“The ten essays in this volume enliven and challenge our understanding of Victorian England.”
Peter Allen, JEGP
“Victorian Scandals offers an immense amount of engaging, sometimes harrowing anecdote and analysis of Victorian social and sexual transgression, which draws on wide research in periodicals and institutional archives.”
James Eli Adams, Book Reviews
In the popular mind, the word “Victorian” still evokes associations of repression, hypocrisy, and prudery. We persist in thinking that the Victorians were perpetually shocked by everything from minor breaches of domestic decorum to ministry-toppling causes célèbres. In examining various Victorian scandals, some familiar, some more obscure, these essays provide lively discussion and diverse points of view on the context, nature, and function of “scandal” in Victorian society, particularly in terms of gender and class.
Topics covered include:
- women as both victims and beneficiaries of the Victorian legal establishment, demonstrated through divorce petitions, cases of wrongful confinement, and a highly publicized breach of promise suit
- the actress in contemporary pornography
- the effects on male hegemony of programs of higher education for women
- ambivalent reactions to biographies of Thomas Carlyle and George Eliot and to Julia Margaret Cameron’s “ennobled” photographic portraits
- the surprising toleration of gambling and infanticide.
The afterword examines the diverse responses to scandalous behavior from the perspectives of recent critical theory.
Taken as a whole, Victorian Scandals illustrates the pervasive role of the contemporary press in rendering private conduct a subject of public fascination and suggests the need to expand the definitions, functions, and interpretations of “scandal” in Victorian society.
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In Victorian England, virtually all women were taught to sew; needlework was allied with images of domestic economy and with traditional female roles of wife and mother- with home rather than factory. The professional seamstress, however, labored long hours for very small wages creating gowns for the upper and middle classes.
John Ruskin's prominence as the author of “Of Queen's Gardens,” his principal statement of Victorian gender opposition, makes him an ideal example for analyzing the power of mythic discourse to undermine gender division. Here, Ruskin creates a vision of feminine authority that draws simultaneously upon several sources (including the goddess Athena and Queen Victoria herself) to empower women in a worldwide arena redefined as a broader version of their domestic realm.
Tracing the Victorian crisis over the representation of working-class women to the 1842 Parliamentary bluebook on mines, with its controversial images of women at work, Hidden Hands argues that the female industrial worker became even more dangerous to represent than the prostitute or the male radical because she exposed crucial contradictions between the class and gender ideologies of the period and its economic realities.