treatment (1866). As Brown writes: 5 

Lynda Nead, Myths of Sexuality: Representations of Women in Victorian Britain (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988). 6  See Robert Hewison, John Ruskin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) for a rebuttal of the myth. 7  Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830–​1980 (London: Virago, 1985), 74. 8 Showalter, The Female Malady, 75. 9  Isaac Baker Brown, ‘Case IV’, On the Curability of Certain Forms of Insanity, Epilepsy, Catalepsy and Hysteria in Females (1866), in Jeffreys (ed.), The Sexuality Debates, 14.

164    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Enlargement of the clitoris, [ … ] always attended by abnormal irritability, is a condition of [ … ] frequent occurrence [ … ] and is for the most part brought on by self-​ abuse [ … . ] The radical cure of the habit is, however, fortunately in our hands [ … . ] The necessity for the [ … ] amputation of the clitoris, when much enlarged, has been recognised by surgeons generally; but I would go further and say, that this operation should be resorted to in all cases where that organ is found in an abnormal state.10

Normalizing discourses were, however, in tension in this period. Female masturbation and sexual desire as outlined here were seen as needing discipline and extirpation at the same time as both male ‘self-​abuse’ and male degeneracy/​effeminacy were viewed as constitutive of impotence.11 Such early formulations of sexualized knowledge frequently represented sex as an urge in need of control and the libidinal as inherently lascivious and corrupting not only for the individual but also as part of a wider social threat. Female hysteria was a long-​standing subject of public and literary debate. Visitors flocked to Bedlam to view the inmates, including in 1851 Charles Dickens, who visited the Christmas Ball at St Luke’s Hospital and noted the different ‘types’ of women to be found there: There was the brisk, vain, pippin-​faced little old lady, in a fantastic cap [ … . T]here was the old-​young woman, with the dishevelled long light hair, spare figure, and weird gentility; there was the vacantly-​laughing girl, requiring now and then a warning finger to admonish her; there was the quiet young woman, almost well, and soon going out [ … . ] The experience of this asylum did not differ, I found, from that of similar establishments, in proving that insanity is more prevalent among women than among men.12

Dickens’s comments here are interesting precisely because he rationalizes the scene before him as one that is to be expected and, moreover, typical. Each of the individual women becomes a ‘type’ and the very diversity of age, appearance, and experience registers the fact that madness, as Elaine Showalter has illustrated, is a ‘female malady’.13 But women did not have to be imprisoned in asylums to be considered insane. The domestic sphere of the home could itself become a prison in both literal and metaphorical terms. The madness of Bertha Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) provided the focus of Gilbert and Gubar’s influential revisionist reading of nineteenth-​century female authorial subjectivity.14 Religion and race both come into play here: when Rochester 10  Baker Brown, On Some Diseases of Woman Admitting Surgical Treatment (1866), in Jeffreys (ed.), The Sexuality Debates, 27. 11  Angus McLaren, Impotence: A Cultural History (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2007), 128–​30. 12  Charles Dickens, ‘A Curious Dance Round A Curious Tree’, Household Words, 11 (1852), 362–​9, at 367. 13 Showalter, The Female Malady; also Jane Ussher, Women’s Madness: Misogyny or Mental Illness? (Brighton: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), 63–​94. 14  Sandra Gilbert and Susan M. Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-​Century Literary Imagination (New Haven: Yale, 1979).

The Victorians, Sex, and Gender    165 admits his relationship with Bertha, he refers to her ‘sin’, her ‘obnoxious’ tastes, ‘her cast of mind common, low, narrow, and singularly incapable of being led to anything higher’. His wife’s vices, he declares, ‘sprang up fast and rank: they were so strong [as to elude control … ] Bertha Mason,—​the true daughter of an infamous mother,—​dragged me through all the hideous and degrading agonies which must attend a man bound to a wife at once intemperate and unchaste’.15 The rationale provided for Bertha’s incarceration bears relation to Dickens’s mid-​Victorian categorization of the types (and ages) of women’s insanity, yet even at the end of the century solitary confinement was still prescribed as a palliative for female depression. This is exemplified in a chilling story by the American feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In fictive diary entries ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ (1892) records a woman’s descent into madness following her husband’s imposition of Silas Weir Mitchell’s rest cure: a treatment that condemned middle-​class women to immobility and imprisonment in their home or a sanatorium. Patients were fed five substantial meals a day and forbidden any form of mental or physical activity, including reading, writing, even needlework, and sitting up in bed.16 Regular food intake may well have addressed anorexia, a disorder first diagnosed in 1873;17 yet the treatment also mimicked the conditions of pregnancy and infancy. A second childishness was thus imposed on women that, if it made them docile and manageable, was also liable to heighten or even trigger symptoms of insanity. The problem for women in the eyes of the male medical establishment lay in their bodies. In an earlier generation, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) had illustrated male scientists’ desire to conquer nature, coded female in its ability to create, to give birth. Throughout the nineteenth century the same problem is figured in literary and cultural texts: while motherhood and reproductive power are venerated as according women their role and status within society, they also always constitute a threat to masculinity. Women’s sexual desires therefore needed to be separated from the physical value encapsulated by their reproductive function. It was this which prompted so much debate on the issue of whether a ‘normal’ woman could or should have sexual feelings. Female desire was displaced into reproductive impulses. Authors of fiction addressed social issues relating to a wider crisis in gender relations and understandings of sexuality in a variety of ways. The Brontës’ work reflects this diversity, from Jane Eyre with its madwoman in the attic and its independent heroine who will not submit to a man the way traditionally expected of a wife, through the passionate intensity of the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), to Anne Brontë’s escapee mother in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), a wife who slams the door on her abusive and alcoholic husband, abducts the child that is legally his, and compels him to sign over custody rights to herself. These novels can all be read through the lens of the emerging discourse that challenged


Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, ed. Richard J. Dunn (New York: Norton, 2001), 260–​1.

16 Showalter, The Female Malady, 138–​40, 127. 17 Showalter, The Female Malady, 127.

166    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture traditional models of male rights and female responsibilities and engaged with the potentially destructive nature of unfulfilled as opposed to unchecked sexual desire. Like Baker Brown, William Acton’s The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (1875) pathologized female sexuality; his commentary on masturbation asserts that ‘the majority of women (happily for society) are not very much troubled with sexual feeling of any kind. What men are habitually, women are only exceptionally.’ These exceptional women were categorized as either criminal (prostitutes) or insane (nymphomaniacs).18 The sexual double standard and a division between the spheres of public and private, domestic and professional, amplified notions of gender difference around the physicality of the body even at a time when social changes were advancing a cause of more direct action for increased female access to (higher) education, the professions, and other areas of life. The case is illustrated by another prominent physician, Henry Maudsley’s, insistence that a university education inflicted irreparable damage on women’s mental and physiological health and, by impairing the reproductive system, was injurious to the collective body politic of society. Academic study, Maudsley proclaimed, foredoomed women to ‘lifelong suffering’ by ‘incapacitat[ing] them for the adequate performance of the natural functions of their sex [ … ] by reason of the development of their reproductive functions, they will be the more easily and the more seriously deranged’.19 That Maudsley’s influential article coincided with a particularly active phase in women’s struggle for medical training20 indicates the strength of male establishment fears of prospective professional competition. Often it was in attempting to engage the medical profession in particular that women could be seen to reposition gender normativity. James Miranda Barry, the army surgeon who at his death in 1865 was discovered to be a woman, served as evidence of the speciousness of medical arguments which called female professional ability into question.21 The start of the Victorian age saw limited opportunities for women:  girl, then woman; wife and mother; spinster (possibly), governess, widow—​ but all these served as middle-​class positions; for the working classes the choices, even for married women, were often a lot starker and included prostitution. In the course of the period, both single and married women gained significant ground, in terms of higher education, entry to the professions,22 and, for wives, the (limited) right to divorce,

18  William Acton, The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (1875), in Jeffreys (ed.), The Sexuality Debates, 61. 19  Henry Maudsley, ‘Sex in Mind and in Education’ (1874), in Katharina Rowold (ed.), Gender and Science: Late Nineteenth-​Century Debates on the Female Mind and Body (Bristol: Thoemmes, 1996), 41; see female medical responses in the same volume, and Rowold’s The Educated Woman: Minds, Bodies, and Women’s Higher Education in Britain, Germany, and Spain, 1865–​1914 (London: Routledge, 2010). 20  Catriona Blake, The Charge of the Parasols: Women’s Entry to the Medical Profession (London: Women’s Press, 1990), 114–​55. 21  Rachel Holmes, Scanty Particulars: The Mysterious, Astonishing and Remarkable Life of Victorian Surgeon James Barry (London: Penguin, 2002). 22  Philippa Levine, Victorian Feminism 1850–​1900 (London: Hutchinson, 1987), 26–​81.

The Victorians, Sex, and Gender    167 child custody, and property. The stark nature of differences around marriage law began to undergo changes during the latter half of the century, influenced by prominent cases such as that of Caroline Norton.23 While co-​equal parenting rights did not come into force until 1925, the Norton case in the 1830s highlighted the legal double standard as it applied to marital violence and child custody; its impact in terms of the Infant Custody Acts (1839, 1873, 1886), which introduced and extended wives’ (relative) custody rights,24 and the civil divorce Acts that began with the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act were important in raising issues that would come to dominate wider cultural concerns about equality and justice between the sexes. Further reforms were implemented under the Married Women’s Property Act (1870), but not until 1882 were women granted independent rights over property and separate income from their husbands.25 Women’s access to divorce remained circumscribed until the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1923, for adultery—​the grounds on which men could seek a divorce—​was not deemed sufficient grievance for wives, who had to prove further aggravating causes: bigamy, cruelty, incest, sodomy, bestiality, or desertion without cause for over two years.26 Where fiction, drama, and poetry explored mounting calls for equality in the narratives of personal experience, movements in politics, economics, and science responded to social change by creating new models of categorizing individuals. In social and political discourses, mid-​Victorian philosophers and women’s rights campaigners sought to explore the possibilities of a different, more egalitarian relationship between the sexes. In ‘Criminals, Idiots, Women, and Minors’ (1868) Frances Power Cobbe wrote about the way in which democratic rights were withheld from women by classifying them as socially or mentally defective: To a woman [ … ] who is aware that she has never committed a Crime; who fondly believes that she is not an Idiot; and who is alas! only too sure she is no longer a Minor, there naturally appears some incongruity in placing her, for such important purposes, in an association wherein otherwise she would scarcely be likely to find herself.

23  Barbara Caine, English Feminism 1780–​1980 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 66–​70; Caroline Norton, ‘From English Laws for Women in the Nineteenth Century’ (1858), in Harriet Devine Jump (ed.), Women’s Writing of the Victorian Period 1837–​1901: An Anthology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), 78–​88. 24  Mary Lyndon Shanley, Feminism, Marriage, and the Law in Victorian England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 131–​55. Full co-​equal parenting rights did not come into force until 1973. Under the Guardianship of Infants Act of 1925 a father remained the sole legal guardian of his children until a case went to court, at which stage co-​equal rights were applied. See Angela V. John, Turning the Tide: The Life of Lady Rhondda (Cardigan: Parthian, 2013), 377–​8. 25  Lee Holcombe, Wives & Property: Reform of the Married Women’s Property Law in Nineteenth-​ Century England (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983), 229; Shanley, Feminism, Marriage and the Law. 26  Maeve E. Doggett, Marriage, Wife-​Beating and the Law in Victorian England (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993), 100.

168    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Cobbe’s article illustrates the extent to which the ‘minority’ status of women was enshrined in the legal position of nonentity they occupied vis-​à-​vis their husbands: By the common law of England a married woman has not legal existence, so far as property is concerned, independently of her husband. The husband and wife are assumed to be one person, and that person is the husband.27

In highlighting how women ceased to exist within domestic frameworks even though they were thought to reach their culmination in familial and social duty, Cobbe’s comments provide the narrative connection between the mother and daughter, the old and the new, female subjects that gained renewed topicality in Egerton’s ‘Virgin Soil’ in the 1890s. While there were voices that challenged these ideas, like Eliza Lynn Linton in her articles ‘The Girl of the Period’ (1868), ‘The Modern Revolt’ (1870), and ‘Modern Man-​Haters’ (1871),28 Cobbe reinforced the growing numbers of reformers intent on addressing the prevailing inequalities. An even more powerful social document for the feminist cause was John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869), which proclaimed that the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes—​the legal subordination of one sex to the other—​is wrong itself, and [ … ] one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; [ … ] it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other.29

The language of ‘disability’ deployed by Mill and the context in which he placed the emphasis on the ‘one’ towards ‘the other’ without invoking the words male and female served to humanize the issues, remaining concrete to the example but also abstract as a concept. None of these political or social statements should be seen in isolation from the literary culture of this period. George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871–​2), published shortly after Mill’s polemic, is partly the story of a woman’s development within social structures which curtail her potential. Owing its design to questions of novelistic and scientific experiment, the novel questions the continuity of historical models of female selfhood by scrutinizing what happens if we place a character with a personality structure like St Theresa into an early-​nineteenth-​century British provincial context. Indeed, the relevance of religious historical narratives to contemporary understandings of sex and 27  Frances Power Cobbe, ‘Criminals, Idiots, Women, and Minors’ (1868), in Susan Hamilton (ed.), Criminals, Idiots, Women, & Minors: Nineteenth-​Century Writing by Women on Women (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 1995), 110–​11. 28  All reproduced in Valerie Sanders and Lucy Delap (eds), Victorian and Edwardian Anti-​Feminism, 4 vols. (London: Routledge, 2010), vols. i and ii. 29  John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women (1869; London: Virago, 1983), l.

The Victorians, Sex, and Gender    169 gender is important.30 In a society where all that women are expected to aspire to is marriage and motherhood, domesticity and happy subordination to a husband, the modern saint feels out of place but also alienated from a history or tradition of female role models. As a result all the energy that seeks for an outlet is displaced into marriage. Dorothea herself has internalized the patriarchal idea that women can only achieve their desire to lead a purposeful life through the medium of a husband: For a long while [Dorothea] had been oppressed by the indefiniteness which hung in her mind [ … ] over all her desire to make her life greatly effective. What could she do, what ought she to do?—​she, hardly more than a budding woman, but yet with an active conscience and a great mental need [ … ]. ‘I should learn everything then,’ she said to herself [ … . ] ‘It would be my duty to study that I might help him the better in his great works [ … . ] It would be like marrying Pascal. I should learn to see the truth by the same light as great men have seen it by.’31

Attached to a man in order to find a sense of individual attainment, Dorothea, like many other women of the period, is to discover part of her tragedy in precisely such a formulation, because Casaubon (and society) will not endorse a woman’s desire for learning and meaningful occupation when she takes on the role of wife. The educational but also cultural, social, and ethical waste of female contribution beyond the domestic and the familial were fundamental factors in energizing women writers’ narratives about female potential and its dissociation from achievement and personal growth. Domesticity, the ideology of separate spheres, and the symbolic figure of the ‘Angel in the House’—​a term coined in Coventry Patmore’s poem of that title (1854–​61)—​were all concepts that acted as constraints on women’s prospects and their rights. In Patmore’s words, ‘Man must be pleased; but him to please | Is woman’s pleasure; down the gulf | Of his condoled necessities | She casts her best, she flings herself.’32 Virginia Woolf was later to satirize this idea when she wrote that the domestic goddess ‘was utterly unselfish [ … . ] She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it—​in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others.’33 To Woolf, as to the late-​Victorian generation of women before her, the Angel had to be killed for the independent girl and professional woman to be born. That this domestic angel could harbour murderous impulses which attacked the very heart of the home was brought to the fore by the 1860s appetite for sensation fiction which, in the wake of Mary Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), often identified the innocuous, childlike beauty who aspired to nothing higher than adorning the hearth 30  John Maynard, Victorian Discourses of Sexuality and Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). 31  George Eliot, Middlemarch, ed. Bert G. Hornback (New York: Norton, 2000), 18–​19. 32  Coventry Patmore, ‘Sahara’, The Angel in the House (London: Macmillan and Company, 1863), 109. 33  Virginia Woolf, ‘Professions for Women’ (1931), in Michèle Barrett (ed.), Virginia Woolf: On Women and Writing (London: Women’s Press, 1992), 59.

170    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture as the demon who struck disaster and destruction from within. If sensationalists went to great lengths to explode all-​too comfortable clichés about women and femininity, they nevertheless habitually closed their texts with the punishment of the deviant woman and the restoration of the old patriarchal order (a notable counter-​example is Louisa May Alcott’s pseudonymous thriller ‘Behind a Mask’ of 1866). It was not until the New Woman novels of the 1880s and 1890s that female characters were simultaneously endowed with subversive drives and the intellectual acumen to articulate an explicit feminist challenge to the status quo. Women as girls, wives and mothers, spinsters, companions, or governesses: all these types of character appear in Victorian novels either in order to reinforce prevailing cultural stereotypes or to contest them. It is striking how much fiction of this period involves a female protagonist having to find employment as a governess, schoolteacher, or companion—​Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Villette (1853), Dickens’s Bleak House (1852–​3), and Ellen Wood’s East Lynne (1861), to name only a few. Such a position, particularly that of governess or lady’s companion, left the woman concerned in a kind of limbo: on the one hand, because of her proximity to the family for which she worked, she was not a servant; on the other, that very proximity meant that to the servants she was almost part of the family. In a liminal position, women employed in this way were a useful asset to the family (having a governess for one’s children was a social status symbol), while their unmarried state was a constant threat to the stability of the domestic space, more so when, as often happened, they were engaged following the death of the children’s natural mother, usually in childbirth. Towards the end of the period Henry James’s novella ‘The Turn of the Screw’ (1897) unpicks both the sanity of its governess protagonist and the fraught social and psychological position in which such a woman finds herself. By the close of the century, with novels and social documents by Victorian feminists and New Women writers like Emma Frances Brookes (A Superfluous Woman, 1894), Mona Caird (The Daughters of Danaus, 1894; The Morality of Marriage, 1897), Mary Cholmondeley (Red Pottage, 1899), Ella Hepworth Dixon (The Story of a Modern Woman, 1894), Sarah Grand (Ideala, 1888; The Heavenly Twins, 1893; The Beth Book, 1897), Olive Schreiner (The Story of an African Farm, 1883; Woman and Labour, 1911), and others, women were prepared to address social concerns arising from gender and sexuality in a far more direct fashion. But like their ‘Old Woman’ rivals, New Women embraced a variety of different and at times contradictory perspectives (Egerton’s work is a case in point). These ranged from sociopolitical narratives informed by Victorian feminist interest in women’s educational and professional aspirations, and concerns about sexual oppression (the double moral standard, marital inequality and unhappiness, sexual and medical abuse, the threat of syphilitic contagion through reckless husbands, women’s escape into and demise in madness), to explorations of ‘free love,’ new lifestyles, and sexual experimentation. Diversity was also key to the way in which popular and aesthetic modes of cultural engagement with the New Woman intersected with each other. Thus short experimental fiction associated with fin-​de-​siècle decadence, allegorical writing, and epic poetry, often in invocation of classical antiquity, displayed the

The Victorians, Sex, and Gender    171 same interest in exploring transgressive femininities as was evidenced in consumer culture’s fascination with the morally and sexually disinhibiting effects of the New Woman’s enthusiasm for the latchkey, bicycle, and rational dress, and the potentially injurious repercussions of academic study and professional career planning on marriage, motherhood, and the health and continuance of the ‘race’.34 Anti-​feminists like Mary Ward, Linton, and Walter Besant contributed to the genre to launch a defence of traditional patriarchal values in counter-​narratives which castigated feminists and other left-​wing campaigners as sexual anarchists.35 Male writers like Grant Allen, Arnold Bennett, and H. G. Wells claimed allegiance to feminism only to advance arguments for the imperative for women to refocus their energies on the reproduction of the species. Among the feminist writers, where Schreiner’s philosophical aesthetic developed new modes of writing (‘dreams’, as she termed them) and juxtaposed utopian with foreclosed choices for the female subject and her body in texts like The Story of an African Farm (1883), Dreams (1890), and From Man to Man (posth. 1926), Grand projected a feminized notion of New Womanhood, utilizing traditional narrative forms to explore subversive plots (syphilis-​infected or transvestite bodies, gender bending and homosocial desire in The Heavenly Twins, 1893), while Caird drew on classical myth to offer a radical feminist critique of marriage and motherhood.36 If the principle of free love—​pre/​extramarital sex and cohabitation—​was endorsed by some advanced writers and feminists, even members of the Legitimation League, an organization founded to support illegitimate children and offer support to unmarried partners, felt obliged to admit that women faced considerably higher risks than men. A prominent example is the socialist Edith Lanchester’s committal to a lunatic asylum in 1895 following her refusal to marry her lover.37 While Lanchester was set free at the instigation of socialist friends, the ‘free union’ of Karl Marx’s daughter Eleanor ended with suicide after she discovered Edward Aveling’s clandestine marriage to another woman.38 34  See Ann Ardis, New Women: New Novels: Feminism and Early Modernism (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990); Ann Heilmann, New Woman Fiction: Women Writing First-​ Wave Feminism (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000); Iveta Juosva, The New Woman and the Empire (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005); Rita Kranidis, Subversive Discourse: The Cultural Production of Late Victorian Feminist Novels (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995); Sally Ledger, The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism as the Fin de Siècle (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997); Carolyn Christensen Nelson (ed.), A New Woman Reader (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2001); Patricia Marks, Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers: The New Woman in the Popular Press (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990); T. D. Olverson, Women Writers and the Dark Side of Late-​Victorian Hellenism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Lyn Pykett, The ‘Improper’ Feminine: The Women’s Sensation Novel and the New Woman Writing (London: Routledge, 1992); Talia Schaffer, The Forgotten Female Aesthetes: Literary Culture in Late-​Victorian England (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000). 35  Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (London: Bloomsbury, 1991). 36  Ann Heilmann, New Woman Strategies: Sarah Grand, Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004). 37  Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: English Feminism & Sexual Morality 1885–​1914 (London: Penguin, 1995), 156–​61. 38  Ruth Brandon, The New Women and the Old Men (London: Secker & Warburg, 1990), 133–​59.

172    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Nor did fictional heroines fare much better: in Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm Lyndall spectacularly regresses from feisty child rebel to teenage anorexic in the wake of her pregnancy and the death of her illegitimate baby. Given the disproportionately high stakes for women, feminist writers were more likely to embrace social purity feminism, a movement which advocated premarital chastity for both sexes alongside a maternalist programme of social renovation.39 Social purity feminists argued that rather than desiring freedom to engage in sexual experimentation, women required freedom from being subjected to non-​consensual sexual activity. Indeed, rape in marriage did not exist as a legal category. Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and other feminists’ endeavour to lobby for the introduction of marital rape as a criminal offence was rejected, given that ‘consent [was] immaterial’ in the case of wives40 (it was not until 1990 that the criminal law was amended). The ‘horror made manifest’41 of such legalized ‘nightly degradation’42 looms large in New Woman fiction, where husbands are shown breaking down the locked doors of their wives’ bedrooms and forcing themselves onto them in a state of inebriation. The bodily revulsion from the imposition of conjugal (male) rights is also a prominent aspect of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895), whose New Woman character Sue throws herself out of a window rather than submit to her lawful husband’s loathsome advances. Other male authors were depicting a different version of female desire and sexuality. The sexualized women of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) are divided into the neat categories of the homely, wifely, devoted, yet intellectually suppressed and professionally aspirational, Mina Harker and the voluptuous, sex-​driven, femme fatale figures of the female vampires and the easily vampirized, all-​too-​sensual Lucy Westenra. As Richard Dellamora (1990) has argued, the repositioning of masculine desire in relation to aestheticism and the end-​ of-​the-​century moment has especial relevance to the reading of the displacement of sexuality onto the Gothicized other, with texts like Stoker’s novel underlining not only fears of the feminine but anxious stirrings around male sexuality too. Frequently, masculinity was seen as under threat from women and subject to dangers of its own design.43 Writers of the latter part of the century sought to investigate sexual problems with the same drive as the earlier Victorians had explored questions around the condition of the nation. Stoker’s Dracula, Henrik Ibsen’s play Ghosts (1881; first English staging 1891), and Grand’s The Heavenly Twins (1893) are explicit critiques of a sexual lasciviousness which has infected the body politic of society: they are works about the spread of syphilis, a disease, then incurable, which reached epidemic levels in the last quarter of the nineteenth

39 Bland, Banishing the Beast; Angelique Richardson, Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth-​

Century: Rational Reproduction & the New Woman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). 40  Justice Hawkins, quoted in Shanley, Feminism, Marriage and the Law, 185. 41 Iota, A Yellow Aster (London: Hutchinson, 1894), 145. 42  Egerton, ‘Virgin Soil’, 155. 43  Angus McLaren, ‘Introduction’ to The Trials of Masculinity: Policing Sexual Boundaries, 1870–​1930 (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1997); James Eli Adams, Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1995).

The Victorians, Sex, and Gender    173 century and was considered to put the country’s military capability at threat. To contain the risk of transmission and protect army personnel by enabling access to ‘safe’ prostitutes, three Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866, 1869) authorized a special police force in garrison towns to subject any woman believed to be a prostitute to a gynaecological examination. Found diseased, she was committed to a ‘lock hospital’ (prison); if healthy, she was registered as a common prostitute and required to return for regular check-​ ups. Men were exempt from examination. Once again the law distinguished between the rights of men and the sexual functions of women. To feminists, prostitution ‘reform’ in the guise of the Contagious Diseases Acts constituted a fundamental threat to the position of women as human beings.44 The Acts in effect legalized prostitution and allowed the state to assert rights of ownership over (presumed) prostitutes’ bodies rather than seeking to curb male impulses towards the purchasing of sex that had caused the original problem. Josephine Butler’s campaigns against the Acts eventually succeeded with their repeal in 1886, but the fact that male politicians had been prepared to enact them and, alongside prominent women doctors, saw such actions as reasonable illustrates the paradoxes of Victorian concepts of progress in the period. The tension here revolves around the ways in which male sexual activity which involved buying the female body remained ‘acceptable’, while the ‘impurity’ of that female body allowed it to become an object of state control and enforced ‘inspection’. This is also, of course, an issue of class: if middle-​class women were ‘Angels in the House’, then working-​class women had to be the devils in the gutter. But as W. T. Stead demonstrated in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885 in his sensationalist articles on girl child trafficking, ‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’, the affordability of the young girl’s sexualized body was open to those with the power to purchase. We might also perceive here one of the fundamental contradictions of the period. Despite the existence of a female monarch as ‘mother’ of the nation, women were not seen as the equals of men and could, as in the case of the Contagious Diseases Acts, be subjected to institutionalized abuse. But it was not only women, their sexual desires (or lack thereof), and the sexual threat they posed to men which became a focus for increased attention. Male homosexuality and the anxieties it prompted were a key feature of the literature of the 1880s and 1890s. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), the plays and short stories of Oscar Wilde and his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, the decadence of the Yellow Book, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) all illustrate a fin-​de-​siècle unease with issues of gender and sexuality, and yet also a desire to explore society’s deep-​set ‘dis-​ease’ with these issues. While the discourse surrounding the ‘real’ subjects of these narratives was in some sense hidden beneath a textual veneer, social critics nevertheless made the connection between increasingly complex understandings of the ‘deviant’ behavior at the heart of cultural production and the works of an individual like Wilde. Max Nordau summed up the entire period as one of ‘degeneration’, and it was a degeneration fuelled by a provocative aesthetic which


Judith Walkowitz, Prostitution in Victorian Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).

174    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture undermined traditional gender roles and sexual identities and which was found in the art—​especially the literature—​of the period.45 As studies of decadence indicate, the late-​ Victorian period highlighted specific social and cultural dangers and anxieties around sexual and gender identities,46 but these should not be viewed in isolation from a narrative of unease that had developed over previous decades. Much scholarly attention has been focused on questions of the queering of desire and sexuality. The traces of such ‘subversive’ desires in textual and sexual form can be discerned across the Victorian period, and critical work over the last twenty years has sought to unpick some of the complexities of applying contemporary theoretical and conceptual frameworks onto the nineteenth century. From the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Between Men (1985) through to Sharon Marcus’s Between Women (2007),47 there has been a significant interest in the development of new attentiveness to the sexual and gendered behaviours of the Victorians, specifically in relation to non-​normative models of identity and the performativity of masculinity and femininity and their associated sexual desires. Influenced by theorists such as Judith Butler,48 Victorianists have looked more closely at instances of gender and sexual subversion in mainstream and canonical texts. Holly Furneaux’s work on Dickens49 is a prominent recent example; new approaches to more obviously ‘queered’ writers of the period have also brought forward novel aspects of overt self-​construction around subversive modes of being and loving.50 As Furneaux’s study demonstrates, different forms of affective family relationships could serve as domestic alternatives for same-​sex and asexual relationships. Renewed attention to the family as a site of sexual experience and the formation of gendered thought and belief structures has been at the forefront of a number of studies concerned with questions of incest. Leonore Davidoff ’s analysis of sibling relationships and their ‘potentially erotic content’51 builds upon her earlier work with Catherine Hall on bourgeois family formation52 at the same time as studies by Adam Kuper on bourgeois cousin marriage among the Darwins, Galtons, and Wedgwoods53 and the role of the familial in 45 

Max Nordau, Degeneration (1895; Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968).

46 Showalter, Sexual Anarchy (1990); Judith R. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of

Sexual Danger in Late-​Victorian London (London: Virago, 1992). 47  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985); Sharon Marcus, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). 48  Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London: Routledge, 1990) and Undoing Gender (London: Routledge, 2004). 49  Holly Furneaux, Queer Dickens: Erotics, Families, Masculinities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). 50  See two books on Wilde: Alan Sinfield’s The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde, and the Queer Moment (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); Joseph Bristow (ed.), Oscar Wilde and Modern Culture: The Making of a Legend (Athens, O.: Ohio University Press, 2009). 51  Leonore Davidoff, Thicker than Water: Siblings and Their Relations, 1780–​1920 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 197, especially ‘Sibling Intimacy and the Question of Incest’, 197–​224. 52  Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–​1850 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987). 53  Adam Kuper, Incest & Influence: The Private Life of Bourgeois England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009).

The Victorians, Sex, and Gender    175 marriage plots in the works of Austen, Gaskell, and the Brontës by Mary Jean Corbett,54 have underlined problems of gender and sexual identity across even normative standards of cultural engagement within and outside the family setting. The role of childhood as both the formative stage in the development of gendered identities and the isolationist time in which future patterns of gendered behavior and sexual desire are formulated became more regulated in the Victorian period. Sally Shuttleworth has explored the contexts for childhood development, including a sense of social expectation around gender identity.55 The presence and absence of children in Victorian texts raises continual questions about the mixed messages of Victorian approaches to sexuality and family. Yet social models of childhood themselves fluctuated between acknowledgement of gendered roles and the dissociation of childhood from such processes. Thus the inculcation of muscular Christianity ideals in Charles Kingsley’s Two Years Ago (1857) and Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s School Days (1857) might be read as an attempt to deflect baser masculinity into aggressive forms of physical activity with a moral purpose. Partly this sought to enhance a notion of masculinity that at that very moment found itself in profound crisis. John Tosh’s work on middle-​class men indicates some of the problems associated with trying to construct male identities in the period when so much attention was spent in defence of masculinity via an attack on women.56 This can also be discerned in the interrogation of men’s gender masquerades by focusing on physical identifiers such as beards and self-​conscious attempts to articulate the nature of male roles such as the soldier.57 The latter issue of roles within both social and familial contexts has led to incisive new approaches to Victorian fatherhood, such as Valerie Sanders’s 2009 study.58 Scholarly discourse around masculinity in the Victorian period has become a more pressing issue for contemporary Victorian studies.59 Older models, and indeed the Victorians’ own description, of ‘manliness’ serve multiple purposes that often mask specific identity performances, especially when formulated in conjunction with questions of religion, class, and economics. Where in the early years of the Victorian period bachelorhood was viewed as the norm, by the 1860s male singledom had turned deeply problematic, to the point where masculinity came to be identified as a state defined by marriage.60

54  Mary Jean Corbett, Family Likeness: Sex, Marriage and Incest from Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 2008). 55  Sally Shuttleworth, The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840–​1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). 56  John Tosh, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-​Class Home in Victorian England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999). 57  Susan Walton, Imagining Soldiers and Fathers in the Mid-​Victorian Era: Charlotte Yonge’s Models of Manliness (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010). 58  Valerie Sanders, The Tragi-​Comedy of Victorian Fatherhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Trev Lynn Broughton and Helen Rogers (eds), Gender and Fatherhood in the Nineteenth Century (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). 59  Christopher Lane, The Burdens of Intimacy: Psychoanalysis and Victorian Masculinity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); David Alderson, Mansex Fine: Religion, Manliness and Imperialism in Nineteenth Century British Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998). 60  Sean Brady, Masculinity and Male Homosexuality in Britain, 1861–​1913 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 1.

176    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture The Victorian era was the age of categorization. While the pornographer Henry Spencer Ashbee was creating his encyclopaedia of pornography (the Index Librorum Prohibitorum) under the pseudonym Pisanus Fraxi, the same category drive was developing into aspects of what we might now call sociology and included the emergent discipline of sexology,61 the study of different types of desire, fetish, and ‘deviations’ from the heterosexual norm in the late 1880s and 1890s in the writings of Richard von Krafft-​Ebing, Havelock Ellis, and Edward Carpenter. Recent studies of sexology by Heike Bauer62 and renewed attention to the lives of unconventional late Victorians like Carpenter63 have illuminated how revised discourses of female sexuality were often prefigured through sublimated investigation of male homosexuality, including in its relation to classical reception studies64 and approaches to a tradition of the love that Wilde famously invoked as unable to speak its name. This in turn would influence and be influenced by the end-​of-​century discourses of Freudian psychoanalysis.65 This same desire to determine types led the criminologists Cesare Lombroso and Guglielmo Ferrero to write The Female Offender in 1893: a book which describes women lawbreakers as more ferocious than males precisely because their criminality is a more significant contravention of normative codes of womanhood, but which simultaneously casts their transgression as a reflection of a femininity which was constructed as inherently deviant. While the Victorian period has been subject to close attention to issues of gender and sexuality by scholars in the field, there remains scope for further scholarship and editorial recovery work. In light of the multiplicity of narratives still under-​sourced, renewed focus on the complexities of relations between and within the sexes beyond normative and non-​normative sexual activities offers opportunities for exploration. Questions of celibacy and asexuality, the multiple aspects of Victorian pornography, the social and ethical choices of ‘domestic’ arrangements throughout the period in terms of elective families or alternative life choices, and the frequently marginal but nevertheless spectral presences in canonical and non-​canonical texts may provide new directions for innovative work. Fatherhood and other male identities present fruitful perspectives based on the foundational work of recent studies, along with a richer recognition of the variety of significations encapsulated by the term ‘family’ within such a large chronological time frame.

61  Lisa Z. Sigel, Governing Pleasures: Pornography and Social Change in England, 1815–​1914 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002). 62  Heike Bauer, English Literary Sexology: Translations of Inversion, 1860–​1930 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Lucy Bland and Laura Doan (eds), Sexology in Culture: Labelling Bodies and Desires (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1998) and Sexology Uncensored: The Documents of Sexual Science (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1998). 63  Sheila Rowbotham, Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love (London: Verso, 2008). 64  Linda Dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995); Stefano Evangelista, British Aestheticism and Ancient Greece: Hellenism, Reception, Gods in Exile (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). 65  Jeffrey Weeks, Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality since 1800, 2nd edn. (London: Longman, 1989).

The Victorians, Sex, and Gender    177 Ultimately, the complexities of what happened behind Victorian bedroom doors as opposed to the public (and recorded) sexual and gendered lifestyles might be accommodated by the Victorian and Edwardian actress Mrs Patrick Campbell’s comment that it doesn’t really matter what people do ‘so long as they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses’.66

Select Bibliography Caine, Barbara, English Feminism 1780–​1980 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). Dellamora, Richard, Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1990). Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan M. Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-​Century Literary Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979). Griffin, Ben, The Politics of Gender in Victorian Britain: Masculinity, Political Culture, and the Struggle for Women’s Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). Groag Bell, Susan, and Karen M. Offen (eds), Women, the Family, and Freedom: The Debate in Documents, 1750–​1950, 2 vols. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993). Marcus, Steven, The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-​Nineteenth-​ Century England (1966; London: Transaction, 2009). Mason, Michael, The Making of Victorian Sexuality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994). Miller, Andrew, and James Eli Adams (eds), Sexualities in Victorian Britain (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1996). Mort, Frank, Dangerous Sexualities:  Medico-​Moral Politics in England since 1830, 2nd edn. (London: Routledge, 2000). Shanley, Mary Lyndon, Feminism, Marriage and the Law in Victorian England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989). Showalter, Elaine, Sexual Anarchy:  Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (London: Bloomsbury, 1990).


Alan Dent, Mrs Patrick Campbell (London: Museum Press, 1961), 78.

Chapter 9

The New Woma n a nd H e r Ageing Ot h e r Teresa Mangum

Though the date of the first use of the phrase ‘New Woman’ to categorize a late nineteenth-​century field of novels, plays, poetry, essays, and journalism is debated, the intention of the label is not.1 The new woman emerges in opposition to the traditional woman. Defenders of middle-​class femininity like Eliza Lynn Linton viewed the phrase as a badge of shame; advocates of social and fictional reform adopted it as a badge of honour. What we as literary scholars have generally overlooked, however, is the more obvious opposition between new and old. Viewing the ever expanding field of New Woman literature through the lens of age studies brings the frequent preoccupation with ageing in this literature into view. Given that Victorian conceptions of traditional femininity were implicitly rooted in representations of virginal youth or youthful motherhood, it stands to reason that traditional femininity would be at odds not only with sexual experimentation, variant sexual identities, gender inequities in education, employment, political participation, and the law, but also with old age itself. The struggle between the New Woman and the old woman is particularly vexed, however, because this opposition divides a woman against herself—​specifically, against her own future. Ageing in New Woman literature has received scant attention from scholars,2 but the broader study of ageing and nineteenth-​century British Victorian literature has been greatly enriched in recent years. In Women Writers and Old Age in Britain, 1750–​1850,3 Devoney 1  Doug Kirshen, ‘The New Man in the Age of the New Woman: May 1894–​February 1895’, Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature, 119 (Spring 2011), 26–​48. See also Ellen Jordan, ‘The Christening the New Woman: May 1894’, Victorian Newsletter, 63 (Spring 1983), 19–​21; and Michelle Elizabeth Tusan, ‘Inventing the Woman: Print Culture and Identity Politics During the Fin-​de-​Siècle’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 31, no. 2 (Summer 1998), 169–​182. 2  Andrea Charise is currently writing a book about ageing that will include a chapter on the New Woman. She works with very different materials; the chapter will be a significant contribution to age studies and New Woman studies. 3  Devoney Looser, Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–​1850 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

The New Woman and Her Ageing Other    179 Looser vividly demonstrates the value of studying changes in subject matter and style over a writer’s lifetime by focusing on the late work of a group of long-​lived, early nineteenth-​ century women authors. Kay Heath’s Aging by the Book: The Emergence of Midlife in Victorian Britain4 and Karen Chase’s Victorians and Old Age5 flesh out the stages of women’s lives—​real and imagined—​in energetically researched studies of literature, culture, and late life. In this essay, I focus on the powerful grip anxieties about ageing had on the increasingly diverse field of texts that form the New Woman phenomenon. Fin-​de-​siècle female poets from the period captured the potential consequences for single women once they transitioned from being a ‘young person’ to being a spinster.6 Even when focused on the struggles of young women, realistic New Women novels sometimes include secondary characters that convey ageing not only as a physical phenomenon but also as an affective, social, economic, and relational influence on a character’s identity, options, and functions, within the plot. Nowhere is the fear of ageing more prominent than in those novels where New Women characters and plots intersect with late nineteenth-​century Gothic novels, whether they are situated in the urban or actual jungle. At the end of the century, numerous circumstances combined to rivet public attention upon the elderly. Although the census was taken every ten years dating from 1841, statistics did not refer to individuals’ ages and therefore draw attention to age as a category until 1881. The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure has demonstrated that at the time an individual’s chronological age emerges as bureaucratic data, the birth rate was falling. Consequently, though the life span did not actually increase for most people until the 1920s and 1930s, by the 1890s the decline in births meant that the public perceived the numbers of elderly people to be rising and their lives to be lengthening.7 Moreover, the elderly were assuming a character not only of dependency, but also of profligacy and failure. Charles Booth’s sociological research exposed the plight of the English poor during the 1880s and 1890s and the fact that a large percentage of England’s paupers were over 60. Booth also compiled widely publicized reports that circulated in the form of government publications, pamphlets, and finally as the volume The Aged Poor in England and Wales (1894). Public dismay over the suffering of the ‘aged poor’ inspired the national Poor Law Commission to hold a forum for the discussion of the elderly as a social problem. Hearings were held during the 1890s and covered widely by the press. Faced with the needs of the elderly and the cost of providing welfare for retired people with little income, the government, social organizations, and the press tried to tie down the age at which one became old. Both to ‘protect’ the elderly from overburdening labour and to protect industry from what were coming to be seen as degenerate, ineffectual elderly labourers, the government and industrial leaders very publicly fought proposed pension plans. In 1895 the Old Age Pensions Committee only 4  Kay Heath, Aging by the Book: The Emergence of Midlife in Victorian Britain (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009). 5  Karen Chase, Victorians and Old Age (London: Oxford University Press, 2009). 6  Ana Parejo Vadillo, Women Poets and Urban Aestheticism: Passengers of Modernity (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005) and Talia Schaffer, The Forgotten Female Aesthetes: Literary Culture in Late-​Victorian England (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000). 7  Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost, Further Explored (3rd edn. New York: Scribners, 1974).

180    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture arrived at the age of 65 by claiming that ‘This age and this measure appear to be those as to which there is most concurrence of opinion.’8 In 1908, when Parliament finally passed the Old Age Pensions Act, the arbitrariness of 65 was further illuminated when the House of Commons settled on the fi ­ gure 70 in order to save the government money.9 While social and statistical discourses established the category of old age that gave rise to ‘the aged’ as an imagined class, biomedical theories of ageing pathologized old age and provided many of the traits that would be woven into literary characterizations of age later in the century. Both female bodies and aged bodies suffered when medical discourse coalesced with moral and pseudoscientific rhetorics of degeneration and devolution. The parameters of this bio-​culture of ageing were established by conflicting scientific and popular theories of ageing that were conflated not only in popular periodicals such as The Argosy, Popular Science Monthly, and The Spectator, but also in The Lancet and other medical journals. Stephen Katz provides an impressive analysis of the role medical discourses played in the representation of old age in his Foucauldian study Disciplining Old Age: The Formation of Gerontological Knowledge.10 Despite the rise of clinical medical research, particularly in France and Germany, popular beliefs in the possibility for greatly prolonged life abounded. The potential promise not of immortality but of extended life spawned a host of books and articles either investigating claims of prolonged life or offering advice to ensure longevity. Scientific attempts to forestall ageing rivalled the Gothic qualities of novels like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). In the clinical hospitals of Paris, Jean-​Martin Charcot and Elie Metchnikoff trained their microscopes on the tissues of the patients (and bodies) who formed their largest population—​the elderly. During the 1870s, Charcot conducted studies at the Saltpêtrière of diseases among older women: he determined that certain diseases occurred only in older people and that other, widespread diseases were more virulent among the old.11 The focus in the medical sciences on deterioration linked all too easily with theories of degeneration endemic to late Victorian constructions of the Other from the characterization of alcoholic, disease-​ridden urban working classes, to attacks on the New Woman, to fears that colonists would succumb to savagery, to eugenic arguments for selective marriages. The most popular New Woman novels appear to sidestep these clamouring discourses on ageing because they are intent on rewriting the mid-​century Bildungsroman, a plot so devoted to youth that protagonists seldom achieve middle age, much less what Victorians 8 

Janet Roebuck, ‘When Does “Old Age” Begin? The Evolution of the English Definition’, Journal of Social History, 12 (1979), 416–​428, at 3. 9  Karen Chase provides a detailed history of the forces at work in shaping the experience of old people in Victorians and Old Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), especially in the opening chapter, 1–​62. 10  Stephen Katz, Disciplining Old Age: The Formation of Gerontological Knowledge (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1996). 11  Jean-​Martin Charcot and Alfred L. Loomis, Clinical Lectures on the Diseases of Old Age, trans. Leigh H. Hunt (New York: William Wood, 1881); and Elie Metchnikoff, The Prolongation of Life: Optimistic Studies, trans. P. Chalmers Mitchell (London: William Heinemann, 1907).

