Charity and Condescension explores how condescension, a traditional English virtue, went sour in the nineteenth century, and considers how the failure of condescension influenced Victorian efforts to reform philanthropy and to construct new narrative models of social conciliation. In the literary work of authors like Dickens, Eliot, and Tennyson, and in the writing of reformers like Octavia Hill and Samuel Barnett, condescension—once a sign of the power and value of charity—became an emblem of charity’s limitations. This book argues that, despite Victorian charity’s reputation for idealistic self-assurance, it frequently doubted its own operations and was driven by creative self-critique. Through sophisticated and original close readings of important Victorian texts, Daniel Siegel shows how these important ideas developed even as England struggled to deal with its growing underclass and an expanding notion of the state’s responsibility to its poor.
Daniel Siegel is an associate professor of English at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He is the author of several articles about Victorian literature and culture.
“Redeeming the Mrs. Jellybys of victorian fiction as agents of liberation may be a tall order; but Siegel certainly succeeds wonderfully here in demanding, and offering, reconsideration of our own too-simple condescension toward Victorian condescension.”
— Victorian Studies
“Charity and Condescension gives literary critics that which we always hope for in a new book: an entirely new way of seeing texts that we all know and teach.”
— Suzanne Daly, University of Massachusetts Amherst
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