At the beginning of his waspish retrospective Eminent Victorians (1918), Lytton Strachey declares, ‘The history of the Victorian Age will never be written: we know too much about it.’1 A member of the modernist Bloomsbury Group, who had nonetheless been born in 1880, Strachey’s comment was meant in two ways: that the Victorians were still too much part of his own life for measured comprehension; and that they had left too vast a documentary record for him to be able to interpret them. Strachey’s difficulties remain with us: there is still a fascination with the period because of its formative role both upon his time and ours. Kelly Boyd and Rohan McWilliam have observed that we remain ‘haunted by the ghosts of the Victorians. We live in the houses they built, or, if we do not, regularly stroll past buildings they erected. We work in the global marketplace they did so much to construct … We continue to read their novels’.2 What has remained equally prominent, though, is the inability of the period to be pinned down by virtue of its scale and quantity of documentation; an assembly of popular characteristics of the Victorians could only ever produce a series of contradictions: an age of discovery, progress and industry but also of slum dwellings, the workhouse and exploited factory workers; a period where the dominant ideals of bourgeois sobriety and respectability were challenged by gin palaces and prostitution; a queen on the throne who gave her name to the age, yet at a time when women were not entitled to vote.
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Ana Parejo Vadillo
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