The New Woman and Her Ageing Other    181 referred to as ‘the grand climacteric’ in the case of women.12 The best-​selling New Women novels by writers committed to a feminist agenda, like Sarah Grand, tended to compare and contrast the ways that each individual within a group of female characters struggled against social, political, and educational constraints. Grand’s two most widely read books, The Heavenly Twins (1893) and The Beth Book (1897), revealingly subtitled as Being a Study from the life of Elizabeth Caldwell Maclure, a Woman of Genius, epitomize this feminist cannabilizing of the Bildungsroman and in the case of The Beth Book, the Künstlerroman. In these novels and plays, few of the chief female characters remain interesting beyond the youthful moment in which each sets a course for adult life through crucial choices. In the case of The Heavenly Twins, the strongest female character becomes a ventriloquist for a husband the character has urged into Parliament; the eponymous Beth sacrifices a literary career to be a feminist orator committed to gender justice in The Beth Book. Even George Gissing, who first seems willing to foreshadow an active, meaningful late life for women, checks this impulse by naming his character Rhoda Nunn. Even though Rhoda chooses a career in service to other women over a desirable husband, the title, The Odd Women (1893), resists readers’ attempts to imagine a good old age for the character. In these novels, as in much of New Woman fiction focused on young women, readers are left with no ground on which to build counterfactual imagining of these youthful characters’ distant futures as old women even as late life forms a kind of Bildungsroman ballast. In retrospect, it is intriguing that so many of these novels were written by men and women authors who themselves were well into midlife. The repressed old age of the Bildungsroman is unleashed when the New Woman enters late nineteenth-​century Gothic landscapes. The plot logics of dystopias and nightmares enabled illogical connections among the discourses I have been describing so that ‘the aged’ began to be constructed as a socio-​economic group analogous to ‘the poor’ or ‘the working class’ at the very moment when middle-​class intellectuals begin to biologize social problems by dismissing poverty and class conflict as evidence of degeneration and depravity. The substitution process which leads to the conflation of physical deterioration and moral degeneration was the focus of numerous studies of Victorian culture in the 1990s, but there degeneration and decadence are often code for sexual deviance or the intersection of race and sex.13 Class is also assimilated into fears

12  Roe Sybylla discusses climacteric theory in ‘Situating Menopause within the Strategies of Power: A Genealogy’, in Phillipa Rothfield, Paul Komesaroff, and Jeanne Daley (eds), Reinterpreting Menopause: Cultural and Philosophical Issues (New York: Routledge, 1997), 200–​221. One of the most useful contemporary sources is British gynaecologist Edward John Tilt’s The Change of Life in Health and Disease: A Clinical Treatise on the Diseases of the Ganglionic Nervous System Incidental to Women at the Decline of Life, which was published in multiple editions from 1857 to 1883. 13  See for instance Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, 1848–​1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); William M. Greenslade, Degeneration, Culture, and the Novel, 1880–​1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Kelly Hurley, The Gothic Body: Sexuality, Materialism, and Degeneration at the Fin de Siècle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); and Steven Arata, Fictions of Loss in the Victorian Fin de Siècle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

182    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture of degeneration, but the further tendency to incorporate ageing into representations is seldom noted. The form taken by this vampiric class suggests that unwittingly both capitalists, who demanded forced retirement, and social reformers like Charles Booth, who urged the government to provide a pension plan for the deserving ‘aged poor’, helped call into being the faceless, dehumanizing conception of old people as a class, a step towards their further transformation into more complexly constructed forms of Otherness.14 Of all the desires feared in older people, the possibility that sexual desire might be prolonged with age provoked the greatest anxiety. Dr Allan McLane Hamilton, writing in 1883, characterizes the expressions of sexual desire in older men as behaviour ‘amatory, obscene’, adding that ‘such a man is fond of telling of the adventures of his youth and living again its gallant frivolities. His leer is lascivious and he goes about with unbuttoned clothes and is lost to all shame.’15 As historian Carol Haber notes, older men who demonstrated continuing sexual enthusiasm were likely to be suspected of ‘slovenliness, exhibitionism, and child molesting’.16 These signs were read in the courts as evidence of a man’s incompetence to manage property or to write a binding will. Older libidinous women were generally depicted as harmless but absurd or as revolting femmes fatales. Ironically, the fear of those who seem to possess the secret of longevity resonates even in periodical essays that ostensibly celebrate the pleasures of old age. Repeatedly, these essayists begin by offering kindly advice but end by chastising the long-​lived for their surviving desires. In one article, ‘Restlessness in Old Age’, published in The Spectator in 1903, the writer forcefully condemns the unwilling older person: A man […] of fiery energy, whose days have been spent in conflicts, may redouble his efforts at the prospect of their years [… . ] They cannot be content, like Bacon, to leave nations and the next ages or to suffer gladly that others should complete what they have begun.17

Two years later, in The Academy William Knight tries to enforce the stoicism he preaches with his quiet threat: ‘Age is to be honored by us if it lessens […] love for the pleasures of the senses, which must still remain with us, but are wisely moderated more and more.’18 He scorns those who cling to life as ‘avaricious’, arguing that the ‘collecting mania’ is appropriate to youth not age. To demand pleasure and participation in the world is to become ‘usurpers’.19 In this middlebrow periodical literature, characters and plots are being fabricated into narratives of the proper and improper ‘aged’. Impropriety is then 14 

Charles Booth, Old Age Pensions and the Aged Poor: A Proposal (London: Macmillan, 1899). Allan McLane Hamilton, A Manual of Medical Jurisprudence (London: Bermingham & Co., 1883), 27–​28. 16  Carol Haber, Beyond Sixty-​Five: The Dilemma of Old Age in America’s Past (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). 17 [Anon.], The Spectator (28 November 1903), 901. 18  William Knight, ‘A Literary Causerie: De Senectetute’, The Academy and Literature, 1746 (21 October 1905), 1103–​1105, at 1104. 19  Knight, ‘A Literary Causerie’, 1104–​1105. 15 

The New Woman and Her Ageing Other    183 hyperbolized into an invasion of decaying bodies stirred by degenerate, perverse, irritable lusts; of weak childlike minds or dangerously eclectic, electric memories; of near supernatural staying power; and of unfathomable equipoise between life and death. The ‘unnatural’ drive to desire, to control, and to dominate and tyrannize a nation of the young is marked by uninhibited racism and hunger for imperial conquest in several of H. Rider Haggard’s Gothic imperial adventure novels. While Haggard’s novels are often seen as antithetical to New Woman literature, as is often the case in Gothic fiction, strong female characters that might have been heroic in a New Woman novel are cast as figures of excessive horror. In Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885) a centuries-​ old anusi, or witch, Gagool, uses her age and knowledge to dominate king after king. Gagool has none of the conventional feminine powers of youth or beauty. She is so old that her body has shrivelled into a monkey-​like figure of indeterminate sex or color, as age asserts itself as her primary identity. As she slyly explains, long life itself guarantees her terrible control of a majestic lost tribe of African warriors: ‘I have done the bidding of many kings […] till in the end they did mine.’20 Gagool magically sustains her life by offering beautiful, young virgin sacrifices to mountains known as ‘the Old Ones’. Even her name, composed of the syllables Gag and Ghoul, evokes the visceral and visual responses to decrepitude. In Haggard’s 1886 novel, She, the title character discovers a mysterious column of fire deep in Africa which gives her not immortality but thousands of years of prolonged life. Though She (or Ayesha), unlike Gagool, possesses the appalling, destructive beauty of the Siren, both characters are marked as deeply dangerous to the young because their long lives allow the accumulation of vast knowledge and profound boredom—​particularly with the vagaries of the ‘young’. In the case of She, time teaches her detachment from, and disdain for, human suffering, impatience with world religions, necrophilic passions, and—​most outrageously—​a desire to wrest England from that other long-​lived queen, Victoria. Her death literalizes, horrifically, the temporal confusion of the period as the narrator (the self-​consciously middle-​aged) Holly, recalls: Smaller she grew, and smaller yet, till she was no larger than a monkey. Now the skin was puckered into a million wrinkles, and on the shapeless face was the stamp of unutterable age. I never saw anything like it; nobody ever saw anything like the frightful age that was graven on that fearful countenance, no bigger now than that of a two-​months’ child, though the skull remained the same size, or nearly so, and let all men pray they never may, if they wish to keep their reason.21

Here, theories of evolution fuse with fears of devolution; ageing threatens to slide backward as it relentlessly advances forward. Anticipating Dracula, these parasitic, long-​ lived female characters illuminate the unsuspected, corrupted power of old women. 20  H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines (1885), ed. Gerald Monsman (Peterborough: Broadview, 2002), 205. 21  H. Rider Haggard, She (1886), ed. Andrew M. Stauffer (Peterborough: Broadview, 2006), 261–​262.

184    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Frequently, Victorian vampire narratives fused popular and scientific proscriptions for prolonged life with medical accounts of the degenerative physical effects of late life. Dracula (1897), the vampire master narrative, goes even further.22 The undead turn the young into cattle; none are more deadly than the ancient women in Dracula’s castle. Steven Arata characterizes Dracula as the arch-​imperialist in reverse.23 Dracula investigates Britain—​reading every text from the classics to the train schedule—​then he plots his overthrow of English youth, who sustain him with their blood in life and become his army in death. Yet the vampire subjugates not just England, but English youth—​men as well as women. In effect, the vampire populates the fantasized spaces between parasite and predator, desire and perversity, life and death that constitute the psychic landscape of Victorian gerontophobia.24 He or she lives to desire and control, and Dracula is particularly obsessed with dominating young women. He is drawn to Lucy Westenra as a representative idyllic, innocently flirtatious ‘young person’ over whom Victorian traditional and New Women so often fought in fiction. However, his greatest desire is reserved for the New Woman figure, Mina Harker, whose intellect and skills (including typewriting) tempt him to make her forever old by making her forever young. This fantasy is clarified through a comparison with ‘Good Lady Ducayne’, a short story by Mary Elizabeth Braddon that appeared in the popular sensation magazine The Strand in February 1896. Lyn Pykett has argued convincingly for deep connections between sensation fiction and New Woman,25 and that connection can obscure the New Woman qualities of sensation heroines. Here the mysterious, horrific feature that marks the vampire—​the transference of blood from parasite to host—​is a surreptitious medical treatment which allows a wealthy 100-​year-​old woman to purchase long life (echoing the scenes in which Lucy’s suitors give blood to save Lucy Westenra, while Dracula repeatedly drains her blood). In Braddon’s short story, Lady Ducayne pays an Italian doctor to chloroform a series of young female companions and siphon their blood into her veins. When the story begins, two young, impoverished, lower-​middle-​class girls have died. By the story’s end, a third, Bella Royston, is rescued by an admirer, young Dr Stafford, who foils the plot of his medical rival. Ironically, Lady Ducayne appears first and last to Bella as a ‘fairy godmother’:  she pays exceptional wages and Bella’s doctor-​admirer eventually blackmails her into providing Bella with a dowry. Yet physically Lady Ducayne frightens and repulses Bella and the other younger characters: Bella recoils from her ‘Claw-​like fingers, flashing with jewels’, and Dr Stafford, who as a doctor


Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897), ed. Glennis Byron (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1998). Stephen Arata, ‘The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization’, Victorian Studies, 3 (1990), 621–​645. 24  See the introductory chapter by Robert N. Butler in Why Survive? Being Old in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1975) and Kathleen Woodward’s psychoanalytic explanation for gerontophobia in Aging and Its Discontents: Freud and Other Fictions (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991). 25  Lyn Pykett, The Improper Feminine: The Women’s Sensation Novel and the New Woman Writing (New York: Routledge, 1992). 23 

The New Woman and Her Ageing Other    185 should be immune to physical signs of illness or ageing, is spurred to verbal violence at his first sight of Lady Ducayne: that narrow parchment mask. He had seen terrible faces in the hospital—​faces on which disease had set dreadful marks—​but he had never seen a face that impressed him so painfully as this withered countenance, with its indescribable horror of death outlived, a face that should have been hidden under a coffin-​lid years and years ago.26

Like the best of what Kathleen Spencer has called ‘urban gothics’, ‘Good Lady Ducayne’ melds Gothic tradition and contemporary sources of fear—​in this case, medical and technological—​in the depiction of blood transfusions and in implicit allusions to the injection theories of Elie Metchnikoff and his followers.27 Whereas scientists tend to focus on restoring men’s virility, Braddon’s story recasts virility as a motivation. In this case, a female character is motivated by an oddly sexless drive. Female independence is terrifying in this story because that drive is focused on sustaining life, rather than reproduction, for this woman who has achieved wealth and power along with old age. A second and later story takes the literary convention that permits the vampire to shape-​shift to a quite different extreme. The vampire in Ulric Daubeny’s 1919 short story, ‘The Sumach’, is a tree sprung of a stake once used to destroy a human vampire. There are numerous examples of such vampiric botany; however, in ‘The Sumach’ the cultural repulsion towards the ageing body is permitted especially extravagant exaggeration once displaced onto plant tissue. Moreover, the displacement allows for the expression of the fear that should the ageing body be revivified, with false youth would come fearful desires.28 As in ‘Good Lady Ducayne’, the serial killing of young women leads to the discovery of a vampire. Irene Barton moves from suburban London to an estate after her cousin dies suddenly. She finds herself drawn to an enormous sumach that varies from green to crimson. While sitting under its boughs, she begins to have strange fantasies that commingle her absent husband, Hilary, and the tree: Presently she dropped asleep, and in a curiously vivid manner, dreamt of Hilary; that he had completed his business in London, and was coming home. They met at evening, near the garden gate and Hilary spread wide his arms, and eagerly folded them about her. Swiftly the dream began to change, assuming the characteristic of a nightmare. The sky grew strangely dark, the arms fiercely masterful, while the face


Elizabeth Braddon, ‘Good Lady Ducayne’ (1896); repr. in Glennis Byron and Glennis Stephenson (eds), Nineteenth-​Century Stories by Women (Peterborough: Broadview, 1993), 73–​99, at 94. 27  Kathleen Spencer, ‘Purity and Danger: Dracula, the Urban Gothic, and the Late Victorian Degeneration Crisis’, ELH 59 (1992), 197–​225. 28  Ulric Daubeny’s ‘The Sumach’ was first published in his only short story collection, The Elemental: Tales of the Supernormal and the Inexplicable (1919). It was reprinted in Richard Dalby’s anthology Dracula’s Brood (London: HarperCollins, 1987), 294–​296, at 294.

186    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture which bent to kiss her neck was not that of her young husband: it was leering, wicked, gnarled like the trunk of some weather-​beaten tree.29

The sexualized decrepitude of the tree becomes more pronounced in its second attack: relentless, stick-​like arms immediately closed in upon her, their vice-​like grip so tight that she could scarcely breathe. Down darted the awful head as a wild beast on its prey. The foul lips began to eat into her skin [… . ] She struggled desperately, madly, for to her swooning sense the very branches of the tree became endowed with active life, coiling unmercifully around her, tenaciously clinging to her limbs, and tearing at her dress.30

Here, as in Dracula, a young woman’s contact with decrepitude produces unnatural ageing. When May (whose very name associates her with spring and youth) looks in the mirror, she sees a bloodless face, white lips, and her ‘skin hung flabby on the shrunken flesh, giving it a look of premature old age’.31 The sumach threatens her with preternatural, suffering ageing, which her young husband finds sufficiently horrifying to burn down the tree. This parasitic clinging to life, at the expense of young women, threads throughout vampire narratives, including Dracula. What makes Dracula especially fascinating in relation to New Woman fiction is that the threat of ageing is transferred from the female to the male body, even as ageing threatens to emasculate men. Both Dracula and his arch-​rival, Professor Van Helsing, are older men marked by unusual vigour, intelligence, determination, and fascination with the young. All of the other elderly figures conveniently (and cooperatively) die: Jonathan Harker’s employer Mr Hawkins appropriately leaves his practice to his pseudo-​son, whom he describes in a letter to Dracula as ‘a young man, full of energy and talent […] he is discreet and silent, and has grown to manhood in my service’.32 Arthur Goldaming’s aristocratic father and Lucy’s wealthy mother likewise die, bequeathing all they own to the heir who stands in for youth and nationhood—​the new Lord Arthur. In contrast, both Van Helsing and Dracula express ambivalence about ageing and forge their identities around their sense of impending old age. Van Helsing suits the young because he uses his wisdom to serve their interests, because he poses little sexual threat, and because he repeatedly soothes his young colleagues with apologies for his age and infirmity. He threatens to succumb to the erotic pull of the three centuries-​old vampire women he ultimately destroys at the end of the novel. Despite these occasional lapses, however, he finally embodies the appropriate relation of old to young in his service, devotion, and harmless—​even demeaning—​ foreignness as well as in his courtliness to young women. Even his access to the culture of old age permits him to serve the young, for his own old age permits him to interpret 29 

Daubeny, ‘The Sumach’, 295. Daubeny, ‘The Sumach’, 296. 31  Daubeny, ‘The Sumach’, 296. 32 Stoker, Dracula, 48. 30 

The New Woman and Her Ageing Other    187 Dracula to the others. It is he who denounces the vampire’s primitive ‘child-​brain’ and characterizes the vampire’s behaviour as obsessive, repetitive, and ego-​driven. What Van Helsing fails to see is that the qualities he attributes to infantilism could as easily insinuate senility. On the other hand, Van Helsing’s analysis can also be seen as a rather desperate attempt to assert his superiority over this intellectual, well-​read, heroic, glamorous, if ages-​old aristocrat who, instead of being either an unruly child or a senile degenerate, could just be a virile, voracious, gender-​bending, life-​loving elder. In contrast to Van Helsing, Dracula possesses all of those qualities most feared in his ‘undead’ social counterparts—​old people. Our attention is drawn to Dracula’s age in Jonathan Harker’s first vision of the Count. He sees ‘a tall old man, clean-​shaven save for a long white mustache’ who is distinguished by courtly but antiquated manners.33 In the famous description of Dracula that follows, Jonathan is principally impressed by his peculiar teeth and his color because these ‘showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years’.34 Dracula, like Van Helsing, remarks on his age repeatedly. He delights in ancient ‘races’, ancient battles, ancient homes, explaining, ‘I seek not gaiety nor mirth, not the bright voluptuousness of much sunshine and sparkling waters which please the young and gay. I am no longer young.’35 Because Jonathan cannot imagine being at once old and vigorous or ‘saturnine’, he underestimates the Count. Despite evidence of the Count’s strange powers, Jonathan refuses to accept his host’s transgressions of the boundaries between youth and age until this prosaic young man actually glimpses Dracula in his coffin. The Count’s extension, even reversal, of the ageing process rouses Jonathan’s horror, but he is most horrified by the three seductive and overwhelming wives Dracula has held through the centuries. The novel documents Dracula’s vacillating age, which becomes a kind of contagion. He longs to infect young women—​ particularly New Women—​with a virulent, dangerous form of ageing and taunts the young men who seek to destroy him: ‘My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side.’36 Dracula’s desperate, parasitic search for youth as well as life—​what Franco Moretti has called his capitalist takeover and Steve Arata has called reverse colonization—​is also Dracula’s desire to constitute his own empire of ageing, but ageless aged women—​a startling inversion of the New Woman whom he favours as prey.37 One explanation for the characterization of older people as at once (and paradoxically) incompetent and predatory is that late Victorian notions of power relations were so deeply inflected by the power dynamics of empire that other, unrelated power relations, including gender dynamics, were often interpreted through the arguments that justified imperialism. The language and imagery used to describe ‘the aged’ as a collective, undifferentiated, faceless generation frequently associated that imagined group 33 Stoker, Dracula, 46.

34 Stoker, Dracula, 48. 35 Stoker, Dracula, 54.

36 Stoker, Dracula, 347. 37 

Moretti, ‘The Dialectic of Fear’, New Left Review, 136 (1982), 83–​108; and Arata, Fictions of Loss.

188    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture with colonized people who refused to yield their land, wealth, and power (and even desirable sexual partners) to superior, desirous beings (the young). These younger generations believed confidently in their right to subjugate older people when they were perceived to be obstacles to social, civilized, progressive development. In the fiction of the period, this paradigm, reinforced by the anonymous panoramic sweep of sociological surveys and the dispassionate, microscopic medical theories of ageing, led to the conceptualization of older people as a unified class, a particular culture, a group marked by physical signs and social habits to be interpreted by the medical community, and a people unwilling to yield generational territory and its riches. That these powerful aged figures could be female, as in the case of Lady Ducayne, or feminized, as Van Helsing fears, aligns old age and femininity with dangerous, non-​productive power. Ultimately, like all the villains in Gothic fiction who indulge in transgressive behaviours, older people who threaten to invade the places and pleasures of the young are violently punished. Though the transgressions of age against young women are significantly heightened by the violation of other taboos—​related to sex, gender, class, nationality, and race, for example—​in Gothic fiction, the form of punishment often signals a particular animosity towards unyielding age. Gagool is crushed beneath the stone entrance to King Solomon’s Mines when she tries to imprison and destroy the young, British, white, male heroes of the novel. The ancient She undergoes horrific devolution in retribution for masking her old age with youth when the column of fire that first prolongs her life then exacts revenge for her abuse of time’s laws. The sumach gets the axe. Stabbed and beheaded, Dracula disintegrates to dust. In these sudden, vicious, spectacular scenes, the decomposing body that threatens the New Woman figure with unnatural ageing becomes a searing indictment of those caught poaching upon the young. In sharp contrast, a very different body of New Woman literature approaches women and ageing through comedy. Anticipating and now often included among New Women writers, Contance Caroline Woodhill Naden (1858–​89) embodied the intersections of art and science that shaped New Woman fiction. Naden attended Birmingham and Midland Institute in 1879, where she received honours in both art and biology.38 She attended Mason Science College in 1881, where she studied ‘physics, chemistry, botany zoology, physiology, and geology’ and developed an interest in Herbert Spencer’s arguments for evolution.39 She was active in the suffrage movement and in supporting medical education for women in both England and India and published articles on philosophy and science as well as two volumes of poetry, Songs and Sonnets of Springtime (1881) and A Modern Apostle, the Elixir of Life, the Story of Clarice, and Other Poems (1887). Many of Naden’s poems offer a biting account of the ways ageing penalizes women even as she uses wit to surface a female character’s deep knowledge of science as well as her silent intelligence.40 ‘The Lady Doctor’ opens with a gossipy aside that launches the tale 38 

William R. Hughes, Constance Naden: A Memoir (London: Bickers & Son, 1890).

39 Hughes, Constance Naden, 17. 40 

Patricia Murphy, ‘Fated Marginalization: Women and Science in the Poetry of Constance Naden’, Victorian Poetry, 40 (2002), 118–​119.

The New Woman and Her Ageing Other    189 of a 17-​year-​old girl’s decision to reject a suitor in order to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor: ‘Saw ye that spinster gaunt and grey, | Whose aspect stern might well dismay | A bombardier stout-​hearted?’ (ll. 1–​3).41 Immediately after, we learn the price she has paid: ‘The golden hair, the blooming face? | And all a maiden’s tender grace | Long, long from her have parted’ (ll. 4–​6) Gaining knowledge, she has lost not only youth, but femininity. She forgets ‘each maiden wile’ (l. 58) and shows no ‘gentle sympathy’ (l. 64). As the speaker somewhat bitterly summarizes, ‘She seems a man in women’s clothes’ (l. 65) now lost in regret for a loving home. While the poem on its own would seem to reinforce the worst stereotypes advanced against the New Woman, the poem acts as an angry critique of the cruel choices women are forced to make in order to be loved when put in conversation with Naden’s more overtly sardonic poems about women and science. In ‘Love Versus Learning’ the female narrator first adores a clever young scientist with an Oxford MA, then starts listening to him listen to her: ‘My logic he sets at defiance | Declares that my Latin’s no use | And when I begin to talk Science | He calls me a dear little goose’ (ll. 30–​ 32). The narrator then begins her own scientific investigation into the Darwinian trap of desire: ‘For love is his law of attraction, | A smile his centripetal force’ (ll. 48–​49). The tension between the desirability of even the most intellectual and progressive of young New Women and the threatening loss of her powers with age is perhaps sharpest in a ‘strange waking vision’ (1. 1), ‘The Elixir of Life’, in which a beautiful young woman is offered an elixir by an older lover with the promise (which she hears as a threat) that they can be together for ever. The young woman, recognizing herself as fully human, failed, intent on pursuing passion, and disloyal to her 20-​centuries-​old lover, rejects the offer even as she is rejected. Though the poem skirts the issue, here as in Naden’s other poems, an intelligent woman is confronted with a choice between youthful intensity and the unknown nature of a long independent life. Sexual and social challenges alike are intensified and invested with exaggerated and miserable consequences through the association of those consequences with fears of ageing, especially ageing alone. The use of comedy to surface the bond between the New Woman’s younger and older selves is especially pronounced in a group of novels I discuss elsewhere as ‘the rejuvenescence’ plot.42 These novels explore the promises science offered in the late nineteenth century for the restoration of youth through sometimes outrageous elixirs, such as 72-​ year-​old French physiologist Charles Edourard Brown-​Sequard’s self-​injections with ground testicles of young dogs, which were later marketed as Dequarine or Spermine.43 41 

The Complete Poetical Works of Constance Naden (London: Bickers and Son, 1894), 79–​84. Teresa Mangum, ‘The Unnatural Youth of the Old “New Woman”’, in Katharina Boehm and Anne-​Julia Zwierlein (eds), The Cultural Politics of Ageing in the Nineteenth Century: Interdisciplinary Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2013), 75–​91. 43  Brown-​Sequard describes his research in ‘The Effects Produced on Many by Subcutaneous Injections of Liquid Obtained from the Testicles of Animals’, The Lancet, 2 (1889), 105. Nicole L. Miller and Brant R. Fulmer provide an excellent overview in ‘Injection, Litigation and Transplantation: The Search for the Glandular Fountain of Youth’, Journal of Urology, 177, no. 6 (2007), 2000–​2005. See also A. J. Cussons, C. I. Bhagat, S. J. Fletcher, and J. P. Walsh, ‘Brown-​Sequard Revisited: A Lesson from History on the Placebo Effect of Androgen Treatment’, Medical Journal of Australia, 177, no. 11–​12 (2002), 678. 42 

190    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Charlotte O’Conor Eccles’s The Rejuvenation of Miss Semaphore (1898), published under the pseudonym Godfrey Hall, is an especially outrageous example.44 Eccles was herself a champion of elderly women. As a journalist, she wrote about the poor quality of women’s education and gender inequities in the workplace, publishing in major venues such as the Pall Mall Gazette, the New York Herald, Blackwood’s Magazine, and the Nineteenth Century.45 Eccles was a strong advocate for an insurance plan for single women, for example in an article titled ‘How Women Can Easily Make Provision for Their Old Age’ in the Windsor Magazine. The article was important enough to be reported on by other magazines, such as the New Zealand Graphic and Ladies Journal.46 In The Rejuvenation of Miss Semaphore a stereotypical ‘old maid’ undertakes an all-​too-​successful rejuvenation treatment, overdosing on an elixir and regressing to infancy. The novel exposes the grotesqueness of a central premise of rejuvenescence: the assumption that youth, generally valued for its ephemeral nature, would be appealing if permanent. The punning title suggests the importance of signs of youth and age. The action turns on two unmarried sisters in their fifties who become despondent about the physical signs of ageing that set them apart from the youthful New Woman character in their boarding house. As wonderfully named Augusta Semaphore and her sister are discussing whether they should use cosmetics and hair dyes to conceal signs of ageing, they stumble upon an advertisement in the Ladies Pictorial. The ‘widow of an eminent explorer’ offers to sell ‘a single bottle of water from the Fountain of Youth, vainly sought in Florida by Ponce de Leon’, promising ‘Its marvellous rejuvenating properties cannot be exaggerated. By its means a person of seventy may regain, after six small doses, the age of eighteen.’47 The sisters imagine they can have what they perceive as the best of both worlds: a youthful body and the memories and wisdom of a long life: ‘To be at once young and experienced; could anything surpass it? Pitfalls might be avoided, amusement sought, a course of conduct followed after a fashion impossible to anyone who was eighteen or twenty for the first and only time in life. To get all one’s chances over again, and to be assured of missing none of them, what luck! What unexampled good fortune!’48 However, when Augusta drinks an excessive dose, her rejuvenesence pushes far past the young person she intended, transforming her into a terrifying baby, whose intelligent expression belies her helplessly infantile body. Eventually, Prudence ends up

44  Godfrey Hall [Charlotte O’Conor Eccles], The Rejuvenation of Miss Semaphore (1897), illustrated by Etheldred B. Barry (Boston: L. C. Page and Company, 1898). 45  See Lorna Sage, Germaine Greer, and Elaine Showalter (eds), The Cambridge Guide to Women’s Writing in English (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 212. Charlotte O’Conor Eccles describes the challenges faced by women journalists in her article on ‘The Experiences of a Woman Journalist’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 153 (June 1893), 830–​838; repr. in Andrew King and John Plunkett (eds), Victorian Print Media: A Reader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 330–​334. 46  Charlotte O’Conor Eccles, ‘How Women Can Easily Make Provision for Their Old Age’, Windsor Magazine, 1 (January 1895), 315–​318. 47 [Eccles], Miss Semaphore, 30. 48 [Eccles], Miss Semaphore, 49.

The New Woman and Her Ageing Other    191 in court, charged with illegitimacy and neglect; she is saved when Augusta suddenly and dramatically ages into her older self, just in time to testify in her sister’s defence.49 Chastised, the sisters turn their backs on make-​up, hair dye, and in Prudence’s case ‘unduly girlish […] ways and dress’.50 While they may be comic figures, ultimately they have the opportunity to gather the kind of wisdom only longer lives can provide. In that sense, these old new women have a far more satisfying and extended life than most of their New Women counterparts. In the novels I have been discussing the New Woman confronts the old woman only under fictional conditions of horror or hilarity. For the most part, the more popular New Woman texts seem to exist on a plane that has little imaginative space for representations of a New Woman’s late life. One stunning example, however, offers a brilliant, if heart-​rending, account of the continuities between the old and New Woman and an excellent conclusion. The poet Alice Meynell wrote a number of intriguing poems about women and ageing, but ‘A Letter from a Girl to Her Own Old Age’ (1875), written when she herself was still in her twenties, offers a uniquely poignant account of bridging the division within the self between a young woman and her aged other self. Over her own lifetime, Meynell traversed a life from Catholic convert to poet, periodical editor, essayist, and mother of a large family. In the early twentieth century, she protested against imperialism and participated actively in the Women Writer’s Suffrage League. But even as a very young woman, she grasped the value of living with a sense of one’s future aged self. ‘A Letter from a Girl to Her Own Old Age’ is composed of a series of rhyming triplet stanzas that hold past, present, and future together tercet by tercet. The speaker calls to her future self: ‘Listen, and when thy hand this paper presses, | O time-​worn woman, think of her who blesses | What thy thin fingers touch, with her caresses’ (ll. 1–​3).51 Steeped in the youthful miseries of ‘this one sudden hour of desolation’ (l. 11), the speaker casts time in spatial terms as skies, clouds, plains, and mountains of effort between her present and future self. That future self, rather than haunting youth with loss and misery, weeps for the youthful struggles of ‘the girl; such strange desires beset her’ (l. 37). In a moment of humility deeply at odds with the presentist preoccupations of much New Woman fiction, the young speaker seeks to master her intense momentary pain by placing it in the context of a longer trajectory. She welcomes her future self ’s compassionate tears. That comfort ultimately is reversed when the young speaker encourages her older self to forget the younger self, blurring the two together in a final stanza in which the younger’s ‘filial fingers thy grey hair caresses, | With morning tears thy mournful twilight blesses’ (ll. 41–​42). This recognition of the impossibility of separation from the future self has much to teach us about the nature of ageing and feminine subjectivity even today.

49 [Eccles], Miss Semaphore, 430–​432. 50 [Eccles], Miss Semaphore, 239. 51 

The Poems of Alice Meynell: Complete Edition (London: Oxford University Press, 1940), 17–​19; repr. from Preludes (1875).

192    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture

Select Bibliography Ardis, Ann, New Woman, New Novels:  Feminism and Early Modernism (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990). Chase, Karen, The Victorians and Old Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). Heilmann, Ann, New Woman Fiction:  Women Writing First-​Wave Feminism (Houndmills: Macmillan, 2000). Jusova, Ivetá, The New Woman and the Empire (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005). Katz, Stephen, Disciplining Old Age:  The Formation of Gerontological Knowledge (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1996). Ledger, Sally, The New Woman in Fact and Fiction (Manchester:  Manchester University Press, 1997). Looser, Devoney, Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750–​1850 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008). Mangum, Teresa (ed.), A Cultural History of Women in the Age of Empire, vol. v (London: Bloomsbury, 2013). Richardson, Angelique, and Chris Willis (eds), The New Woman in Fiction and Fact: Fin-​de-​ Siècle Feminisms (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001). Thane, Pat, The Long History of Old Age (London: Thames and Hudson, 2005).

Chapter 10

Un speakable De si re s We Other Victorians Kate Flint

How might desire be said to speak? It can be quite eloquent without employing verbal language—​present in a sudden blush, in a glance that’s held a moment too long, in the touch of a hand laid upon another’s arm, even before one considers more passionate gestures. When it does have an audible voice, desire may be mutual and ecstatic, even if—​or especially if—​two protagonists know that they are engaging in the forbidden, like William Morris’s Guenevere describing how she kissed Launcelot one spring day: ‘“I scarce dare talk of the remember’d bliss, | When both our mouths went wandering in one way, | And aching sorely, met among the leaves.”’1 Desire is not limited by place, or class, or marital status, or its object. It can be found in the bedroom of the suburban villa as readily as in the brothel or the Turkish baths or the girls’ boarding school; it may be directed towards a stranger or towards a new hat in a plate glass window—​that is, if one acknowledges that sexual and emotional desire can bleed into the insatiable amount of wanting that forms the basis of consumer society. To speak of one’s desires—​whether in the present, or in the past (as with Guenevere)—​can be an act of honesty, courage, and self-​knowledge. But what makes desire unspeakable? Most obviously, one associates the term with forms of desire—​or perhaps, more accurately, forms of fulfilment—​that are prohibited, whether by law or by custom, in a particular culture. Most particularly, the concept of the unspeakable has been linked with male homosexuality ever since Lord Alfred Douglas published his ‘Two Loves’ in the Chameleon in 1894—​or, more precisely, since Oscar Wilde quoted it in his first 1895 trial for sodomy and ‘gross indecency’.2 In the poem, the narrator dreams of a beautiful naked youth, who kisses him on the lips in a sunlit garden, feeds him grapes, and then offers to show him ‘shadows of the world | And images of life’. They come upon two young men, one joyful and one pale and sighing. The 1  William Morris, ‘The Defence of Guenevere’, in The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858; London: Ellis and White, 1875), 8–​9. 2  The literature on Wilde’s trials is extensive, but see especially Ed Cohen, Talk on the Wilde Side: Towards a Genealogy of a Discourse on Male Sexualities (New York: Routledge, 1993).

194    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture narrator is made unutterably sad by this second youth, wreathed in moonflowers pale as lips of death, and I fell a-​weeping, and I cried, ‘Sweet youth, Tell me why, sad and sighing, thou dost rove These pleasent realms? I pray thee speak me sooth What is thy name?’ He said, ‘My name is Love.’ Then straight the first did turn himself to me And cried, ‘He lieth, for his name is Shame, But I am Love, and I was wont to be Alone in this fair garden, till he came Unasked by night; I am true Love, I fill The hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame.’ Then sighing, said the other, ‘Have thy will, I am the love that dare not speak its name.’3

In this chapter, I  will be exploring the ‘unspeakable’ status of male homosexual desire in the Victorian period, and the ‘unspeakability’—​for many different reasons—​of lesbian desire as well. ‘Unspeakable’ certainly needs its quotation marks, because such an exploration of lust and shame, affection and passion, devotion and casual sex necessarily means examining all the many ways in which it was made apparent—​whether in coded literary references or private correspondence or courts of law. But the topic cannot be approached without also recognizing the unspeakable, or unwritable, nature of many aspects of heterosexual desire as well, and the repercussions that this had, especially for realist fiction.4 Nor can it be treated apart from other forms of queer and perverse forms of pleasure seeking, from flagellation to the consumption of pornography—​the sexual fantasies and modes of gratification that, when they were exposed and discussed at length by Steven Marcus and Ronald Pearsall in the 1960s, exploded all popular myths about the Victorians being prudes.5 Desire is a tricky term. Whilst it can refer to sexual drives on their own, more frequently it is tangled up with emotion, whether coexisting with romantic love (or confused with it), or provoked by jealousy or unattainability. Desire cohabits with other linked drives and urges. For the New Woman writer George Egerton (Mary Chevalita Dunne), for example, women’s maternal instincts were, or at least should be, stronger than their sexual ones. What’s more, for something to be potentially speakable, even if


Lord Alfred Douglas, ‘Two Loves’ (1892), repr. in Frank Harris, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions, 2 vols. (New York: printed and published by the author, 1916), ii. 551. 4  Consider, especially, the ‘Candour in English Fiction’ debate, in which Walter Besant, Eliza Lynn Linton (from a conservative point of view), and Thomas Hardy discussed the impossibility of writing freely about sexual desire in fiction given current publishing conditions. New Review, 1 (1890), 6–​21. 5  Steven Marcus, The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-​Nineteenth Century England (New York: Basic Books, 1966); Ronald Pearsall, The Worm in the Bud: The World of Victorian Sexuality (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969).

Unspeakable Desires: We Other Victorians    195 it has to be hinted at rather than spoken out loud, it has to be recognized by the person who might, given the optimum personal or publishing circumstances, be able to utter it. If one denies, or does not understand, one’s desires and their objects, they have the capacity to erupt in strange and unpredictable places. And what of Charles Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll’s) fascination with prepubescent girls, or J. M. Barrie’s yearning after boys, or boyishness? If we are to call this ‘desire’, to what degree is the desire sexual, or, rather, sublimation or projection of some related wish—​to avoid the implications of adulthood, say? Desire, too, can be for an intangible object—​perhaps for the past: desire to be as one was before one made an irreversible decision; before one’s green forest glade was built over by a factory; before one’s loved ones were dead—​or it can be projected onto the future. Finally, to desire is to want, to yearn for, to lust after—​it does not in any way imply or promise fulfilment. Rather, along with desire comes frustration, self-​censorship, repression. If sated satisfaction is one possible outcome of desire, so, too, is shame and self-​ loathing. Satiation itself is, in any case, only a temporary state: desire will reassert itself. Certain Victorian desires were increasingly nameable, if not speakable, because of the ways in which they were codified within legislation and policed on the streets. By the end of the century, they were being described and categorized by sexologists. Naming a desire does not, of course, call it into being: what is more, plenty of desires go unregulated and undisciplined. But such legal and academic commentary had the effect of consolidating views about what was considered ‘normal’ and what was considered ‘deviant’ across a whole range of areas relating to sexuality, intimacy, family relationships, and the circulation of sexual knowledge. The earlier writings of Michel Foucault were influential through their claim that the law effectively produced certain categories—​such as that of the homosexual—​rather than merely regulating the pre-​existent, and Nancy Cott explains that the rulings handed down by courts of law (and widely disseminated in newspapers) have framed people’s actual and hypothetical expectations about what they might expect and demand when it comes to intimate relationships.6 But as various commentators have pointed out, it can be very unreliable, or at least very partial, to privilege the law as a site of cultural production in such areas. Quite apart from the fact that ‘the law’ isn’t an impersonal entity, but is influenced by the individual perspectives, friendships, and biases that its practitioners bring to their decisions, many subcultural activities go on under its radar, and do so way before, and alongside, the cases that end up in court.7 And necessarily, if desire flourishes energetically in the imagination—​a central thesis of this chapter—​law has no direct purchase here. On the other hand, there is no denying that certain pieces of legislation, and certain prosecutions that followed from them, did a great deal to bring ‘unspeakable’ 6  Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 3 vols., i. An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (1976; London: Allen Lane, 1979); Nancy Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000), 8. 7  See Angus McLaren, The Trials of Masculinity: Policing Sexual Boundaries 1870–​1930 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1997); and Rictor Norton, The Myth of the Modern Homosexual: Queer History and the Search for Cultural Unity (London: Cassell, 1997).

196    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture behaviour very prominently before the public. Most notable here were Section 11—​ more commonly known as the Labouchère Amendment—​of the Criminal Law Act of 1885, which made ‘acts of gross indecency’ between men punishable by up to two years’ hard labour, and ensuing criminal trials—​not just those of Wilde in 1895, but, say, the Cleveland Street case of 1889, in which telegraph delivery boys were implicated in a male prostitution ring. Discussion of this scandal, as Kate Thomas has shown, raised an issue which has continued to be at the heart of many much more recent debates about sexuality:  where are borderlines to be drawn between public and private when it comes to sexual activities?8 Particularly with the rise of the New Journalism towards the end of the century, with its emphasis on the sensational (both in the news that it covered directly, and in the topics that were chosen for articles and editorials), information and opinion about a whole variety of sexual practices were disseminated. But far earlier in the century, anyone who followed the reports of trials that were printed in The Times or the Daily Telegraph could learn about all manner of sexual behavior. Especially once the Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes began hearing cases in the summer of 1858—​once they were empowered to grant divorces, rather than marriages being dissoluble only through individual Acts of Parliament—​all kinds of information about clandestine heterosexual activity were readily available. As William Forsyth put it in Novels and Novelists of the Eighteenth Century (1871), the ‘polluting details’ contained in newspaper reports of divorce court proceedings, ‘if dressed up in fiction, and sold as novels, would lead to a prosecution by the Society for the Suppression of Vice, or a seizure under Lord Cambell’s Act’ (the allusion is to the anti-​obscenity legislation of 1857).9 Such journalism fed a different kind of desire: one for knowledge and for vicarious thrills. Indeed, it was particularly pernicious, Forsyth maintained, because it allowed readers to imagine, vividly, the scenes involved. Much information about sexual desire could be found in medical literature—​not all of it reliable, helpful, or accurate. One thinks of the gynaecologist William Acton’s by now infamous statements, in The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs (1857) (male reproductive organs, that is), that ‘The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled with sexual feeling of any kind […]. As a general rule, a modest woman seldom desires any sexual gratification for herself. She submits to her husband’s embraces, but principally to gratify him; and, were it not for the desire of maternity, would far rather be relieved from his attentions.’10 The naming and knowledge of same-​sex desire in British medical circles followed from


Kate Thomas, Postal Pleasures: Sex, Scandal, and Victorian Letters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 49. In addition to Thomas’s book, pp. 39–​69, for the Cleveland Street scandal, see H. Montgomery Hyde, The Cleveland Street Scandal (New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1976). 9  William Forsyth, Novels and Novelists of the Eighteenth Century (London: John Murray, 1871), 41. 10  William Acton, The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs in Childhood, Youth, Adult Age, and Advanced Life: Considered in Their Physiological, Social, and Moral Relations (3rd edn., London: Churchill, 1862), 101–​102.

