Victoriana: Class, Capital, Manners
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all doing direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Raymond Williams’s appraisal of the nineteenth century through the keywords ‘Industry’, ‘Democracy’, ‘Class’, ‘Art’ and ‘Culture’ is significant for its evocative framing of the concerns and processes which characterised Victorian England. While industrialisation on one hand strengthened the processes of global capitalism, it also allowed on the other for liberal democracy – as well as proletariat radicalism – to take root and flourish throughout the course of the nineteenth century. This democratisation also radically influenced the nature, conception and reception of artistic forms as well, giving birth to a truly mass culture for the first time in human history. In all of these, from the orientation of culture towards a broad-based ‘mass’ public to the exponential growth of consumptive industrialisation, the stratification of society on principles of purchasing power is central, and, thus, concerns of and on class were an unavoidable part of the Victorians’ social reality
As much is reflected in the works of most of the commentators of this period: from Thomas Carlyle to William Morris, Charles Kingsley to Charles Dickens, and Alfred Tennyson to Oscar Wilde, almost all Victorian men – and women – of letters reflect, whether they be reactionary, reformist or revolutionary, upon the changing vicissitudes of societal mores and manners of their times. Cultural hegemony surfaces as a crucial part of Victorian life in their works, and they refer consistently to the prevalent state of doubt paradoxically mingled with certainty which proved to be the genesis of industrial modernity. Indeed, the vexed question of class may be approached from the perspective not just of purchasing power but also of faith, cultural capital, gender, and race, and it is for the Victorians’ complex, multi-pronged approach to the same in their literary and cultural artefacts that the momentous body of works that comprises Victorian literature continues to capture the fascination and imagination of readers even today.
Fittingly, then, this issue of Literophile seeks to critically examine the social milieu of Victorian England so as to better understand the manner in which class conflicts resulted in cultural/social stability on one hand and searing tensions on the other. We invite contributors to consider not just literary but also visual artefacts in commenting upon the parameters which concern the social reality of Victorian England. Original, unpublished and annotated papers and/or semi academic articles and commentaries of not more than 3,500 words (including annotations and bibliography) in MS Word format should be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org by Saturday, 12th December 2015. These may be oriented on or around the following pointers:
- Social crisis and the novel
- The economy of words: short stories and the middle-classes
- ‘The spirit of the age’: whose spirit, whose age?
- Segregation and city spaces
- Ladies and gentlemen, women and men: gendering and sexing in Victorian England
- God, faiths, churches, Law
- Art(s) and/as entertainment
- Workers – Merchants – and Natives
- Fantasy, sensuousness, and (the leisured) class
- Nationality and class
Please note that the contributions must be formatted in accordance with the latest MLA regulations. Contributors must also submit short bio-notes of not more than 300 words with submissions. Contributors will be intimated by the last week of December 2015 regarding acceptance/rejection.