Victorian Identities: Social and Cultural Formations in by Ruth Robbins, Julian Wolfreys

By Ruth Robbins, Julian Wolfreys

The Victorian interval was once considered one of huge, immense cultural range with areas for figures as diversified as Alfred Tennyson and Oscar Wilde. Victorian Identities concurrently celebrates that variety while drawing out the connections among disparate voices. With essays at the 'Greats' of the interval - Dickens, Tennyson, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins and Wilde - in addition to at the much less famous sensation author, Rhoda Broughton, and at the formation of kid's voices in Victorian literature - the gathering rejects slim definitions of the interval and its values, and exposes its texts to readings trained by means of modern literary concept.

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In terms of the collective, the separateness which defines Eliot's sense of nationality carries with it the possibility for a revitalised 'organic' community, embodying both an historical continuity with the past as well as a present relationship with the future, unified in the naturalised image of 'resolved memory'. Deronda, as the spokesperson for such a nationalism, essentially recovers what he has always been when he discovers his Jewish paternity. ' (583) Paradoxically, then, the 'threat' of imperialism is resisted by a domestic nationalism.

A partial explanation for this contradictory stance is the fact that for the most part Eliot's critique of imperialism remains aimed at home: that is, she locates the horrors of empire on the domestic shores of England, not abroad, in the actual sites of British colonial rule, sites which, as noted above, only enter the novel as asides, be it in the reference to Gwendolen's family fortune coming from West Indian plantations, or in the scattered remarks about the Jamaica Uprising in 1865. 10 Yet the inclusion of these references at all does register a changed state of affairs - of the increasing interpenetration of the foreign and the domestic, of the move toward a more global economy that imperialism represents - if only in the limited terms of its effect on England.

George Chester, primping in the mirror, watched and laughed at by Kate's sister, Margaret, in a scene which effectively confirms her 'ownership' of him (Chapter XXX), might be acceptable. Much more problematic is the implicit demand to allow a female sexual fantasy the same status as male ones. Dare, despite male-authored forebears like Guy Livingstone and Samson and male admiration from Kate's brother, is constructed almost entirely by and for the female eye: 'a big, powerful figure; ... deep-chested, clean-limbed, thin-flanked', with 'luminous dark eyes' and 'harsh swart features' and 'a great, soft, black-brown moustache, drooping silkily' (28), he approaches 'in physical conformation to Achilles or Telemonian Ajax' (241).

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