Unspeakable Desires: We Other Victorians    197 developments in the growing field of psychology on the Continent. In 1864 and 1865, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs published a series of five booklets, Forschungen über das Räthsel der mannmannlichen Liebe (Researches on the Riddle of Male–​Male Love), in which he coined what was to become the influential term ‘uranism’ to describe homosexual love. Derived from the Greek ouranios, or ‘heavenly’, it gave a particularly idealized, spiritual spin to homosexual attraction. His theories were influential, also, because they were predicated on the notion of inversion. An ‘urning’—​that is, a male homosexual—​possessed, according to him, an anima muliebris virile corpora inclusa (a female soul in a male body). This definition not only led to homosexuality being seen in relation to a conventional binary male–​female divide, but it also drew attention to the notion of hiddenness and secrecy. As Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick explains in her groundbreaking Epistemology of the Closet, late-​nineteenth-​century gay writers often presented sexual identity as a secret that could not be divulged. The vocabulary in which same-​sex desire was conceived locates this hiddenness within the body, as well as within the confines of social convention. More importantly, though, in the context of this drive towards classification and pathologization is the way in which Sedgwick emphasizes how most societies—​and Victorian society was no exception—​ have incoherent and inconsistent views of sexuality. Desire—​by no means reliable and constant in its object—​has a tendency to be co-​opted by the categories that are used to describe and control it. Ulrich’s vocabulary was highly influential in naming desire. Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal employed similar language to that of Ulrich in his ‘Die conträre Sexual empfindung’ (‘Contrary Sexual Feeling’) of 1869—​indeed, he drew considerably on the earlier work—​and both writers influenced Richard von Krafft-​Ebing’s 1886 Pyschopathia Sexualis, which included a number of case studies of man–​man and woman–​woman relationships. In turn, this work fed directly into Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds’s Sexual Inversion (1897; first published in German as Das konträre Geschlechtsgefühl in 1896, and considerably expanded in 1915 to take account of new theories, especially Freudian ones). In many ways, Ellis’s theories—​suggesting, broadly speaking, that attraction to someone of the same sex means that one’s trapped in the wrong body—​have proved to have more bearing on transgender studies than on gay and lesbian ones.11 But in his time, his ideas were groundbreaking. Rather than seeing homosexuality as a form of degeneration, or as a psychological or medical pathology, all women and men were positioned on a continuum—​in the opinion of the latest physiologists who write on sexual issues, the reader is informed, ‘each sex contains the latent characters of the other or recessive sex’12 (one can see here the germ of Virginia Woolf ’s notions about androgyny). For Ellis, ‘the basis of the sexual life is bisexual, although its

11  See Heather Love, ‘Transgender Fiction and Politics’, in Hugh Stevens (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Gay and Lesbian Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 148–​164, at 149. 12  Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 6 vols., [with John Addington Symonds] ii. Sexual Inversion 3rd edn. (Philadelphia: F. A. Davis, 1915), 79.

198    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture direction may be definitely fixed in a heterosexual or homosexual direction at a very early period in life’. The case studies that Sexual Inversion presents concentrate on those whose desires are fixed on people of the same sex. Take History III, F. R., English, aged 50, who is fascinated by a 23-​year-​old clerk in the same office. ‘He has little to recommend him but a fine face and figure, and there is nothing approaching to mental or social equality between us. But I constantly feel the strongest desire to treat him as a man might a young girl he warmly loved. Various obvious considerations keep me from more than quasi-​paternal caresses, and I feel sure he would resent very strongly anything more. This constant repression is trying beyond measure to the nerves, and I often feel quite ill from that cause.’13 His chief pleasures and source of gratification, F. R. says, come from going to the Turkish and other baths, ‘wherever, in fact, there is the nude male to be found’, but he has difficulty in meeting others with ‘the same tendency’ there, apart from a couple of obliging attendants. It’s hard to know whether he is shy, or himself unappealing when naked, or whether, as doesn’t seem likely from other evidence, he was indeed in a strong minority. Whatever the reason, there seems to have been more desire than sexual satisfaction involved, except when, on occasion, he reached orgasm under the hands of a shampooer. Sexual Inversion was not a widely available book, although it circulated freely among those who were most interested in its subject matter, and who maybe found echoes of themselves in its case studies, and welcomed its non-​judgemental, non-​moralizing stance.14 Although its actual influence on homosexual subcultures might have been limited, it most certainly demonstrated how both male and female same-​sex desire could be written about in a straightforward, non-​encoded, non-​sensationalized fashion. Not everyone saw it this way, though. Symonds’s literary executor (Symonds died in 1893) tried to ban its publication. In 1898, George Bedborough, the editor of the Adult, was prosecuted for selling this ‘certain lewd wicked bawdy scandalous and obscene’ volume (to an undercover policeman), and even if this case was inseparable for the fact that the monthly meetings of the Legitimation League, the Adult’s parent organization, allowed various anarchist groups to congregate and speak, it served to highlight the difficulties of openly publishing and distributing material dealing with sexual behaviour. All the same, the Adult, like the Westminster Review and the University Magazine and Free Review, disseminated knowledge and opinion through its discussion of issues like free unions, the naturalness of male promiscuity, and female sexual desire.15 Especially after the Wilde trials, however, there was very little mention of homosexuality in these publications. 13 

Ellis and Symonds, Sexual Inversion, 95. For the publication history of Sexual Inversion, see the introduction by Ivan Crozier to Ellis and Symonds, Sexual Inversion (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). 15  See Anne Humpherys, ‘The Journals that Did: Writing about Sex in the 1890s’, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, 3 (2006), [last accessed 1 September 2014]. 14 

Unspeakable Desires: We Other Victorians    199 This desire to impart information in a tolerant and objective way could be found in Ellis’s other writings on sexual matters that formed what were to be the remaining five volumes of the Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Ellis himself discovered at the age of 60 that what made him excited was seeing a woman urinate (his very companionate marriage to the lesbian Edith Lees was certainly not, as he put it drily in his autobiography, ‘a union of unrestrainable passion’).16 These volumes are remarkable for the clear-​headed and non-​sensational way in which many varieties of sexual practices and preferences—​ including his own—​are described and documented. There exist plenty of descriptions and fantasies that are far more heated than the accounts supplied by Ellis and that tell of certain particular forms in which sexual desire could be whipped up, including accounts of flagellation and punishment. Flagellation was especially enjoyed, it would seem, by those who, like the poet Algernon Swinburne, had first been introduced to it at school—​in his case by a tutor who was an expert on metre. ‘Flagellation in the public schools’, wrote Ronald Pearsall, ‘was a conspiracy, a ritual that marked off the upper classes with a savage precision.’17 Specialist brothels catered to flagellants; literature was produced that catered to enthusiasts (like St George H. Stock’s Romance of Chastisements, 1866); and Swinburne himself—​whose commitment to expressing physical passion in poetry extended, however, far beyond this particular area of pleasure—​wrote some very down-​to-​earth poems on the subject, including the 94-​ stanza-​long ‘Reginald’s Flogging’: “The twigs are long and the switches are strong, | The shoots are straight and lithe; | First a stripping and then a whipping, | And oh! this bottom will writhe, father, and oh, this bottom will writhe.”18 The cultural and psychological implications of masochism as they connect with broader desires to dominate have been well discussed by John Kucich in his Imperial Masochism.19 Members of the mid-​ Victorian ‘Cannibal Club’—​who included anthropologists and writers—​produced pornography that depended in part for its thrills on racial subjugation. Swinburne’s interest in flagellation (pursued in practical terms at an establishment in St John’s Wood where two outwardly respectable women swished away) was consolidated by his reading of the Marquis de Sade, whose writings he encountered through the extensive erotic library of his friend Richard Monckton Milnes. As the contents of this library indicate, this was but one form—​albeit a flourishing form—​of erotic interest. Pornography circulated in many guises, aimed at different classes and purses, ranging from books of erotic engravings imported from Paris to cheap pamphlets. Some texts—​ such as medical textbooks and works of anthropological investigation—​both served their ostensible ends of providing information and also offered up material that plenty 16  Havelock Ellis, My Life (London: Heinemann, 1940). For Ellis’s biography, see Phyllis Grosskurth, Havelock Ellis: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1980). 17 Pearsall, Worm in the Bud, 411. 18  [Algernon Charles Swinburne], ‘Reginald’s Flogging’, in The Whippingham Papers (1887; London: Birchgrove Press, 2012), 64. 19  John Kucich, Imperial Masochism: British Fiction, Fantasy, and Social Class (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

200    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture found titillating. The growth in pornography was greatly aided by technologies in printing, reproduction, and distribution that enabled its dissemination. Nor was its audience solely male. An article in the Daily Telegraph in June 1857 spoke with disgust—​real or feigned—​at the horrors of London’s Holywell Street and Wych Street, centres of the pornographic trade (the date is significant: the Obscene Publications Act, Britain’s first legislation against pornography, was introduced in September of that year): It is positively lamentable passing down these streets to see the young of either sex—​ often, we blush to say, of the weaker—​and in many cases evidently appertaining to the respectable classes of society, furtively peeping in at these sin-​crammed shop-​ windows, timorously gloating over suggestive title-​pages, nervously examining insidious placards, guiltily bending over engravings as vile in execution as they are in subject.20

Yet it is never easy to determine the precise link between pornography and desire. It may be used to jump-​start a flagging libido, or to cater—​in private—​to some specialist fantasy that its user would not wish to share more publically. It may simply be used to relieve boredom—​a state named by Adam Phillips as ‘desire for desire’.21 In this blurred hinterland of desire, the wishes expressed by Ellis’s History III, F. R., that he could treat his office clerk ‘as a man might a girl he warmly loved’, start to look relatively straightforward. Or do they? As Sexual Inversion demonstrates, late nineteenth-​century sexology tended to conceive of homosexual relations in terms of pre-​existent gender binaries (in passing, one should note that the terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘homosexuality’ were only coined in the late 1860s, so discussion of earlier same-​sex desire and practice lacked what are now familiar terms). If a man desired another man, or a woman another woman, it seemed to many logical—​even inevitable—​according to this line of thinking, that one member of the dyad must appear—​or inwardly think of themselves as being—​‘feminine’, and the other ‘masculine’. Alan Sinfield has pointed out the illogicality inherent in this reasoning: if a man desires sex with another man, he must be feminine—​and the equation with male homosexuality with effeminacy intensified during the late nineteenth century. But were both participants equally to desire sex with another man, then ‘the idea of effeminacy as the defining characteristic of same-​sex passion’ is complicated, to say the least.22


Daily Telegraph (17 June 1857), 3; quoted by Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-​Century London (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), 184. As well as Nead’s book, pp. 149–​215, for Victorian pornography see Walter Kendrick, The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987); Marcus, Other Victorians; Pearsall, Worm in the Bud, 447–​507; and Lisa Sigel, Governing Pleasures: Pornography and Social Change in England, 1815–​1914 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001). 21  Adam Phillips, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 13. 22  Alan Sinfield, The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Moment (London: Continuum, 1994), 43.

Unspeakable Desires: We Other Victorians    201 Indeed, prior to the late nineteenth century—​in Renaissance or eighteenth-​century culture, say—​effeminacy and foppishness might signal all kinds of effete vanity without necessarily indicating sexual preference, even if, at the same time, the presence of ‘molly houses’ in eighteenth-​century London—​taverns where gay and cross-​dressing men could meet and hook up—​indicated that there was some continuity in this association. Those molly houses—​like Mother Clap’s, which flourished in Holborn between 1724–​ 6—​clearly suggest, however spasmodic, the existence of something that we might term a homosexual subculture, certainly in London, way before the Victorian period. By the late eighteenth century, we learn of defined cruising sites, like Bird Cage Walk, in St James’s Park, where men would signal to one another through the positioning of their hands, the display of a white handkerchief—​‘By means of these signals they retire to satisfy a passion too horrible for description, too detestable for language.’23 Such sites become much easier to document in the nineteenth century through the increasingly vigilant activities of the police (the Metropolitan Police Force was founded in 1829). In theory, buggery, as a criminal offence, was punishable by death until 1861, when the sentences were ‘lightened’ to between ten years and life imprisonment. If in general there was the attitude that men could do what they wanted with each other’s bodies in private, police hunted down and harassed men who looked in public places for their sexual partners. One side-​benefit of this from the historian’s point of view, as H. G. Cocks has demonstrated, is that the press and court records offer us a huge amount of information about male homosexual activity, about areas frequented by male prostitutes and by men seeking relationships with other men—​many of these overlapping with the consumerist centres in the West End of London.24 Such records, too, also provide a glimpse, however fleeting, of such events as the drag balls of the early 1850s at the Druid’s Hall, near St Paul’s; and they show that popular response to such flamboyantly cross-​dressing individuals as Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park—​Fanny and Stella—​who were arrested in women’s clothing at the Strand Theatre in April 1870, was as much one of tolerant laughter as of scandalized recoil (the origins of British enthusiasm for the drag queen and the pantomime dame run deep, and deserve more exploration).25 They show how frequently homosexual activity crossed class boundaries, too. And the locations that they point to as sites for such activity are replicated in the real street names and pubs and Turkish baths alluded to in, say, the 1881 pornographic novel Sins of the Cities of the Plain, or G. S. Street’s 1894 fictional Autobiography of a Boy. As Matt Cook has shown, other sites in imaginative writing, such as the bachelor chambers of Vernon Lee’s 1896 short story ‘Lady Tal’ (in which the ‘dainty but frugal’ 23  George Parker, A View of Society and Manners in High and Low Life, 2 vols. (London: Printed for the Author, 1781), ii. 87–​88, quoted in Matt Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885–​1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 9. 24  H. G. Cocks, Nameless Offences: Homosexual Desire in the 19th Century (London: I. B. Tauris, 2003). 25  For an especially insightful treatment of the Boulton and Park case, see William A. Cohen, Sex Scandal: The Private Parts of Victorian Fiction (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 1996), 73–​129.

202    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Jervase Marion is supposedly modelled on Henry James), acted as coded locations for those in the know. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and the anonymous—​quite probably multiply authored—​gay novel Teleny (1893) offer a meshing of place with actual or potential sexual activity that likewise would speak directly to those with a sexually specific knowledge of London.26 This heterogenous London mapping of male homosexual activity was one in which the possibility of achieving the immediate ends of sexual desire was always present. So was the potential for flirtation and pursuit. ‘The city’, Mark Turner has written, ‘is an active force, an agent that creates certain kinds of behavior, true to the modern urban sensibility.’27 A sizeable, fluid population fostered a culture of looking, of speculating, of anonymous sexual encounters, both homo-​and heterosexual. The language in which homosexual culture was rendered recognizable stretched across social milieux, from the careful display of a handkerchief or a glance held a little on the long side, to the terms—​derived from Plato, drawn from familiarity with sculpture and fresco—​that originated in a far more socially exclusive world: that of the established universities (of course, the two worlds were not at all mutually exclusive when it came to sexual encounters).28 An enduringly influential way of conceiving of homosexual relations, and of celebrating them, was established through the cult of Hellenism. Classical scholars wielded a disproportionately strong influence because of their positions in the academic establishment. Together with their broader literary and aesthetic community, they put forward the extremely positive interpretation of homosexuality that they found within Greek art and literature: ideas that fed directly into Oscar Wilde’s theories about the inseparability of intellectual and physical beauty, and that supported homoerotic friendship.29 Freedom of thought; freedom to love—​these were the ideals of, say, Walter Pater’s 1864 essay ‘Diaphaneitè’, or John Addington Symonds’s ‘A Problem in Greek Ethics’ (1873), inspired by the poetry of Walt Whitman, and published as ­chapter 3 in the German edition of Sexual Inversion (it appeared as an appendix in the first English edition, and subsequently was dropped). Oscar Wilde’s trials cast a shadow, however, over the sort of aesthetic appreciation that could be coded as queer. Katharine Bradley—​half of the lesbian aunt–​niece couple who wrote and published poetry as ‘Michael Field’—​penned a letter to the (heterosexual) art historian Bernard Berenson in 1895 in which she said that ‘I tremble to think how difficult in the face of this Oscar business, it will be to go on singing the praise of youth & beauty & all those things that from the beginning of the world have been

26 Cook, Culture of Homosexuality, 31, 103–​116, and passim.

27  See Mark Turner, Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of New York and London (London: Reaktion Books, 2004), 127. 28  Although there were limitations to this influence: Pater and Symonds both had their Oxford careers blocked by the classicist Benjamin Jowett because of their relationships with students. 29  See Linda Dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1994).

Unspeakable Desires: We Other Victorians    203 priceless to every artist’.30 But virilizing aesthetics could be located in non-​Hellenic culture, too. The language of heroic manliness and of homosocial loyalty and influence that was such a prominent feature of Greek writing joined with the vocabulary of chivalry and knighthood that underpinned manly roles within the Empire, in order to consolidate a non-​feminized version of ideal manhood.31 As well as the idealized soldier’s finely honed body, the physique of the actual working man likewise provided the object of admiration, whether in the person of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘Harry Ploughman’, who appears like a breathing statue, Hard as hurdle arms, with a broth of goldish flue Breathed round; the rack of ribs; the scooped flank; lank Rope-​over thigh; knee-​nave; and barrelled shank—​32

or the less elegant, but seemingly far more sexually accessible ‘thick-​thighed hot coarse-​fleshed young bricklayer with the strap round his waist’ celebrated by Edward Carpenter.33 Moreover, Patrick O’Malley has convincingly argued that ‘there is a persistent conjunction of tropes of Catholicism with those of non-​normative sexual expression or identity in the literary, artistic, and polemical culture of nineteenth-​century Britain and Ireland’, and that, in particular, the Gothic—​whether architectural or literary—​may be seen as ‘a privileged rhetoric for the nineteenth-​century coupling of Catholicism and sexual deviance’.34 Yet Hellenism’s strong influence on British queer culture was not just limited to gay men. Its endorsement of same-​sex love, its claims on modernity, and its valuing of a personal and emotional response to art fed into the works of notable lesbian writers, including ‘Michael Field’, and the novelist and writer on aesthetics Vernon Lee.35 The recovery and translation of new fragments of Sappho’s poetry (and especially the impact of Henry Thornton Wharton’s 1885 Sappho: Memoir, Text, Selected Renderings, and a Literal Translation) emphasized her importance as woman’s lyric voice, imitated and celebrated by L.E.L. (Letitia Landon), Felicia Hemans, Swinburne, Christina Rossetti, Michael Field, Catherine Dawson, and others.36 More particularly, Sappho gave voice to a woman who desired women—​and indeed, who could not always speak her love. 30 

Katharine Bradley to Bernard Berenson, Good Friday 1895, Bodleian Library, MS Eng Lett. d 408; quoted by Stefano Evangelista, British Aestheticism and Ancient Greece: Hellenism, Reception, Gods in Exile (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 158. 31  See David Alderson, Mansex Fine: Religion, Manliness and Imperialism in Nineteenth Century British Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998); and Julia F. Savile, A Queer Chivalry: The Homoerotic Aestheticism of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000). 32  Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems and Prose (London: Penguin, 1953), 64. 33  Edward Carpenter, Towards Democracy (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1905), 69. 34  Patrick R. O’Malley, Catholicism, Sexual Deviance, and Victorian Gothic Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 3. 35  See Evangelista, British Aestheticism. 36  See Yopie Prins, Victorian Sappho (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

204    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Fragment 31—​here translated by Symonds—​expresses her anguish on seeing the woman whom she loves with her new, male partner: Yea, my tongue is broken, and through me and through me ’Neath the flesh, impalpable fire runs tingling; Nothing sees mine eyes, and a noise of roaring Waves in my ear sounds.

‘Lost in the love trance,’37 Sappho’s desire is conveyed in terms of physical turmoil. But in general, it is harder to uncover the traces of lesbian physical desire in the Victorian period than it is to locate its male counterpart. First, lesbian relationships were never illegal, and hence they rarely surface in the press or law courts—​with the notable exception of the 1864 Codrington divorce. Although the relationship between Helen Codrington and Emily Faithfull was only referred to as having alienated relations between Codrington and her husband (a coded term that was usually applied to adultery with a male lover), it was implicitly a central issue.38 Second, the terms in which girls and women often expressed their passionate friendship for one another can make it hard to distinguish—​should one wish to distinguish—​erotic desire from emotional commitment. Indeed, aspects of the discussion that originated in the 1970s about what constitutes lesbianism, and how it might be expressed, helped to make this a very confusing area at precisely the same moment that developments in women’s history and literary studies were vastly expanding the canon, and providing far more information than was previously in circulation about the daily lives of many women. Even a single influential article could be made to point in several directions. As Sharon Marcus explains in her very helpful opening chapter to Between Women, ‘for every scholar who cites [Carroll Smith-​Rosenberg’s 1975 article] “The Female World of Love and Ritual” to explain that Victorian women could have relationships with each other without incurring social stigma, another uses it to prove the sexlessness of the most passionate, enduring, and exclusive love affairs’.39 Chief among the works that championed the cause of women’s romantic friendships—​ in which emotional passion predominates over genitally oriented sexual connection—​ was Lilian Faderman’s Surpassing the Love of Men.40 Martha Vicinus’s Independent

37  Sappho, Fragment 31, trans. John Addington Symonds (1883), in Henry Thornton Wharton, Sappho: Memoir, Text, Selected Renderings and a Literal Translation (2nd edn., London: David Stott, 1887), 65. 38  See Martha Vicinus, Intimate Friends: Women who Loved Women, 1778–​1928 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 69–​82. 39  Sharon Marcus, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007), 31. Marcus refers to Carroll Smith-​Rosenberg, ‘The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-​Century America’, Signs, 1, no. 1 (1975), 1–​29. 40  Lillian Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love between Women from the Renaissance to the Present (New York: William Morrow, 1981).

Unspeakable Desires: We Other Victorians    205 Women offered a detailed discussion of the many different sorts of communities in which women’s close friendships flourished, from women’s schools and colleges to convents, nursing establishments, and settlement houses; her Intimate Friends revisits many of the relationships that Faderman treated, and showed that there was frequently far more of a sexual component to the couples that she discusses than Faderman made out.41 She writes, for example, of energetic sexual activity that Anne Lister engaged in with various neighbouring aristocratic women in North Yorkshire in the 1820s, and of the transnational literary and artistic community in Rome in the 1860s—​electric with desire and jealousy—​which included the actress Charlotte Cushman and the sculptors Emma Stebbins and Harriet Hosmer among its members. Women certainly lived with other women in relationships that were described as ‘marriages’, whilst more generally, women were expected to touch, caress, and fondle each other (think of Esther stroking Ada’s hair in Bleak House, 1852−3; think of Jane Eyre putting her arms around Helen Burns’s waist, kissing her, nestling up to her on her deathbed). As Marcus, again, puts it, ‘Precisely because Victorians saw lesbian sex almost nowhere, they could embrace erotic desire between women almost everywhere. Female homoeroticism did not subvert dominant codes of femininity, because female homoeroticism was one of those codes.’42 Whilst Eve Sedgwick could usefully, and very influentially, distinguish between homosocial and homoerotic friendships between men—​the former often involving extraordinarily close bonds as co-​workers, or mentor–​pupils, or members of the same military unit or gentleman’s club, often cementing these bonds through the mediating influence of a woman; the latter involving definite genital contact—​very often no such neat dividing line can be drawn when it comes to women’s expression of desire, even though relationships that involved direct touching of sexual organs were, in practice, probably quite distinct from ones that stopped at fervent caresses and protestations of love. Christina Rossetti’s strange poem Goblin Market (1859) is an allegory about the dangers of giving way to sensual temptation (which only leads to wanting more: after tasting goblin fruit, Laura ‘sat up in a passionate yearning, | And gnashed her teeth for balked desire, and wept | As if her heart would break’) and about the need to find the strength to combat these desires. Lizzie, her sister, returns from her trip to the goblins, obdurately resisting their ripe fruit, their squeezes and caresses, and embraces Laura, inviting her to kiss and suck at the pulp and juices that the goblin men have smeared all over her face: She cried ‘Laura,’ up the garden, ‘Did you miss me? Come and kiss me. Never mind my bruises, Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices 41  Martha Vicinus, Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850–​1920 (London: Virago, 1985), and Intimate Friends. 42 Marcus, Between Women, 113.

206    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Squeezed from goblin fruits for you, Goblin pulp and goblin dew. Eat me, drink me, love me; Laura, make much of me.’43

If this seems overstated, to say the least, as an expression of affection between sisters; if it has subsequently become something of a talisman for lesbian desire, its power amplified by Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s illustration of the two girls in bed together, mid-​Victorian readers do not seem to have seen anything improper, anything unspeakable, in the actions here described. On the other hand, when Michael Field, in their sonnet ‘It was deep April’, write how they ‘took hands and swore,| Against the world, to be| Poets and lovers evermore,’44 both women knew exactly what was at stake in proclaiming their relationship, but its details, however heartfelt their attachment, are poetically coded.45 In ‘Unbosoming’, for example, they describe desire, and its fulfilment, in decidedly horticultural terms: The love that breeds In my heart for thee! As the iris is full, brimful of seeds, And all that it flowered for among the reeds Is packed in a thousand vermilion-​beads That push, and riot, and squeeze, and clip, Till they burst the sides of the silver scrip, And at last we see What the bloom, with its tremulous, bowery fold Of zephyr-​petal at heart did hold.46

In lesbian writing, as elsewhere, desire itself very often finds its strongest expression when it fails to encounter—​or to have any possibility of encountering—​such an eruption in a bower of bliss. Edith Simcox, who yearned for (and totally failed to receive) more than George Eliot’s affectionate friendship, who sat at her feet, called her (until Eliot asked her to desist) ‘Mother’ (a term that, of course, complicates the layers of emotion), and cherished even her slightest touch, wrote of the delicious pain her suffering caused her in quasi-​religious terms: ‘we tread barefoot and the stones are


Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market (1859), in Goblin Market: And Other Poems (2nd edn., London: Macmillan, 1865), 15, 25. 44  Michael Field, Underneath the Bough: A Book of Verses (rev. edn., London: George Bell and Sons, 1893), 100. 45  For Michael Field’s use of metaphor, see Chris White, ‘“Poets and Lovers Evermore”: Interpreting Female Love in the Poetry and Journals of Michael Field’, Textual Practice, 4, no. 2 (1990), 197–​212, and ‘Flesh and Roses: Michael Field’s Metaphors of Pleasure and Desire’, Women’s Writing, 3, no. 1 (1996), 47–​62. Michael Field are well placed in their cultural context by Marion Thain in ‘Michael Field’: Poetry, Aestheticism and the Fin de Siècle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). 46  Michael Field, Underneath the Bough, 99.

Unspeakable Desires: We Other Victorians    207 sharp, we fall, the ground is a flame, the air is a suffocating smoke, invisible demons ply their scourges: there is one strange pleasure in the agony—​to feel sharp flames consuming what is left in us of selfish lust’.47 Some late Victorian novels, like Ethel M. Arnold’s Platonics (1894) or Emma Frances Brooke’s Transition (1895), triangulate two women’s intense feelings for one another with the pressures to conform to heterosexual society. Some lesbian poets, like Amy Levy, masked their jealousy in various ways. Her ‘To Lallie (Outside the British Museum)’ (1884) opens with enthusiasm: Up those museum steps you came, And straightway all my blood was flame, O Lallie, Lallie! The world (I had been feeling low) In one short moment’s space did grow A happy valley. There was a friend, my friend, with you; A meagre dame, in peacock blue Apparelled quaintly: This poet-​heart went pit-​a-​pat; I bowed and smiled and raised my hat; You nodded—​faintly.48

Desire could not be more firmly squelched. This masking, of course, is a double one. Feelings hide behind a facetious stance and jaunty metre, and—​that raised hat gives the game away—​lesbian desire is transposed into the socially safe voice of an apparently male poet. Indeed, speaking as a man was one strategy that lesbian writers could easily adopt in order to write of their desires and frustrations—​or, indeed, to find a language for them at all. I have argued elsewhere that one of the problems for women-​identified writers in the Victorian period, where the language of sexual desire falls so very close to that of passionate female attachment, is to know, to name, to speak exactly what it was that they were feeling.49 No wonder this became couched in elaborate metaphors. It was not, after all, as though heterosexual women were regularly openly and easily able to express sexual desire, either (except in pornographic fantasy). The problem for many lesbians—​or women to whom we would now give that name, even if it isn’t one that they would have used to label themselves at the time—​was exacerbated by uncertainty over the viability, even the nature, of their emotional and sexual yearnings 47 

Edith Simcox, diary entry, 29 December 1878, in A Monument to the Memory of George Eliot: Edith Simcox’s ‘Autobiography of a Shirtmaker’, ed. Constance M. Fulmer and Margaret E. Barfield (New York: Garland, 1998), 69. 48  Amy Levy, ‘To Lallie (Outside the British Museum)’ (1884), in The Complete Novels and Selected Writings of Amy Levy, 1861–​1889, ed. Melvyn New (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993), 381. 49  Kate Flint, ‘The “Hour of Pink Twilight”: Lesbian Poetics and Queer Encounters on the Fin-​de-​ siècle Street’, Victorian Studies, 51, no. 4 (2009), 687–​7 12.

208    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture and fantasies, and over the availability of a shared linguistic framework in which to express them. But there were some strategies in which desire could be at least vicariously experienced. Since ‘woman-​authored poetry addressing women was often reviewed as though the speaker had adopted a male voice; by the same token, of course, a woman-​identified reader could easily practice queer reading, aligning herself with a heterosexual male poetic speaker’.50 Such queer reading is not just the prerogative of the lesbian. It may just as easily be practised by the gay man—​why not position oneself, temporarily, as Maggie Tulliver, reluctantly thrilling to the touch of Stephen Guest taking her hand into the crook of his arm in the lane outside the Moss’s farm—​‘Her lips and eyelids quivered—​she opened her eyes full on his for an instant, like a lovely wild animal timid and struggling under caresses’—​yet knowing she must renounce her cousin’s acknowledged suitor.51 Or why not abandon oneself to a different form of excess, that of style? ‘The homosexual’s “classic” pursuit of style’, D. A. Miller has written, ‘is, among other things, his heroic way of rising to meet the fate projected on him […] by a culture fearful of the extreme, exclusive, emptying, ecstatic character of any serious experience of Style?.’52 Stylistic excess is both substance and vehicle of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). One of the many enjoyments that this novel offers up is the fact that it can be read on several levels, queer and non-​queer—​a story of the fatal, quasi-​Faustian influence of one man over another; a tale of the insidious and ultimately futile worship of surface over depth—​or a work that celebrates surfaces, acting a part, knowing the power of art and artifice, and that recognizes the sheer hedonistic, narcissistic, amoral appeal of living profoundly in the moment. These divergent, even contradictory readings may be seen as closely related to Wilde’s far more wide-​reaching love of paradox, and of leaving explanations open (one might contrast it with his 1889 short story, ‘The Portrait of Mr W. H.’, in which he was far less ambiguously writing a gay story, outing the sex of the addressee of Shakespeare’s sonnets). What one might think of as his queer commitment to stylistics goes beyond this, however, and certainly beyond the flamboyant, self-​promoting, ostentatious style that he and other aesthetes displayed in dress.53 As William A. Cohen has noted, Wilde might have been ‘recklessly unconcerned’ when it came to protecting himself in his private life, but in his prose, he rendered homosexuality far less legible (with a few notable exceptions, like ‘The Portrait of Mr. W. H.’). ‘The mutual and reciprocal relation between the two formations of unspeakability—​the sexual and the literary’, writes Cohen, ‘coalesce[s]‌in Wilde’s writing.’54 Wilde’s art is distinguished by its availability to interpretation, by its refusal of the obvious, for the ways in


Flint, ‘The “Hour of Pink Twilight”’, 693. George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860; London: Penguin, 2003), 468. 52  D. A. Miller, Jane Austen, or, The Secret of Style (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 8. 53  For homosexuality and aestheticism in general, see Richard Dellamora’s Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism (Charlotte: University of North Carolina Press, 1990). 54 Cohen, Sex Scandal, 192. 51 

Unspeakable Desires: We Other Victorians    209 which it invites the reader’s sympathetic subjectivity in a range of suggestive, and often indeterminate, ways. This chapter needs a coda. As Heather Love argues in Feeling Backward, ‘longing for community across time is a crucial feature of queer historical experience’.55 She underscores what is, for her, the most problematic feature of this, which is not an attachment to identity, but a desire to search for positive images, for encouraging, upbeat, pioneering versions of ourselves in the past. We need to acknowledge, she tells us, the degree to which shame, and repression, and the holding of dark secrets—​of wanting to keep things unspoken, even to oneself—​formed a part of queer history. In other words, in attempting to bring out queer voices from the past, in giving a voice to unspeakable desires, we need to be careful that we are not, in the end, imposing desires of our own for a history and literature that said more than it could or wanted to say. In his writing on aesthetic criticism, Wilde privileges the role of the critic over that of the author, since, he believes, his is the more inventive, the more creative role. Paradoxical and parasitic though this may seem, it is in many ways a way of liberating the reader, and of granting the gay male or lesbian reader the power to open up a text, and make it their own. Tennyson’s passionate attachment to Arthur Hallam, as expressed in In Memoriam, or Esther’s fetishization of Ada’s hair, may or may not be expressive of homosexual relations. The reader can make the unspoken within the text as vocal as he or she wishes. And yet, as readers, we must be alert to the fact that we may be pursuing our own urges to identify with women and men from an earlier period, and need to recognize our own relative disappointments at not finding the articulate versions of our predecessors that we might have hoped to locate. We can fantasize, we can project—​but in doing so, we must acknowledge the degree to which these actions are, in themselves, symptoms of frustrated desire.

Select Bibliography Cook, Matt, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, 1885–​1914 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2003). Dowling, Linda, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, 1994). Love, Heather, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007). Marcus, Sharon, Between Women:  Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). Marcus, Steven, The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-​Nineteenth Century England (New York: Basic Books, 1966). Nead, Lynda, Victorian Babylon:  People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-​Century London (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000). 55 

Heather Love, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), 37.

210    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Pearsall, Ronald, The Worm in the Bud: The World of Victorian Sexuality (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969). Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Between Men:  English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985). Sinfield, Alan, The Wilde Century:  Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Moment (London: Continuum, 1994). Vicinus, Martha, Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778–​1928 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

Chapter 11

Victorian M as c u l i ni t i e s , or M ilitary Me n of Feeli ng Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility Holly Furneaux

Victorian Masculinities: The Emergence of a Field The last twenty years have seen scholarship on masculinities develop as a major field within Victorian studies. John Tosh, a leader in this field, describes how in 1994 the idea of a history of masculinity was ‘eccentric and provocative’; a decade later, by contrast, it had become ‘a recognised area of enquiry’.1 After an understandable reluctance to appear to affirm patriarchy by means of a focus on men, scholars began to apply increasingly nuanced theories of gender as a cultural construction to the experience and representation of manliness in the nineteenth century. While, as Tosh summarizes, early work focused on the predominantly male arena of empire building and all-​male spaces, especially public schools, youth organizations, and clubs, more recent scholarship has benefited from the feminist critique of an overly rigid model of separate spheres.2 Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall’s 1987 social history of men’s position within complex, overlapping networks of family and business was an important milestone, inspiring

1  John Tosh, Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth Century Britain: Essays in Gender, Family, and Empire (London: Pearson, 2005), 1. 2  See, for example, Amanda Vickery, ‘Golden Age to Separate Spheres? A Review of the Categories and Chronology of English Women’s History’, Historical Journal, 36 (1993), 383–​414.

212    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture projects across a number of disciplines.3 Subsequent work on masculinity has dealt with major areas of reassessment and development in Victorian studies: work and domesticity, and the extent to which these were experienced as separate spheres, Victorian families, war and attitudes towards militarism, empire, and the role of feeling in public and private life. This chapter endeavours to extend several of these lines of enquiry. It begins with a concern central to the Victorians, and a staple of early important critical work on manliness:  the composition of the gentleman. Through W.  M. Thackeray’s lovable gentle officer, Colonel Newcome, and responses to this character through the long nineteenth century, the chapter brings together debates about the behaviour appropriate to each class and the democratization of manly virtue, with questions of military might and army reform. Recent attention to the private lives and experience of Victorian men takes up a turn to affect in Victorian studies, through which a new and nuanced emphasis has been placed on feeling and the gendering of emotion. I continue this turn in a perhaps unexpected direction, examining a mid-​nineteenth-​century preoccupation with the emotional experience and eloquence of military men. In The Newcomes (1853–​5) and in Victorian culture more widely, I will argue, these concerns are brought together in a previously overlooked figure: the military man of feeling. Tracing the popularity of this figure through the long nineteenth century I question the accepted idea that the Victorian period witnessed a decided stiffening of the upper lip, as captains of industry and empire builders had no time for public displays of feeling. In a 2012 BBC documentary Ian Hislop presented the Victorian period as the ‘heyday’ of emotional restraint. The documentary identified the Crimean War (1853–​6) as a turning point, at which the stiff upper lip became democratized as officers and men were commended for their stoicism.4 In that war, though, as we shall see, the opposite impulse is also apparent, as an ideal of the military man of feeling crossed ranks. In this essay I question the abiding stereotype of the emotionally buttoned-​up Victorian male, and challenge an idea, expressed in the Victorian period and familiar in our own, that feeling has no place in war.

‘The company of gentlemen’, part 1: The Newcomes: A Most Respectable Family Colonel Newcome was singled out for special commendation by reviewers throughout the later half of the nineteenth century. Protagonist of The Newcomes, Thackeray’s most 3  Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1790–​1850 (London: Hutchinson, 1987). 4  Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip: An Emotional History of Britain, Episode 2, ‘Heyday’, BBC 2, 9 October 2012. The strap-​line for this episode ‘How the Victorians made the stiff upper-​lip a genuinely national characteristic’ (​programmes/​b01n7rh4) is a neat shorthand for the received view of the emotional history of the period.

Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility    213 popular work with Victorian readers, Colonel Newcome inspired readerly devotion. In his obituary for Thackeray, Anthony Trollope declared that ‘The Newcomes stands conspicuous for the character of the Colonel, who as an English gentleman has no equal in English fiction. […] Colonel Newcome is the finest single character in English fiction.’5 Such responses echoed the enthusiastic appraisals of this figure within the novel. Despite his shortcomings the Colonel incites particular devotion in Arthur Pendennis, the principal narrator and putative editor of the text, and is widely praised by other characters. He is described by fellow military men as ‘one of the bravest officers that ever lived’ and as ‘one of the kindest fellows’,6 while widows are attracted to ‘a man so generally liked […] with such a good character, with a private fortune of his own, so chivalrous, generous, good looking’ (55). Though closer to an ideal of character than is usual in Thackeray’s work—​Dobbin, the commended military gentleman of Vanity Fair (1847–​ 8) is the other notable exception—​the Colonel is clearly shown to have faults. These include, perhaps most tragically, his failure to see women for themselves, as he prefers to view romance through an unrealistic chivalric lens. The Colonel’s excessive idealization of women results in his promotion of his beloved son’s disastrous marriage. Given that another of the novel’s central critical enquiries is the trading of women as property on the marriage market, the Colonel’s failures to value women as individuals is presented as a clear character flaw.7 Reviewers, however, tended to ignore this, instead replicating the adoration expressed for the Colonel in the novel. Early responses praised the Colonel as a ‘noble creation’; ‘within the whole scope of fiction there is no single character which stands out more nobly’.8 These celebratory readings (which continued, as we shall see, until at least the First World War) participated in an active debate, to which Thackeray’s novel self-​consciously contributed, about the characteristics of the ideal Victorian gentleman, and the appropriate components of martial and civil manliness.9 In this family saga, or roman familial, Thackeray signals his participation in contemporary debates about the constitution of the gentleman by carefully differentiating the styles of masculinity adopted by the leading males of this family. The novel’s full


Cornhill Magazine (February 1864). Quoted by R. D. MacMaster, ‘Composition, Publication and Reception’, in W. M. Thackeray, The Newcomes, ed. Peter Shillingsburg (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 371–​90, at 385. 6  W. M. Thackeray, The Newcomes (London: Dent, 1994), 67. Subsequent references are to this edition and are given in parenthesis in the text. 7  For readings that identify Thackeray’s critique of the marriage market as a central concern of the novel see Michael Lund, Reading Thackeray (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988); and Donald Hall, Fixing Patriarchy: Feminism and Mid-​Victorian Male Novelists (New York: New York University Press, 1997). 8  The Times, 29 August 1855; George Smith, Edinburgh Review (January 1873), both quoted by MacMaster, ‘Composition’, 384–​5. 9  I’ve explored the centrality of the question of what makes a gentleman to mid-​Victorian culture, and the ways in which literary explorations of the topic are often routed through plots of physical and emotional gentleness, particularly via narratives of male nursing, in ‘Negotiating the Gentle-​Man: Male Nursing and Class Conflict in the “High” Victorian Period’, in Dinah Birch and Mark Llewellyn (eds), Conflict and Difference in Nineteenth Century Literature (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010), 109–​25.

214    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture title, The Newcomes: Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family, edited by Arthur Pendennis Esq., alerts us to this concern with ‘most respectable’ status from the outset. Colonel Newcome’s city banking twin stepbrothers take mutually defining roles. While Hobson ‘affected the country gentleman’ and was ‘pleased to be so taken—​for a jolly country squire’, Brian ‘looked like the “Portrait of a Gentleman at the Exhibition,” as the worthy is represented: dignified in attitude, bland, smiling, and statesmanlike, sitting at a table unsealing letters, with a despatch-​box and a silver inkstand before him, a column and a scarlet curtain behind’ (61–​2). Characteristically Thackeray presents both modes as poses, approximations of recognizable models of manliness.10 A  third major type or style of the period the novel surveys (the late eighteenth century to the 1840s), the dandy, is represented by Brian’s son Barnes, ‘a fair-​haired young gentleman, languid and pale, and arrayed in the very height of fashion’ (63). In describing these masculine performances, Thackeray emphasizes affectation, fashion, looking like, being taken for, and life modelling art. In this he anticipates Judith Butler’s now classic theoretical work on the inauthenticity of gender. In Hobson’s, Brian’s, and Barnes’s varied performances of gentlemanliness, ‘the essence or identity that they otherwise purport to express are fabrications manufactured and sustained through corporeal signs and other discursive means’.11 In the trappings of sober business (letters and despatch box) and furnishings connotative of wealth and social standing (silver inkstand) with which the narrator imaginatively surrounds Brian in the artist’s impression, complete with the column and scarlet curtain of the studio, the effortful work of gender fabrication is apparent. Thackeray, then, perhaps more than any of his contemporaries, establishes at the outset of his study of what makes a gentleman that the gentleman is a social construct, a label attached via social consensus rather than arising from any innate or unchanging qualities. Nonetheless, the quest to identify the qualities and qualifications of the perfect gentleman is a major concern of this tale of social newcomers, and the dominant concern in readers’ responses to the novel. Colonel Newcome, who for Trollope and many other readers was the ‘English gentleman’ with ‘no equal’, has a somewhat contradictory stance on the extent to which the gentleman is born or made, which accurately reflects the broader cultural confusion on this issue. Unlike his pompous stepbrothers, who are attached to a spurious family etymology through which they can trace themselves to a ‘surgeon to Edward the Confessor’, the Colonel is realistic about the recent wealth of his family from his father’s successes in weaving and merchandising. The Colonel delivers the following major ‘lesson’ to his young son Clive, in a novel also deeply concerned with forms of education: ‘I think every man would like to come of an ancient and honourable race [… .] As you like your father to be an honourable man, why not your grandfather, and his 10  The historical significance of stylization and theatricality is emphasized in James Eli Adams’s Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1995). 11  Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London, 1990), 173.

Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility    215 ancestors before him? But if we can’t inherit a good name, at least we can do our best to leave one, my boy; and that is an ambition, please God, you and I will both hold by.’ (71)

Here good birth is desirable but not essential to the possession of a ‘good name’, which may also be achieved through effort, and is an ideal to aspire to. As Robert Colby put it, in a groundbreaking early critical study of Thackeray, ‘in emphasising through the colonel that respectability is something transmitted rather than inherited, Thackeray did his part to bring gentillesse within the purview of the middle-​class’.12 Elsewhere, though, the Colonel is less flexible in his thinking, and he certainly rules out the possibility of a more radical social mobility suggested by the working-​class gentleman, a figure explored through characters such as the eponymous hero of Dinah Craik’s John Halifax, Gentleman (1856) and Charles Dickens’s Pip and Joe (Great Expectations, 1860–​1). Colonel Newcome has a strict code of conduct that he expects those born into the landowning classes to abide by; deviation from this code is a major cause of his frustration with the coarseness of Fielding, a favourite novelist of Thackeray’s: ‘If Mr Fielding was a gentleman by birth’, says the Colonel, ‘he ought to have known better; and so much the worse for him that he did not’ (42). Here, and throughout the novel, Colonel Newcome insists on strict delineations of social and military rank, suggesting that to be a gentleman—​here defined by class and occupation—​is the ‘lot’ of some men but not others: ‘I am as little proud as many in the world, but there must be distinction, sir; and as it is my lot and Clive’s lot to be a gentleman, I won’t sit in the kitchen and boose in the servant’s hall’ (41). Clive expresses an instinctive understanding of such ‘distinction’, which seems, though Thackeray is explicit that Clive’s theory is not fully coherent, to depend on character and personal, rather than social, worth: ‘It isn’t rank and that; only somehow there are some men gentlemen and some not’ (70). These half-​articulated and contradictory ideas represent what Arlene Young has described as a broad concern in the mid-​nineteenth century with whether ‘manners’ could take precedence ‘over lineage as the essential defining quality of gentlemanliness’.13 Robin Gilmour places Thackeray at the heart of his authoritative study of The Idea of the Gentleman, seeing this topic as ‘a major, perhaps the major, concern of Thackeray’s fiction’.14 Gilmour documents how Thackeray and his contemporaries posed ‘testing questions about the constituent elements of the gentleman. How important were birth and breeding in making a gentleman? Was heredity more important than environment […]? Could a “natural gentility” exist without the patent of birth, and if so, how

12  Robert Colby, Thackeray’s Canvas of Humanity: An Author and His Public (Columbus, O.: Ohio State University Press, 1979), 264. 13  Arlene Young, Culture, Class and Gender in the Victorian Novel: Gentlemen, Gents and Working Women (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), 37. 14  Robin Gilmour, The Idea of the Gentleman in the Victorian Novel (London: Allen and Unwin, 1981), 38.

