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About this book

An anthology of both familiar and previously unavailable primary texts that illuminate the world of nineteenth-century ideas. An expert team introduce and annotate a range of original social, cultural, political and historical documents necessary for contextualising key literary texts from the Victorian period.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
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.
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young

1. Key Historical Events

Abstract
The defining events of the Victorian period are typically disparate; the extracts in this section describe military conflicts, parliamentary legislation, royal celebrations, mass starvation, technological innovation and working-class revolution. Nonetheless, certain shared concerns run through them that exemplify the social and political character of the period.
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young

2. Society, Politics and Class

Abstract
In 1800 about 80 per cent of the population of Great Britain lived in the countryside; in 1900 about 80 per cent in the towns and cities. When considering this massive demographic shift, the result of property enclosures and the Industrial Revolution, students of the Victorian period must be careful to guard against idealized conceptions of pre-Victorian Britain as a natural or ‘organic’ society, an unchanging, localized rural order distinguished by stable, prosperous communities. Equally, it is worth remembering that although after the middle of the nineteenth century agriculture was no longer the hub around which the entire British economy turned, it was only in 1901 that transport and the metal industries surpassed it as the main employers of the British population. Notwithstanding, it remains the case that Victorian society was dramatically marked by the twofold processes of industrialization and urbanization, and it is important to recognize the extent to which Britain was transformed by new living conditions, working environments, modes of social interaction and organization — and the possibilities and pressures associated with such changes. As Marx and Engels famously noted, it was a period when it seemed that ‘All that is solid melts into air’. Victorian society, politics and culture were energized at once by excitement and anxiety.
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young

3. Gender and Sexuality

Abstract
When the young Princess Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, women were defined legally, by the doctrine of coverture, as objects rather than subjects with rights: a husband owned his wife’s property and was responsible for her actions. The decades that followed saw unprecedented change in the political, social and economic position of women, and attitudes towards femininity and masculinity underwent transformation in dialogue with developments in medical and scientific thought.
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young

4. Religion and Belief

Abstract
In Britain, the nineteenth century was a period of feverish religious debates marked by three distinct but interrelated forces: the decline of the established Anglican Church (Church of England), the growth of doubt and secularization, and the emergence of other groups and religious denominations within and outside the Church of England.
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young

5. Philosophy and Ideas

Abstract
There were two great philosophical or ideological problems of the nineteenth century: the problem of idealism and materialism, and that of freedom and determinism. The first, deriving from advances in the social and natural sciences, especially psychology, logic, geology and biology, was concerned with how to reconcile materialism with idealism and spiritualism. What was the relation of human thought to matter? How did biblical time relate to historical evolution? Could scripture be married with natural science? Victorian notions of reason and progress were informed by Immanuel Kant’s idealism in the domains of the Good (ethics), the True (science) and the Beautiful (aesthetics) — that we could not perceive the truth of nature unmediated by our own perceptual and cognitive apparatuses, that the world was rational and progressive, and that the human mind was capable of discerning the Good and acting on it.
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young

6. Art and Aesthetics

Abstract
J. M. W. Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed is perhaps the most emblematic painting of the nineteenth century. First exhibited in 1844, at the peak of the railway mania, the painting embraced the nineteenth-century railway revolution at a time when many, including the leading art critic John Ruskin (who was a staunch supporter of Turner), saw the railways as a threat to the countryside. Turner’s pictorial conceptualization of Britain’s new industrial reality highlighted a new aesthetic viewpoint. Just as important as the painting’s chosen subject — a train speeding in stormy weather through the landscape — was Turner’s proto-impressionistic technique. Less interested in reproducing a detailed landscape than in impressing upon the viewer its overall effects, Turner’s radical approach succeeded in depicting the mood of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on the landscape.
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young

7. Popular Culture

Abstract
Popular culture is a notoriously multivalent concept. Raymond Williams has suggested that its different meanings include ‘well liked by many people’, ‘inferior kinds of work’, ‘work deliberately setting out to win favour with the people’ and ‘culture actually made by the people for themselves’.1 All of these meanings are evident in this section. During the nineteenth century the term only rarely functioned in a neutral fashion as simply connoting the everyday habits of the broad mass of ‘the people’. It more often operated as a synonym for working-class customs; moreover, these were often described by members of the social elite who were, if not looking down on the working class, at least observing them from a safe distance. A question worth asking of all the following pieces is — what ideological relationship do the authors have to their subject? Who is determining or defining the characteristics of Victorian popular culture? Only Thomas Wright, publishing under the pseudonym ‘The Journeyman Engineer’, writes from an overtly working-class identity, and even this is problematic given that his books were one of the ways he gained access to the cultural elite.
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young

8. Literary Production and Reception

Abstract
Nineteenth-century industrialization often conjures up images of grimy cities, factories full of toiling machinery, or the engineering of ships, bridges and railways. Yet the steam power utilized by the railways and cotton mills played an equally important role in the development of the publishing industry: new steam printing presses produced books, magazines and newspapers in unprecedented numbers (the first edition of The Times to be printed on a steam press appeared in November 1814). The railways that carried people all over the country also transported books and newspapers, distributing an unprecedented volume and variety of reading matter. Publishing and printing were major beneficiaries of the Industrial Revolution. Industrialization helped to make cheap print media possible. Between 1840 and 1870, the British population rose by 40 per cent, yet the number of books published annually rose by about 400 per cent.1
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young

9. Empire and Race

Abstract
By the time of Queen Victoria’s death Britain would rule directly over a quarter of the world’s population and nearly one quarter of its land surface. This section demonstrates the historical circumstances and ideological issues which underpinned Victorian notions of Britain’s global sovereignty, and which fed into this period of unparalleled overseas expansion. But in so doing it foregrounds the various and manifold problems, disputes and controversies which characterized debates over how the British should best conceive of their nation’s imperial status, and how they should think about the way in which their programmes of overseas expansion would affect those peoples they considered — for differing reasons and to differing extents — racially inferior.
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young

10. Science and Technology

Abstract
The extracts in this section fit into three groups. The first consists of passages by William Paley, Humphrey Davy and G. H. Lewes, and deals with general issues of scientific method and value. The second concentrates on the physical and life sciences, with passages by Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, T. H. Huxley and William James. The last consists of Ada Lovelace, Charles Dickens and Charles Babbage and focuses on applied science and the impacts of technology, dealing especially with transport, communication and industrial manufacture. However, numerous themes run across all of them and offer a glimpse of the main preoccupations of Victorian scientists, and the writers who responded to their work. Of those dealing with general scientific issues, for example, Davy debates the relationship between pure and applied science, and Lewes discusses the ethics of vivisection, then as now a particular talking point in the debate about scientific processes. These issues, dealing with the general purposes of science and matters of social benefit, have a direct bearing on the responses to scientific and technological development to be found in the next part.
John Plunkett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, Regenia Gagnier, Angelique Richardson, Rick Rylance, Paul Young
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