Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 33 (2002) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
These two fine volumes have their roots in a Victorian literature conference at the University of Liverpool in 1996, which I had the good fortune to attend. At the time, I remember being struck in particular by the erudition of a number of the papers presented and by the impressive range of material covered in eclectic ways. It is extremely pleasing to see many of the best papers from the conference expanded in these two volumes, pleasing not least because these two collections offer an extremely good snapshot representing the diverse richness and buoyant state of Victorian Studies at the turn of our century.
One of the things that emerges in several essays, explicitly or implicitly, is the generally troubling nature of the word ‘Victorian’ for scholars today. Unlike, say, a generation or so ago, the umbrella the, ‘Victorian’ no longer seems useful, apart from demarcating the years of the monarch’s reign. Any students of the period know that there are more social and political differences between 1837 and 1901 than there are similarities, and the literature across the period is no different. While the titles of these two volumes both employ ‘Victorian’ descriptively, the essay inside demonstrate over and over again the literary and cultural diversity and complexity across the nineteenth century, rather than the uniformity that ‘Victorian’ might suggest. As John Lucas puts it:
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. They are all too frequently employed in ways that are chronologically indefensible, historically dubious, intellectually confusing and ideologically unacceptable- at least, if you’re a socialist. “Victorian” in particular is used to imply a cultural and political homogeneity which, the evidence suggests, never existed.