216    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture much was this a matter of moral qualities and how much a matter of education and fine clothes?’15 Such questions were asked with increasing intensity in the mid-​century in debates around the Reform Act of 1867. As Keith McClelland has shown, ‘the axial figure’ in the enfranchisement controversy was ‘the “respectable working man”: could he be trusted if he was to be given the vote? How was he to be differentiated from the “rough” or “unrespectable”?’16 These questions around trust and differentiation were, in part, resolved through a yoking of respectability with reason, with an emphasis on ‘rational recreations’ and temperance.17 Middle-​class ideals of manly self-​discipline, forged to legitimate the increasing social power of that class, and an evangelically informed bourgeois emphasis on restraint and asceticism, were thus conceptually extended, with the vote, to a section of working-​class men.18 The effects of the extension of a masculine ideal of restraint and temperance—​of habits and feelings—​are accounted for in the standard chronologies of a shift, usually dated to the 1850s and 1860s, as Philip Collins described it, ‘from manly tear to stiff upper lip’.19 In his recent work on expressions of male feeling, Thomas Dixon follows Collins’s chronology of ‘a move away from the culture of sentimentality from the 1860s onwards’.20 Julie-​Marie Strange places this shift, in which it became less acceptable for men to weep in public, a little later in the century to the 1880s; she links it to a rise in ‘muscular Christianity’ which ‘emphasised a vigorous masculinity in the face of anxieties about the decline of Empire and the degeneration of Britain as a nation’.21 British military prowess was already being tested during the period in which The Newcomes was composed and published. Serialization of The Newcomes began in October 1853, at the same time as Russian hostilities against Turkey. Monthly parts continued throughout the Crimean War, which saw a historically unlikely alliance of Britain with France and the Ottoman Empire. The final part was issued in August 1855, a month before the Russians surrendered Sebastopol.22 The novel’s exploration of civilian and military styles of gentlemanliness takes on a particular urgency in the context of

15 Gilmour, The Idea of the Gentleman, 33. 16 

Keith McClelland, ‘England’s Greatness, the Working Man’, in Catherine Hall, Keith McClelland, and Jane Rendall, Defining the Victorian Nation: Class, Race, Gender and the British Reform Act of 1867 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 72. For a cross-​European consideration of the relationship between military service and suffrage, see chs. 1 and 2 of Stefan Dudink, Karen Hagerman, and John Tosh (eds), Masculinities in Politics and War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004). 17  McClelland, ‘England’s Greatness, the Working Man’, 115. Stefan Collini documents an increasing politicized emphasis on ‘character’ in this period, Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 1850–​1930 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991). 18  On the centrality of the ascetic self-​discipline in professional-​class formations of masculinity see, for example, Adams, Dandies and Desert Saints. 19  Philip Collins, From Manly Tear to Stiff Upper Lip: The Victorians and Pathos (Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press, n.d.), based on a 1974 lecture. 20  Thomas Dixon, ‘The Tears of Mr Justice Willes’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 17, no. 1 (2012), 1–​23. Dixon notes that ‘weeping judges became virtually extinct after the mid-​Victorian period’, 10. 21  ‘The Myth of Britain’s Stiff Upper Lip’, BBC News Magazine, 16 February 2011. 22  The war officially ended with the ‘Peace of Paris’, signed in March 1856.

Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility    217 wider debates about whether by being a nation so fit for trade, Britain had become unfit for war. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning declared, ‘if we cannot fight righteous and necessary battles, we must leave our place as a nation, and be satisfied with making pins’.23 In the Crimean War, the infamous arena of officer ‘blunder’, the heroism of ranking soldiers in appalling conditions was widely applauded. The mismanagement of the war led to widespread calls for reform of government and army, and the formation of the short-​lived Administrative Reform Association, of which Thackeray was a member. While the war was the immediate catalyst for the foundation of the association, its aims were wider—​the reduction of jobbism in the military and all areas of government, so that roles were allocated according to ability rather than social rank. The largely middle-​class membership of the association promoted the efficiency of industry as more successful than leadership based on aristocratic hierarchy and ability to pay. James Eli Adams has noted the attention that Thackeray gives to a reformist class-​based shift in military masculinities in Vanity Fair: Whereas George Osborne envisions himself as a throwback to the traditional, aristocratic gentleman, compounded of martial valour, dashing presence and unlimited credit, William Dobbin incarnates a humbler ideal, more suited to an emergent middle class. [… .] He finds fulfilment in duty (military and domestic) and kindness to the weak.24

Like Dobbin, who is briefly resurrected in The Newcomes to confirm the Colonel’s credentials—​‘there is not a more gallant or respected officer in the service’ (132)—​the Colonel’s caring behaviour, informed by the values of home and domestic fiction, is suitable for a democratized army. One of the aims of the Administrative Reform Association was realized a decade and a half later in the Cardwell reforms to overturn the system of bought commissions. This made army leadership a more accessible prospect to working men.25 In the aftermath of the Crimean War, as Alan Skelley has shown, formal reforms were supplemented by a range of efforts to improve the education and quality of leisure time for ranking soldiers, with an emphasis on increasing the appeal of ‘rational recreations’ of reading rooms, lectures, etc., so that they became preferable to the canteen. These changes, and education reforms, were ‘an important aspect of the army’s transition from an earlier uncaring, fiercely disciplined body to a more humane organisation with greater provision for the welfare of its men’.26 In the course of these reforms, the qualities of the ranking soldier, and his capacity for self-​discipline and self-​help, came under scrutiny similar to that given to the working man in the approach to the 1867 Reform Act. 23 

Quoted by Stefanie Markovits in the context of wider views of war as a relief from a ‘long and dreary commercial period’—​The Crimean War in the British Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 93. 24  James Eli Adams, A History of Victorian Literature (Oxford: Wiley-​Blackwell, 2009), 118. 25  Anthony Bruce, The Purchase System in the British Army, 1660–​1871 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1980). 26  Alan Ramsey Skelley, The Victorian Army at Home: The Recruitment and Terms and Conditions of the British Regular, 1859–​1899 (London: Croom Helm, 1977), 117.

218    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Surprisingly, though, in this climate of increased emphasis on manly restraint, and this period of acute anxiety about the efficiency of the British army, the military figure most applauded was notable, not for a stiff upper lip, but for a particular capacity for feeling. While figures like Carlyle were carving out spaces for civilian heroism through a transposition of warrior language into civic life, an overhaul of the martial ideal took place through an application, across a wide range of cultural forms, of civic and, especially, domestic and familial ideals, to the soldier. As Adams argues, Carlyle’s famous phrase ‘Captains of Industry’ ‘gained wide cultural currency because it attached to the economic power of the entrepreneur the status of a traditional martial ideal and thereby solidified the social authority of what had been at best a fragile norm of manhood under an aristocratic ethos contemptuous of trade’.27 During the same period, however, the impetus also went the other way towards the civilizing of the soldier through the transposition of middle-​class values into the traditionally aristocratic hierarchy. Though Colonel Newcome inspired unambivalent celebration, and often provoked powerful emotional reactions—​a review in The Spectator, for example, speaks of the tears shed over the Colonel’s death, and popular accounts reported that Thackeray had been found weeping by his housekeeper after writing this scene28—​the gentlemanly ideal he represents is far from simple. Composite of competing traditions of approved manliness, the Colonel reinterprets the aristocratic ideal of the noble officer for a more bourgeois age and for a predominantly middle-​class audience, and takes the eighteenth-​century man of feeling into an era in which manly restraint and reason was, so the accepted chronology goes, more recommended than manly tears and emotional response. The air of nostalgia and anachronism with which Thackeray imbues this character, who is perceived by others in the novel as old-​fashioned, suggests the difficulties of constituting an ideal gentleman in a period which celebrated difficult-​to-​reconcile models of masculinity, from domestic sensitivity to imperial aggression. While the Colonel draws upon old-​fashioned literary models of manliness—​he styles himself after The Spectator’s ‘old English gentleman’ Roger de Coverley and Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison, and is known in India as Don Quixote—​his infusion of feeling and of bourgeois civilian values into his admired version of military manliness is, as we shall see, very much of the age.

‘The Colonel at home’: Fatherly Feeling Using the figure of a military man who has served a full career in the East India Company and whose primary emotional connection is to his son, Thackeray explores 27 Adams, Dandies and Desert Saints, 6. 28 

The Spectator, 18 August 1855; Colby, Thackeray’s Canvas of Humanity, 393 n. 58.

Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility    219 the constitution of the gentleman through his public position as servant of empire and domestic role as father. Having decided not to remarry after his own painful experience of being stepmothered, the widowed Colonel Newcome resolves to be ‘father and mother too’ (56) to Clive. Though the gentleman was, in one sense, a public category that defined social status, this novel, like many others of the period, is more concerned by the embodiment of gentle manliness within the private sphere. Colby notes the prevalence of chapter titles, such as ‘The Colonel at Home’ that direct the reader to the significance of the domestic, and connect the novel to the numbers of contemporary domestic dramas promoted in the accompanying Newcomes Advertiser.29 Indeed, the Colonel’s homecoming inaugurates the narrative. During his Indian posting, the Colonel had felt obliged to send his young son to England for his education and the protection of his health. The novel turns around the Colonel’s efforts to create a more meaningful relationship with his son, who, after a seven-​year absence, is now a young man. The Colonel endeavours, to use John Tosh’s categorization of dominant styles of Victorian fatherhood, to move from the model of ‘absent’ father, separated, in this case reluctantly, from his children in order to fulfil his professional commitments, to ‘intimate’ fatherhood.30 Indeed, Thackeray anticipates Tosh’s scale of diverse fathering modes: ‘Our good Colonel was not of the tyrannous but of the loving order of fathers’ (199). Following Tosh, a growing body of work has continued to dispel an unhelpful but persistent image of the autocratic Victorian paterfamilias. Valerie Sanders’s wonderful study of Victorian fathers, through their own testimony of letters and diaries, challenges the stereotype by ‘changing the perspective from which’ the father ‘is viewed’.31 In Colonel Newcome, Thackeray offers a detailed account of the affects of fatherhood as experienced by the father himself, which dwells on the emotional intensity of the Colonel’s feeling for his son. Colonel Newcome is bereft at his separation from young Clive. Thackeray describes the Colonel’s ‘constant longing affection’, his ‘grief and loneliness’ at parting, ‘his tender and faithful heart’. ‘The kind father had been longing’ for their reunion ‘more passionately than any prisoner for liberty, or schoolboy for holiday’. ‘With that fidelity which was an instinct of his nature, this brave man thought ever of his absent child, and longed after him’ (54). In his repeated emphasis on ‘longing’ and the attempt to capture its intensity through analogy, Thackeray makes a concerted effort to convey the rarely documented emotional experience of military fathers: Strong men, alone on their knees, with streaming eyes and broken accents, implore Heaven for those little ones, who were prattling at their sides but a few hours since. 29 Colby, Thackeray’s Canvas of Humanity, 360.

30  John Tosh, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-​Class Home in Victorian England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 87. 31  Valerie Sanders, The Tragi-​Comedy of Victorian Fatherhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 3. For other important accounts of the emotional diversity of Victorian fatherhood, see Trev Lynn Broughton and Helen Rogers (eds), Gender and Fatherhood in the Nineteenth Century (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007).

220    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Long after they are gone, careless and happy, recollections of the sweet past rise up and smite those who remain: the flowers they had planted in their little gardens, the toys they played with, the little vacant cribs they slept in as fathers’ eyes looked blessings down on them. (54)

Much affected by this early separation, the Colonel’s fatherly feeling extends beyond biology: The experience of this grief made Newcome’s naturally kind heart only the more tender, and hence he had a weakness for children which made him the laughing stock of old maids, old bachelors, and sensible persons; but the darling of all nurseries, to whose little inhabitants he was uniformly kind:  were they the Collector’s progeny in their palanquins, or the sergeant’s children, tumbling about the cantonment, or the dusky little heathens in the huts of his servants round his gate. (55)

Unlike his other, more firmly delineated, relations the Colonel’s weakness for children discriminates neither by class nor race, and throughout the novel he is observed forging alliances with children, both related and not: ‘Besides his own boy, whom he worshipped, this kind colonel had a score, at least, of adopted children, to whom he chose to stand in the light of a father’ (59). This adoptive parenting registers the professional hazard of army life, as the Colonel stands father to those children whose parents have died or must remain distant at imperial posts. It also places him in a longer tradition of the paternally sensitive military man, with his forename perhaps referencing the most socially committed of these, Captain Thomas Coram, a retired naval officer who set up the Foundling Hospital after being horrified by the regularity of his encounters with abandoned children on the London streets.32 Although wartime is usually associated with a hardening of feeling, commended by The Critic in 1847 as preferable to the ‘social plague’ of sentimentalism which is said to gain an ascendancy in peacetime, Colonel Newcome’s expansive capacity for emotional response is with the grain of Crimean War period narratives.33 During this conflict, a wide range of cultural forms presented the military man not as less susceptible to sentiment, but as intensely so. The soldier as adoptive father was a popular motif, with paintings like John Everett Millais’s L’Enfant du Régiment (1854–​ 5) and the revival of Donizetti’s opera La Fille du Régiment from which Millais takes his subject (reopened in London 1856), resonating with Newcome’s choice to ‘stand in the light of a father’ to numbers of children. Such narratives contributed to a wider focus on, and celebration of, the military man’s emotional experience and 32 

I discuss Captain Coram in the context of tender elective fatherhood in Queer Dickens: Erotics, Families, Masculinities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), ch. 1. 33  ‘Sentimentalism’, Critic, 6 (December 1847), 370. Carolyn Burdett places this piece in a context of broader journalistic critiques of sentiment at mid-​century in her introduction to ‘New Agenda: Sentimentalities’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 16, no. 2 (2011), 187–​94, at 188.

Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility    221 eloquence.34 In the Colonel’s reliance on eighteenth-​century models of sensibility, Thackeray explicitly draws the man of feeling into questions not just of what makes a gentleman, but of what constitutes appropriate military masculinity.

‘The company of gentlemen’, Part 2: Military Men of Feeling The Colonel is a composite figure, in which models of the military man from Thackeray’s own life and extensive reading of military histories are fused with eighteenth-​century fictional men of sentiment. The character is based in part on Thackeray’s stepfather, Major Carmichael Smyth, and on a complex literary legacy.35 Colonel Newcome’s personal literary heroes, as we have briefly seen, are eminent figures of eighteenth-​century politeness and sensibility. The Colonel’s indispensable portable reading stacks up to a hefty pile: ‘“The Spectator”, “Don Quixote”, and “Sir Charles Grandison” formed a part of his travelling library’ (41). Thackeray details the reasons for the Colonel’s textual selection: ‘“I read these, Sir”, he used to say, “Because I like to be in the company of gentlemen; and Sir Roger de Coverley, and Sir Charles Grandison, and Don Quixote are the finest gentlemen in the world”’ (41). Thackeray emphazises the formative effects of Colonel Newcome’s reading of Samuel Richardson’s novel, variously presenting the Colonel’s ‘gracious dignity’ as Grandisonian behaviour (209, 515). In Sir Charles Grandison (1753) Richardson self-​ consciously tried to the address the question of ‘What makes a good man?’ This hero is presented in the preface as ‘the example of a Man acting uniformily well thro’ a variety of trying scenes’ and as a ‘Man of TRUE HONOUR’.36 In showing the triumph of male virtue, Richardson strives, as John Mullan has shown, to revise the gendered implications of his earlier Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1748), in which ideal feeling and behaviour are firmly the province of ‘the fair sex’.37 Richardson’s hero offers an ideal in which right sentiment is always met by right action—​charity, sacrifice of time and self-​interest, and

34 In Imagining Soldiers and Fathers in the Mid-​Victorian Era: Charlotte Yonge’s Models of Manliness,

Susan Walton has documented Yonge’s emphasis on gentle soldiering (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010). I’ve explored Dickens’s use of a sentimental tradition in his story of tender soldiers in the Christmas number of his journal in the first year of the Crimean War in ‘Household Words and the Crimean War: Journalism, Fiction and Forms of Recuperation in Wartime’, in John Drew (ed.), Charles Dickens and the Mid-​Victorian Press (Buckingham: University of Buckingham Press, 2013), 245–​60. 35  Thackeray’s daughter Anne Ritchie commented that her ‘step-​grandfather had many of Colonel Newcome’s characteristics’. Quoted by MacMaster, ‘Composition’, 384. Peter Shillingsburg characterizes Thackeray as having ‘both admired and condescended to’ his military stepfather. William Makepeace Thackeray: A Literary Life (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), 57. 36  Samuel Richardson, Sir Charles Grandison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 4. 37  John Mullan, Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 81–​3.

222    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture sage advice. He is a prelapsarian man of feeling, before Henry Mackenzie and others elaborated schemes by which a heightened capacity to feel only unevenly translated into social action, more often dissolving in a flood of tears cathartic to the weeper but rarely of benefit to the wept-​for.38 As a figure famous for his combination of right feeling with right action, Sir Charles Grandison makes a significant contribution here to the broader debate about the role of feeling in military masculinity. Another partial model for Colonel Newcome is offered by J. H. Stocqueler’s conduct book for officers, The British Officer: His Positions, Duties, Emoluments and Privileges (1851), which, as Colby has shown, Thackeray had read. Both Colonel Newcome and Stocqueler’s ideal officer, Colby argues, ‘exemplify the aristocratic ideal of chivalry in a modern bourgeois setting’.39 Stocqueler calls for a capacity for feeling and pleasure combined with disciplined restraint, anticipating the emphasis on moderation and rationality in the reform debates about the working man’s character in the next decade: [He] must be urbane in manners and courteous to all; he must be just and honourable in his most trifling dealings. […] Without being either a stoic or ascetic he should look with scorn on that mindlessness which seeks for artificial excitement, or the worse gratification of avaricious rapacity. […] But while scorning these low vices, our ideal, if grave with the grave, should be cheerful with the cheerful; should laugh with the gay and witty, but never with the envious and malicious.40

While participating in the discussion of the character of the ideal military man, the Colonel’s prized books present a particularly pacifistic model of manliness to carry into battle. Sir Charles Grandison and Don Quixote famously explore the limitations of aristocratic codes of chivalry. While the Don finally abandons chivalry, Sir Charles Grandison proves his gentlemanliness by refusing to fight a duel. Both novels reject violence as a means of settling differences or asserting honour. It is telling that Colonel Newcome evades questions from his nephew and niece about how many people he has killed, turning their attention instead to a more reparative aspect of conflict, the heroism of an army surgeon who, when a fever broke out on a transport ship, ‘devoted himself to the safety of the crew, and died himself ’ (192). He continues with one of the novel’s only descriptions of military action, with a paean to


In ‘The Effects of Religion on Mind of Sensibility’, Mackenzie, best known for The Man of Feeling (1771), praised his own work for its ‘power of awakening the finer feelings, which so remarkably distinguish the composition of a gentleman’ (The Mirror, 19 June 1779). Here a capacity for ‘finer feeling’, irrespective of right action, becomes a defining characteristic of the gentleman. On the growing critique of the self-​serving indulgences of sentimental responses in the later decades of the eighteenth century, see G. J. Barker Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992). 39 Colby, Thackeray’s Canvas of Humanity, 365. 40  J. H. Stocqueler, The British Officer: His Positions, Duties, Emoluments and Privileges (London, 1851), 1–​2.

Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility    223 non-​violent, self-​sacrificing courage:  ‘What heroism the doctors showed during the cholera in India; and what courage he had seen some of them exhibit in action; attending the wounded men under the hottest fire, and exposing themselves as readily as the bravest troops’ (192). This turn to plots of non-​violent war heroism is typical of a range of narratives of the Crimean War period, in which the fathering or healing soldier is a recurrent feature. A rather different message, however, is explicit in Colonel Newcome’s other favourite reading. Though modelling himself on the pacifistic Sir Charles Grandison, the Colonel’s other cherished book is Robert Orme’s History of the Military Transactions of the British Nation in Indostan (1763, 1778). Orme chronicled the activities of the East India Company in the eighteenth century, having served with the company through his career. He was instrumental in sending the 1757 military expedition headed by Robert Clive to Calcutta to avenge the alleged Black Hole incident of the previous year, in which over 100 British prisoners of war were said to have died. In Patrick Brantlinger’s description of it, Orme’s history, as is typical of imperialist writing, ‘turned violence and rapacity into virtues, treating acts of aggression as acts of necessity and self-​defence’.41 The book is formative to Colonel Newcome’s career, and to the plot of the Newcomes. As a boy ‘he had a great fancy for India; and Orme’s History, containing the exploits of Clive and Lawrence, was his favourite book of all in his father’s library’ (23). This is a more traditional model of soldierly reading, in which the reading of military exploits is a catalyst for a performance of them. As Maria Edgeworth put it in her 1809 Essays on Professional Education: A species of reading, which may be disapproved of for other pupils, should be recommended to the young soldier. His imagination should be exalted by the adventurous and the marvellous. Stories of giants, and genii, and knights and tournaments, and ‘pictured tales of vast heroic deeds’, should feed his fancy. He should read accounts of ship-​wrecks and hair-​breadth scapes, voyages and travels, histories of adventures, beginning with Robinson Crusoe, the most interesting of all stories, and one which has sent many a youth to sea.42

Orme’s book has this kind of formative effect on Newcome’s choice of an army career; after reading it he ‘would be contented with nothing but a uniform’ (23). Colonel Newcome imagines a continuation of this line of inspiration, planning, as one possible future, for his own Clive that ‘he can go into the army, and emulate the glorious man after whom I named him’ (57). Near the close of the novel the family copy of this book again becomes significant to the future of the Newcomes, as a later will of the Colonel’s stepmother is found inside the book. This will leaves property to his son Clive, old Mrs Newcome having apparently become reconciled to her soldier stepson, having read

41  Patrick Brantlinger, Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830–​1914 (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1988), 81. 42  Quoted in Sharon Murphy, ‘Imperial Reading? The East India Company’s Lending Libraries for Soldiers, c. 1819–1834’, Book History, 12 (2009), 74–​99, at 76.

224    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture this celebration of military prowess. In his old age the Colonel shows how memorized passages from this book have remained with him all his life. The section he selects for recitation delights in the triumph of British energy and might over the French and the Marathas, an Indian warrior caste, here called Morattoes:  ‘The two battalions advanced against each other cannonading, until the French, coming to a hollow way, imagined that the English would not venture to pass it. But Major Lawrence ordered the sepoys and artillery—​the sepoys and artillery to halt and defend the convoy against the Morattoes’—​Morattoes Orme calls ’em. Ho! ho! I could repeat whole pages, sir. (758)

What then are we to make of this schism? How do we read this fascination with apparently oppositional books; on the one hand the central text of eighteenth-​century masculine sensibility advocating pacifism as the greatest form of courage, and on the other bloodthirsty military history celebrating imperial oppression? The conflicting messages of the Colonel’s formative reading point to the unresolved tensions within a new bourgeois model of military masculinity, which could embrace feeling and value domesticity and caring roles, such as the intimate father, but also needed to be capable of violently dispatching the enemy. The Colonel’s mixed literary heritage, which is so formative of his career and character, prepares him to be a military man (Orme) of feeling (Richardson et al). Thackeray’s gentle officer proved to be a popular figure in wartime. Colonel Newcome takes his place alongside a range of gentle heroes as a personal favourite of serving soldiers in the Crimea and beyond.

Campaign Heroes: Battlefield Reading and Military Masculinity The Colonel’s reading patterns reflect those of actual servicemen. In her work on the libraries established by the East India Company in the 1820s and 1830s, Sharon Murphy notes that supplied material was supplemented by personal collections, as ‘soldiers, particularly officers, frequently brought a selection of books with them to India’.43 Murphy notes that many library titles ‘were evidently chosen as particularly appropriate for soldiers, either because they would contribute to their moral improvement or stimulate their desire for adventures in foreign lands’.44 Many first-​hand accounts, though, 43 

Murphy, ‘Imperial Reading?’, 77. Had Thackeray placed Colonel Newcome’s East India career twenty or so years later, he could have pictured his hero borrowing another of his favourite reads Don Quixote from the company’s library (see Murphy, ‘Imperial Reading?’, 77, 87, for the popularity of this title). 44  Murphy, ‘Imperial Reading?’, 84.

Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility    225 from those serving in the Crimean War, express different motivations for the selection of campaign reading material. Charlotte Yonge’s novels were (unlikely) favourites. As Susan Walton has noted, Yonge’s novel Heartsease (1854) was the last book read by Lord Raglan, commander of the British army in the Crimean War, before his death in the campaign; it was lent to him by a naval captain who was a close friend.45 Meanwhile The Heir of Redclyffe (1853), Stefanie Markovits points out, ‘was the most requested novel among officers in the hospitals in the Crimea’.46 Charlotte Yonge’s brother Julian, serving in the 2nd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, was happy to report home that ‘nearly all the men in his regiment had a copy’.47 The Heir of Redclyffe features a plot of anger and aggression rerouted into healing and the surrender of selfishness; self-​sacrifice, in the form of a willingness to preserve a former enemy’s life at the expense of one’s own, is central. The hero, Sir Guy, risks and finally loses his life nursing his former rival back to health; in his constant sickbed attendance, Guy contracts the fever and only saves his patient at the expense of his own life. In her study of Yonge, Alethea Hayter cites an example of ‘an officer in the guards [who was] asked in a game of “Confessions” what his prime object in life was, [and] answered that it was to make himself like Guy Morville, hero of The Heir of Redclyffe’.48 The popularity of Yonge’s work with military men suggests a different trajectory to military reading to that offered by conventionally militaristic accounts of ‘do and die’ (l. 15), as represented by what stands as the most famous text of the period, Alfred Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ (1854).49 Tennyson famously reprinted his poem in a ‘soldier’s version’ when a chaplain at the front requested copies: ‘It is the greatest favourite of the soldiers—​half are singing it and all want to have on black & white—​so as to read—​what has so taken them’.50 Even this poem, usually seen as a straightforward patriotic valorization of military courage and self-​sacrifice, incorporates, as Trudi Tate has shown, an unease with its own glamorization.51 Tate argues that such unease is generated by a conflicted view of military masculinity, in which it is not clear how the values of an aristocratic code of martial honour, seen in glorious action and extermination in this poem, can be retained in a more democratic army of bourgeois efficiency. The aristocratic cavalry officers of the charge are shown to be outmoded at the same time as their courageous code is mourned. Thackeray’s novel, as we have seen, navigates this difficult transition in ideals of military masculinity, and the unresolved conflict in the Colonel’s

45 Walton, Imagining Soldiers and Fathers in the Mid-​Victorian Era, 13. 46 Markovits, The Crimean War in the British Imagination, 78. 47 

Christabel Coleridge, Charlotte Mary Yonge: Her Life and Letters (London: Macmillan, 1903), 183. Alethea Hayter, Charlotte Yonge (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1996), 2. 49  The Poems of Tennyson, ed. Christopher Ricks, 3 vols. (Harlow: Longman, 1987). 50  Tennyson quotes the chaplain’s request in a letter to John Forster, 6 August 1855, quoted in Edgar Shannon and Christopher Ricks, ‘“The Charge of the Light Brigade”: The Creation of a Poem’, Studies in Bibliography, 38 (1985), 1–​44, at 8. 51  Trudi Tate, ‘On Not Knowing Why: Memorialising the Light Brigade’, in Helen Small and Trudi Tate (eds), Literature, Science, Psychoanalysis 1830–​1970: Essays in Honour of Gillian Beer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 160–​80. 48 

226    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture oppositional formative texts creates a similar unease to that which Tate observes in Tennyson’s poem.52 The Newcomes is drawn explicitly into discussions of soldier reading by John Everett Millais’s Peace Concluded (1856). Millais’s painting depicts, in part, the competing forms of wartime reading as a returned Crimean officer reads the announcement of peace in The Times, having discarded a number of Thackeray’s The Newcomes in its distinctive yellow wrapper. G. A Lawrence brings together Yonge and Thackeray as reformative reading in his novel, a year later, of an intensely violent hero, Guy Livingstone (1857). Here the hero’s physical excesses are, at least partially, revised by his account of gendered readerly affect: Very old and very young women, in the plenitude of their benevolence, are good enough to sympathize with any tale of woe, however absurdly exaggerated; but men, I think, are most moved by the simple and quiet sorrows. […] We yawn over the wailings of Werther and Raphael; but we ponder gravely over the last chapters of The Heir of Redclyffe; and feel a curious sensation in the throat—​perhaps the slightest dimness of vision—​when reading The Newcomes, how that noble old soldier crowned the chivalry of a stainless life, dying in the Grey Brother’s gown.53

The kind nobility of Colonel Newcome is sufficient here to move the otherwise unmovable male. Livingstone’s (almost) tearful response to the death of Colonel Newcome parallels the grief expressed by Thackeray’s first readers over the death of this hero, and participates in a continuing celebration of the Colonel’s quiet power to generate sentimental response.

Colonel Newcome in the First World War The position of the Colonel as Britain’s favourite gentleman was confirmed in the early twentieth century. Enthusiasm for the Colonel’s character became eloquent again in a wide-​ranging public debate about which actor was fit for the role when Michael Morton’s adaptation of the novel was staged in 1906. In a style familiar from the 1850s reviews, the Colonel is deployed in wider discussions about commended forms of manliness and national character. Beerbohm Tree, most famous for his performances as charismatic villains, was controversially cast. A piece in the Daily Mail asked, ‘Should Mr Tree be Allowed to Play Colonel Newcome?’, and began the discussion by recognizing the 52  Ambivalence about the sufficiency of militarism in securing male identity is located even within the Colonel’s favourite celebrant version of bellicosity. Orme’s enthusiasm for Clive of India is qualified by the biographical details of Clive’s early attempts on his life, and suicide at age 49. 53  George Lawrence, Guy Livingstone, or ‘Thorough’ (London: Daily Telegraph, n.d.), 337.

Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility    227 difficulty of representing ‘a truly loveable man’: ‘how shall it be possible to put upon the stage that most tender and pathetic character in the whole of modern English literature, Colonel Newcome’.54 The article continues with a sneering critique of Tree, in which the ability to present feeling is insidiously connected to national character:  Colonel Newcome ‘needs to be played with a depth of feeling which has never been displayed by Mr Tree. “Adsum” in that guttural accent which has become identified through the playing of characters such as Svengali and Fagin would border on the absurd.’ Tree is, it seems, too ‘guttural’, and—​so the not so subsumed subtext goes—​insufficiently English (Tree was the son of a German emigrant father, and had anglicized his stage name by adding a partial translation of his father’s name Beerbohm) to play this hero of ‘English literature’. The World responded to this controversy with a mischievous squib which played upon the ‘shady’ qualities, the word invoking race as well as the villains for which he was known, of Tree:  Some folks are sighing  And sadly crying  That it must really be  Dramatic quackery  To tinker Thackeray  And serve him up with Tree.  But those who’re sobbing  With hearts a-​throbbing  Might surely wait and see  Though tears be blinding  They might be finding  Naught shady about Tree.55

Surely enough Tree made a triumph of the role, and was particularly commended for his performance of feeling. The Evening Citizen applauded his ‘manly pathos’, while the Glasgow Record proclaimed ‘he has done nothing so absolutely beautiful as his study of Colonel Newcome. It is a vivid portraiture, mostly of golden devotion, entirely permeated by the spirit of this most loveable of fictional creations.’56 Interviewed in the Pall Mall Gazette, Tree emphasized the gentleness of this gentleman character, as well as his understanding of the significance of the Colonel’s national heritage: ‘that fine old English gentleman, the gentlest of moderns, the lineal descendent of Don Quixote’.57 He went on to confirm that heart rather than head governed his interpretation of the role: ‘I 54 

H. A. Mitton, ‘Should Mr Tree be Allowed to Play Colonel Newcome?’, Daily Mail, 18 May 1906. Held by Bristol University Theatre Collection, HBT/​TB/​000034. 55  ‘Umbrage and the Umbrageous’, World, 22 May 1906. Bristol University Theatre Collection, HBT/​ TB/​000034. 56  Evening Citizen, 18 September 1906; Glasgow Record, 18 September 1906. Bristol University Theatre Collection, HBT/​TB/​000035. 57  ‘Interview with Mr Behrbohm Tree’, Pall Mall Gazette, 17 May 1906. Bristol University Theatre Collection, HBT/​TB/​000037.

228    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture don’t know that I have thought so much about the Colonel’s character, as that I have felt it.’ This public debate around the 1906 stage adaptation shows a persistent valuation of manly feeling through the supposed high point of ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality. Here the Colonel’s capacity for emotion is invoked, surprisingly, as a matter of national pride. In an era of decreasing confidence in Britain’s ability to retain its colonial ‘possessions’, the most gentle of soldiers remained a popular hero. Figured as an anachronism from his mid-​Victorian inception, the Colonel continued to channel collective cultural fantasies about a passed golden age of ideal gentlemanly character and manly feeling. If this ‘fine old English gentleman’ is old-​fashioned, the emotional response to the character was very much ongoing, as Tree’s testimony—​‘I have felt it’—​shows. Tree’s success in this role was further confirmed a decade later when, in a revival during the First World War, the play achieved its greatest popularity. He toured Canada and the United States with the play in the winter of 1916–​17, reaching the New Amsterdam Theatre, New York, with it on 10 April 1917. Here he interpolated a toast to the British navy within the play to great applause, and added ‘And let us not forget our friends across the seas’, to bring the house to a standing ovation.58 The New York Times echoed reviews of a decade earlier, praising ‘Sir Herbert’s portrait of the Colonel, a performance that is genuinely charming and alive with a heartiness that is as admirable as it is surprising’. Tree went on to appear in the role on a night in aid of mutilated soldiers at the Metropolitan Opera House.59 The playscript, of which a copy is held at the Drama Archive at Bristol University, confirms that playwright Morton considered the Colonel’s literary legacy to be essential to the delineation of his character; despite the pressure to abridge the substantial novel into a play-​length script, Morton retained much of the Colonel’s discussion of his favourite books. The stage Colonel’s exclamation ‘Sir Roger de Coverley, Sir Charles Grandison, and Don Quixote are the finest gentlemen in the world!’ is accompanied by a direction: ‘moves over to table tinkering with various books’. The production’s property plot is precise in the provision of three books, and so it is (just) possible that a sufficiently zealous props person may have secured a copy of Richardson’s novel for use in this scene. In this way, the exemplary gentle man of the eighteenth century, Sir Charles Grandison, triumphs through a complex, contested history of preferred military reading, to appear on an occasion that perfectly capitalizes on the Richardsonian combination of right feeling with benevolent response: a benefit for First World War wounded soldiers. While the conflict between a pacifistic model of military masculinity—​which met the requirements of new bourgeois ideals of manly character at home and at war—​and the realities of warfare remained unresolved, the emotional significance of the military man of feeling persisted, even, and especially, in times of conflict. Beerbohm Tree’s deployment of Thackeray’s Colonel to benefit wounded soldiers in the First World War, is a fitting legacy for a figure which embodied a wider cultural desire to transform narratives 58 


‘Sir Herbert Tree as Colonel Newcome’, New York Times, 11 April 1917. McMaster, ‘Composition’, 390.

Domesticity, Militarism, and Manly Sensibility    229 of war violence into domestic plots of care via the military man of feeling. Colonel Newcome’s legacy has something still to teach us in this militaristic age about the long history of ambivalence and precariousness within ideals of combative masculinity.

Acknowledgments I spoke about sections of this research in papers at the University of Leeds and Lincoln University. I am grateful for all the generous, formative responses from those present.

Select Bibliography Adams, James Eli, Dandies and Desert Saints:  Styles of Victorian Masculinity (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995). Broughton, Trev Lynn, and Helen Rogers (eds), Gender and Fatherhood in the Nineteenth Century (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007). Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1790–​1850 (London: Hutchinson, 1987). Dudink, Stefan, Karen Hagerman, and John Tosh (eds), Masculinities in Politics and War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004). Furneaux, Holly, ‘Negotiating the Gentle-​Man: Male Nursing and Class Conflict in the “High” Victorian Period’, in Dinah Birch and Mark Llewellyn (eds), Conflict and Difference in Nineteenth Century Literature (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2010), 109–​25. Gilmour, Robin, The Ideal of the Gentleman in the Victorian Novel (London:  Allen and Unwin, 1981). Sanders, Valerie, The Tragi-​ Comedy of Victorian Fatherhood (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2009). Tosh, John, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-​Class Home in Victorian England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999). Tosh, John, Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth Century Britain:  Essays in Gender, Family, and Empire (London: Pearson, 2005). Walton, Susan, Imagining Soldiers and Fathers in the Mid-​Victorian Era:  Charlotte Yonge’s Models of Manliness (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010). Young, Arlene, Culture, Class and Gender in the Victorian Novel: Gentlemen, Gents and Working Women (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999).

Placing the Victorians

Chapter 12

Em pire, Pl ac e , and the Victoria ns Patrick Brantlinger

‘Place’ can mean either geographical location or a position within a social hierarchy, including gender, race, and social class. In Victorian literature and culture, the global reach of the British Empire was frequently countered by emphases on England, the local, and ‘home, sweet home’. Definitions of ‘Englishness’ can expand to include all of Britain or can just as readily contract to a version of ‘collective identity privileging the English soil of the “sceptered isle” or, more regularly, certain quintessentially English locales’.1 Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, ‘the English’, depending on which ideological potion they swallow, can shrink to the size of a village or mushroom to encompass much of the rest of the world. Regarding social hierarchies, the Victorians believed that race and gender were versions of destiny, fixed for all time. One’s social class, however, could be altered through ‘self-​help’, education, bad luck, or many other factors. Gender was supposedly preordained: men and women had to adhere to conventional sexual and gender behaviours; as the fate of Oscar Wilde shows, deviations from the norm could be disastrous. Race, too, was seen as preordained. In The Races of Men (1850), Dr Robert Knox affirmed ‘the unalterable character of races’: every race in its place for ever.2 This opinion was contradicted, however, by the evidence of racial hybridity and by the theory of evolution.3 Charles Darwin contended that races were not separate species; that over long periods of time they were malleable; and that the differences between the races were far less significant than those between individuals within any race. Nevertheless, race continued to be a major mode of categorization that helped the British express their imperial 1 

Ian Baucom, Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 12. 2  Robert Knox, The Races of Men (1850; Miami: Mnemosyne, 1969), 181. 3  See Robert Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London and New York: Routledge, 1995).

234    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture prowess. From the natural history of the Enlightenment to the Darwinian revolution, supposed experts arranged the races in hierarchies, with the white or ‘Caucasian’ race at the top and the non-​white races at lower degrees of inferiority. And the best of the white race, the British told themselves, were the Anglo-​Saxons. Yet everything in the 1800s, even races, seemed to be evolving, in motion. Nature might be permanent; as a sort of generalized place, it encompassed everything, although throughout Britain woodlands and seashores were dwindling under the impact of urbanization and industrialization. As 1800s wore on, nature seemed increasingly to be elsewhere, in overseas jungles or on distant frontiers. In much of the world, however, the British were making their mark through exploration, conquest, and colonization. Voyaging on the Beagle in the 1830s, gathering evidence that he would shape into The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871), Darwin found British residents at many ports in South America, Tahiti, New Zealand, and Australia—​residents who offered him hospitality and served as guides. Coming down the Rio Plata to Buenos Aires, Darwin remarks:  ‘How different would have been the aspect of this river, if English colonists had by good fortune first sailed up the Plata! What noble towns would now have occupied its shores!’4 Within the empire or beyond it, by the 1830s the British were themselves beginning to seem like a force of nature as they spread throughout the world.

‘An Age of Transition’ Even before Darwin, ideas about evolution and geological as opposed to biblical time made many Victorians aware that everything in the universe, humanity included, was in flux. As the title character in Matthew Arnold’s ‘Empedocles on Etna’ (1853) puts it, Nature, with equal mind, Sees all her sons at play; Sees man control the wind, The wind sweep man away; Allows the proudly-​riding and the foundering bark. (ll. 257–​60)

The fiery tumult in the crater of Etna serves as a symbol of energy and mutability. Communing with nature had been a source of stability and illumination for Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley. As early as the 1840s, however, for Arnold, Tennyson, and other Victorian writers, ideas about evolution were already suggesting that nature was hardly a trustworthy source of permanence and humane values. Tennyson feared that it was instead ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’, as he wrote in ‘In Memoriam’ (l. 15): the 4 

Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (1839; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962), 140.

Empire, Place, and the Victorians    235 dinosaurs had devoured each other in their ‘primal slime’, and humans might also be doomed to extinction. Besides evolution, such a pessimistic view, starting around 1870, was reinforced by entropy and the prospect of the eventual heat-​death of the universe—​ an idea that Darwin for one found terrifying. Victorian writers frequently asserted that their own period was changing more rapidly than past periods—​though every age underwent change, the nineteenth century was an unprecedented ‘age of transition’. New technologies of displacement—​railways, steam navigation, the postal service, telegraphy—​were celebrated as signs of progress. Yet these innovations also evoked desires to slow down, stabilize, or even reverse the processes of change. The great ship of history appeared to be accelerating and the Victorians believed they were at its helm, but there was much anxiety about where it was headed. Utopia? Shipwreck? A landfall on the coast of mediocrity? At the start of the 1800s, most people in Britain spent their entire lives near the places they were born. By the end of the century, millions had changed places either within Britain or beyond it, often emigrating to the colonies or the United States. Even the most stable, enduring places—​country villages, for instance—​were affected by industrialization, the rapid expansion of cities, and the new modes of transportation and communications. Two decades before the advent of railways, Sir Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian (1818) begins by describing a mail coach as a sign of modern times, knitting Scotland and England into a greater Britain. ‘The times have changed’, says the narrator, ‘in nothing more […] than in the rapid conveyance of intelligence and communication betwixt one part of Scotland and another.’ What was true in Scotland in 1818, as improved roads and coaches stitched localities together, was true throughout the burgeoning empire. Many of the factors that worked to unite Great Britain, however, also contributed to the growing independence of the colonies of white settlement and eventually, as well, of India and other non-​white colonies. Improvements in navigational technology, including steam-​powered paddle wheelers, helped open entire continents to conquest and to the processes of modernization. In 1838 an observer opined that James Watt would have been proud to see the ‘hundreds of steam-​vessels’ plying the world’s rivers and ‘carrying the glad tidings of “peace and good will toward men” into the dark places of the earth which are now filled with cruelty’.5 The invention that, probably more than any other, gave the Victorians the idea that theirs was an age of transition was the steam-​powered locomotive.6 In 1860, William Makepeace Thackeray wrote that ‘gunpowder and printing tended to modernise the world. But your railroad starts the new era. […] We are of the age of steam.’7 The railway boom began in the 1830s. Set in that decade, George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872) recounts 5 

Quoted in Daniel Headrick, Power over Peoples: Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 178. 6  Michael Freeman, Railways and the Victorian Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999). 7  Quoted in Walter Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), 3.

236    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture how a group of peasants try to prevent surveyors from measuring the land for a new railway. Caleb Garth turns them back, telling them they cannot halt the forward march of progress. By the 1870s, Britain was covered with train tracks, railway stations, and telegraph lines. Travel by rail, however, was often perceived as dangerous and as destructive to the environment. In Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son (1848), building a railway tears up entire London neighbourhoods like Stagg’s Gardens, and the villainous James Carker is killed by a locomotive. The haunted Signalman of Mugby Junction dies in the same way (the junction exists only because many train tracks pass through it on their way to other destinations). Dickens published the Mugby Junction stories in the Christmas number of All the Year Round for 1866, the year after he had himself been in a train wreck at Staplehurst. He escaped injury, but ten passengers were killed. In Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (1853), Captain Brown dies when he bravely rushes in front of a train to save a little girl who has wandered onto the tracks. And Isabel Vane, the adulterous heroine of Mrs Henry Wood’s best-​selling East Lynne (1861), is disfigured and almost killed in a train crash in France. By mid-​century, many Victorians had experienced travel by rail. In the 1840s, Thomas Cook used the new means of transportation to inaugurate the tourist industry, bringing as many as 165,000 people to the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. In 1855, Cook also began taking British tourists to the Continent. Tourism and travel to all parts of the world were facilitated by steam navigation, developing simultaneously with railways. For those who could afford it, travel to remote destinations became an increasingly popular mode of instruction and amusement. Travel guides by John Murray and Karl Baedeker quickly became indispensable to the Victorian tourist. Both explorers’ journals and travelogues—​the differences between them were often unclear—​were enormously popular. Literary figures frequently travelled abroad and wrote about their experiences. Thackeray penned The Paris Sketchbook (1840), The Irish Sketchbook (1843), and Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo (1846). Dickens published American Notes (1842), Pictures from Italy (1846), and the sketches that make up The Uncommercial Traveler (1860–​9). The most widely travelled Victorian novelist was probably Anthony Trollope, who wrote a series of books on the West Indies (1859), North America (1862), Australia (1873), and South Africa (1878). Trollope emphasizes the ties—​racial, religious, historical—​that unite British colonists throughout the empire and make them loyal to the home country. Trollope thus addresses an idea that other late-​Victorian travellers also emphasized, starting with Charles Wentworth Dilke in Greater Britain (1868). Like Trollope and Dilke, in Oceana, or England and Her Colonies (1886), James Anthony Froude takes up the theme of Anglo-​Saxon unity throughout the world, including the United States. And in The Expansion of England (1883), Sir John Seeley, notably excluding India, stresses that the ‘English Empire’ is bound together by ‘English blood’.8


Sir John R. Seeley, The Expansion of England (1883; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 110–​11.

Empire, Place, and the Victorians    237

‘Stately Homes’ One response to experiencing change and feeling transitory was to identify with specific localities and times in the past, including entire historical ages. Another was to stress ‘home’, often evoking nostalgia for what Felicia Hemans in 1827 called ‘the stately Homes of England’: How beautiful they stand, Amidst their tall ancestral trees, O’er all the pleasant land!9

Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice and the other great houses in Jane Austen’s novels were centres of aristocratic wealth, prestige, and historical longevity. As Edward Said noted, however, Mansfield Park, in Austen’s novel of that name, is maintained through a slave plantation in Antigua.10 In emulation of the aristocracy, successful businessmen and authors often purchased or built mansions in the countryside: Scott’s Abbotsford and Dickens’s Gadshill are examples. At the same time, rural cottages were often celebrated as sites of nostalgic remembrance and longing. William Butler Yeats’s ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ (1896) captures this sentiment: I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made, Nine bean-​rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee, And live alone in the bee-​loud glade.

Yeats’s pastoral dream-​cabin differs greatly, of course, from the ramshackle cottages of many peasants, such as the tenant farmers on Mr Brooke’s estate in Middlemarch. Brooke claims to be a reformer, yet he charges ‘rackrents’ and does nothing to repair broken-​down gates. The idyllic cabin of Innisfree differs even more from Irish hovels as these were being torn down while starving peasants were evicted during the Great Famine of 1845–​50. An amusing variation on stately homes and rustic cottages is Wemmick’s ‘Castle’ in Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861). Jaggers’s law clerk lives in the unappealing suburb of Walworth. He invites Pip to have dinner with him there and to meet his father, ‘the Aged P’. According to Pip: Wemmick’s house was a little wooden cottage in the midst of plots of garden, and the top of it was cut out and painted like a battery mounted with guns. […] I think it was 9  Felicia Hemans, Selected Poems, Prose, and Letters, ed. Gary Kelly (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2002), 334. 10  Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Knopf, 1993), 84–​97.

238    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture the smallest house I ever saw: with the queerest gothic windows […] and a gothic door, almost too small to get in at.11

The Castle has a miniature moat and bridge and a miniature cannon, ‘the Stinger’, which goes off at nine o’clock every evening, much to the Aged P’s delight. Wemmick has constructed all of its tiny, castle-​like features. Of his son’s handiwork, the Aged P exclaims: ‘This is a fine place of my son’s, sir [… .] This is a pretty pleasure-​ground, sir. This spot and these beautiful works upon it ought to be kept together by the Nation, after my son’s time, for the people’s enjoyment.’ (196)

Through Wemmick’s ‘Castle’, Dickens makes gentle fun of the cliché that ‘a man’s home is his castle’ and also of bourgeois attempts to emulate the aristocracy. The Gothic features of Wemmick’s tiny abode poke fun as well at the champions of Gothic architecture such as John Ruskin, for whom architecture expressed the ‘taste’—​and therefore the morality—​of ages and nations. Ruskin abhorred modern, industrial architecture. He contended in The Stones of Venice (1851–​3) and elsewhere that the Middle Ages—​or what Dickens mocked as ‘the Good Old Times’—​expressed the highest moral and spiritual values. The workmen who built Gothic cathedrals, Ruskin argued, expressed their freedom and faith in the many idiosyncratic features of that style, while modern workmen were ‘slaves’ to machinery and standardization. For Ruskin, the Renaissance had inaugurated a period of cultural decline that continued into the 1800s. In contrast, for Robert Browning, Walter Pater, and other Victorians, during the Renaissance individualism and the arts flourished, opening the path for progress to Victorian times and beyond. Just as not all country cottages lived up to the pastoral ideal expressed by Yeats, so not all ‘stately homes’ exuded the best aristocratic values. Chesney Wold, the Dedlocks’ estate in Dickens’s Bleak House (1853), is a case in point. In Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), Thrushcross Grange is undermined by thwarted passion, revenge, and death. And in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), Edward Rochester, coming from Jamaica with a fortune based on slavery, imprisons his mad ‘Creole’ wife in the attic of Thornfield Hall. The elements of Gothic fiction in all three novels suggest the motif of the haunted house—​frequently an aristocratic mansion full of gloomy, ancestral portraits with a torture chamber or dungeon in its bowels. The narrator of Tennyson’s ‘Locksley Hall’ (1842) does not possess that stately home. He is instead shut out, like the young Catherine and Heathcliff spying through a window of Thrushcross Grange. Tennyson’s lovelorn narrator dreams of escaping to an Edenic island ‘in dark purple spheres of sea’:

11  Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1861; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 195. Further references to this edition are given in the text.

Empire, Place, and the Victorians    239 There methinks would be enjoyment more than in this march of mind, In the steamship, in the railway, in the thoughts that shake mankind. (ll. 165–​6)

He stops short, however, at the thought of rejecting the advances of his age. He also decides that, if he had children by ‘some savage woman’ (l. 168), he would be a traitor to his race: ‘But I count the gray barbarian lower than the Christian child’ (l. 174). He will never allow himself to be ‘Mated with a squalid savage’ (l. 177). On the contrary, he asserts, ‘Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay’, invoking the stereotype of the Chinese as stationary or backward, having ceased to progress (l. 184). Renewing his vision of the future ‘and all the wonder that would be’, the narrator decides Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range, Let the great world spin forever down the ringing grooves of change—​

a reference to the new railways, which Tennyson at first thought ran in grooves rather than on rails (ll. 181–​2).

Empire and Race The renewed faith of the narrator in ‘Locksley Hall’ focuses on technological innovations, which he thinks are the results of his race and the British Empire. Tennyson saw all three—​race (English or Anglo-​Saxon), technological advances, and the empire—​as causally linked. Anglo-​Saxonism, or the English version of white supremacy, permeated Victorian culture. The ancient Anglo-​Saxons had supposedly discovered democracy in the forests of Germany, but they were also bold adventurers and conquerors of all the inferior races they encountered in the world. The Anglo-​Saxons—​the Anglo-​Saxons liked to tell themselves—​were the only race that knew how to conquer and govern wisely ‘the lesser breeds without the law’, as Rudyard Kipling called supposedly uncivilized and unchristian peoples such as the Filipinos.12 But while many Victorians including Tennyson believed that what their empire meant to the rest of the world was progress, civilization, and Christianity, the rest of the world did not necessarily see it that way. After all, prior to 1833 and the abolition of slavery, the British participated in the slave trade and, like Sir Thomas Bertram in Mansfield Park or Rochester in Jane Eyre, practised slavery on their plantations. And slavery was a main source of the racism that accompanied imperial domination throughout the Victorian 12 

‘Lesser breeds without the law’ is a line from Kipling’s poem ‘Recessional’. In ‘The White Man’s Burden’, Kipling advised Theodore Roosevelt and the Americans to take over the Philippines from Spain as its colonial overlords. The Filipinos, he believed, were among the ‘lesser breeds’. But most Filipinos were already civilized and Christian.

240    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture period and beyond. In many Victorian accounts, race is the main causal agent in history. Sidonia, the Jewish sage in Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Tancred (1847), explains: ‘All is race; there is no other truth’—​an opinion echoed by Robert Knox. Sidonia has just told Tancred: ‘A Saxon race […] has stamped its diligent and methodic character on the century. And when a superior race, with a superior idea to Work and Order, advances, its state will be progressive’.13 Unlike most praise-​singers of the Anglo-​Saxons, however, Disraeli did not consider them the most ‘superior’ race. For the future prime minister, that was instead the ‘Arabian’ race, whose most superior branch were the Hebrews. Thus did Disraeli counteract the anti-​Semitism he faced throughout his career as both a writer and a politician. Many other Victorians agreed with Robert Chambers, who in Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844) declared that the non-​white races were retrograde and that only the white race was capable of progress: ‘In the Caucasian or Indo-​European family alone has the primitive organization been improved upon. The Mongolian, Malay, American, and Negro, comprehending perhaps five-​sixths of mankind, are degenerate.’14 Other self-​proclaimed experts on race agreed with Chambers, many adding that the Anglo-​Saxons were the most superior branch of the white race. The apparent proof of that stereotype was the success of the British in conquering territories and planting colonies around the world. They were the greatest ‘imperial race’ in history because they had forged the most extensive empire ever known. By 1850, the opinion that history was a matter of race conflict rather than Marx’s class conflict was widespread. Race also played a central role in categorizing social classes within Britain. This was most evident in regard to the Irish peasantry and urban poor, who were viewed by the English as an inferior race—​they were Celts, not Anglo-​ Saxons—​and they were often portrayed as apelike. In attempts to classify non-​English and non-​European peoples, Victorians reduced variety and complexity to specific traits and behaviours, with the implication that these are ‘unalterable’, to use Knox’s term. A project like the eight-​volume People of India (1868–​75), an encyclopedic effort to identify through photography every type of Indian from untouchables to maharajas, suggests that its typology is permanent. Similar to the mug shots in late Victorian criminological texts, which claimed that many criminals could be identified by facial and other physical traits, so the images in People of India look like dozens of portraits of Indians fixed in amber. Race might not be unalterable, but to pin down each type of colonized person in a changeless hierarchy, always subordinated to British rule, is an expression of racist and imperialist wishful thinking. Sub-​Saharan Africans, too, were depicted as unalterable types:  they were all savages, uncivilizable without help from Europeans, and in some accounts they were also cannibals. There might be differences between ‘noble savages’ such as the Zulus 13  Benjamin Disraeli, Tancred; or, the New Crusade (1847), Bradenham Edition of the Novels and Tales of Benjamin Disraeli, x (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1934), 148–​9. 14  Robert Chambers, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844; New York: Humanities Press, 1969), 309.

Empire, Place, and the Victorians    241 and supposedly ignoble ones like the Hottentots, but all black Africans were much more alike than unlike. If they weren’t a separate species, they were, many held, closer to chimpanzees than to Anglo-​Saxons. Australian Aborigines were even lower on the racial totem pole than Africans. Ironically, towards the end of the 1800s two speculations about the Aborigines seemed to contradict this stereotype. The first was the notion that the Aborigines were an archaic branch of the Aryan race. And the second was that the white colonizers of Australia might gradually, over generations, degenerate until they became indistinguishable from the Aborigines.15 In contrast to what some supposed might be the inevitable degeneration of ‘the imperial race’ especially in the tropics, along with many other writers Charles Kingsley in Westward Ho! (1855) celebrated the heroism and valour of their Anglo-​Saxon forebears. In Kingsley’s novel, which he considered a prose ‘epic’, Elizabethan adventurers win their way against all foes in Brazil and on the high seas. Its protagonist, Amyas Leigh, is ‘a symbol, though he knows it not, of brave young England longing to wing its way out of its island prison, to discover and to traffic, to colonize and to civilize, until no wind can sweep the earth which does not bear the echoes of an English voice’.16 A ‘Saxon’ from Devonshire, Amyas is at once an uncouth ‘savage’, mowing down his enemies, and a natural ‘gentleman’—​presumably the mix that adds up to today’s ‘English’ colonizers. He and the other Saxon heroes defeat the diabolical Spaniards at the time of the Spanish Armada (1588) and found the British Empire, all in a fell swoop. Tennyson, also a believer in the virtues of the Anglo-​Saxon race, worked for years on a poem simultaneously idyllic and epic that sought to locate English identity in the age of chivalry and the Knights of the Round Table. Idylls of the King interprets the mythic realm of King Arthur, located somewhere in Wales, as a forerunner of the empire, an identification manifest in Tennyson’s dedication of the poem to Queen Victoria. But Arthur and his knights were, according to the medieval sources on which the poet drew, ‘Cymrian’ or Welsh—​Celtic rather than English. Moreover, although Tennyson downplays these aspects of the Arthurian material, many of Arthur’s enemies were Anglo-​ Saxons. Rather than stressing their accuracy, Tennyson is content to set Idylls in a dim and misty past. He is quite definite, however, about the relationship between his epic and ‘England’s’ colonies of white settlement: The loyal to their crown Are loyal to their own far sons, who love Our ocean-​empire with her boundless homes For ever-​broadening England, and her throne In our vast Orient, and one isle, one isle, That knows not her own greatness [… .]  (ll. 27–​32)

15  Warwick Anderson, The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial Destiny in Australia (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002), 182. 16  Charles Kingsley, Westward Ho! (1855; New York: Dodd, Mead, 1941), 21.

242    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture ‘England’ may be ‘one isle’, but ‘ever-​broadening England’ and ‘her boundless homes’ are everywhere. In Race and Empire, Jane Samson notes that by 1900, in both Britain and the United States, ‘proclamations of Anglo-​Saxon superiority reached fever pitch, and helped to drown out the rising volume of colonial nationalism’. She adds that the eugenics movement, begun by Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton in the 1860s, sought ‘to preserve the alleged Anglo-​Saxon […] purity of the mainstream population’ in Britain, its colonies of white settlement, and the United States through immigration restrictions and through eliminating ‘the unfit’ who were supposedly degrading the race. Despite Nazism and the Holocaust, she notes, ‘compulsory sterilisation legislation remained on the books in some countries until after the 1950s’.17

Emigration and Social Mobility The metaphor of the colonies as ‘homes’ in Tennyson’s ‘Dedication’ to Idylls points to emigration, a major demographic phenomenon and also literary theme throughout the nineteenth century. Emigration agents and societies disseminated much propaganda about the colonies, and correspondence from the colonists to those who remained in Britain was also a major source of information about the empire and other places of overseas settlement.18 Many literary works also deal with characters moving to the colonies or the United States and establishing new homes. Sometimes these emigrants return to Britain to tell about their experiences abroad. Novels featuring emigration include Catherine Parr Traill’s Backwoods of Canada (1836), Charles Rowcroft’s Tales of the Colonies (1843), and Henry Kingsley’s Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn (1859), among many others. People’s motives for leaving Britain, however, did not reflect well on conditions in Britain—​that is, in what many emigrants continued to think of as ‘home’. Some forms of emigration were forced: peasants fleeing starvation during the Irish Famine, for example, or convicts transported to Australia, like Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations. In the early 1850s the editor of the Illustrated London News, Charles MacKay, wrote a number of ‘popular songs’ about emigration. MacKay’s ‘The Emigrants’ captures the ambivalence of that topic. To its collective speakers, the Canadian colonies promise a prosperity that they were unable to achieve at home. In ‘mother England, we had toil and little to reward it’, but in Canada there shall plenty smile upon our pain, And ours shall be the mountain and the forest, 17 

Jane Samson, Race and Empire (Harlow: Pearson Education, 2005), 73. Eric Richards, Britannia’s Children: Emigration from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland since 1600 (London: Hambledon and London, 2004), 131–​40. 18 

Empire, Place, and the Victorians    243 And boundless prairies ripe with gold grain. Cheer, boys! cheer! for England, mother England! Cheer, boys! cheer! united heart and hand!—​ Cheer, boys! cheer! there’s wealth for honest labour—​ Cheer, boys! cheer! in the new and happy land!19

While extolling the possibilities abroad, authors often criticized poverty and unemployment in Britain. In literature ‘the lands of the Empire were an idyllic retreat, an escape from debt or shame, or an opportunity for making a fortune’, writes Raymond Williams.20 Good characters, like the heroine and her fiancé in Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848), are rewarded with improved circumstances abroad—​in their case, in Canada. And the feckless Mr Micawber, in Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849), is able to prosper and gain respectability in New South Wales. Magwitch also prospers in Australia, though as a transported convict he can’t gain respectability—​a key reason why he wants to turn Pip into a gentleman. Most Victorians could not afford to be tourists, though for many of the poor emigrating was a matter of desperation. During the Irish Famine of 1845–​50, roughly 1 million peasants died of starvation or diseases caused by malnutrition. But 1.5 million emigrated, many to die in ‘coffin ships’ before they could come ashore in North America. Novels about the famine such as William Carleton’s The Black Prophet (1847) and The Emigrants of Ahadarra (1848) illustrate the ‘national calamity’ and depopulation that befell the Irish poor at mid-​century and long after. Trollope’s Castle Richmond (1860) is also a famine novel; like many English observers, however, he considered the catastrophe a providential blessing that, precisely through depopulation, would at last bring prosperity to Ireland. Further, Castle Richmond offers an interesting variation on the motifs of ‘stately homes’ and cottages. The residents of the Castle seem to do all they can to alleviate suffering among the cottagers, but their charity is ineffectual: the latter die of starvation in great numbers. The Castle folk, moreover, apparently bear no responsibility whatsoever for the famine, which Trollope interprets as a natural disaster.21 Throughout the 1800s, millions were lured to the colonies by the prospect of establishing better lives for themselves and their families. While Irish peasants were fleeing starvation, the gold rushes in California and Australia gave an added spur to changing places by crossing oceans. Charles Reade’s It Is Never Too Late to Mend (1856) features two characters, the honest farmer George Fielding and the thief Tom Robinson, forced 19 

In Chris Brooks and Peter Faulkner (eds), The White Man’s Burden: An Anthology of British Poetry of the Empire (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1996), 178. 20  Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), 281. 21  Crop shortages, such as the failure of the potato crops in Ireland in the late 1840s, can lead to famines. But they do not cause famines. Instead, at least in modern times, including the nineteenth century, they are caused by inadequate relief measures. Modern historians of the Great Irish Famine agree that the relief measures—​both private charity and official ones—​were inadequate. There is still debate about whether this inadequacy was tantamount to genocide.

244    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture to emigrate to Australia, where they team up and strike it rich in the gold fields before returning to Britain. And Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s enormously popular ‘sensation novel’, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), tells the sad story of George Talboys, an impoverished soldier, who leaves his wife behind while he also travels to Australia and strikes it rich before returning home. By that time, his beautiful young wife has changed her name and married into the aristocracy. George confronts her, but she shoves him into a well and leaves him for dead. She is punished for her adultery, attempted murders, and social class transgression when she is finally unmasked and placed in a Belgian insane asylum for the remainder of her life. That prosperity could be achieved on an individual basis in England, Scotland, and even Ireland nobody doubted. Samuel Smiles’s gospel of ‘self-​help’ and ‘thrift’ aimed to help people move up in the social class hierarchy. Though race and gender were ‘unalterable’, that was not true of class. But often in Victorian literature, as Lady Audley’s Secret suggests, attempts to scale the class pyramid are condemned as fraudulent. The moral in many narratives including Great Expectations is that one should stay in one’s place—​it seemed perilous to Dickens and other Victorian authors to aspire to rise above one’s social class. The fawning social climbing that Thackeray satirized in The Book of Snobs (1848) and in Vanity Fair (1848) expresses a similar opinion. So, too, in Samuel Warren’s best-​selling Ten-​Thousand a Year (1841), the fraudulent rise of Tittlebat Titmarsh, a cockney draper’s clerk, is punished like Lady Audley by his unmasking and his winding up in an insane asylum. Charles Kingsley declared that the moral of Alton Locke (1850) ‘is that the working man who tries to get on, to desert his class and rise above it, enters into a lie, and leaves God’s path for his own—​with consequences’.22 And in George Gissing’s Demos (1886), Richard Mutimer betrays socialism and his working-​class roots, also ‘with consequences’. Though issues involving social mobility are among the most prominent in Victorian novels, plays, and poems, the movement is usually downhill:  it was much easier for Victorians, both real and fictional, to fall from their positions in the class hierarchy than to rise. Many Victorian writers experienced insolvency at some point in their lives. Harriet Martineau began writing to earn a livelihood because of her father’s bankruptcy. Thackeray’s family lost a fortune with the collapse of an Indian bank, an experience he renders in fictional terms in The Newcomes (1853); he blames that loss on Indian skullduggery, personified by the villainous Rummon Loll. Dickens’s father’s impecuniousness landed the family in debtors’ prison; young Charles was sent to work at Warren’s shoe-​blacking establishment, temporarily ending his education. Dickens recalled this experience as emotionally shattering. The plight of the so-​called ‘fallen woman’ is also represented in Dickens’s novels by such characters as Little Em’ly and Martha Endell in David Copperfield. Positions on the social scale weren’t set in concrete, but dreams of upward mobility were more than matched by the fear of falling, which appears to have been universal.


Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke (1850; New York: Macmillan, 1889), p. xxix.

Empire, Place, and the Victorians    245

Exploration and Adventure By the time of General Gordon’s death at Khartoum in 1885 and the Scramble for Africa among the European nations, imperialism had become a major topic for Victorians. Seeley famously declared that ‘England’ had acquired its empire ‘in a fit of absence of mind’, a phrase some historians take to mean that before the 1880s Victorians paid little or no attention to India, the colonies, and imperial expansion. This is hardly accurate. Especially for those living in London, there were many sources of information about the empire. Newspapers were probably the main source, but by the 1830s lectures, sermons, panoramas, museums, and plays were all purveying information—​not always accurate—​about Africa, Asia, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. The Great Exhibition of 1851 devoted roughly half its space to products from Britain and its colonies. Later exhibitions focused entirely on the empire and the colonies. Advertising often utilized imperial motifs. And many names of places in the empire became famous, even legendary: Botany Bay; Afghanistan, the Punjab, and Bengal; Singapore and Sarawak; Khartoum and Omdurman. During the Indian ‘Mutiny’ or Rebellion of 1857–​8, ‘the well at Cawnpore’ acquired an infamy at least as great as that of ‘the Black Hole of Calcutta’.23 And after the relief of the town of Mafeking during the Second Anglo-​Boer War, the wild celebrations in British cities inspired the new term ‘mafficking’. The ‘scramble’ for African territories among the European powers began in the 1880s. But from mid-​century forward, European explorers, aided by quinine, mapped and described what the Victorians called ‘the Dark Continent’. The explorers were also aided by Africans, who were not so bloodthirsty and diabolical as they were often portrayed. The main danger to Europeans in central Africa continued to be disease. Throughout their journeys, explorers hired porters and guides and relied on the hospitality of the societies they encountered. David Livingstone met little resistance from the Africans he encountered; most were helpful and hospitable. ‘As a rule the “discovery” of sites like Lake Tanganyika’, writes Mary Louise Pratt, ‘involved making one’s way to the region and asking the local inhabitants if they knew of any big lakes, etc., in the area, then hiring them to take you there, whereupon with their guidance and support, you proceeded to discover what they already knew.’24 Victorian writing about Africa usually treats geographical exploration and colonization as the ever-​advancing march of civilization and Christianity. Starting with publication of his Missionary Travels (1857), Livingstone quickly became a popular hero—​both the legendary explorer of ‘the Dark Continent’ and the missionary martyr. Other white 23  At Cawnpore (Kanpur), Nana Sahib’s men slaughtered English women and children and threw their corpses into a well. This seemed to prove to the British public that all Indians were treacherous and cruel. Similarly, in 1756, after Indian soldiers had captured Fort William in Calcutta, they locked 146 Englishmen into a small cell, where most of them died of heat stroke and suffocation. 24  Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), 202.

246    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture explorers may not have been viewed as saints, but they were all celebrated as heroes. Beyond supposedly bringing the light of civilization to ‘the Dark Continent’, they claimed to be trying to put a halt to slavery within Africa, which gave their expeditions at least a patina of humanitarianism. Besides publication of their journals, sponsorship by the Royal Geographical Society, founded in 1830 to advance imperial knowledge and expansion, contributed to their fame and glory. Exploration provided a major pattern for the adventure fiction, usually aimed at young male readers, that offered innumerable depictions of untamed savages and the bravery and perseverance of the British. From the 1830s on, such fiction featured brave English lads sailing the high seas, exploring jungles, confronting cannibals, and opening new frontiers for the empire. Captain Frederick Marryat’s midshipmen yarns and the many melodramas about heroic Jack Tars were prototypes for adventure novels by Robert Ballantyne, W. H. G. Kingston, G. A. Henty, and many others. From 1855 on, journals such as Boys of England and Boys of the Empire proliferated, foregrounding feats of juvenile derring-​do by Jack Harkaway and Tom Wildrake among others. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885) were among the most popular adventure novels aimed at a young male readership, and they are still read today. Haggard also wrote She (1887), Allan Quatermain (1887), and many other adventure tales set in a mythical southern Africa. Although he lived for a time in Natal and the Transvaal, Haggard was not an explorer, but his white heroes typically discover lost civilizations, founded by Phoenicians or other white or light-​skinned people, overrun by black savages. Perhaps the most interesting boy hero in Victorian and Edwardian adventure fiction is Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, who in the 1901 novel named for him is an Irish street urchin in India. Kim’s infectious love of adventure and apparent Indian identity make him an ideal espionage agent for the British secret service. Kim’s racial inferiority (from Kipling’s perspective) is an advantage as he travels the Grand Trunk Road with a Tibetan lama. Kim serves as the lama’s chela or disciple, taking his Buddhism seriously. But he also takes spying seriously. The threat to the Raj comes from Russian and French agents; most of the Indians Kim encounters are loyal, obedient subjects of British rule. There is no hint in Kipling’s tale that Indian independence was on the horizon. Though explorers’ journals and boys’ adventure fiction are what is ordinarily identified as the literature of empire, there aren’t many works of Victorian literature focused mainly on places and events in Britain that don’t also offer at least a glimpse of overseas possibilities. ‘The Earth was made for Dombey and Son to trade in’, writes Dickens in the 1848 novel named for the firm; ‘Rivers and seas were made to float their ships’.25 Like Kipling, Thackeray was born in India, and in several of his fictions including The Newcomes he writes about British characters who have served the Raj. In Vanity Fair (1848), for example, Jos Sedley is a tax collector in the Indian province of Boggley-​ Wallah, and William Dobbins’s regiment is part of the East India Company’s forces.


Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son (1848; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 2.

Empire, Place, and the Victorians    247 Even a simple domestic tale like Gaskell’s Cranford, concerning a group of spinsters who have rarely ventured beyond their village, shares a world-​spanning, imperial perspective with Vanity Fair and Dombey and Son. Captain Brown has served in India, and so have Majors Gordon and Jenkyns. Samuel Brown, who shows up in Cranford as the Italian ‘conjuror’ Signor Brunoni, has also served in the East. And Miss Mattie’s long-​ lost brother Peter returns from India to thrill the old ladies with tall tales, including one about accidentally shooting an angel in the Himalayas. Through much of the 1900s, scholars underestimated the centrality of the empire and the colonies in all Victorian culture. If a novel or play wasn’t about the exploration of central Africa or life in British India, then it wasn’t imperialist. Many Victorians, however, believed their empire was one on which ‘the sun never set’ and never would set. Yet, especially late in the period, they worried about its possible decline and fall—​even about its decline and fall through its success. What would it mean, for example, if exploration and adventure came to a halt, because all the ‘dark places’ of the earth had been mapped and tamed or civilized? Would the ‘romance’ of discovery, conquest, and colonization become a thing of the past, never to be experienced again? In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), Marlow says that central Africa is no longer the ‘blank space’ on the maps he had daydreamed over as a boy: ‘It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names.’ This, Conrad believed, was hardly a cause for rejoicing. For one thing, it spelled the end of genuine adventure. For another, European incursions into Africa were not producing the light of civilization; on the contrary, ‘it had become a place of darkness’. Marlow is not referring to the dark skins or benighted mental condition of Africans, but to the lies, violence, and exploitation they were being subjected to in Belgian King Leopold’s private colony, the so-​called ‘Free State’ of the Congo. When he travelled there in 1890, Conrad witnessed some of the genocidal forced labour regime imposed by Leopold’s troops. And as Marlow says at the start of his narrative, London itself had once been a ‘place of darkness’, suggesting that it still might be ‘dark’ ten years later and perhaps long after that.

Slums and Suburbs Throughout the Victorian period, explorations into regions of darkness were also going on within Britain itself. From the 1820s on, the slums of London and other major cities were subjected to the scrutiny of middle-​class writers like Dickens, Gaskell, and G. W. M. Reynolds, author of the highly popular 1840s series, The Mysteries of London. Slums were evidence that, even if the empire was progressing through exploration, colonization, and its supposed ‘civilizing mission’, much work remained to do at home. Was it even possible to civilize the poor, the unemployed, the slum dwellers of London or Manchester? Often, too, in writing about British cities, characters at the bottom of the social hierarchy are depicted as a separate ‘race’, rooted in poverty because biologically inferior. In London Labour and the London Poor (1861–​2), Henry Mayhew identified the

248    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture street people he interviewed as an uncivilized ‘wandering tribe’.26 Civilized people had permanent occupations and homes (they were, in other words, middle or upper class). Even though many of them also had homes (however humble), the street people seemed to be nomadic. Many were Irish; some of them were Indians, Malays, and Africans. In The Heart of the Empire (1901), Charles Masterman writes that life in the great cities of Britain has produced ‘a new race […] the “City type”’. Instead of the healthy life in ‘the spacious places’ of an England close to ‘the processes of Nature’, urban life has produced a ‘race’ of ‘stunted, narrow-​chested, easily wearied’ individuals ‘seeking stimulus in drink, in betting, in any […] conflicts at home or abroad’. ‘Thirty years of elementary school teaching’, Masterman continues, have given the members of this ‘race’ ‘the power of reading, and a dim and cloudy capacity for comprehending what [they read]. Hence the vogue of the new sensational press’.27 Masterman is thinking not just of the urban poor; he has in mind an even larger phenomenon, the emergence of the modern masses—​T. S. Eliot’s ‘hollow men’, who dwell not just in the slums of the inner cities, but in the ever-​expanding suburbs, or rather in the vast ‘desert’ that stretches between the inner cities and the respectable suburbs. What are the characteristic features of these unknown regions? To the first gaze of the casual visitor descending from a different Universe some ten or twenty minutes away by rail, they present a spectacle sufficiently depressing. [The visitor finds himself] in the heart of the mysterious terra incognita. Interminable rows of mean streets diverge in every direction. […] The first impression obtained is of the utter ugliness of it all. (15–​16)

‘The heart of the Empire’, according to Masterman, is a place of ‘multitudinous Desolation’ (16). The other contributors to The Heart of the Empire echo these themes. According to them, the ‘New Imperialism’, too often degenerating into ‘jingoism’, deflected attention and money from reforming urban conditions and poverty at home. Meanwhile ‘old England’ and ‘Nature’ have slipped into the past as cities, slums, and suburbs expand. ‘The agricultural labourer is now fast disappearing’, writes historian George Trevelyan in the final essay, ‘Past and Future’. Forced off the land into the cities, ‘He has suffered city change into something poor and strange. […] He apes what he does not understand,—​ what indeed no one can understand, for it has no meaning,—​the variegated, flaunting vulgarity of the modern town’ (Heart of the Empire, 405). Almost everything English, Trevelyan adds, has been cockneyfied or vulgarized.

26  That the behaviours of the poor in Britain’s urban centres resembled ‘savagery’ was widely claimed by many writers besides Mayhew. And exploring where and how they lived was frequently likened to exploring ‘the Dark Continent’, as in William Booth’s In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890). 27  C. F. G. Masterman (ed.), The Heart of the Empire: Discussions of Problems of Modern City Life in England (1901; London: Harvester Press, 1973), 7–​8. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text.

Empire, Place, and the Victorians    249 The racialisation of the poor and the slums in Victorian cities in the 1850s and 1860s was, hence, a prelude to future developments. From about that time, these include the burgeoning and sprawl of suburbs, abetted by the railways. As Todd Kuchta indicates in Semi-​Detached Empire, ‘the rapid rise of suburbia and the slow but steady decline of empire [were] intimately linked and mutually articulated historical trajectories’. If the slums of the inner cities were disturbing to middle-​and upper-​class sensibilities, so were the suburbs. Observers began to recognize that ‘an increasingly suburban nation’ was degenerating ‘into an uncanny afterimage of its own colonial territories’. In his important extension of Williams’s The Country and the City, Kuchta writes: ‘Suburbia is both the epitome and the antithesis of the nation’s home—​on the one hand quintessentially English, on the other hand bristling anxiously over its perceived inferiority.’28 From the end of the 1800s to the Second World War, the suburbs of London, Manchester, and Britain’s other major cities were often equated with petit-​bourgeois mediocrity and the decline and fall from imperial greatness. After the Second World War and the slow, painful end of the empire, sizeable numbers of immigrants from the colonies—​India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Nigeria—​began coming to Britain and many of these occupied city neighbourhoods which white residents were abandoning for the suburbs. The phenomenon of ‘the empire strikes back’ has caused a racist and nationalist backlash, also fuelled by the consciousness of Britain’s loss of imperial greatness. These processes are explored in much postcolonial British literature—​in Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, for example, or Haneif Kureshi’s The Buddha of Suburbia. In his brief remarks about postcolonial literature by authors from Africa and Asia, Williams writes:  ‘What has been officially presented, to English readers, as savagery followed by terrorism, is seen in its real terms:  so many different rural societies—​ unidealised, containing their own tensions—​invaded and transformed by an uncomprehending and often brutal system’.29 And what used to be touted as Britain’s imperial greatness is now commonly seen in the terms that Masterman and his fellow authors set forth: at ‘the heart of the Empire’—​or what was once the empire—​the poverty, squalor, and meanness of today’s slums and suburbs.

Select Bibliography Baucom, Ian, Out of Place:  Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999). Freeman, Michael, Railways and the Victorian Imagination (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1999). Headrick, Daniel, Power over Peoples:  Technology, Environments, and Western Imperialism, 1400 to the Present (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).

28  Todd Kuchta, Semi-​Detached Empire: Suburbia and the Colonization of Britain, 1800 to the Present (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010), 5. 29 Williams, The Country and the City, 286.

250    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Kuchta, Todd, Semi-​Detached Empire: Suburbia and the Colonization of Britain, 1800 to the Present (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010). Pratt, Mary Louise, Imperial Eyes:  Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992). Richards, Eric, Britannia’s Children:  Emigration from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland since 1600 (London: Hambledon and London, 2004). Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Knopf, 1993). Williams, Raymond, The Country and the City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973). Young, Robert, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race (London: Routledge, 1995).

Chapter 13

Organic Im pe ria l i sm Fictions of Progressive Social Order at the Colonial Periphery John Kucich

Over the past two decades, empire studies has largely overcome tendencies to view metropole and periphery as oppositional, which had encouraged earlier critics either to indict imperial domination or to celebrate resistant subjects ‘writing back’ to or ‘mimicking’ the empire.1 Instead, much recent criticism views colonial spaces as what Philip Morgan calls ‘an entire interactive system, one vast interconnected world’.2 Such criticism has enabled us to see how colonial encounters produced hybrid conceptions of race and gender, through which cultures mutually constituted one another.3 These valuable new perspectives have inspired less attention, however, to issues of social order and class. Although a few scholars have examined how colonial encounters transformed social models, the allure of sexual and racial hybridity as critical topics has eclipsed efforts to understand how competing ideas about social order interrogated, revised, and bled into one another at sites of cross-​cultural exchange.4 Indeed, many critics continue to perpetuate static conceptions of social dualism: some sustain Edward Said’s thesis that


Bill Ashcroft et al. (eds), The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-​Colonial Literatures (London: Routledge, 1989); Homi Bhabha, ‘Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse’, in Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 85–​92. 2  Philip D. Morgan, ‘Encounters between British and “Indigenous” Peoples, c. 1500–​c. 1800’, in Martin Daunton and Rick Halpern (eds), Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 1600–​ 1850 (London: UCL Press, 1999), 68. 3  See, e.g., Durba Ghosh, Sex and the Family in Colonial India: The Making of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005) or Angela Woollacott, Gender and Empire (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). 4  An exemplary exception is Srinivas Aramavudan, Guru English: South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006). Leela Gandhi, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-​De-​Siècle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), also explores how colonial interaction transformed social networks.

252    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture colonizers constructed their societies in opposition to the ‘others’ they exoticized; some, less inclined to view colonialism hegemonically, perform what David Cannadine has called the ‘construction of affinities’, in which metropolitans and natives are assumed to have made sense of one another by accentuating whatever social structures they already had in common.5 Either approach misses an opportunity to explore how cultural intersections transformed conceptions of social order. What has completely escaped revision is the notion that the British imagined empire along the lines of an organic social model that remained traditionally conservative despite cross-​cultural contacts. To be sure, since the medieval period, English society often conceived itself as a hierarchical order in which differentiated members of the social body were united by serving the common good. Often affiliated with Anglican theology and Tory politics, organicism made inequality seem beneficent through what Cannadine calls a ‘carefully graded ordering of rank and dignity’, which inscribed individual distinctions within a national ethos of cohesiveness.6 Although ‘organic’ metaphors have been used in many senses by social theorists, this specific conception of a social body in which stratification and collaboration reinforce one another was often promoted by paternalist and authoritarian ideologies. It was, indeed, this traditional organic model that Edmund Burke famously placed at the foundations of empire. Attacking ‘arbitrary power’ at the opening of Warren Hastings’s impeachment, Burke argued that ‘We are all born in subjection, all born equally, high and low, governors and governed, in subjection to one great, immutable, pre-​existent law […] by which we are knit and connected in the eternal frame of the universe’.7 Although he resisted theoretical abstractions, whenever Burke spoke of imperial order he invoked organic metaphors, placing empire within a cosmic chain of being. Affirming ‘the absolute necessity of keeping up the concord of this empire by a Unity of Spirit, though in a diversity of operations’, Burke applied the organic model to imperial politics generally, viewing the empire as an aggregate of states subordinated to one central authority.8 He also applied it to the ordered ranks within specific colonies, arguing that the continuity of class structures sanctified social order. This vision militated against widespread mobility: ‘the road to eminence and power, from obscure condition, ought not to be made too easy’, he claimed, because without generational succession ‘the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken’.9

5  See Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1978). Among the useful critiques of Said’s binarism, see Dennis Porter, ‘Orientalism and its Problems’, in Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (eds), Colonial Discourse and Post-​Colonial Theory: A Reader (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993), 150–​61. David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. xix. 6  David Cannadine, The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 19. 7  Edmund Burke, ‘Speech on Opening of Impeachment’, in The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, ed. Paul Langford, 9 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), vi. 264–​460, at 350. 8  Edmund Burke, ‘Speech on Conciliation with America’, in Writings, iii. 102–​69, at 136. 9  Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, in Writings, viii. 53–​293, at 101, 145.

Organic Imperialism   253 Many have argued that, in Burke’s wake, nineteenth-​century imperialists saw the formal hierarchies of empire as all the more attractive because they perpetuated overseas a conservative order that was under threat at home. As Francis Hutchins observed, colonial life ‘seemed to offer the prospect of aristocratic security at a time when England itself was falling prey to democratic vulgarity’.10 In fact, besides fortifying themselves against individualist, democratizing, and inclusive social pressures, colonial authorities often propped up the organic model by forcing native societies to conform with it. Nicholas Dirks claims, for example, that historically fluid, nuanced conceptions of ‘caste’ were rigidified in nineteenth-​century India to naturalize British control over what was portrayed as a permanently stratified, pre-​modern society—​in part, by strenuous British associations of caste with religious rather than secular authority, which made it seem timeless.11 Construing organic hierarchy as an exclusively conservative means of imperial ordering, however, overlooks the profound transformations organicism underwent during the nineteenth century, as it responded to both domestic and global pressures. Organicism acquired elasticity as new forms of social mobility and egalitarianism pervaded domestic life, for example. As I  have argued elsewhere, mainstream novelists such as Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot transformed the organic ideal from a paternalistic ethos into an ameliorative formula for moderating the worst aspects of social inequality.12 Though these writers never questioned the legitimacy of class stratification, they softened the friction between ranks by emphasizing compassionate collectivity, social fluidity, and individual opportunity rather than hierarchical authority.13 Sally Shuttleworth has demonstrated, moreover, that the biological sciences infused nineteenth-​century conceptions of organic processes with elements of evolution, change, and growth, which, in turn, endowed organic social metaphors with new dynamism.14 As Bruce Robbins has argued, social mobility was also reimagined by nineteenth-​century writers as intrinsic to the common good. From Robbins’s perspective, that transformation made organic thought, in its most progressive forms, a precursor of welfare state principles, which moderate inequality without abolishing it.15 These liberalized conceptions of organicism were sometimes adopted by colonized subjects and played back at the British in a slightly different key. Pheng Cheah, in seeking to recover ‘a more progressive genealogy’ for organicism, notes that postcolonial nationalist movements borrowed from the British the notion that if ‘individualistic interests are

10  Francis G. Hutchins, The Illusion of Permanence: British Imperialism in India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), 199. 11  Nicholas B. Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), esp. 3–​60. 12  John Kucich, ‘Modernization and the Organic Society’, in Kucich and Jenny Bourne Taylor (eds), The Oxford History of the Novel in English, iii. 1820–​1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 343–​60. 13  Kucich, ‘Modernization and the Organic Society’, 343–​60. 14  Sally Shuttleworth, George Eliot and Nineteenth-​Century Science: The Make-​Believe of a Beginning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984). 15  Bruce Robbins, Upward Mobility and the Common Good: Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

254    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture sacrificed so that the ideal of community can be incarnated and given objective existence’, that ethos would ‘[bind] together the nation qua organic whole’.16 My central argument is that nineteenth-​ century British conceptions of empire employed an increasingly progressive organicism, which was further developed through confrontations with indigenous societies. By ‘progressive’, I refer to both individualist and inclusive social energies, which came to be deeply incorporated within organic thought. I will first trace the tensions between conservative and progressive versions of organicism in imperial writing. I will then discuss the progressive organicism that sea adventure fiction mythologized as a national ideal. Although my focus throughout is British writing, I will conclude by exploring the transformations these organic models underwent when they intersected non-​Western societies, as represented in Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1899) and Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (1901). Novels have a unique ability to demonstrate how models of social order were transformed through colonial encounters, because they particularize individual relationships to social structures, dramatizing conflicts between individual desire and social role. For that reason, they constitute an important record of the impact colonial intersections had on the evolution of social thought.

Organic Mutability Although Burke has been enshrined as the originator of an organic imperial ideology promising unity within diversity, his pragmatism compelled him to emphasize hierarchical order in some colonial contexts, but liberal plurality in others. He thought India should be subjected to a strict order of subordination, for example, because it could not be assimilated to British culture. ‘[T]‌hese people are the most unalliable to any other part of the creation’, he wrote; ‘a great gulf is fixed between you and them [… a] gulf [… of] manners, opinions and laws’.17 Ironically, given his championing of class stability in Britain, Burke saw this gulf as the product of an overly rigid caste system that bound Indians to factional interests, making paternalistic British rule necessary to unify the country.18 But whereas Burke located India within the ‘empire of preservation and improvement’, he viewed pre-​revolutionary America as part of the ‘empire of liberty’.19 Empire might be ‘the aggregate of many States, under one common head’, but in America ‘the subordinate parts have many local privileges and immunities’.20 ‘The very idea of subordination of parts’, he argued in the case of America, ‘excludes [the] notion 16 

Pheng Cheah, Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 19. 17  Burke, ‘Speech on Opening’, 302. 18 Dirks, Castes, 10. 19  David P. Fidler and Jennifer M. Welsh, ‘Introduction’, in Fidler and Welsh (eds), Empire and Community: Edmund Burke’s Writings and Speeches on International Relations (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999), 22. 20  Burke, ‘Speech on Conciliation’, 132.

Organic Imperialism   255 of simple and undivided unity. England is the head; but she is not the head and members too.’21 Perhaps the most striking political manifestation of the flexibility of Burke’s organicism was his endorsement of free trade for Ireland and America, as contrasted with his orthodox Tory support for commercial monopoly in India. From its very beginnings, then, organic imperialism had both conservative and progressive potentials, depending on which half of the unity/​diversity dyad rose to ascendancy. Some writers, of course, employed predominantly conservative versions of imperial organicism. Lauding the hierarchical structure of Australian society, for example, in contrast to American egalitarianism, Anthony Trollope proclaimed: In the Australian colonies the British mode of thinking prevails as to education, politics, and social position; whereas, in the United States, the ideas of the people at large are not our ideas. In the States all the institutions of the country tend to the creation of a level, to that which men call equality,—​which cannot be attained, because men’s natural gifts are dissimilar […] the colonies are rather a repetition of England than an imitation of America.22

Trollope enthused about the emergence of an Australian landowning class: ‘They now form an established aristocracy, with very conservative feelings, and are quickly becoming as firm a country party as that which is formed by our squirearchy at home’ (ii. 466). He was particularly pleased by what he considered the paternalism of this class, which ensured that workers were ‘sufficiently fed’ (i. 167) and that ‘in most of the occupations specified shelter is afforded’ (i. 170). Writing about Tasmania, he declared: ‘I must say of this colony, as I have and shall say of all the others, that it is a Paradise for a working man’ (ii. 42). Whenever Trollope noted democratic tendencies in settler colonies, he deplored them. He despised the entrepreneurialism of the Australian gold fields, for example, because they undermined rank: ‘There are what we call “gentlemen”, and what we call “workmen”. But they dress very much alike, work very much alike, and live very much alike. And, after a while, they look very much alike’ (i. 85). He regarded such levelling as a great loss: Gentility itself,—​the combination of soft words, soft manners, and soft hands with manly bearing, and high courage, and intellectual pursuits,—​is a possession in itself so valuable, and if once laid aside so difficult to be regained, that it should never be dropped without a struggle. I should be sorry to see a man I loved working in a gold-​ mine. (i. 86)

Trollope’s cautionary novel John Caldigate (1879) follows a dispossessed English gentleman who makes a fortune in the gold fields only to have the tawdry details of his 21 

Burke, ‘Speech on Conciliation’, 158. Anthony Trollope, Australia and New Zealand, 2 vols. (London: Chapman & Hall, 1873), ii. 253. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text. 22 

256    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture life there haunt his return home. Threatened with blackmail by his low former associates, including a woman who claims to be his common law wife, Caldigate’s gentility is restored chiefly through the love of the upper-​class English domestic angel he marries, who defends him against the stains of his fortune-​hunting past. Like many of Trollope’s novels, this Australian tale teaches the lesson—​as the narrator of Framley Parsonage (1860) puts it—​that a gentleman is unable ‘to touch pitch and not to be defiled’.23 In his South African writings, the authoritarian dimensions of Trollope’s reverence for class distinction emerged prominently because he could not imagine an organic society that included non-​whites. In his view, Africans were incapable of respecting rank, and must be coerced into submission: ‘Prestige in a highly civilized community may be created by virtue […] but, with the native races of South Africa, prestige has to be created by power.’24 He opposed all attempts to assimilate Africans, encouraging that they be suppressed—​‘if not otherwise, then by force’ (ii. 159)—​and that the benefits of civilization not be extended to them ‘without something of tyranny’ (i. 331). Trollope also regarded the Boers as a savage race (citing as one reason their supposed enslavement of Africans), and he argued that they, too, could never become full-​fledged citizens. Defending the annexation of the Transvaal in 1877, he proclaimed of the supposedly shiftless Boer settler: ‘Now he knows that he will have a leader’ (ii. 62). Trollope recommended a confederation of semi-​autonomous states in both Canada and Australia, replicating the Burkean vision of imperial politics. But he declared such a confederation undesirable in South Africa because its heterogeneous population lacked any ‘identity of interest’ (i. 343). Other observers of South Africa, however, promoted a progressive inclusiveness precisely by invoking the organic model. James Froude advocated the enfranchisement of the Boers on the grounds that they already constituted an organic society, along traditional English lines. Speaking of the Boers as having ‘planted themselves’ in the Transvaal, where their culture ‘took root’, Froude celebrated their internal organic order.25 On their treatment of Africans, he invoked images of feudal harmony between masters and servants: ‘Their slaves were household servants, much like what serfs used to be in England. They lived under their master’s roof, or in houses on his estate, and were part of the family’ (11). Defending the Boers’ work ethic and communal ethos against the spectre of individualist anarchy depicted by Trollope and others, he claimed: ‘The people are tied to their respective districts, and are made to maintain themselves and their families. It was the law in England once; it was the law all over Europe down to these latter days of liberty and enlightenment’ (12). Froude argued that Africans as well as Boers should be granted self-​governing states, and urged that they 23 

Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), 494. Anthony Trollope, South Africa, 2 vols. (London: Chapman & Hall, 1878), i. 329. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text. 25  James Anthony Froude, Two Lectures on South Africa (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1880), 7. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text. 24 

Organic Imperialism   257 be united with the white populations of the Cape Colony and Natal in a larger confederation. This prescription, however democratic, retained an affinity with Burkean organicism by insisting that such a confederation would only survive if subjected to centralized British oversight.26 In the hands even of conservative defenders of empire, organicism could be invoked to argue for granting certain colonies independence. The historian John Seeley, who famously remarked that Britain had innocently acquired its empire in ‘a fit of absence of mind’, drew a sharp contrast between settler colonies, created through what he described as a natural expansion of population and bound by communal ties, and colonies won through conquest.27 Seeley thought that the era of imperial conquest had been ‘wanting organic unity and life’, but that in the nineteenth century most colonies had been integrated as subordinate members of a beneficent political whole, in a manner ‘analogous to the family bond’ (74). India, however, appeared to be an ‘unnatural’ colony because it possessed ‘no notion of a public good, of a commonweal’, thus retaining no ‘moral unity’ (319). Like Burke and many others, Seeley believed the system of caste guaranteed that ‘each class or interest inquires how it separately is affected by our ascendancy’, such factionalism destroying ‘corporate life’ (321). Unlike Burke, however, Seeley also perceived that British rule had damaged Indian royal and intellectual classes, preventing them from taking their place in an orderly chain of command. Arguing that British rule in India ‘does not seem at first sight to be of the nature of organic growth’ (296), Seeley recommended withdrawal. Such was the power of the organic model that even staunch anti-​imperialists invoked it in defence of colonial liberation. The socialist J. A. Hobson, a fierce critic of empire, argued that international relations should consist of a ‘peaceful, profitable intercommunication of goods and ideas among nations recognizing a just harmony of interests’.28 Claiming that imperialism disrupted that harmony by unleashing unrestrained international competition, Hobson also indicted it for benefiting the wealthiest interests at the expense of the social body as a whole. He echoed James Mill in referring to colonialism as ‘a vast system of outdoor relief for the upper classes’ (51). Nevertheless, Hobson imagined a legitimate form of imperialism based on organic principles. Arguing that the ‘interference’ of imperial nations with ‘lesser races’ could be justified if it were ‘directed primarily to secure the safety and profit of the civilization of the world, and not the special interest of the interfering nation’ (252), he claimed that such interference would contribute to ‘the welfare of humanity as an organic unit’ (233). Globalizing Burkean organicism, Hobson argued that a governing international body should oversee the whole ‘imperial federation’ (328) to maintain national disinterest. The organic ideal fuelled Hobson’s critique of contemporary imperialism: ‘the actual situation is, indeed, 26 Froude, Two Lectures, 80–​2.

27  J. A. Seeley, The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures (Boston: Little, Brown, 1905), 10. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text. 28  J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (1902; London: Allen & Unwin, 1954), 12. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text.

258    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture replete with absurdity’ (237). But the fact that a socialist like Hobson imagined international utopia in organic terms indicates what surprisingly progressive forms nineteenth-​ century organicism could assume. Although they inevitably carried nostalgic overtones of a pastoral, golden age, organic models took on an array of political potentials, many of them substantially liberalized, in the imperial context. As I shall argue in the next section, this plasticity had a great deal to do with increasing tensions at the intersection of domestic and colonial worlds between hierarchically organized social unity and both individual liberty and inclusiveness. Popular novelists who projected these tensions on a global stage reconciled them at the level of national myth.

Reconciling Hierarchy with Individualism: Sea Adventure Fiction Because sea adventure fiction typically focused on an insulated community of white British crews that were nevertheless engaged on imperial business, its reflections on social structure inevitably mediated between domestic and colonial pressures. It offered a perfect laboratory to imagine how an authentically British social order might adapt to global challenges. Although some critics have strained to find the seeds of anti-​ imperialist critique in British sea fiction, most agree that the genre was deeply jingoistic.29 Its consistently imperialist ideology makes it all the more remarkable that the social order these novels consistently endorsed was a progressive version of organicism. No author typifies nineteenth-​century British sea fiction better than Frederick Marryat, whose popular Mr. Midshipman Easy (1836) is a virtual treatise on progressive organicism. Certainly, the novel leans in conservative political directions by celebrating the navy’s global dominance and demystifying radical egalitarianism. Its early chapters show Jack Easy’s childhood to have been poisoned by his father, who preaches universal equality, advocates working-​class revolution, encourages agricultural incendiarism, allows poachers on his land, does not collect rents—​and, eventually, goes insane. Jack, initially called ‘Equality Jack’ when he espouses his father’s views aboard ship, becomes convinced that the observance of ‘duties and rank’ is what makes the British navy powerful.30 Captain Wilson, his surrogate father, explains that a ship’s chain of command is

29  Nicholas Rankin, Dead Man’s Chest: Travels after Robert Louis Stevenson (London: Faber & Faber, 1987), 159, takes the former view; classic examples of the more common opinion are Martin Green, Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979); and Joseph Bristow, Empire Boys: Adventures in a Man’s World (London: Unwin Hyman, 1991). 30  Frederick Marryat, Mr. Midshipman Easy (London: J. M. Dent, 1906), 85, 54. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text.

Organic Imperialism   259 a great chain of being, in which ‘everyone is equally obliged to obey’ (54). The narrator confirms that only because Jack ‘learned to obey’ was he later ‘fit to command’ (351). After his discharge, Jack restores order on his father’s estate and enters Parliament as a Conservative. Denouncing opposition to class inequality, he declares: ‘I consider that it is to this inequality that society owes its firmest cementation […] each doing his duty in that state of life to which he is called, rising above or sinking in the scale of society according as he has been entrusted with the five talents or the one’ (365–​6)—​an allusion to the Book of Matthew’s parable in which servants, entrusted with varying amounts of money in accordance with their abilities, confirm the policy’s wisdom through the differences in what they achieve with it. But the novel’s organicism is liberalized in two complementary ways. First, as the parable implies, the navy is a meritocracy in which everyone finds ‘the level which his natural talent and acquirements will rise or sink him to’ (96). But the navy is more than simply ‘a meritocratic community that yet preserves hierarchy’, as Margaret Cohen calls it; the navy actually encourages ambitious rule-​breakers if their individualism benefits the whole.31 When Jack disobeys orders to retreat and captures a Spanish warship as a result, he is offered additional freedoms—​the Governor of Malta tells him: ‘You must have more adventures, and come back and tell them to me’ (218). Secondly, the novel attacks despotic authority, affirming an ethos of equal opportunity. Jack, a champion of the weak, deposes the bullying mate, Vigors, to his shipmates’ delight; and Captain Tartar’s ‘abuse of power’ (213) results in his death in a duel, freeing Jack from his persecutions. The navy also tolerates racial inclusivity: the Ashanti prince, Mephistopheles Faust (or ‘Mesty’)—​once pressed into slavery, then freed but treated nearly as a slave aboard British ships—​is allowed to ascend through the ranks on his own merits to become Jack’s right-​hand man. Marryat himself ran for Parliament as a Liberal. His fiction consistently invoked tensions between individual ambition—​what his first novel, Frank Mildmay (1829), called ‘a high spirit in a good cause’—​and hierarchical order.32 But he portrayed the navy as an organic community in which social order is enriched by individualist excess, and by the energies of socially peripheral, newly incorporated figures. Frank’s admiral refers to his defiance of orders as ‘enterprise’ (144), rather than condemning it, and he looks with great favour on any disobedient act that turns up trumps—​a pattern repeated regularly in novels such as Peter Simple (1834), Poor Jack (1840), and Masterman Ready (1841). R. M. Ballantyne extended this formula in The Coral Island (1857) by naturalizing progressive organicism in the social instincts of a group of young boys, and by dramatizing how South Seas natives could be integrated into such an order. Cast away on a desert island, the three boys—​Jack Martin, Ralph Rover, and Peterkin Gay—​casually establish a hierarchical order based on their distinctive talents but infused with collaborative spirit. Jack is the natural leader, Ralph the meditative strategist, and Peterkin 31 

Margaret Cohen, The Novel and the Sea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 166. Frederick Marryat, Frank Mildmay (London: J. M. Dent, 1905), 127. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text. 32 

260    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture the cheerful underling and best hunter. ‘[T]‌hings very opposite and dissimilar in themselves, when united, do make an agreeable whole’, Ralph muses. ‘[W]e three on this our island, although most unlike in many things, when united, made a trio so harmonious that I question if there ever met before such an agreeable triumvirate’.33 Ralph adds a dash of individualist enterprise to this order, however, when he is kidnapped by pirates. Relishing the freedom to act entirely on his own, Ralph steals the pirate ship and sails it back to the island single-​handedly to rescue his two mates, before turning his prize over to Jack’s command. While the first half of the novel describes perfect organic order on the island—​‘none of us wished to be delivered from our captivity’ (168)—​the second half focuses on the murderous tyranny of cannibal chiefs, which the boys come upon in sailing from island to island. They convert a tribe of cannibals to Christianity, and turn them into an orderly, harmonious society under the authority of a native Christian prince. They also incorporate some of the converts into an extended hierarchy aboard their own ship—​with Jack as captain, the other two boys as mates, and the natives as ordinary seamen. The novel’s simplistic social allegory thus patterns itself after a basic strategy of British colonialism, which sought to incorporate indigenous peoples within British organic hierarchies by ruling through rather than over them.34 The most popular work in the genre, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883), demonstrates how lessons about progressive organicism learned overseas could strengthen domestic social hierarchies. Although Stevenson’s novel focuses on conflicts among white characters, it shows how marginalized social elements might illuminate the weaknesses of legitimate authority as well as help remedy them, tracing a trajectory of influence, from periphery back to metropole, that will become the focal point of my concluding discussion of Lord Jim and Kim. Christopher Harvie once described Treasure Island as a conservative parable of embattled social order, with its gentlemanly figures and their loyal crew fending off a mutinous rabble.35 More particularly, the novel indicates that domestic authorities brought this crisis upon themselves through their complacency. Too sure of their authority at home (Dr Livesay at one point turns a rampaging Captain Flint into a ‘beaten dog’ by calmly threatening to try him at the next assizes), the doctor and the overly generous Squire Trelawney fall prey to better organized piratical conspirators.36 Captain Smollett, whom the squire hires to pilot his treasure-​hunting ship, points out numerous breakdowns in the chain of command that jeopardize their mission:  the captain was not properly informed of the nature of the voyage; that information was leaked to strangers by the squire; the captain was not allowed to choose his own crew; 33 

R. M. Ballantyne, The Coral Island (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 124. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text. 34 Cannadine, Ornamentalism, 61. 35  Christopher Harvie, ‘The Politics of Stevenson’, in Jenni Calder (ed.), Stevenson and Victorian Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1981), 121. 36  Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 13. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text.

Organic Imperialism   261 and the chief mate is ‘too free’ (52) with the men. After the pirate-​infested crew mutinies, the captain demands ‘discipline’ (109) from the squire and doctor as the remaining loyal characters defend their island stockade, and the two gentlemen eagerly submit—​ the squire confessing his previous laxity and declaring: ‘I await your orders’ (69). This reconstituted social hierarchy fights a superior number of pirates to a stand-​off, thanks to its new-​found respect for rank and order. After rushing the stockade in an uncoordinated, self-​defeating attack, the pirates ‘vote’ (153) their leader out, demonstrating how quasi-​democratic groups quickly revert to anarchy when confronted by strong hierarchical authority. The novel also shows, however, that traditional British order needs an infusion of the individualist spirit and resourcefulness energizing the pirates. Stevenson’s boy-​hero, Jim Hawkins, is fascinated by the adventurous creativity of Long John Silver; as he watches Silver manipulate his underlings with one fabrication after another, Jim marvels at this ‘remarkable game’ (113). Silver himself mocks his own band in these terms: ‘You hasn’t got the invention of a cockroach’ (155). Jim emulates Silver by indulging his own capricious instincts and improvising successes out of fortuitous circumstances. Although it has been commonly claimed that the novel’s loyal characters survive by pure luck, Jim’s creative responsiveness to unanticipated circumstances proves his adventurism to be providential: ‘Every step’, Dr Livesay tells him, ‘it’s you that saves our lives’, adding that Jim’s seemingly capricious impulses have had ‘a kind of fate in them’ (161). Crucially, those impulses often involve disobedience: Jim goes ashore with the pirates against the captain’s orders, which leads serendipitously to his discovery of Ben Gunn, the castaway who later helps save the day; more strikingly, he deserts his post in the stockade on a whim, without planning the great coup that eventuates from this desertion: his single-​ handed theft of the pirates’ schooner. This plot device, borrowed from Ballantyne, reinforces an important theme of the earlier novel and of sea fiction generally:  that individuals in organic societies may in good conscience break out of the ranks and act on their own if their independence benefits the whole. As Jim tells himself: ‘Possibly I might be blamed a bit for my truancy, but the recapture of the Hispaniola was a clenching answer, and I hoped that even Captain Smollett would confess I had not lost my time’ (142). Smollett does not quite endorse Jim’s free-​spirited improvisations. ‘You’re a good boy in your line’, the captain tells him, ‘but I don’t think you and me’ll go to sea again’ (178). Smollett’s disapproval underlines the transgressive nature of Jim’s individualism. But the squire and doctor, having relearned the importance of a disciplined chain of command, also come to appreciate the vitality of spontaneous, unruly individualism, which turns Jim into what the captain calls their ‘born favourite’ (178). Moved by an inclusive spirit also foreign to the captain, the two gentlemen share the treasure equally with Ben, a former pirate, and Abraham Gray, a reformed mutineer—​which further underscores their incorporation of piratical energies within domestic society. Traditional order may prevail, but it is significantly liberalized, a pattern that nineteenth-​century sea fiction elevated to the status of heroic myth by erasing apparent tensions between hierarchical order, on the one hand, and heroic individualism, social mobility, and inclusiveness, on

262    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture the other. Rather than exploring conflicts between these principles, it made their fusion appear natural, unproblematic—​and always victorious.

Transforming Organic Order: Lord Jim and Kim While sea fiction veiled the tensions between conservative and progressive organic ideals by mythologizing their compatibility, more ‘serious’ fiction illuminated and transformed those tensions through cross-​cultural encounters. Although many have regarded Lord Jim as a critique of heroic individualism, for example, the novel uses cultural contrasts to dramatize a more fundamental crisis in Western conceptions of organic order, and the notions of individual honour and duty they uphold.37 When Marlow, the novel’s primary narrator, first describes Jim’s redemption of his lost honour in the Polynesian state of Patusan, the ‘privileged man’ who hears the tale objects to the idea of ‘acquired honour’, the ‘self-​appointed’ nature of Jim’s heroism, and the ‘love sprung from pity and youth’ that inspired it. He also claims that self-​sacrifice for the sake of non-​whites ‘was like selling your soul to a brute’. ‘In other words,’ Marlow writes to him two years later, ‘you maintained that we must fight in the ranks or our lives don’t count.’38 We never hear the final judgements of this unnamed figure, who stands in for the reader when he receives Marlow’s written conclusion to Jim’s story, but that conclusion challenges the belief that ‘we must fight in the ranks’ by opposing Patusan’s communal order to the progressive version of organicism characteristic of adventure fiction. Like the protagonists of sea fiction, Jim believes in the seamless compatibility of heroism and duty, a belief derived from his youthful reading of ‘light literature’ (5)—​even though, like those protagonists, his individualism is relatively radical: he wants to be ‘better than anybody’. Yet Conrad’s novel dissociates heroism from dutifulness, exposing the latter as an inadequate foundation for the former. On the one hand, the novel demystifies any purely existential conception of individual courage. As Jim says to Marlow, referring to his apparent cowardice when he deserted a merchant ship that appeared ready to sink: ‘What would you have done? What! You can’t tell—​nobody can tell’ (68). Marlow admits that only ‘accident, hazard, Fortune’ (234) determine whether one is considered brave. Addressing Jim’s fear that his desertion proved him not ‘good enough’, Marlow claims: ‘Nobody, nobody is good enough’ (233). He confronts the auditors of his story: ‘I—​who have the right to think myself good enough—​dare not. Neither does any of you here, I suppose?’ (237). The cataclysmic nature of this insight is demonstrated by 37 

Classic examples are Ian Watt, ‘The Ending of Lord Jim’, Conradiana, 11 (1979), 3–​21, at 52; and Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981), 206–​80. 38  Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 247–​8. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text.

Organic Imperialism   263 the suicide of Captain Brierly, who holds ‘silent inquiry into his own case’ (44) during Jim’s trial, comes to a verdict of ‘unmitigated guilt’, and, unable to live with such knowledge, drowns himself. On the other hand, though, the novel reveals the illusoriness of a progressive organicism that tries to bolster heroic individualism by inscribing it within a status-​conscious professionalism—​what Marlow refers to as ‘the fellowship of the craft’ (95). As a French naval officer tells Marlow: ‘Man is born a coward’, but being observed by fellow professionals and following their example elicits honourable action; as he explains, ‘one may get on very well knowing that one’s courage does not come of itself ’ (108). Personal courage is a mirage, but, as the officer puts it: ‘The honour … that is real—​that is!’ The novel consistently associates this grounding of heroic honour in professional duty with gentlemanliness, and the personal and social stability guaranteed by rank. ‘He came from the right places’, Marlow says in defence of Jim, ‘he was one of us’ (32), and, indeed, Jim’s gentlemanly family is said to rest secure in ‘the established order of the universe’ (249). Brierly argues that the standards of gentlemanly authority, in turn, depend upon its code of honour: ‘we must preserve professional decency or we become no better than a crowd of tinkers going about loose’ (50). But professionalism evidently offers Brierly no more consolation than his existential inquiry into his personal valour, which suggests that the novel views efforts to derive heroism from gentlemanliness and vice versa as an unsustainable, archaic endeavour. On Jim’s ship, the Patna, multinational capitalism erodes the organic basis for gentlemanly professionalism. The Patna is ‘owned by a Chinaman, chartered by an Arab, and commanded by a sort of renegade New South Wales German’ (10); as a result, its mercenary chain of command observes no ideals of heroism or duty. As Jim puts it, ‘I wasn’t given half a chance—​with a gang like that’ (91). It would be difficult to imagine a more inorganic world than the Patna, in which the white crew is ‘isolated from the human cargo’ (12) and in which, in the moment of Jim’s crisis, ‘no order’ was given (72). As his narrative recounts anecdotes that confirm in various ways the debased nature of commercial seamanship, Marlow himself becomes plagued by ‘the doubt of the sovereign power enthroned in a fixed standard of conduct’ (37); eventually, he despairs of ‘the fellowship of these illusions’ (94), because, as he puts it, in no other line of work is ‘the illusion more wide of reality’ (95). Marlow broods increasingly, late in the novel, about ‘keeping my place in the ranks of an insignificant multitude [… .] How little that was to boast of!’ (244). ‘Fighting in the ranks’, it seems, cannot guarantee individual heroism if gentlemanly professionals have become an ‘insignificant multitude’, their code of conduct reduced to an anachronistic abstraction. Patusan, too, is an inorganic world, from the standpoint of orderly rank. Doramin, who exercises supreme authority, is ‘only of the nakhoda or merchant class’ (187); the local rajah is too corrupt and fearful to command; Sherif Ali, the barbarian warlord, is a parodic semblance of religious authority. Social disorder pervades the community. Regarding the household of Doramin’s wife, Jim comments: ‘her daughters, her servants, her slave girls […] impossible to tell the difference’ (187). But Patusan embodies a pre-​modern organic order indifferent to status. What compels Jim to embrace the

264    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture community is his ability to fuse heroic ambition with intensely personal love, rather than rank. The ring of ‘eternal friendship’ (170) that Jim’s patron, Stein, gives him as an introduction to Doramin becomes the harbinger of a living, human ring of friendship, which encompasses Doramin, Doramin’s son Dain Waris, and Jim’s lover, Jewel. Jim’s personal, affective ties to these figures bridge the gap between narcissistic ambition and communal service. He generalizes that conjunction through his feelings for the entire society: he ‘seemed to love the land and the people with a sort of fierce egoism’ (181), and, in turn, he is ‘received into the heart of the community’ (188). In moments of crisis aboard merchant ships, Jim’s notions of professional duty prove so abstract that they paralyse him. But in Patusan, motivated by impulsive feelings for others, he acts instinctively. Without premeditation, he leaps over the rajah’s palisade to throw himself on Doramin’s friendship, trusting that Stein’s friend will become his as well. To liberate the community from Sherif Ali, he concocts and launches a raid with lightening speed; ‘all at once I saw what I had to do’, he explains, and Marlow comments: ‘this power that came to him was the power to make peace’ (190). These heroic acts, issuing from the immediacy of friendship, love, and care for community, root Jim in a version of organic interdependence that Marlow regards ambivalently: ‘all these things that made him master had made him a captive, too’ (181). But its personal, affective immediacy makes this organic order a more effective platform for individual heroism than the ‘craft’ or stature of gentlemanly professionalism—​and, as James Chandler observes, it marks Lord Jim as more interested in sympathetic identification than any other Conrad novel.39 In Patusan, the words ‘duty’ and ‘honuor’ are not talismanic; they are, in fact, rarely spoken until the arrival of the man who brings Jim down: the ironically named Gentleman Brown. Manipulating what he calls Jim’s sense of ‘infernal duty’ (279), Brown preys on his residual faith in Western ‘fellowship’. Pleading to Jim that his pirate crew are ‘men like himself ’ (278), and speaking duplicitously of ‘common blood’, ‘common experience’, and ‘common guilt’ (283), Brown makes demands on Jim’s sense of honour, arguing that he should take mercy because he is ‘too white to serve even a rat so’ (278). Brown’s invocation of gentlemanly concepts of fair play paralyses Jim. His lingering reverence for duty and honour conflicting with his personal distrust of Brown, Jim shocks the community by declaring: ‘in this business I shall not lead’ (287). Taking advantage of this relapse into indecisiveness, Brown revenges himself on what he sees as the class affront standards of duty and honour represent. Betraying his gentlemanly bargain, Brown ambushes and kills Dain Waris, which compels Jim to martyr himself, ironically fulfilling the code of genteel professionalism, by presenting himself before Doramin to be shot in the name of ‘a shadowy ideal of conduct’ (304). Jim’s personal affections in Patusan—​articulated instructively through Marlow’s own growing affection for Jim—​expose the limitations of the abstract standards of conduct upon which progressive Western organicism depends. Of course, Patusan is hardly an


James Chandler, ‘On the Face of the Case: Conrad, Lord Jim, and the Sentimental Novel’, Critical Inquiry, 33 (2007), 837–​64, at 859.

Organic Imperialism   265 accurate representation of Polynesian social order. Jim’s warrior-​like fearlessness and boundless love for his people are phantasmal recreations of feudal lordship, set against an impressionistic landscape of primitive social disorder. Conrad used this fictional configuration to critique a liberalized organicism grounded in archaic class ideals. But Patusan is an artificial instrument of that critique, not either a utopian or a realistic alternative. Kim, however, does offer a utopian vision of an amalgamated Western and Eastern organicism—​in part, by echoing Conrad’s critique of impersonal hierarchical order.40 Before noting that parallel, though, we should observe that Kipling represents Indian and British societies as mirror images of progressive organicism. On the one hand, much like sea fiction, Kipling’s novel represents radical individualism and British social order as perfectly reconcilable—​in this case, through the secret service. Kim discovers his identity within the service’s chain of command: repeatedly asking ‘Who is Kim?’, he discovers that he and the other agents are ‘all on one lead-​rope […] the Colonel, Mahbub Ali, and I’.41 Mixing organic images of chains, ropes, and woven fabrics to describe this order, Kim sees it as modelling unity in diversity for India as a whole: ‘it runs like a shuttle throughout all Hind […] and I am Kim—​Kim—​Kim […] in the middle of it all’ (224). Yet the service thrives on the improvisational resources of agents acting largely on their own. As Said observed of Colonel Creighton: ‘What survives of Clive and Hastings is their sense of freedom, their willingness to improvise, their preference for the informal over the formal.’42 Kim displays such freedom repeatedly, crossing caste lines at will, thus enacting what Zohreh Sullivan calls a ‘fantasy of omnipotence’.43 His colleague Hurree Babu also improvises elaborate self-​performances, notably by tormenting a pair of French and Russian spies while pretending to be their guide: ‘What a beast of wonder is a Babu!’ (281), Kim exults. Mahbub Ali, too, is adept at spontaneous self-​performance; he also defends Kim’s truancies: ‘it is a great wrong to break that colt to a heavy cart’ (113), he tells Creighton. On the other hand, although Indian society is portrayed as obsessed with racial and caste status, Indians, too, are remarkable for individual expression, unconventionality, and self-​transformation. The Kulu widow, for example, under pretence of making a holy pilgrimage, contrives to see the world despite customary restrictions on women. Of female types, she says: ‘Once I was that one, and now I am this’ (276). The lama, although observing caste narrowly and mapping the hierarchical orders of being in his chart of the Wheel of Life, freely wanders India on a personal quest for a holy river—​a quest paralleling Kim’s search for identity. As we have noted, too, Hurree, Mahbub, and other


Debates about Kipling’s sociological accuracy are usefully summarized by Parama Roy, Indian Traffic: Identities in Question in Colonial and Postcolonial India (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), 75–​91. 41  Rudyard Kipling, Kim (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 117, 119. Further references to this edition are given in parentheses in the text. 42  Edward Said, ‘Introduction’ to Kipling, Kim (London: Penguin, 1987), 33. 43  Zohreh T. Sullivan, Narratives of Empire: The Fictions of Rudyard Kipling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 447.

266    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Indian agents display colourful capacities for adventurous improvisation, upon which the secret service depends. Indeed, British and Indian progressive organicisms merge perfectly in the service—​above all, through Kim himself. But in Kim, the two social orders also supplement one another. The British offer their capacity for exemplary technocratic and professional order. As Kim and the lama observe a British regiment pitch camp, they are awe-​struck by its efficiency: ‘behold the mango-​tope turned into an orderly town as they watched!’ (81) Carousing British soldiers might resemble ‘a festival in Lahore city’, but they differ in that ‘they fell in on the platform next morning in perfect shape and condition’ (98). British technocratic and professional order, it turns out, is vital to the unification of Indian society. Although Indians complain that the railway introduced by Britain compels them to sit ‘side by side with all castes and peoples’ (28), for example, Kim orchestrates this enforced comradeship into a moment of great conviviality in the novel’s famous train scene. Similarly, the Grand Trunk Road, improved and maintained by the British for military purposes, becomes ‘a river of life’ in which ‘all castes and kinds of men move’ (57). Most of all, British military order suppresses the seditious forces that Kipling portrays as threats to Indians and British alike. What India offers in turn, like Conrad’s Patusan, is the organic bond of personal affection. India is frequently called ‘a kindly land’ (35), its people a ‘gentle, tolerant folk’ (32). Even Indians’ habitual verbal invective only thinly veils a culture of affections: ‘In my country’, Kim chides an insulting servant, ‘we call that the beginning of love-​talk’ (66). Significantly, Creighton is unable either to express or feel love for Kim: he does not act ‘in any way for love of thee’ (132), says Mahbub. By contrast, the lama, Mahbub, Hurree, and Kim all confess their affections unreservedly, and the novel demonstrates how galvanizing mutual love can be for the secret service. ‘Thy fate and mine seem on one string!’ Mahbub exclaims to Kim, before confessing: ‘I love thee. So says my heart’ (143). If, as Said charged, Kipling never properly articulated the conflicts between India and the West, that was because he wanted to see the two cultures as complementary, which enabled him to imagine organic order as the product of their reciprocal inclusiveness.44 Beyond critiquing professional and technocratic impersonality, non-​Western organic cultures in Lord Jim and Kim implicitly challenge late nineteenth-​century functionalist versions of organicism that were emerging in modern sociology, as formulated by Herbert Spencer and Émile Durkheim. Conceiving stratification in terms of occupational niches through which individuals might freely pass, early sociology described industrialism as a liberalized organic order in which interdependent labour functions knit society together while permitting individual mobility. Theorizing stratification in occupational rather than class terms, late nineteenth-​ century sociology rendered organic order, if anything, even more impersonal than did social hierarchies—​like gentlemanly professionalism—​that depended on the


Said, ‘Introduction’, 23.

Organic Imperialism   267 relatively fixed class position of beneficent individuals. Late-​century progressive organicism took increasingly impersonal forms, in part, to escape its traditional, authoritarian past. But colonial fiction used cross-​cultural encounters to demonstrate that if a liberalized organicism was to endure in the West, this was hardly a sufficient strategy.

Select Bibliography Aramavudan, Srinivas, Guru English:  South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006). Bristow, Joseph, Empire Boys: Adventures in a Man’s World (London: Unwin Hyman, 1991). Cannadine, David, Ornamentalism:  How the British Saw Their Empire (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001). Cannadine, David, The Rise and Fall of Class in Britain (New  York:  Columbia University Press, 1999). Chandler, James, ‘On the Face of the Case:  Conrad, Lord Jim, and the Sentimental Novel’, Critical Inquiry, 33 (2007), 837–​64. Cheah, Pheng, Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003). Cohen, Margaret, The Novel and the Sea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010). Dirks, Nicholas B., Castes of Mind:  Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001). Gandhi, Leela, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-​De-​Siècle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006). Green, Martin, Dreams of Adventure, Deeds of Empire (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979). Kucich, John, ‘Modernization and the Organic Society’, in Kucich and Jenny Bourne Taylor (eds), The Oxford History of the Novel in English, iii. 1820–​1880 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 343–​60. Robbins, Bruce, Upward Mobility and the Common Good:  Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). Roy, Parama, Indian Traffic: Identities in Question in Colonial and Postcolonial India (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998). Said, Edward, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1978).

Chapter 14

T he Strange C a re e r of Fai r Pl ay, or, Wa rfa re and Gamesma nsh i p i n t he Tim e of V i c toria Lara Kriegel

In November 1914, just as the first hard winter of the First World War was setting in, The Bookman paid tribute to the work and words of Henry Newbolt. A dabbler in poetry and prose, Newbolt found his way into letters at the fin de siècle as a minor literary figure. During the 1890s, he had penned a cache of texts that struck a chord as they engaged a range of rowdy and robust topics. His earliest efforts included a story that told of a fantastical effort to rescue Napoleon from the island of St Helena. A later venture into prose, The Twymans (1911), offered a glimpse of the progress of the schoolboy in the tradition of Tom Brown’s School Days (1857). But George Sampson, a critic for The Bookman, noted that prose fiction was not ultimately ‘the right vehicle for [Newbolt’s] best abilities’, His verses, on the other hand, seemed to have the capacity to ‘influence thousands’. Catchy in their vigour, skilled in their metre, and timely in their sentiment, the ballads that comprised the volume Admirals All (1897) recalled the sporting spirit, the bellicose pride, and the adventuresome nature made famous by better-​known contemporaries, including Robert Louis Stevenson and, more especially, Rudyard Kipling.1 Because of his timeliness, The Academy had, at the moment of the collection’s publication, deemed Newbolt to be a ‘very lucky man’, one who had been ‘swept into popularity on the tide of that dominant patriotic impulse in literature’ owing its rise to the ‘genius’ of others.2 In a similar vein, The Athenaeum had lauded Newbolt’s ‘ballad verse’, though it had found but few examples in Newbolt’s volume of what might rise to the level of a ‘poem’. Too mired was Newbolt, it seemed, in the specifics of his moment and in the baseness of 1 


George Sampson, ‘The Reader: Henry Newbolt’, The Bookman, 47, no. 278 (November 1914), 35–​39. ‘The Island Race’, The Academy, no. 1387 (3 December 1898), 371.

Warfare and Gamesmanship in the Time of Victoria    269 politics.3 Newbolt was an unlikely poet on many counts. In fact, The Bookman described him as someone who looks rather like a ‘barrister suffering lifelong regret because he did not enter the Church’.4 These limitations of talent and accidents of history notwithstanding, Newbolt had, by the time of the First World War, made something of a name for himself. Specifically, he had attained minor celebrity for his ‘Vitaï Lampada’ (1892).5 Appearing subsequently in Admirals All (1898), the poem endures as a tribute to the sporting spirit of Victorian warfare even today. A piece worthy of recitation, it condensed avid patriotism into memorable metre. The poem, which likened the cricket match to the battlefield, famously urged its listeners to ‘Play up, play up, and play the game’. In so doing, it conjoined gamesmanship and warfare, as so many previous Victorian writers had.6 As a work of art, The Athenaeum had noted at the time of its release, it was inferior to the productions of Browning and Tennyson.7 But, from the vantage point of November 1914, The Bookman cautioned against the luxuries of aestheticism at a moment of war, as it accorded praise to the verse. ‘In this time of national trial by fire, we might do worse than make these noble words our prayer,’ it noted, as it lauded the condensation of popular sentiment into memorable metre. And of its author, Newbolt, it claimed that he had written much ‘of which every Englishman may be proud’. Indeed, there was nothing in his corpus ‘of which the country men of Sidney, Nelson and Gordon need be ashamed’, it noted, as it marshalled images of military heroes on sea and land from bygone ages both near and far.8 Writing in The Bookman in the year 1914, George Sampson was, clearly, well aware of the demands of war, that ‘unintelligent barbarism’, not least among them, the necessity of calling a nation to arms, particularly before the institution of mandatory conscription in the year 1916.9 As a critic, he must, too, have had some sense of the challenges and choices that came with putting war into print, an effort that touched the careers of many Victorian men, and some women, of letters. Across the century, novelists, journalists, and poets had all experimented with matters of distance and presence, and humanity and temporality, as they sought to narrate or versify warfare and so to bring it to the attention of a democratizing and diversifying reading public.10 Time and again, authors 3 

‘Admirals All and Other Verses’, The Athenaeum, no. 3665 (22 January 1898), 111–​112. Sampson, ‘Henry Newbolt’, 35–​39. 5  Henry John Newbolt, ‘Vitaï Lampada’, Columbia Granger’s Poetry Database, EBSCOhost, http://​​login?url=http://​​login.aspx?dire ct=true&db=jgh&AN=00000086905&site=ehost-​live [last accessed 11 June 2013]. 6  Megan A. Norcia, ‘Playing Empire: Children’s Parlor Games, Home Theatricals, and Improvisational Play’, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 29, no. 4 (Winter 2004), 294–​314. 7  ‘Admirals All and Other Verses’, 111–​112. 8  Sampson, ‘Henry Newbolt’, 35–​39. 9  Sampson, ‘Henry Newbolt’, 35–​9. 10  See, e.g., Mary A. Favret, War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009); Stephanie Markovits, The Crimean War in the British Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Kate McLoughlin, The Cambridge Companion to War Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). 4 

270    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture settled on the vehicle suggested by Newbolt—​that of likening battles of various sorts to matches, sports, or games. Perhaps, too, they had believed in the justness of a war fairly fought. And maybe they had found reassurance in the temporal and spatial boundaries that the seemingly steady comparison with sport fostered in thinking about the potentially limitless contours of war. Regardless, they presaged the work and words of European cultural critic Johann Huizinga, the author of Homo Ludens (1938), who noted that ‘fighting, as a cultural function’ had at its heart a ‘ritual character’, a ‘play-​quality’, and an immersive aspect.11 The work of a minor poet and a middling writer, Newbolt’s ‘Vitaï Lampada’ is perhaps the best known expression of the ‘games ethic’ that became manifest in mid-​nineteenth-​ century poetry and fiction, where it was associated with several writers, most notably Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson, but also Thomas Hughes, G. A. Henty, and Thomas Marryat, to name others. Linked to the thought of Thomas Arnold, an eminent Victorian, the games ethic was expressive of the notion that what happened on the playing fields of England informed what occurred on the battlefields of Europe and empire. The ideal received its first, and most decisive, iteration in Thomas Hughes’s 1857 bildungsroman, Tom Brown’s School Days, which was published just after the end of the Crimean War and in the year of the First Indian War of Independence.12 Afterwards, it would enjoy a remarkable popularization in the press, with its growing segmentation directed to audiences including youth. It would also see development in the novelistic subgenre of muscular Christianity, which directed might towards right in tales that appealed to a middling, and most often male, readership. By the turn of the century, it would witness a transition into what Bradley Deane has recently called a ‘play ethic’ when it came, especially around and after the Second Anglo-​Boer War, to be associated with imperial adventure, eternal boyhood, and institutions like the Boy Scouts.13 It would face its dissolution during the First World War, not shortly after The Bookman published its paean to Newbolt’s ‘Vitaï Lampada’. Just as it heralded the end of an epoch, the war would, it seems, put to rest the games ethic, too. The games ethic itself has not pined for commentators and critics. But one aspect that has yet to receive sufficient exposition and exploration is the notion of ‘fair play’, which is suggested by Newbolt’s ‘Vitaï Lampada’. Associated in Huizinga’s mind especially with the samurai, the qualities of ‘chivalry, loyalty, courage and self-​control’ were also essentially English and ostensibly British.14 In all earnestness, the satirical Punch proclaimed in 1878 that the ‘love of fair play’ resided ‘in the bosom of every Briton’.15 And the ever-​ trenchant Saturday Review declared it a ‘national characteristic’.16 The term was bandied 11 

Johann Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (1938; Boston: Beacon Press: 1955), 89. 12  Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s School Days: By an Old Boy (1857; London: Macmillan, 1868). 13  Bradley Deane, ‘Imperial Boyhood: Piracy and the Play Ethic’, Victorian Studies, 53, no. 4 (2011), 689–​7 14. 14 Huizinga, Homo Ludens. 15  ‘Fair-​Play’, Punch (16 March 1878), 120. 16  ‘Dear at the Money’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, 3, no. 68 (1857), 142–​143.

Warfare and Gamesmanship in the Time of Victoria    271 about in the pages of the nineteenth century’s expanding press, and in its novels, too. In Tom Brown’s School Days, as we shall see, it rose to the level of an organizing concept; it would remain as such in the genres of muscular Christianity and the boy’s bildungsroman. In the later nineteenth century, it would become a meme of sorts in social criticism and war commentary. An exemplary lingua franca, it transmuted into a form of pedagogy and a mode of critique. Honing in on ‘fair play’ as an aspect of the games ethic does not only allow for a refinement of our understanding of its articulation. More significantly, it enables a reconceptualization of the place of warfare in Victorian and post-​Victorian culture, particularly on the occasions when the Victorians faced European adversaries, namely, the Crimean War of 1854–​6, the Anglo-​Boer War of 1899–​1902, and the Great War of 1914–​18, fought after the age had ended. Similarly, the notion of ‘fair play’ helps to bring into focus the ways in which other conflicts, whether skirmishes among Continental nations themselves or Victoria’s so-​called ‘little wars’ across the globe, came to inflect domestic culture.17 Over the past quarter-​century, historians of Victorian imperialism have shown, with great force and efficacy, the ways in which European empire shaped the domestic landscape and its cultural productions.18 A similar argument can be made regarding the endeavour of Victorian warfare, particularly as it is parsed through the literary and print culture of the day. If the British Empire shaped the metropole in the Victorian age, so too did the nation’s wars, which were fought at a distance. Understanding as much allows us a starting point for providing a new assessment of the Victorian age that reconceives its topical preoccupations and reconsiders its temporal boundaries.

Games Victorianists Play, or Victorian Studies and the Games Ethic This endeavour becomes all the more significant when it is informed by an understanding of the particular contours of scholarship on the ‘games ethic’, and with it, the related notions of play and fun. This area of analysis is particularly remarkable for its development in lockstep with the broader enterprise of Victorian studies. As such, it provides an index of sorts to the shifting concerns and paradigms of the discipline as it evolved from the beginning of the twentieth century. Remarkably, even the earliest critics to imagine a scholarship on the Victorian age bear this out. In the process, they render unanticipated complexity to articulations of the games ethic. For instance, in 1901, just as Victoria’s reign came to an end, Hamish Stuart offered a fascinating understanding of the games 17 

This phrase is taken from the title of Byron Farwell’s Queen Victoria’s Little Wars (London: Allen Lane, 1973). 18  See, e.g., Antoinette Burton, Empire in Question: Reading, Writing, and Teaching British Imperialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); Catherine Hall and Sonya Rose (eds), At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

272    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture ethic, and with it, a notion of fair play, in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Notably, he yoked this understanding not simply to football—​his ostensible object of analysis—​but also to warfare, and even to a Victorian era, explicitly described as such. As he launched his discussion, Stuart imagined a ‘historian’ looking back on the age. ‘When he comes to deal with the Victorian era’, Stuart noted, such a historian would ‘hail it’, of course, as ‘the golden age of football’. Moreover, he would understand it as ‘the age also during which the citizen soldier, trained to manliness in the playing-​fields, first voluntarily abandoned the shop for the sword, to show how fields were won in the great game of war’. For Stuart, the sporting spirit offered a potential salve for the ailments of the current era with all of its commercial excess. As vehicles for cultivating ‘manliness’, sport and war, it seemed, had the potential not just to promote ‘physical and moral strength’, but even to stave off ‘the sinking of self ’. In his mind, these promises were best held out by the game of football, particularly as it was played in England, and in Britain more generally. There, the ‘sense of fair play, and of playing the game’, noted Stuart as he nodded to Newbolt, always held sway. In Stuart’s view, the Continental powers, particularly France and Germany, stood to benefit from Britain’s example of fair play, most immediately on the football pitch, but also in international diplomacy. Stuart’s linkage of the pursuit of sport to the arts of war here is decisive. That said, it is also quite complex—​perhaps more complex than our examinations of the Victorian games ethic have allowed us to see thus far. Indeed, Stuart suggested that, together, sport and war might curb the excesses of the current era, bringing men from trading floor onto the playing field in robust unison, and from there, perhaps, even on to glorious battle in the manner of Christian soldiers. But things shifted in the face of the reality of escalating tensions; Stuart intimated as well that sport might stave off a Continental war of the sort that destiny seemed to predicate. In the end, a football fellowship among nations, and one, moreover, dictated by fair play, Stuart suggested, might offer a ‘better guarantee to peace in Europe’ than any possible treaty.19 In his paean to the games ethic, Stuart credited the English public schools of the first half of the nineteenth century with the development of football, and with this, of the spirit of fair play. Less than two decades after Stuart wrote, in 1918, Lytton Strachey, whom we might consider to be the first scholar of Victorian studies, sustained this understanding as he rendered further complexity to the lineage of the games ethic. In the introduction to his Eminent Victorians, Strachey famously quipped, ‘the history of the Victorian age will never be written. We know too much about it.’20 He sought to exert control over this vast body of literature by offering four interlocked biographical studies that characterized the era as they marshalled criticism, irony, and camp.21 One of the figures thrust into the spotlight by Strachey was Thomas Arnold, the renowned head of 19 

‘The Football Nations’, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 169, no. 1026 (April 1901), 489–​504, esp. 494. 20  Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians (1918; New York: Modern Library, 1999), 1. 21  Simon Joyce, ‘On or About 1901: The Bloomsbury Group Looks Back at the Victorians’, Victorian Studies, 46, no. 4 (Summer 2004), 631–​54.

Warfare and Gamesmanship in the Time of Victoria    273 Rugby School, who exemplified those Victorian qualities of ‘energy, earnestness, and the best intentions’. It was Arnold who had redirected public school education away from classical scholarship and towards character formation. Namely, Arnold devoted himself to transforming each pupil into ‘a Christian’ and ‘an Englishman’.22 For Arnold himself, the undertaking was particularly linked to the chapel. Posterity, however, has eternally linked this endeavour to the playing field. Misunderstood or not, the mission of the ‘earnest enthusiast’, as laid out by Strachey in 1918, remains central to our understandings of the pursuit of the games ethic and the injunction of fair play.23 Recognition of these complexities would recede by the 1950s, just as the academic study of the Victorian era was cohering as an academic pursuit in North America, as the inauguration of the journal Victorian Studies in 1957 evinces. By that time, a consolidated games ethic, underwritten at least implicitly by a notion of fair play, had taken shape as a discrete ideal, or perhaps a commodity, that was representative and even exemplary of its age. To appreciate this fact, we need only look to an article written by Sir Charles Tennyson and appearing in the second volume of Victorian Studies in 1959. Tennyson contended there that Britain, the workshop of the world, did not simply teach the world to toil. It also ‘taught the world to play’. In his paean to sport, Tennyson traced the diffusion of rugby football, cricket, and golf—​the ‘great games of the world’—​ through the British Empire, across the Atlantic Ocean, and around the globe. If Strachey had come to his study of the period through a stance of wry reflection, Tennyson offered his in a mode of patriotic defence. In his account, Tennyson sought to defend the British Empire’s legacies as a guardian of sporting spirit and fair play at the very moment of its demise. Although the empire was on its way to dissolution, he suggested, it left its mark in unanticipated ways. Drawing not only on patriotism, but also on the modernization theory that was so pervasive at the time of the article’s writing, Tennyson noted that the spread of sport wrought by the British Empire had proven to be a physical and psychological boon for the globe. Granted, English sport and attendant notions of fair play would become the subject of clever adoption and critique by postcolonial critics like C. L. R. James, who wrote about cricket and class, and postcolonialism and politics, a few years later.24 But Tennyson’s understanding of sport’s essential Englishness remained untouched. A ‘world-​wide social revolution initiated by the Victorians’, he reflected, its lessons of patient vigour and fair play seemed to offer countless benefits to a world facing the challenges of rapid urbanization, mass government, and international competition 100 years on.25 Tennyson’s brief sketch suggested that the spirit of good gamesmanship and of fair play travelled, disembodied, across the world, not unlike the civilizing mission that seemed to propel it. A few decades after Tennyson wrote, a host of scholars revisited the 22 Hughes, Tom Brown’s School Days, 80.

23 Strachey, Eminent Victorians, 175, 183, 201, 181. 24 

C. L. R. James, Beyond a Boundary (London: Stanley, Paul and Company, 1963). Sir Charles Tennyson, ‘They Taught the World to Play’, Victorian Studies, 2, no. 3 (March 1959), 211–​222. 25 

274    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture games ethic. They were not content, however, to accept it as a product that migrated, purely and effortlessly, across the world, or even the nation. Prompted instead by social history and the attendant category of class, not to mention by its engagement with ideals of rational recreation, social control, and leisure studies, they offered models and case studies that spotlighted the transmission and transformation of the idea. The subfield of sports history, particularly as practised in the United Kingdom, has provided fertile ground for such explorations from the 1970s onwards. Exemplary here is the broad, varied, and remarkably germinal corpus of J. A. Mangan, who has rendered attention to social structure and cultural transmission, perhaps most notably, though hardly exclusively, in his The Games Ethic and Imperialism, first published in 1986.26 But Mangan’s work did not simply seek to understand the notion’s movement around the globe; it also considered its transmission, and with it, its transformation, across Britain and within classes. For instance, Mangan addressed the movement of the games ethic from the public schools of the nation’s elite to the grammar schools of the middle and lower middle classes. The latter environment was informed, particularly, by the Protestant work ethic, which exerted a particular influence on styles of play. If the pupils in the public schools ‘played energetically’, those enrolled in grammar schools played ‘circumspectly’.27 This pithy reflection is suggestive of the ways in which the context for gamesmanship—​and here I include the venues for playing and the populations that played—​ comes to shape the very style, form, and content of the pursuit. This is a matter that has been further clarified by women’s and gender historians. They may, at the outset, have sought to make a bid for inclusion by shifting the focus to the public schools attended by girls in the late Victorian age, where such pursuits as gymnastics, golf, fencing, and bowling predominated. More than an appreciation of extension, the ultimate effect, and continued challenge, of thinking about gamesmanship through gender has been to move scholarly attention away from the playing field, however defined, and into the more informal spaces of the home, with its gardens, card tables, and nurseries. The shift in venue prompted originally by the attention to women’s history, but extending well beyond this pursuit to consider the activities of adults—​both male and female—​ and children—​both boys and girls—​has vast implications. To turn away from the ‘male homosocial space’ of the playing field to the feminized zone of domesticity is to shift our attention from ‘rule-​bound games like Cricket’ to ‘party games and home theatricals’, among others.28 If procedure and prowess predominate in the first instance, it is imagination and improvisation that invigorate the latter. The implications of this shift—​for the archives we use and for the texts that we read, or for the questions we ask and the 26 

J. A. Mangan, The Games Ethic and the Spirit of Imperialism: Aspects of the Diffusion of an Ideal (1986; London: Routledge, 1998). 27  J. A. Mangan, ‘Grammar Schools and the Games Ethic in the Victorian and Edwardian Eras’, Albion, 15, no. 4 (Winter 1983), 313–​35, esp. 334–​335. See also Nancy Fix Anderson, The Sporting Life: Victorian Sports and Games (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 2010); J. A. Mangan, A Sport-​Loving Society: Victorian and Edwardian Middle-​Class England at Play (London: Routledge, 2006). 28  Norcia, ‘Playing Empire’, 294; Kathleen E. McCrone, ‘Play Up! Play Up! And Play the Game! Sport at the Late Victorian Girls’ Public School’, Journal of British Studies, 23, no. 2 (Spring 1984), 106–​134.

Warfare and Gamesmanship in the Time of Victoria    275 ideals we foreground—​are vast. Among other things, they ask that we consider the contours of play and the valences of fairness. Literary critics too, have arrived at such a conclusion as they have assessed the games ethic and sought, to move beyond its orthodox understandings, ultimately calling into question the narrative of improvement that it implied. Within literary studies, contemplation of the games ethic centres, typically, around a cluster of writers, including Thomas Hughes, Rudyard Kipling, and Robert Louis Stevenson. A variety of paradigms, including Marxism, the new historicism, gender theory, and queer theory, have long enabled considerations of these writers. More recently, a heightened concern with empire has pressed our understandings forward. Particularly fruitful have been studies that examine the difference that empire made for the games ethic as the nineteenth century progressed towards its end and, not incidentally, towards the Second Anglo-​Boer War. Recently, Bradley Deane argued that the familiar games ethic of the mid-​century moment transmogrified into a play ethic at the fin de siècle. As it moved away from the liberal imperatives of the mid-​ century moment, Deane holds, the British imperial project divested itself of the civilizing mission, associated with such virtues as fair play; as a response, popular fiction, especially that written for youths, offered up a host of characters, including Kim and Peter Pan, who engaged in ludic pursuits as they remained in a state of permanent boyhood. John Kucich has similarly unsettled lingering assumptions regarding the edifying influence of empire in his provocative readings of Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky and Company stories (1899), as he has pointed to the sadomasochistic tendencies so evident in the group dynamics of boys, imperial or not.29 Regenia Gagnier put it nicely when she noted that, ‘as the century progressed, the Christianity seemed to melt away from the athletic project, leaving only the muscle’.30 But even as these texts, and the critics who write about them, have dislodged the surety of the improving assumptions embedded in the games ethic, they have borne out the notion that the world of the fin de siècle was certainly a world at play. The notion of a world at play has particular connotations that have been taken up recently by literary critics and historians alike as they have sought to understand the nineteenth century as a modernizing moment, rather than a traditional one. One of the most powerful articulations of this matter is that on offer by Matthew Kaiser, who has sought to reconceive the literary and cultural terrain of the Victorian age. Rather than a backward-​looking moment characterized by toil, Kaiser has sought to portray the Victorian era as a forward-​oriented age that was full of play. It is not just that the Victorians were at play, Kaiser asserts. Additionally, they inhabited a world that was, itself, in play—​that is, in flux and action.31 Such a notion liberates us from the assumption that the Victorians were inherently, unceasingly earnest. It also asks that we 29 

John Kucich, ‘Sadomasochism and the Magical Group: Kipling’s Middle-​Class Imperialism’, Victorian Studies, 46, no. 1 (Autumn 2003), 33–​68; Kucich, Imperial Masochism: British Fiction, Fantasy and Social Class (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). 30  Regenia Gagnier, ‘From Fag to Monitor; or, Fighting to the Front’: Art and Power in Public School Memoirs’, Browning Institute Studies, 16 (1988), 15–​38, esp. 20. 31  Matthew Kaiser, The World in Play: Portraits of a Victorian Concept (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011).

276    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture consider the relationship between the Victorian age and modernity more generally, and ultimately to set our sights on fun. On this score, historian Peter Bailey has noted that fun is ‘play commodified’, stripped of its spontaneity and subjected to the regimes of industrial capitalism and rational recreation.32 In this rendition, fun does not, as Huizinga once asserted, ‘resist […] all logical interpretation’.33 Instead, it may be a critical linchpin for tracing the splintering of the games ethic as it moved, on the page and in practice, from the nineteenth into the twentieth century.

The Rise and Fall of Fair Play, or from Tom Brown to Tommy Atkins Assessments of the games ethic that developed across the second half of the nineteenth century often focus upon Thomas Hughes’s Tom Brown’s School Days, which elevated the ethos of fair play to an organizing principle of plot and character development. At its publication in 1857, the British Quarterly Review welcomed Tom Brown’s School Days as a ‘a capital book, brimful of the blithesomeness, frolic, and fun of boyhood’.34 The tale of an English lad at Rugby School delighted a reading public that included boys young and old. A few months after its publication, the text quickly found its way into a second edition. It had the capacity to capture multiple audiences. On the one hand, it was a mere ‘series of pictures of various parts of boy life’, to use the words of the Edinburgh Review. On the other, its pages contained ‘matter[s]‌for deep and earnest reflection’, as the Monthly Religious Magazine declared.35 A tribute to the life of Thomas Arnold, who sought to soften the barbaric tendencies of the upper classes, the narrative is a paean to the innovations of the great reformer at Rugby School. A celebration of the ideas of Charles Kingsley, who argued for the virtues of a vigorous life, the story is an endorsement of the notions of muscular Christianity, so popular at mid-​century. As Thomas Hughes recounts the youth of his alter ego, Tom Brown, a scion of the rural England of the 1830s, he lays out the ground rules for the ideal education of an utterly English boy capable of the unmistakably English practice of fair play. Indeed, it is not ‘to ram Latin and Greek into boys’, but to make them ‘good English boys’ and ‘good future citizens’.36 32  See, notably, Peter Bailey, ‘Entertainmentality! Modernising Pleasure in a Leisure Industry’, in Simon Gunn and James Vernon (eds), The Peculiarities of Modernity in Imperial Britain (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011), 119–​33. See also Bailey’s ‘“A Mingled Mass of Perfectly Legitimate Pleasures”’: The Victorian Middle Class and the Problem of Leisure’, Victorian Studies, 21, no. 1 (1977), 7–​28. 33 Huizinga, Homo Ludens, 3. 34 ‘Tom Brown’s School Days: By an Old Boy’, British Quarterly Review, 52 (October 1857), 513. 35 ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’, Edinburgh Review, 107 no. 217 (January 1858), 172–​93, esp. 173–​4; SWB, ‘Thoughts on Tom Brown’s Life at Rugby’, Monthly Religious Magazine and Independent Journal (1 September 1857), 205. 36 Hughes, Tom Brown’s School Days, 59.

Warfare and Gamesmanship in the Time of Victoria    277 To this end, Tom learns to fight the good fight, to challenge bullies, and to be good rather than fierce. It is not principally in the classrooms, but rather in the spaces of the playing field and the boarding house where this education is ideally wrought, with its pivotal moments enabling individual and collective cultivation. Such was Hughes’s narrator’s understanding of sport itself. In a game such as rugby, invented at the school by William Webb Ellis, the ‘delicate strokes of play’ provide a view of a boy’s true nature. ‘As endless as are boys’ characters’, proclaims Hughes’s narrator, ‘an old Boy’ himself, ‘so are their ways of facing or not facing a scrimmage at football’.37 And the English public school was, as mentioned, in the business not simply of molding minds, but at least as significantly, of honing character. According to the narrator, this enterprise was best accomplished through team sports like cricket and rugby football. But Thomas Hughes’s narrator makes a bid for the performance of physical prowess, and with it, of character, in other, more seemingly atavistic games too, most notably, the fist fight, much maligned by mid-​century. Although the Society of Friends and friends of civilization both urged the English to forsake the barbaric fist fight, it was, in truth, the ‘natural and English way for English boys to settle their quarrels’, just so long as the opponents were engaged in what Hughes called a ‘fair match’. Fighting was good for the ‘temper’, not to mention for the ‘backs and legs’. Ultimately, it was the Christian thing to do—​particularly when performed within the boundaries of that quintessentially English notion of fair play, which promised to counter bullying, arbitrariness, and tyranny.38 This paean to fair play, whether in football or fighting, led the erudite Edinburgh Review to dismiss the notion that such boyhood pursuits were ‘mere amusements’. These games were, instead, ‘exercises and tasks’, indeed ‘performances’, to use the narrator’s very own words, of great importance to individual and society, to nation and empire, and to justice and truth. By working in multiple temporalities, Thomas Hughes established this understanding as both timely and timeless. In some regards, the text is a romantic idyll, with the action set in a bucolic 1830s England, untouched by the railways and reforms of the ‘newfangled present’. As such, it established the performance of physical prowess in sport and games as a timeless English ideal while appealing to ‘human nature’ writ large.39 In other ways, the bildungsroman is a response to the exigencies of the 1850s, with references to the recent Great Exhibition and ongoing international conflict sprinkled throughout. Certainly, a domestic readership that had just witnessed the tragedies of the conflict in the Crimea, one that was presently tracking the horrors of the First Indian War of Independence on the subcontinent, would have well understood the narrator’s assertions: first, that ‘fighting, rightly understood, is the business, the real, highest, honestest business of every son of man’ and second, that ‘everyone who is worth his salt has his enemies who must be beaten’. Among these, the narrator counted not only internal demons, the ‘evil thoughts and habits within’, but also external menaces, 37 Hughes, Tom Brown’s School Days, 106–​7.

38 ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’, Edinburgh Review, 173. 39 ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’, Edinburgh Review, 173.

278    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture like ‘Russians’ and ‘Border-​ruffians’.40 Not incidentally, it was a commonplace in the later nineteenth century to hold that these were among the many groups incapable of rising to the level of fair play. Russians, Turks, Boers, and Africans all stood beyond the pale of fair play, whose natural preserve was the ‘parks and platforms’, not the ‘prairies and the pampas, the jungle and the savannah’.41 Although it was, on the whole, critical of the prosaic nature and middlebrow qualities of Tom Brown’s School Days, the Edinburgh Review did note a certain ‘genius’ to the ‘system’ popularized in the pages of the novel, wherein the games of the public school prepared the pupils for larger eventualities of greater consequence.42 Other writers made the connection as well. During the Crimean War, journalists referred to the battles and manoeuvres, whether on sea or land, as ‘games’ that were, variably, ‘safe’ and ‘weary’.43 This so-​called games ethic, which linked physical performance and individual character to national habits and imperial maintenance, had enjoyed a clear exposition in Tom Brown’s School Days. It would continue to be a staple of education, first in the public school and later in the grammar school, well into the twentieth century, featuring centrally in novels and memoirs into the interwar years.44 We are quite familiar, at this point, with the ways in which the games ethic, and the attendant notion of fair play, proliferated. Tom Brown’s School Days helped to usher in the genre of muscular Christianity, whose authors, including Charles Kingsley and others, foregrounded these matters. Additionally, after the passage of Forster’s Education Act in 1870, a popular press directed explicitly to children, and particularly boys, would take up as one of its primary areas of interest the ‘games ethic’, exploring it through examinations of team sports like rugby and cricket, elite activities including tennis and golf, popular pursuits such as boxing and boating, skilled games like darts and archery, and games of mental acumen, most notably chess. Magazines like Boys’ Life and Chums employed publications about games as jumping-​off points for broader explorations of national character, English and otherwise. They contrasted the English predilections for athleticism and fair play to Continental tendencies towards artifice and cunning. And they used games as an avenue for crafting early ethnography, whether of Afghans, Italians, or Chinese.45 Scholars of the Victorian age are less aware, however, about the extent to which the ethos of fair play reverberated through the Victorian press, which addressed topics of domestic and international reach, of social and political importance, 40 Hughes, Tom Brown’s School Days, 268, 282–​283.

41  ‘Fair-​Play’, Punch (16 March 1878), 120; ‘Among the Bechuanas’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, 14, no. 355 (1862), 201–​202. 42 ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’, Edinburgh Review, 173. 43  Leader Comment, John Bull, no. 1751 (1 July 1854), 406; ‘The War: Attack on the Crimea’, John Bull, no. 1764 (30 September 1854), 610; ‘Second Account’, Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (15 October 1854), 11; ‘Balaklava’, Lady’s Newspaper, no. 409 (28 October 1854), 268. 44  Regenia Gagnier, ‘From Fag to Monitor’. 45  See, e.g., T. P. Hughes, ‘Afghan Games’, Boy’s Own Paper, no. 149 (19 November 1881), 125–​6; ‘Games of All Nations’, Child’s Companion, no. 178 (1 August 1879), 114.

Warfare and Gamesmanship in the Time of Victoria    279 and of monumental and trivial freight in the later nineteenth century, as it sought to reach an increasingly variegated readership.46 During these years, Victoria’s army engaged in a host of ‘little wars’ throughout the empire, including the so-​called ‘Great Game’ in central Asia. Simultaneously, Europe’s nations competed in a variety of military and diplomatic escalations. All the while, fair play became a refrain—​indeed, a meme of sorts—​in the British press. It was touted, time and again, as the ‘boast of Britons’, evident in all aspects of life.47 This most English of notions was a yardstick with multiple purposes. It was an index of civilization. It was the fruit of liberalism in moderation. It was the sign of a responsive government, one that enabled fairness in representation and judiciousness in protection. It also conveyed a sort of portable justice or common sense. Certainly, its many uses in the nineteenth-​ century press—​whether in satirical publications, in letters to editors, in songs for boys, or in impressionistic essays—​bear this out. Invoked in myriad contexts, it conjured not just levelness of playing field, but also sanity of discourse, fairness in representation, and judiciousness in opportunity. It came, as the century wore on, to apply, in particular, to the press, suggesting an even hand in coverage, an avoidance of sensationalism, and a commitment to truth.48 Significantly, it allowed Britain to claim a premium on moral certitude and political righteousness within an increasingly fractious globe over the latter half of the nineteenth century. Had the American Revolution not occurred, one contributor to the Saturday Review maintained, the very course of the country’s Civil War would have been averted, as the nation would have maintained the English characteristic of free play. As it imagined a counterfactual history of sorts, the Saturday Review noted that ‘a race would have grown up imbued with the English principle of fair play’, that is, ‘amenable to the give-​and-​take practice which equity and good humour equally recognize among us, loving a good fight, but loathing as alike and unmanly the arts and arms of the rowdy and the assassin’.49 Fair play was a stance, too, that allowed Britain to keep a critical distance from its Continental neighbours and potential antagonists. Looking with criticism and concern upon the machinations of the Franco-​Prussian War of 1870, one commentator would ask just where the line lay between the ‘superfluous horrors’ of modern warfare and the valiant practice of ‘fair play’. Such a query forecasts a growing fascination and preoccupation in the British press with the steady rise of German statecraft, diplomacy, and militarism at the century’s end. With its emphasis on strategy, it seemed to prioritize ruthless cunning over fair play. In the face of these developments, however, a belief in 46  See, e.g., P. A. Dunae, ‘Boys’ Literature and the Idea of Empire, 1870–​1914’, Victorian Studies, 24, no. 1 (1980), 105–​21; William N. Weaver, ‘“A School-​Boy’s Story”: Writing the Victorian Schoolboy Subject’, Victorian Studies, 46, no. 3 (Spring 2004), 455–​487. 47  ‘Fair Play’, Examiner, no. 3699 (1878), 1607–​8; ‘Fair-​Play’, Punch (16 March 1878), 120. 48  See, e.g., ‘Sentimental Politics’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, 18 no. 475 (1864), 686–​8; E. Wylie, ‘Militancy and Fair Play’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, 116, no. 3012 (1913), 80–​81. 49  ‘Results of the First American Revolution’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, 12, no. 322 (1861), 656–​658.

280    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture the virtue of fair play seemed to prevail in many quarters, and early twentieth-​century advocates argued that it should be extended to horses, Arabs, and enemy combatants, even if they were not capable of expressing the same.50 Just as notions of gamesmanship proliferated at the turn of the century, so too did portrayals in literature, where considerations of play seem to move away from the ideal of fairness and towards cunning, trickery, and domination instead. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865), for instance, was just one text to foreground the mastery of rules over the imperative for judiciousness. Kipling’s Jungle Books (1894), too, placed the apprehension of internal rules front and centre.51 On the whole, Kipling’s own corpus evinces a proliferation of arenas for play and attitudes regarding gamesmanship as it considers the progress and process of empire. The novel Kim (1901), of course, opens with its protagonist, who ‘loves the game for its own sake’, in a state of play.52 In their attention to the education of youths, the stories that comprise Stalky and Company prioritize the sadomasochistic tendencies of the group—​evident, albeit underexplored in earlier texts such as Tom Brown’s School Days—​over the elevating qualities of the games ethic. And finally, poems like ‘Tommy’, which echo the better known ‘White Man’s Burden’ (1899) in their sentiment, suggest that the agents of the state, whether imperial administrators or British soldiers, are somehow being ‘played’ in a game that is beyond their control. First published in 1892, ‘Tommy’ draped its trenchant critique in metre reminiscent of a music hall song: ‘O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”; | But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.’53 In lines such as these, Kipling provided the strong sense that the rank-​and-​file British soldier, whose image was consolidated in the prototype of ‘Tommy Atkins’ at the century’s end, enjoyed respect when on parade or in the line of battle, though not while living his daily life. The grim realities of soldierly life and of imperial wars would be laid bare during the Second Anglo-​Boer War, fought between 1899 and 1902. In this war, the British Army looked to imperial and colonial troops ultimately to secure its victory, so exposing the ill-​equipped nature of its own forces, whether collectively or individually. During the campaign, the British Army engaged in the inhumane and infamous practice of concentrating Boer women and children in camps, where some of these civilians would meet their deaths. Throughout the empire, the excesses of jingoism were rife, as jubilations over the victory at Mafeking in 1900 attest. It seems, in many respects, that the very ideal of fair play, upheld by Newbolt just a few years before, had run its course by the time of the Anglo-​Boer War. There is, perhaps, no better artefact of this understanding that Thomas Hardy’s ‘Drummer Hodge’ (1899), which presages the literature of the First 50 

See, e.g., ‘Results of the First American Revolution’, 656–​8; ‘Among the Bechuanas’, 201–​2; ‘Told in Gallant Deeds’, Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, 119, no. 3096 (1915), 227. 51  Carole Scott, ‘Limits of Otherworlds: Rules of the Game in Alice’s Adventures and the Jungle Books’, Childrens’ Literature Association Quarterly (Proceedings, 1990), 20–​24. 52  Deane, ‘Play Ethic’. 53  Rudyard Kipling, ‘Tommy’. Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry, EBSCOhost, http://​ezproxy.lib.​login?url=http://​​login.aspx?direct=true&db =jgh&AN=00000040098&site=ehost-​live [last accessed 11 June 2013].

Warfare and Gamesmanship in the Time of Victoria    281 World War as it takes the form of a eulogy to a young Wessex drummer, a mere boy, who was killed and buried, coffin-​less, before he could even gain his bearings on the distant soil of the ‘broad Karoo’.54 Whether buried by friend or foe, we cannot be sure. We can be certain, however, that poor Hodge fell so quickly, and so young, that he never had the chance to play the game. In the face of these developments, it was imperative to reinvigorate and rehabilitate the spirit of fair play. Certainly, this endeavour had taken shape even before the onset of the Second Anglo-​Boer War, with the institution of the modern Olympic Games in 1896. The first decade of the twentieth century—​and the year 1908, in particular—​would see the continuation of these efforts. In that year, the first of the modern Olympic Games to be held in London debuted, as did the organization of the Boy Scouts.55 Founded by Robert Baden-​Powell, a hero of the Second Anglo-​Boer War, the Boy Scouts sought to reinvigorate the games ethic and so to rehabilitate the boys of Britain by cultivating not just their skills and muscles, but also their characters and imaginations. Powell expounded his programme in the legendary Scouting for Boys (1908). There, as in the institution more generally, he sought to restore the practice of honour, and with it, the ideal of ‘fair play’. It was a quality that ‘a scout should value’ more than anything. ‘Britons, above all other people, insist on fair play,’ he quipped. ‘If you see a big bully going for a small or weak boy, you stop him because it is not “fair play”,’ cautioned Baden-​Powell. An extra-​legal concept, ‘fair play’ was, as Baden-​Powell explained, ‘an old idea of Chivalry’ inherited from the ‘knights of old’. It fell to Britons to uphold it, for ‘other nations’ were ‘not so good’. The case of a Boer soldier who shot an already-​ wounded Englishman during the Anglo-​Boer War attests as much. ‘That Boer had no chivalry in him,’ noted Baden-​Powell. Thankfully, Major MacLaren would live to tell the tale, and even to become a Boy Scout manager, that ultimate guardian of fair play. With the institution of the Boy Scouts, fair play thus became a form of pedagogy in the wake of war’s excess.56

Goodbye to All That, or the Last Victorian The outbreak of the Great War would provide yet one more chance to assert the possibilities of fair play, as the publication of The Bookman’s homage to Newbolt indicates. But 54 

Thomas Hardy, ‘Drummer Hodge’, Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry, EBSCOhost, http://​​login?url=http://​​login.aspx?dire ct=true&db=jgh&AN=00000088096&site=ehost-​live [last accessed 11 June 2013]. 55  Jerold J. Savory, ‘Politics and the Playing Field: Sports and Statesmen in Punch: 1880s to World War I’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 21, no. 1 (Spring 1988), 23–​31. 56  Robert Baden-​Powell, Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship (1908; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), esp. 223.

282    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture any hope for valiant gamesmanship expressed at the war’s outset would, of course, give way all too soon to a sense that a generation had been betrayed, or, ultimately, played. The poetry of the Great War is, of course, known for its manifold expressions of this matter. Wilfred Owen’s wry and prophetic ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ (1917) trenchantly suggested that the lies told to a nation were at odds with fair play.57 By evoking a sense of ironic wonder, Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘They’ (1917) stripped any remaining veneer from hopes of warlike glory, as it recounted the homecoming parade of crippled and blinded boys with a mimicked, if sarcastic, childlike wonder.58 Finally, John Galsworthy’s painfully tragic story, ‘Told by the Schoolmaster’ (1926), offers a trenchant refusal of any promise of fair play as held out by the narrator of Tom Brown’s School Days. Here, an underage soldier is spurred by patriotic fervour and schoolboy dreams to lie about his age so that he might pursue the glories of war. The harshness of battle and the pregnancy of his wife lead him to desertion, and ultimately to execution.59 In the First World War, ultimately, fighting did not enable the sporting spirit. Perhaps fittingly, though, the sporting spirit provided a critique, or at least a counterpoint, to war itself. Take, for instance, the mythologized, and perhaps apocryphal Christmas Truce Soccer Match of 1914. Allegedly condoned by officers and played on the Western Front, it suggested that the possibilities for fair play existed, in truth, not in battle, but outside its confines. And it provided a poignant reminder of the follies of war. One man to garner first-​hand experience in both the Anglo-​Boer War and the First World War was Winston Churchill, who would go on to become a protagonist of Britain’s twentieth century as he served as prime minister from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. As someone born in 1874, he spent his first quarter-​century growing up at the end of Victoria’s reign. He served as a war correspondent in South Africa and later went on to spend time in the trenches in the First World War. It is therefore provocative and productive to consider Churchill in relationship to the Victorian age, perhaps, indeed, as the last Victorian. Known for his radio addresses, his Second World War speeches, and his defence of a waning empire, Churchill rarely appears in this light. But his famed ‘Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat Speech’, offered to parliament when he became prime minister at the outset of the Second World War, recast the muscular Christianity of a bygone era for a mass audience. And, as a Cold Warrior, Churchill made the claim that democracy was, in essence, the equivalent of ‘fair play’.60 Offered a century after the games ethic coalesced, such remarks attest to the long-​standing resonance of ‘fair play’ and the long shadow of the Victorian age. 57  Wilfred Owen, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry, EBSCOhost, http://​​login?url=http://​​login.aspx?dire ct=true&db=jgh&AN=00000008276&site=ehost-​live [last accessed 11 June 2013]. 58  Siegfried Sassoon, ‘They’, Columbia Granger’s World of Poetry, EBSCOhost, http://​ezproxy.lib.​login?url=http://​​login.aspx?direct=true&db =jgh&AN=00000008851&site=ehost-​live [last accessed 11 June 2013]. 59  Barbara Korte, The Penguin Book of First World War Stories (London: Penguin, 2007). 60  Winston Churchill, Never Give In! The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches (New York: Random House, 2007).

Warfare and Gamesmanship in the Time of Victoria    283

Select Bibliography Anderson, Nancy Fix, The Sporting Life:  Victorian Sports and Games (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger, 2010). Bailey, Peter, ‘Entertainmentality! Modernising Pleasure in a Leisure Industry’, in Simon Gunn and James Vernon (eds), The Peculiarities of Modernity in Imperial Britain (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011). Deane, Bradley, ‘Imperial Piracy and the Play Ethic’, Victorian Studies, 53, no. 4 (2011), 689–​7 14. Favret, Mary A., War at a Distance:  Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009). Hall, Catherine, and Sonya Rose (eds), At Home with the Empire: Metropolitan Culture and the Imperial World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Huizinga, Johann, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (1938; Boston: Beacon Press: 1955). Kaiser, Matthew, The World in Play: Portraits of a Victorian Concept (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011). Kucich, John, Imperial Masochism:  British Fiction, Fantasy and Social Class (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). McLoughlin, Kate, The Cambridge Companion to War Writing (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2009). Mangan, J. A., The Games Ethic and the Spirit of Imperialism: Aspects of the Diffusion of an Ideal (1986; London: Routledge, 1998). Markovits, Stephanie, The Crimean War in the British Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009). Weaver, William N., ‘“A School-​Boy’s Story”:  Writing the Victorian Schoolboy Subject’, Victorian Studies, 46, no. 3 (Spring 2004), 455–​487.

Chapter 15

B ri tish Wome n Wa nt e d Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement Melissa Free

This essay brings together three areas that until fairly recently had received scant attention from scholars of the British Empire: female emigration, ‘white settler colonies’, and emigration literature.1 While emigration itself has long engaged imperial historians, female emigration only began to capture their interest in the late 1970s. While settler colonies have long been studied in a nationalist context (as part of, say, Canadian history or South African literature), the empire’s own ‘privileging of India’ persisted even in the vast majority of the new historicism and burgeoning new imperial history of the late twentieth century.2 While travel literature and the imperial adventure novel, ‘wild adventure[s]‌’ that Olive Schreiner long ago noted appealed most to the ‘stay-​at-​homes’, have been the subject of numerous works since cultural studies brought the ‘lower brow’ into scholarly purview, emigration fiction, except when read in the context of nation-​ building, was also neglected until the present century.3 Examining fictions of white female settlement in southern Africa, I  attend to the truly ‘kinetic’ nature of my subjects: authors, heroines, and texts that reflect the ‘translocal’ nature of empire. Theorized by Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton in Moving Subjects, the translocal as it is applied to empire suggests not only economic, political,


By emigration literature, I mean writing about immigration and settlement. Saul Dubow, ‘How British Was the British World? The Case of South Africa’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 37, no. 1 (2009), 1–​27, at 3. Important exceptions include Dane Kennedy, Islands of White: Settler Society and Culture in Kenya and Southern Rhodesia, 1890–​1939 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1987); Patrick Brantlinger, Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830–​1914 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988); and Daiva Stasiulis and Nira Yuval-​David (eds), Unsettling Settler Societies: Articulations of Gender, Race, Ethnicity and Class (London: Sage, 1995). 3  Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm (London: Penguin, 1995), 29; further page references will be given in parentheses in the text and notes preceded by SAF. Gertrude Page, Where the Strange Roads Go Down (London: Hurst, [n.d.]), 53; further page references will be given in parentheses in the text and notes preceded by SR. 2 

Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement    285 and cultural movement, but also identities, subjectivities, and loyalties formed, transformed, and flowing across the ‘webs of empire’.4 As it is applied to the texts I examine, the translocal provides a framework for reading beyond the bounds of national histories, in which settler colonies are viewed as either elsewhere Englands or emergent nations; it considers instead the interdependence of national–​imperial cultural formations. Robert Dixon, Richard Phillips, Janet C. Myers, and several of the contributors to Tamara Wagner’s Victorian Settler Narratives have taken a similar approach, but where they loosely signal a connection between genre and empire—​generally in an Australian context—​I offer a concrete assessment of that relationship in the context of southern Africa.5 My claim is that Schreiner, H.  Rider Haggard, and Gertrude Page, the former a self-​identified ‘English South African’ and the latter two authorial informants, British authors who spent time in southern Africa and wrote about the region as insiders, bolstered female, even feminist, subjectivity through generic innovation that is an effect of the translocal.6 Employing new fictional forms to solve markedly gendered problems, these authors not only imagine new spaces for British settler women beyond the matrimonial and the maternal; they also anticipate generic developments generally associated with the metropole. This is a case not simply of exchange, but of more complex movement: by reworking metropolitan sociopolitical problems in an ostensibly colonial context, which entails the introduction of additional concerns, genres develop, only to be transformed over time and across the empire. What follows is an overview of emigration to the settler colonies during the period, with a special emphasis on white women and southern Africa; a brief discussion of emigration literature and recent scholarship on the subject; and, finally, an explanation of the ways in which the generic innovations of Schreiner, Haggard, and Page reflect the translocal concerns, investments, and identities of their authors. 4  Tony Ballantyne and Antoinette Burton, ‘Introduction: The Politics of Intimacy in an Age of Empire’, in Ballantyne and Burton (eds), Moving Subjects: Gender, Mobility, and Intimacy in an Age of Global Empire (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 1–​28, at 3, 10; Tony Ballantyne, ‘Race and the Webs of Empire: Aryanism from India to the Pacific’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 2, no. 3 (2001), https://​​login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/​journals/​journal_​of_​colonialism_​ and_​colonial_​history/​v002/​2.3ballantyne.html [last accessed 14 December 2015]; see also John Darwin, The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-​System, 1830–​1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. vi, 6. I use the term southern Africa because it includes land claimed by the British South Africa Company in 1890 (later Rhodesia), which was part of what the British considered South Africa until the unification of its other South African colonies in 1910. I employ South African rather than southern African as a possessive for the British colonies in the region, inclusive of Rhodesia, except when otherwise indicated. 5  Robert Dixon, Writing the Colonial Adventure: Race, Gender and Nation in Anglo-​Australian Popular Fiction, 1875–​1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Richard Phillips, Mapping Men and Empire: A Geography of Adventure (London: Routledge, 1996); Janet C. Myers, Antipodal England: Emigration and Portable Domesticity in the Victorian Imagination (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2009); Tamara S. Wagner (ed.), Victorian Settler Narratives: Emigrants, Cosmopolitans and Returnees in Nineteenth-​Century Literature (Gender and Genre 5; London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011). 6  Olive Schreiner, The South African Question by an English South African (Chicago: Sergel, 1899).

286    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture

British Emigration, 1815–​1914: Who, Where, When, Why, and How Between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the beginning of the First World War, somewhere between 16 and 23 million people emigrated from Britain.7 Though they came from a variety of backgrounds and went to destinations across the globe, most were young adults, urban, working class, and male.8 The majority went unassisted (independent of any organization or government support), as free subjects (rather than as convicts), and did not return.9 By far the most popular destination was the United States, followed by Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and southern Africa.10 Only in the decade after the 1815 Treaty of Paris, compelled by economic depression, a surging population, and social unrest, did the imperial government directly finance emigration on a large scale—​to southern Africa, Canada, and Australia.11 For the remainder of the period its unofficial policy was ‘to avoid positive intervention, while broadly sanctioning Imperial colonization and discouraging emigration to the United States’, the erstwhile colony and expanding rival that shared a border with Canada.12 Colonial emigrants, for the most 7  Given the indeterminacy of records, assessments of the exact figures vary. See Marjory Harper, ‘British Migration and the Peopling of the Empire’, in Andrew Porter (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, iii. The Nineteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 75–​87, at 75; Stephen Constantine, ‘Empire Migration and Social Reform 1880–​1950’, in Colin G. Pooley and Ian D. Whyte (eds), Migrants, Emigrants and Immigrants: A Social History of Migration (London: Routledge, 1991), 62–​ 83, at 64; Stephen Constantine, ‘Introduction: Empire Migration and Imperial Harmony’, in Constantine (ed.), Emigrants and Empire: British Settlement in the Dominions Between the Wars (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990), 1–​21, at 1; and W. A. Carrothers, Emigration from the British Isles (London: Cass, 1966), 305–​306. 8  Colin G. Pooley and Jean Turnbull, Migration and Mobility in Britain since the Eighteenth Century (London: University College London Press, 1998), 277; Carrothers, Emigration, 253; A. James Hammerton, Emigrant Gentlewomen: Genteel Poverty and Female Emigration, 1830–​1914 (London: Croom Helm, 1979), 177; Diana C. Archibald, ‘Angel in the Bush: Exporting Domesticity through Female Emigration’, in Rita S. Krandis (ed.), Imperial Objects: Essays on Victorian Women’s Emigration and the Unauthorized Imperial Experience (New York: Twayne-​Simon and Schuster Macmillan, 1998), 228–​247, at 229; Susan Jackel (ed.), A Flannel Shirt and Liberty: British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West, 1880–​1914 (Vancouver and London: University of British Columbia Press, 1982), p. xv. 9  Archibald, ‘Angel’, 242. 10 Darwin, Empire, 4. 11  Harper, ‘British Migration’, 79; Keith Williams, ‘“A way out of our troubles”: The Politics of Empire Settlement, 1900–​1922’, in Constantine (ed.), Emigrants and Empire, 22–​44, at 22. 12  Harper, ‘British Migration’, 77. There were some exceptions: ‘The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 […] allowed Boards of Guardians to assist the emigration of those in need’ and ‘the Local Government Board revived the use of the emigration clause of the Poor Law between 1880 and 1913, mainly to send children to Canada. The Home Office likewise dispatched some […] schoolchildren abroad initially under the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Act of 1891 and later the Children’s Act of 1908. In addition, the Unemployed Workmen’s Act of 1905 allowed for the funding of assisted emigration’ (Constantine, ‘Introduction’, 2, 3). The government was also involved in the transport of indentured labourers across various part of empire, from India to southern Africa, for example.

Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement    287 part, funded their own journeys, though a variety of forms of assistance, including low-​ interest loans, subsidies, free passages, and land, were available from charitable societies, colonial governments, trade unions, and commercial companies, such as shipping lines. Selection or nomination was required of those who received assistance: the former meant approval by an emigration society or colonial representative, who checked for such qualifications as ‘good character’ and robust health, and the latter, the vouching of a colonial friend or relative, who would also be expected to cover a portion of their fare.13 Critical push factors in British emigration during the period included population growth and economic downturns, following 1815, as well as in the 1840s, 1870s, and 1880s; ‘industrialization and […] rural–​urban shift’, which led to unemployment and overcrowding; ‘unjust land laws and changes in land tenure’, particularly in the Scottish Highlands; and famine, most notably in Ireland.14 Pull factors included the prospect of land, space, elevated economic and social status, relaxed social customs, a better climate, and improved health. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, imperialist rhetoric—​articulated in particular by colonial governments, the imperial government, the press, and emigration societies—​increasingly stressed the importance of strengthening the bonds of empire’s component parts, and thus the whole, through emigration. By the end of the century even ‘eugenic arguments’ had come into play.15 The Second Anglo-​B oer War (1899–​1902), in which the Boers and the British fought over republics that the former had founded, proved far more costly, deadly, and lengthy than the British had anticipated. Emphatically giving the lie to the empire’s unassailability, this inconvenient truth compelled colonials, emigrationists, and politicians alike to encourage not only ‘swamp[ing] the Boers’ in South Africa, but also ‘preserv[ing] Greater Britain for the Anglo-​Saxon stock’ in the Antipodes.16 The relative popularity of emigrant destinations was steady but not without flux across this hundred-​year period, with changes in the appeal of one affecting changes in the appeal of others. Mineral discoveries, economic growth and decline, drought, and the waxing and waning of colonial government-​sponsored emigration were some of the key interrelated factors shaping trends in migration. The discovery of gold in Australia and the United States in the 1840s and 1850s, New Zealand in the 1860s, Canada in the 1860s and 1890s, and southern Africa in the 1880s caused surges in emigration to these respective destinations. The 1880s also saw a reduction in government-​sponsored emigration to New Zealand, as well as economic depression in Australia and the United States, which in turn compelled economic decline in Canada. The net effect was that 13 

Jan Gothard, Blue China: Single Female Migration to Colonial Australia (Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 2001), 14. 14  The quotation is from Helen R. Woolcock, Rights of Passage: Emigration to Australia in the Nineteenth Century (London: Tavistock, 1986), 25; Harper, ‘British Migration’, 76, 80–​81. 15  Harper, ‘British Migration’, 81. 16  ‘The Need of Women Colonists in South Africa’, letter, Saturday Review (20 September 1902), 364–​ 365, at 364; Oswald P. Law and W. T. Gill, ‘A White Australia: What It Means’, Nineteenth Century and After, 55, no. 323 (1904), 146–​154, at 154.

288    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture ‘South Africa received a considerably greater number of British emigrants than either Canada or Australia’ in that decade.17 Emigration also occurred between colonies. For instance, some of the men and women who came to South Africa from the dominions during the Second Anglo-​Boer War, respectively to fight and to teach English to Boer children in concentration camps, took advantage of emigration schemes to settle permanently.18 Emigration, in other words, was a translocal affair affected not only by push factors from one’s site of departure and pull factors to one’s chosen (but not necessarily final) destination, but also by push factors in other locations that made pull factors comparatively stronger. A web of movement, the empire was itself situated in an increasingly globalized space of exchange. From the start, colonization had been a particularly gendered affair:  (white) men explored, set up trading stations, and established military outposts, although, given Britain’s strong interest in the proliferation of its own ‘race’, British women were necessary for settlement. In 1849 emigrationist Edward Gibbon Wakefield remarked, a ‘colony that is not attractive to women, is an unattractive colony’.19 Two years later, the census revealed that there were 0.5 million more women than men in Britain, ‘a statistical surplus’ of ‘redundant’—​shorthand for unmarried—​women for which society had little use.20 Given the limited roles and occupations available to women, particularly in the middle classes, redundancy was also an economic problem, not least for the women themselves. The solution that W. R. Greg famously proposed in an 1862 National Review article was female emigration to the colonies. Although a number of emigration societies specifically for women emerged between the middle of the century and the First World War, the bulk of Britain’s colonial-​bound emigrants continued to be male. Thus, as the empire expanded, so, too, did the ratio of both colonial men to women and metropolitan women to men. By 1911 there were 1.3 million more women than men in Britain and 0.75 million more white men than white women in the self-​governing dominions, a


Charlotte Macdonald, A Woman of Good Character: Single Women as Immigrant Settlers in Nineteenth-​Century New Zealand (Wellington: Williams, 1990), 4; the quotation is from Carrothers, Emigration, 238. 18  Great Britain, Further Correspondence Relating to Affairs in South Africa (In continuation of [Cd. 903], January, 1901) (Cd. 1163) (London: HMSO, 1902); Eliza Reidi, ‘Teaching Empire: British and Dominions Women Teachers in the South African War Concentration Camps’, English Historical Review, 120, no. 489 (2005), 1316–​1347, at 1342. 19  Qtd. in Hammerton, Emigrant Gentlewomen, 45. 20  Nan H. Dreher, ‘Redundancy and Emigration: The “Woman Question” in Mid-​Victorian Britain’, Victorian Periodicals Review, 26, no. 1 (1993), 3–​7, at 3; W. R. Greg, ‘Why Are Women Redundant?’ National Review, 14, no. 28 (1862), 434–​460. The census further revealed that two-​thirds of Britain’s female population between the ages of 20 and 24, one-​third between 24 and 35, and more than two-​fifths between 24 and 40 were unmarried (Mary Poovey, Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid-​Victorian England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 4). Though ‘redundancy’ was primarily equated with single women in Britain after mid-​century, it had earlier been used by the House of Commons Select Committee on Emigration in 1826 to describe the unemployed (Oliver MacDonagh, Emigration in the Victorian Age: Debates on the Issue from 19th Century Critical Journals (Westmead, England: Gregg, 1973), p. v).

Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement    289 cause of concern for an empire invested in racial demarcation.21 By this time, there were also more occupational opportunities available for women—​since the late nineteenth century, hospitals, shops, and offices had begun hiring women.22 Nonetheless, single women not only remained, in the eyes of most, a social problem; with the rise of the New Woman and the suffragette, they were increasingly a source of anxiety. Female emigrationists faced an intensified version of the same concerns all emigrationists did:  generating metropolitan support, meeting the expectations of colonial employers and governments, and attracting emigrants. Metropolitans accused emigrationists of ‘stripping Britain of the brain and sinew of its population’, and, when it came to working-​class women, of ‘servant-​stealing’.23 Colonials accused them of sending unqualified, unprepared, even dissolute emigrants. They complained of working-​class men and women who lacked specialized skills and middle-​class women who lacked the will to undertake hard work. The question of character, long an issue of importance to colonials, was raised more often and more aggressively when it came to single female emigrants, especially those who were working class.24 And while the widespread prophylactic use of quinine starting in the 1850s boosted migration, making emigration increasingly ‘respectable’, the character of single female emigrants remained a subject of scrutiny.25 In order to attract what they considered the ‘right sort of woman’, female emigration societies stressed colonial opportunities not only for employment, but also for ‘marriage, home-​building, self-​fulfillment, [and] moral guardianship, [as well as] imperial and racial duty’.26 These emphases varied over time and from organization to organization. Some societies focused on middle-​class women, others on the working classes, some on supplying governesses, others on servants, some on southern Africa, others on the Antipodes, and so on. The possibility of marriage, never a selling point in the few feminist societies that existed, was touted more frequently at the turn of the century, as was the female civilizing mission, which entailed carrying British culture, upholding the morality of male colonials, and bearing their children.27 In addition to drumming up support in the metropole, developing networks in the colonies, and soliciting (and selecting) emigrants, female emigrationists established training colleges in Britain, set 21 

Jean Jacques Van-​Helten and Keith Williams, ‘“The Crying Need of South Africa”: The Emigration of Single British Women to the Transvaal, 1901–​10’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 10, no. 1 (1983), 17–​38, at 21. 22 Hammerton, Emigrant Gentlewomen, 152. 23  Harper, ‘British Migration’, 75; Julia Bush, Edwardian Ladies and Imperial Power (Women, Power and Politics; London: Leicester University Press, 2000), 152; cf. New Horizons: A Hundred Years of Women’s Migration (London: HMSO, 1963), 112. 24 Macdonald, Woman, 16. 25  Margaret Strobel, European Women and the Second British Empire (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1991), 25. 26  Julia Bush employs this phrase in the title of an article she wrote on the subject, but it should be noted that it appeared regularly in nineteenth-​and early twentieth-​century emigrationist literature (‘“The Right Sort of Woman”: Female Emigrators and Emigration to the British Empire, 1890–​1910’, Women’s History Review, 3, no. 3 (1994), 385–​409); Bush, Edwardian Ladies, 147. 27 Hammerton, Emigrant Gentlewomen, 142, 162, 163; cf. Bush, Edwardian Ladies, 159.

290    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture up hostels in Britain and the colonies, attempted to insulate single women from men aboard ship (hiring matrons as supervisors, working with the imperial government and shipping companies to segregate the cabins of single men and women), and arranged for the colonial reception of emigrants.28 The first major influx of British emigrants to southern Africa, a site of European interest since the 1600s, though only a British colony since 1806, took place in 1820, with the arrival of 4,000 men, women, and children (another 1,000 would follow in the next two years).29 This government-​sponsored scheme was only moderately successful. Many of the new colonists, negotiating with the large indigenous and Boer populations, attempting to farm with insufficient resources and experience, and besieged in the early years with drought, felt that the government had neither adequately informed them about nor prepared them for the hardships of settlement.30 Though there was some independent immigration in the next several decades, South Africa, as one 1888 guidebook put it, largely ‘dropped out of the emigrant’s ken’ until the discovery of vast quantities of diamonds in the 1860s and gold in the 1880s.31 From then until the outbreak of the Second Anglo-​Boer War, they arrived in droves from across the empire (many came from other sites as well). After the war, the imperial government, colonial governments, emigration societies, and South African luminaries like Cecil Rhodes encouraged soldiers to stay and women to immigrate, at first to strengthen their numbers against the Boers and then, reconciliation appearing the only ‘politically viable’ option, with the Boers against the indigenous.32 Thousands settled in South Africa between 1902 and 1904, but this period of mass migration and ‘artificial prosperity’ was followed by a six-​year depression, during which, although emigration societies continued to have some success, ‘departures from South Africa exceeded arrivals’.33 With the 1910 Unification of South Africa—​bringing together the four colonies of Natal, the Orange River, the Transvaal, and the Cape—​there was again a rise in immigration, which quickly tapered off with the start of the First World War. 28 

See Hammerton, Emigrant Gentlewomen; Gothard, Blue China; and Jackel (ed.), Flannel Shirt. The Portuguese, Dutch, and British all landed ships on the Cape of Good Hope in the 1600s. And though in 1620 the British even planted a flag on the shore of this ‘half-​way house to India’, it only became a European colony in 1652, when the Dutch East India Company took formal possession for Holland (Dorothea Fairbridge, A History of South Africa (London: Oxford University Press, 1918), 29). The Dutch then ceded it to the British in 1795, took it back in 1802, and turned it over once again in 1806. The thousands of Dutch-​, German-​, and French Huguenot-​descended settlers who had made the Cape their home, as well as many thousands more indigenous, thus became British subjects. 30  See ‘Memorial to Lord Bathurst From a Number of British Settlers, 10th March, 1823’, Cape Illustrated Magazine, 6, no. 1 (September 1895), 44–​46. 31  Castle Line Handbook and Emigrant’s Guide to South Africa (London: Curie, 1888), 30. 32  Dubow, ‘How British’, 14. On South African immigration in this period, see, in particular, Van-​ Helten and Williams, ‘“Crying Need”’; Cecillie Swaisland, Servants and Gentlewomen to the Golden Land: The Emigration of Single Women from Britain to Southern Africa, 1820–​1939 (Oxford: Berg and University of Natal Press, 1993); and Brian L. Blakely, ‘Women and Imperialism: The Colonial Office and Female Emigration to South Africa, 1901–​1910’, Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, 13, no. 2 (1981), 131–​149. 33 Carrothers, Emigration, 250. 29 

Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement    291

Emigration Literature The discursive encouragement of immigration to southern Africa, as with other sites of settlement, took many forms, amongst them emigration guides, personal narratives, emigration society publications, journalism, and fiction. Of course, not all emigration literature is emigrationist, or ‘booster literature’. And of course, a settler novel, whether emigrationist or not, is quite a different genre than, say, the emigration society brochure. What the forms listed above have in common is that they reflect the translocality of settlement. And inasmuch as emigration literature often manifests ‘a paradise complex’, the best of it explores sociopolitical shifts in ways that engender generic innovation.34 Thus, the New Woman novel, the female colonial romance, and the empire romance, all of which were concerned with the place of women, emerged in an imperial South African context. While booster literature took off after 1815,35 settlement fiction did not become popular until much later in the century. In 1871, G. A. Henty, a well-​travelled metropolitan (but never a settler) and enormously popular writer of boys’ fiction, published the first of his many stories focused on one or more boy settlers. In 1883, with the hugely successful release of The Story of an African Farm, Schreiner became the first colonial literary celebrity. In 1887, Haggard published his only South African realist novel, Jess, which was for nearly thirty years thereafter among the most widely read of all his works.36 In the 1890s, the prolific Bessie Marchant began to publish stories of girls’ settlement. And by the time that Seven Little Australians, by Australian novelist Ethel Turner, was published in 1894, ‘books were appearing in significant numbers that were actually set entirely in the colonies, written by authors […] who were themselves colonials’.37 By the end of the century, fictions of settlement, written by colonial authors like Schreiner, authorial informants like Haggard, and metropolitans like Marchant, had become an important part of the literary landscape, both juvenile and adult. Scholars have identified a number of tropes that commonly appear in these narratives (with greater frequency and intensity the more emigrationist the story) and in 34  The quotations are from James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-​World, 1783–​1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 153. 35 Belich, Replenishing the Earth. 36  Evidence of Jess’s popularity includes but is not limited to the fact that the novel went through three editions in its first year of publication; earned Haggard a bonus from his publishers (D. S. Higgins, Rider Haggard: A Biography (New York: Stein, 1981), 117); had reached at least its twenty-​seventh edition by 1912, not counting, in Haggard’s own words, ‘the countless numbers in cheap form’ (H. Rider Haggard, The Days of My Life: An Autobiography, vol. 1, ed. C. J. Longman (London: Longmans, 1926), 266); and sold more than 64,000 copies between 1911 and 1916 (Morton Cohen, Rider Haggard: His Life and Works (London: Hutchinson, 1960), 233). Over sixty years after it was published, ‘it still ha[d]‌a steady sale in cheap editions’ (Lilias Rider Haggard, The Cloak that I Left: A Biography of the Author Henry Rider Haggard (London: Hodder, 1951), 128). 37  Judith Rowbotham, Good Girls Make Good Wives: Guidance for Girls in Victorian Fiction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 215.

292    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture emigration literature more broadly. These include the domesticating and morally elevating influence of women; the open spaces, natural beauty, and healthy outdoor life of the colonies; ‘the joys of horse-​riding’; ‘more equal marriages’; ‘social equality and advancement’; ‘increased movement and freedom’; the need for adaptability and hard work; early hardships; the rewards of perseverance; and the relative absence of the indigenous.38 In reading Antipodean, Canadian, and South African emigration literature, I have identified several additional tropes: the magic of the landscape, the longing of the departed to return, and the wish of girls and women to have been born male. I have also identified three tropes particular to South African narratives of female settlers, which appear in different combinations in the various texts I will discuss: the heroine as symbol of South Africa, the heroine’s awakening into womanhood, and significant relationships between women. Aside from their focus on South African female settlers, the common thread that binds the narratives I  examine is the attempt to resolve a translocal crisis through generic innovation. Schreiner, Haggard, and Page do more than merely explore new terrain; they map it through genre, tracking and tackling sociopolitical problems through the expansion of literary form. My reading of their work is indebted to related scholarship on colony and gender; colony and genre; and, in a handful of instances, on colony, gender, and genre. Unlike Coral Lansbury, Diana Archibald, LeeAnne Richardson, Terri Doughty, and Megan Norcia, the first two of whom remain rooted in the canon and all of whom primarily focus on metropolitan-​identified authors, I  examine authorial informants with more complex ideological and geographic identities. Unlike Dixon, Myers, Lansbury, and Kristine Moffat, I  focus not on the Antipodes, but on southern Africa, where the substantial presence of a non-​British European-​descended population complicated British colonization.39 Unlike Phillips, whose unique geographic-​literary exploration of the relationship between adventure fiction, domestic fiction, and gender focuses on boys and men, I am concerned with girls and women. Building on and contributing to this emerging body of work, I offer translocal readings of South African settlement fictions that elucidate their cultural-​ imperial relevance, principally in regard to the place of women and the development of literature.

38 Bush, Edwardian Ladies, 161, 160; Williams, ‘“A way out”’, 27; Myers, Antipodal England, 121. 39 

Coral Lansbury, Arcady in Australia: The Evocation of Australia in Nineteenth-​Century English Literature (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1970); Diana C. Archibald, Domesticity, Imperialism, and Emigration in The Victorian Novel (Columbia, MI: University of Missouri Press, 2002); LeeAnne M. Richardson, New Woman and Colonial Adventure Fiction in Victorian Britain: Gender, Genre, and Empire (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2006); Terri Doughty, ‘Domestic Goddesses on the Frontier; or, Tempting the Mothers of Empire with Adventure’, in Wagner (ed.), Victorian Settler Narratives, 193–​205; Megan A. Norcia, ‘Angel of the Island: L. T. Meade’s New Girl as the Heir of a Nation-​ Making Robinson Crusoe’, The Lion and the Unicorn, 28, no. 3 (2004), 345–​362; Kristine Moffat, ‘Agents of Empire and Feminist Rebels: Settlement and Gender in Isabella Aylmer’s Distant Homes and Ellen Ellis’s Everything Is Possible To Will’, in Wagner (ed.), Victorian Settler Narratives, 41–​53.

Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement    293

Olive Schreiner and the New Woman Novel The Story of an African Farm is a logical place to start my analysis but only for reasons of chronology, since both author and text are the odd ones out. Unlike authorial informants Haggard and Page, Schreiner, the daughter of emigrants (German father, British mother), was herself South African-​born. Though she would later spend years in Britain and Europe, she wrote African Farm (as a teenage governess) before she had set foot abroad. Despite the pride she took in her British South African identity, Schreiner, unlike Haggard and Page, was not an advocate of colonial emigration. And while African Farm tells the story of settler life, it differs from the others novels I examine in suggesting that the land never wholly yields, either materially or metaphorically, to the hands of British interlopers.40 Lyndall, then, may represent the colony that seems never, in Schreiner’s narrative, to flourish, but she is neither its saviour, unlike Haggard’s female settlers, nor, unlike Page’s, its strength. Correlatively, while the other novels under discussion suggest that southern Africa is a place of enhanced opportunity for British women, African Farm depicts British South African womanhood as a position of weakness, relative to white men, if also one of power, relative to children and non-​whites. The prototypical New Woman novel, ‘the forerunner of all the novels of the Modern Woman’ (as W. T. Stead famously deemed Schreiner’s novel in 1894), was a textual attempt to confront the trauma of growing into this ambivalent position. Challenging the fantasy of colonial freedom through the depiction of thwarted promise, the New Woman novel thus emerged not in the metropole but in a distant colony.41 The novel announces the New Woman’s birth and emergent self-​consciousness through the figure of Lyndall, who conceives of herself and her desires in political terms and aspires to become, though is unable finally to operate as, a self-​sustaining agent outside the home. As a poor, orphaned, rural, largely uneducated child, she admires Napoleon, who ‘once […] was only a little child, then he was a lieutenant, then he was a general, then he was an emperor’ (SAF, 47). ‘We will not be children always’, she tells Waldo, the orphaned child of German emigrants, ‘we shall have the power too, some day’ (SAF, 127). Four years at boarding school fail to empower Lyndall in the ways she had hoped, though they do teach her that gender is the principal cause of her disempowerment. ‘If Napoleon had been born a woman’, she remarks after her return, ‘he would 40 

See Jed Esty, Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Stephen Gray, Southern African Literature: An Introduction (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1979). 41  W. T. Stead, ‘The Novel of the Modern Woman’, Review of Reviews, 10 (1894), 64–​74, at 64. Contemporary critics routinely identify African Farm as the first New Woman novel and Schreiner as ‘the “mother” of the New Woman fiction’ (Sally Ledger, ‘The New Woman and Feminist Fictions’, in Gail Marshall (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Fin de Siècle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 153–​168, at 163).

294    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture have risen, but the world would not have heard of him as it hears of him now’, for he could only have ‘rule[d]‌in the dark, covertly, and by stealth, through […] men’ (SAF, 192). Lyndall channels her disappointment into a preoccupation with ‘the position of women […]; it is the only thing about which I think much or feel much’ (SAF, 187). Her central arguments, which read like a roster of those articulated by the metropolitan New Woman in the following decade, are: female education ‘cultivate[s]’ ‘imbecility and weakness’; female intelligence is undervalued and underutilized; women, employed only as ‘ill-​paid drudges’, lack the opportunity to do interesting work; women are judged by their appearance, but even beauty is a curse; marriage is for women a kind of slavery, though ‘old maidenhood[,] […] a name that in itself signifies defeat’, has scant advantages; and, denied the freedom of boys and men, women have few real choices in life (SAF, 185, 190, 194). ‘Shape[d]’, ‘compressed’, and ‘fitted’ for their domestic duties from childhood, ‘they are nicely adapted machines for experimenting on the question, “Into how little space can a human soul be crushed?”’ (SAF, 189, 185). Cogent, eloquent, and prescient though Lyndall’s expatiations are, they are not supported by a plan of action to implement change. She recognizes that society not ability hampers the female sex, predicts that society will eventually change, and aches to live in ‘the future’, when ‘perhaps, to be born a woman will not be to be born branded’, but she does nothing to bring that future about (SAF, 188). If she desires a ‘time […] when each woman’s life is filled with earnest, independent labour’, why, Waldo reasonably asks, ‘do you not try to bring that time? […] When you speak, I believe all you say; other people would listen to you also’ (SAF, 195). Notwithstanding this encouragement, Lyndall does not lead, organize, or even participate in a group. She forms bonds with no women, white or of colour, and fails utterly to make any connection between gendered and racial subjugation. Deeply entitled and filled with contradictory impulses, Lyndall does little for herself and less for others. She does not work as hard as Em. She does not try to make the most of her education. She does not hesitate to appropriate her cousin’s fiancé. She does not consider joining Waldo in search of employment beyond the farm. She uses both Gregory and RR, who surely has at least some right to the child she prevents him from seeing. Sustained by RR’s money and nursed by Gregory’s hands, Lyndall, often imperious and most comfortable in the role of ‘queen’, does not offer significant assistance to anyone.42 She desires ‘the knowledge and power of the male’, but also ‘yearn[s]‌for the signifiers of femininity’43—​‘real diamonds’, for instance, ‘pure, white silk, and little rosebuds’ (SAF, 45, 46). She does not want to marry—​to be ‘h[e]ld […] fast’, ‘to [be] master[ed]’—​but 42 

SAF, 181. Preparing to run off with RR, Lyndall leaves the sum of her fortune behind for her cousin. ‘Fifty pounds for a lover!’ Lyndall remarks to herself of her own dubious generosity. ‘A noble reward!’ (SAF, 242). On at least one occasion, Lyndall does return money that RR sends her, but given that she leaves the farm with none of her own and winds up on her own in the Transvaal with ‘heaps of money’, she must have willingly kept at least some he has given her (in addition to benefitting from that which he sends the landlady privately for her care) (SAF, 271). 43  Patricia Murphy, Time is of the Essence: Temporality, Gender, and the New Woman (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2001), 219.

Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement    295 she can conceive of loving so ‘that to lie under the foot of the thing [she] loved would be more heaven than to lie in the breast of another’ (SAF, 236, 238, 232).44 She is attracted to the arts but ‘fail[s] to establish any calling or vocation’. She bears a child out of wedlock, but then, ‘like so many other Victorian heroines, goes into a decline’.45 From one vantage point, Lyndall’s sense of entitlement is an affirmation of the inherent equality of women, the fulcrum of her refusal to compromise; from another, it reflects both her limited perspective, her belief in the inherent superiority of whites in general and the English in particular, and her self-​involvement. Social restrictions, though the primary, are thus not the only cause of her failure to establish a viable path for herself, to grow into the woman she desires to become; her own imperiousness, narrow scope, and self absorption are also contributing factors. So while Lyndall’s failure to thrive legitimates the necessity of feminist rebellion, it also reflects the youthful, privileged, colonial, English female subject’s inability to think beyond herself. One wonders if this inability is only Lyndall’s, or whether it was also Schreiner’s, who, in this earliest work, gives no sign of recognizing that the plight of colonized peoples in any way resonates with that of white women.46 With her limited access to weapons of social warfare—​useful education, female community, and alliances with other groups of the oppressed—​and her chronic self-​ involvement, Lyndall cannot solve the problem that Schreiner confronts:  the lack of opportunity for colonial women. She awakes not into a satisfying awareness of colonial womanhood, but rather into the realization that adulthood will not, after all, improve her lot. Though Lyndall is a far cry from the ‘female ideal’ of the domestic novel, her transformation from theorizing to acting subject, from observer to agent, is a failure.47 She dies, not a stronger version of, but rather ‘a frail of shadow of herself ’.48 Though 44 

The eponymous heroine of Schreiner’s novel Undine (begun in 1873, published posthumously in 1928) similarly claims, ‘I don’t want to be loved; I only want to love something’ ((New York: Harper, 1928), 133). Schreiner expressed similar sentiments in a personal letter: ‘No one will ever absorb me and make me lose myself utterly, and unless someone did I should never marry’ (letter to Erilda Cawood, 24 April 1878, qtd. in Olive Schreiner, Olive Schreiner Letters, vol. 1: 1871–​1899, ed. Richard Rive (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 22). 45  Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-​Century Women Writers (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1985), 26; Laurence Lerner, ‘Olive Schreiner and the Feminists’, in Malvern van Wyk Smith and Don Maclennan (eds), Olive Schreiner and After: Essays on Southern African Literature in Honour of Guy Butler (Cape Town: Philip, 1983), 67–​79, at 74. 46  Later in life, Schreiner would develop an interest in the plight of Africans. For example, in the early twentieth century, she resigned from the Women’s Enfranchisement League on the basis of its refusal to advocate for the enfranchisement of women of colour (First and Scott, 262). And in her 1908 article, ‘The Native Question’, she expressed her ‘oppos[ition] [to] a Union of South African states because of the colour bar in the proposed constitution’ (in Carol Barash (ed.), An Olive Schreiner Reader: Writings on Women and South Africa (London: Pandora, 1987), 186–​197, at 186). See also Thoughts on South Africa, written primarily between 1890 and 1892 (First and Scott, 197), in which she reflects on her early racism and the change in her ‘feeling towards the native races [as a result of] increased knowledge’ (Olive Schreiner, Thoughts on South Africa (New York: Stokes, 1923), 17). 47  Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction: The Political History of the Novel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 9. 48  Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (eds), Sexchanges, vol. 2, No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 60.

296    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture a feminist critique of sexual and social mores, African Farm is ultimately entrenched in the generic frame of the domestic novel it obliquely critiques. Schreiner may have yearned for the independence that echoed rhetorically throughout (white) South Africa, but faced with the stark reality of adult womanhood, she recognized its contingency, in regard to gender if not (yet) to race.49 Marking an end as much as a beginning, African Farm registers the incipient demise of the domestic novel as well as its long-​standing authority. Like Lyndall, it imagines a different future that it cannot quite reach.

Rider Haggard and the Female Colonial Romance Claiming an expertise predicated on and a British identity enhanced by his experience in southern Africa, Haggard was the quintessential authorial informant. His ‘literary shadow’, as one contemporary reviewer noted, ‘is an African one, acquired by actual travel under the sun of Africa, and it sticks to him’.50 Between 1877 and 1879, Haggard worked in the colonial administration: first as a secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, governor of Natal; later as an assistant to Sir Theophilus Shepstone, special commissioner to the Transvaal; and later still, in his own right, at ‘barely twenty-​one years of age’, as master and registrar of the High Court of the Transvaal, after its 1877 annexation from the Boers. He was not only present when Shepstone annexed the Boer republic; he himself raised the British flag publically there for the first time. It was a story he told many times, initially to his mother, to whom he wrote: ‘It will be some years before people at home realise how great an act [the annexation] has been, an act without parallel’. Planning to settle permanently in southern Africa, Haggard left the colonial service to farm ostriches, married on a visit to England, and returned with his wife to his Natal farm, very near the Transvaal border, in December 1880, to find ‘the Transvaal in open rebellion’.51 Their arrival thus coincided with the start of the First Anglo-​Boer War (1880–​1), which ended just fourteen weeks later with the signing of a treaty in Haggard’s own farmhouse.52 Highly critical of the hasty British surrender, Haggard believed that ‘Downing-​street and the power behind it took [the war] lying down, for I fancy that had the matter been left in the hands of the English colonists there would have been a different tale to tell’. ‘Pain[ed]’ by a ‘betrayal, the bitterness of which no lapse of time ever can solace or even alleviate’, and ‘believing that soon or late the British power was doomed to failure and probably to extinction there’, Haggard returned with his family to England.53 49 

See note 46, above. ‘She’, review of She by Rider Haggard, Saturday Review (8 January 1887), 44. 51 Haggard, Days, 108, 107, 175. 52  Harry How, ‘Illustrated Interviews: No. VII: Mr. H. Rider Haggard’, Strand Magazine (January 1892), 3–​17, at 13. 53  ‘Mr. Rider Haggard on Anglo-​Africa’, Daily Telegraph (24 April 1894), 3; Haggard, Days, 265, 194; Rider Haggard, ‘Boers are Loyal, Says Rider Haggard’, New York Times, 18 October 1914, C4. 50 

Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement    297 Set in the Transvaal between 1880 and 1881, Jess enabled Haggard to confront the trauma that impelled his transformation from colonial subject to authorial informant, from colonial in residence to colonial in exile. Published four years after African Farm (and two years after King Solomon’s Mines had made him famous), it has much in common with Schreiner’s novel. They both tell the story of orphaned relatives and age-​ mates, one submissive, one independent, on a remote South African farm. Both signal a crisis of identity in their authors, a colonial female who anticipates authority but is constrained by social politics and a colonial male who anticipates loyalty but is constrained by imperial governance, respectively. Making an implicit comparison between the weakness of a vacillating imperial policy and the focused determination of the South African frontierswoman, Jess contemns the former while extolling the latter. The novel’s central, impassioned drama—​Frank Muller, a Boer leader, vs the Crofts, an English colonial family—​plays out as a version of the war in miniature. Entwining the personal and the political, Jess asserts the interests of British South Africans, ‘we far away people [who] are only the counters with which they play their game’.54 The British South African that Haggard once was, Jess represents this colonial position, one which after Britain’s surrender Haggard could not endure, either as a British-​identified citizen of an Afrikaner republic, or as a proud British subject humbled by imperial surrender.55 Through Jess’s heroics, Haggard not only enacts a fantasy of recovery; he also redresses his shame—​‘the highest sort of shame, shame for my country’—​by shaming the mother country for its failure of commitment.56 Recuperating farm and family, both ‘deserted’, like the Transvaal, by Britain, Jess is at once that which protects and that which is in need of protection, both the power that Britain failed to supply and the territory to which Britain failed to supply it (J, 226). A late-​century angel of the frontier rather than a mid-​century angel of the house, Jess acts in the service of both family and country, fighting to preserve a colonial domesticity that enables greater freedom for women, even while it demands greater sacrifice. At the ‘outbreak of hostilities’, she finds herself 200 miles from her family’s farm, trapped on the outskirts of a besieged Pretoria, where she ‘begin[s]‌to lose faith in relieving columns that never came. “If we don’t help ourselves”’, she tells John Niel, a recently retired army captain new to the colony, ‘“my opinion is that we may stop here till we are starved out”’ (J, 147, 179). Unlike Niel, who can ‘enroll himself in the corps of mounted volunteers, known as the Pretoria Carbineers’, Jess cannot directly participate in the events taking place around her (J, 156).57 Niel’s contributions, however, like those of all the novel’s 54 

H. Rider Haggard, Jess (New York: McKinlay, 1887), 59; further page references will be given in parentheses in the text and notes preceded by J. 55  In this period, the Boers began to call themselves Afrikaners, meaning African-​born in Afrikaans. 56 Haggard, Days, 201. Haggard described the novel as ‘a living record of our shame in South Africa, written by one by whom it was endured’ (Days, 265). 57  During the Anglo-​Zulu War (1879), Haggard was a lieutenant and adjutant of the Pretoria Horse, then ‘about sixty strong, and for the most part composed of Colonial-​born men of more or less gentle birth’ (H. Rider Haggard, ‘An Incident of African History’, Windsor Magazine (December 1900), para. 22, qtd. in Gerald Monsman, H. Rider Haggard on the Imperial Frontier: The Politics and Literary Contexts of His African Romances (Greensboro, NC: ELT Press, 2006), 38; cf. How, ‘Illustrated Interviews’, 11).

298    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture Englishmen, are negligible. Given that the skirmishes in which he participates, like the major battles taking place further afield, ‘were not, on the whole, creditable to our arms, perhaps the less said about them the better’, opines the narrator (J, 159). On one such excursion, Niel ‘was slightly wounded by a bullet which passed between his saddle and his thigh’, summing up, in effect, Haggard’s estimation of imperial (in)efficacy during the war (J, 162). Nursing a wounded Niel back to health, Jess takes matters into her own hands, bargaining for a pass to travel home. When she finds that her family’s farmhouse has been burnt to the ground, her uncle convicted of treason, and her sister blackmailed by Muller into accepting his proposal of marriage, Jess again takes charge. More steadfast, committed, and capable than the imperial government, Jess steps up because it does not. Playing the roles of judge, warrior, and executioner, she thwarts not only Muller’s personal but his political ambitions as well. Trying him in an imaginary court, Jess ‘arraigned the powerful leader of men before the tribunal of her conscience, and without pity, if without wrath, passed upon him a sentence of extinction. But who was to be the executioner?’ (J, 314). After a failed attempt to enlist a family servant, Jess, ‘a strong woman [with] a will of iron’, does the job herself (J, 300).58 ‘Not shrinking from crime and daring to face death’, as an approving reviewer wrote in 1887, Jess murders Muller for the sake of the family that England forsook.59 Though not directly narrated, her attack on Muller, alone in his tent in the dead of night, is conveyed through ‘the flash of falling steel’, ‘the red knife in [Jess’s] hand’, and an unattributed ‘shriek’—​is it Jess? is it Muller’s?—​that ‘must have awakened every soul within a mile’ (J, 326). The dark of night, the sleeping chamber, the stain of blood, the piercing cry make Jess not a femme fatale but, like the Biblical Jael and the Deuterocanonical Judith, a war hero.60 For if a dead Muller cannot execute the aged Uncle Silas or force Bessie to become his wife, neither can he pursue his political aspirations, which include ‘driv[ing] the Englishmen out of South Africa’ and ruling over a Boer-​governed Transvaal (J, 190). Equipped with tenacity and a knife, Jess solves—​but only symbolically—​the problem that Haggard confronts: Britain’s concession to the Boers. Contrasting courageous female action with an ‘emasculated’—​Haggard’s word—​imperial policy, Jess celebrates the traditionally masculine acts of its heroine (J, 135). Generating a new kind of heroine, one with the strength—​of body, mind, and character—​to rival man and empire alike, the novel reflects Haggard’s belief in the colony’s ability to produce empowered subjects regardless of gender. Ultimately, then, his evocation of female potency, though unconcerned with women’s rights, expands colonial femininity. Merging adventure 58 

By having Jess look first to ‘the Hottentot Jantjé’, the Croft family servant whose parents and uncle Muller murdered in his presence twenty years earlier, to execute the offending man, Haggard not only further justifies his assassination; he also gives readers time to come to terms with the heroine’s surprising new role (J, 37). We thus have the chance to accept Jess as ‘practically […]a murderess’ before accepting her as an actual one (J, 317). 59  ‘Novels of the Week’, review of Jess by Haggard, Athenaeum (19 March 1887), 375. 60  Beheading Holofernes while the two are alone in his tent, Judith saves the Hebrew city of Bethulia from the Assyrians.

Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement    299 and domesticity through the figure of the modern settler heroine, the text breaks with the conventions of the domestic novel, producing feminist effects even in its attempt to shore up colonial domesticity. It thus forecasts his female-​driven adventure novels, Benita: An African Romance (1906) and The Ghost Kings (1908), in which he not only extends the parameters of colonial domesticity but also formulates a new genre: the female colonial romance.61 Where, two decades earlier, Haggard had been troubled by Britain’s hasty surrender in the First Anglo-​Boer War, he was, following the Second Anglo-​Boer War, concerned with maintaining the dominance that victory had brought. In an interview six months before the end of the later war, he suggested that an ‘influx of [British] population would’ be necessary to ‘protect […] the loyals’ and ‘to hold South Africa’. As he told The Times four years later, shortly before the former Boer republics were granted self-​government, he supported ‘land settlement in South Africa on a large scale of Anglo-​Saxon families as opposed to the emigration of single men’.62 Though not specifically encouraging the emigration of single British women, Haggard was explicitly advocating the emigration of British women. At the same time, Haggard was concerned about metropolitan female agency. Britain’s ‘superfluous women’, he claimed, generated unwelcome ‘female competition’ in the workforce. ‘Already in the press, in literature, in society appear tokens of an uprising’, he complained of women’s agitation for change. ‘When at last she has conquered at the polls, and as a political factor occupies the place that her numbers will give her, what then?’63 A response to his unease about both Britain’s position in South Africa and female agency in Britain, the female colonial romance enabled Haggard imaginatively to redirect feminist energy—​from metropole to colony, from self (as he saw it) to service, from suffragism to soil. In these texts, the relation ‘between the domestic reader and imperial space’ is one of attempted mastery not only over colonial territory and autochthonous subjects, as it is in the male imperial romance, but also over British women, who are themselves agents of empire; for while the female colonial romance allows for both


Benita was published in the United States as The Spirit of Bambatse: A Romance. The first American edition (The Spirit of Bambatse: A Romance (The Works of H. Rider Haggard; New York: McKinlay, 1906)) is the one that I am using. Like Benita, The Ghost Kings was published in the US (in some editions) under another title, The Lady of the Heavens. I am using the original (British) edition: The Ghost Kings (London: Cassell, 1908); further page references will be given in parentheses in the text preceded by GK. 62  Frederick A. McKenzie, ‘After the War: Mr. H. Rider Haggard’s Prophecies’, Daily Mail, 7 December 1901, p. 8; H. Rider Haggard, ‘Mr. Rider Haggard on the Transvaal Constitution’, The Times, 7 August 1906, p. 8. 63  Haggard qtd. in Ernestine Evans, ‘Britain’s “Superfluous Women” Driving Men Out, Says Haggard’, New York Tribune, 22 July 1916, pp. 1–​2, at 1. On the phrase ‘superfluous women’, see Sally Ledger, The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin de Siècle (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 11; and Ann Ardis, New Women, New Novels: Feminism and Early Modernism (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 3, 10. Rider Haggard, ‘A Man’s View of Woman’, review of Woman: The Predominant Partner, by Edward Sullivan, African Review of Mining, Finance, and Commerce (22 September 1894), repr. in Haggard, She, ed. Andrew A. Stauffer (Ontario: Broadview, 2006), 337–​340, at 340.

300    The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Literary Culture female and indigenous strength, it does so with the counter-​intuitive aim of harnessing both.64 Nonetheless, in celebrating the accomplishments of female colonials, Haggard suggests opportunities for women beyond the more ostensibly political ones for which many were fighting in the metropole. Freed from the constraints of the metropole, Haggard’s colonial heroines do not ‘regress’, as do so many fictional male adventurers; rather, they carve out a new space for female authority, reinventing femininity as they reinforce the empire.65 Saviours of a land that values their strength, Haggard’s colonial heroines transcend domestication in their efforts to domesticate it on empire’s behalf. The eponymous heroine of Benita journeys with her father to Bambatse, a Makalanga fortress on the Zambesi River, at an unspecified time in the 1870s. The Makalanga, ‘a peaceful agricultural people’, seek her father’s assistance (in the form of guns) against the aggressive Matabele, then ruled by Lobengula; her father, in turn, seeks hidden treasure, buried by the Portuguese.66 Proving to be the spirit incarnate of a young Portuguese woman who has haunted Bambatse since her family died there six generations earlier, Benita locates the treasure, liberates herself and her father from captivity (by a German Jew depicted in anti-​Semitic terms) and her lover from death (at the hands of the Matabele), and secures the Matabele’s promise that they will leave the Makalanga in peace, thus making the region safer for all.67 Rachel Dove, the heroine of Ghost Kings, journeys to Zululand to rescue Noie, a young part-​Zulu girl, who has been kidnapped; is held captive by Dingaan, King of the Zulus, who seeks her advice regarding the encroachment of the Boers, then engaged on the Great Trek 64 

Nicholas Daly, Modernism, Romance, and the Fin de Siècle: Popular Fiction and British Culture, 1880–​1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 26. 65  Though there had been ‘a brief debate on the subject of women’s suffrage in the Cape Legislative Assembly’ in 1892, the issue was not taken seriously in South Africa until 1907, when it came before the Cape House of Assembly, where it was defeated sixty-​six to twenty-​four. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, founded in 1889, was ‘the first society to advocate actively [for] women’s suffrage’, when it ‘established a “Franchise Department”’ in 1895, which led to the Cape Town Women’s Enfranchisement League in 1907 (Cheryl Walker, The Women’s Suffrage Movement in South Africa (Cape Town: Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town, 1979), 22–​23). For discussions of male ‘regression’ (or ‘going native’), see Norman A. Etherington, ‘Rider Haggard, Imperialism, and the Layered Personality’, Victorian Studies, 22, no. 1 (1978), 71–​87, at 79, 83; Christopher Lane, The Ruling Passion: British Colonial Allegory and the Paradox of Homosexual Desire (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995), 61; Brantlinger, Rule, 261, 268–​270; and Patrick Brantlinger, ‘Going Native in Nineteenth-​ Century History and Literature’, in Brantlinger, Taming Cannibals: Race and the Victorians (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 65–​85. 66 Haggard, Spirit, 90. 67  The southernmost branch of the Mashona, the Makalanga are a Shona-​speaking people who had early contact with the Portuguese and were decimated by the Matabele over the course of many years, beginning in 1826, when Moselekatse split with the Zulu King, Chaka. See George McCall Theal, The Beginning of South African History (London: Unwin, 1902), 211–​212; and ‘The British South Africa Company Historical Catalogue and Souvenir of Rhodesia Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg, 1936–​37’, http://​​bsac.pdf [last accessed 3 November 2015]. Anti-​Semitism, a frequent trope in British South African fiction of the period, was often employed to offload avarice, in particular, onto those other than Anglo-​Saxons.

Gender, Genre, and South African Settlement    301 of the 1830s; travels to the (fictitious) land of the Ghost-​people, where she becomes involved in the region’s internal disputes; and liberates her lover from captivity. Elsewhere, I discuss the genre in detail, but space here allows for an analysis of only one of its central features: a particular manifestation of female friendship that I term mystical feminism.68 The heroines of Haggard’s female colonial romances possess innate psychic powers, which are strengthened by their spiritual affiliation with other women. What these female–​female relationships facilitate and what the colonial heroine manifests is mystical feminism. A manifestation of wisdom, insight, and authority in the female colonial, it is an enabling condition rather than, simply,