1st Edition

Victorian Vulgarity Taste in Verbal and Visual Culture

Edited By Susan David Bernstein, Elsie B. Michie Copyright 2009
    272 Pages
    by Routledge

    272 Pages
    by Routledge

    Originally describing language use and class position, vulgarity became, over the course of the nineteenth century, a word with wider social implications. Variously associated with behavior, the possession of wealth, different races, sexuality and gender, the objects displayed in homes, and ways of thinking and feeling, vulgarity suggested matters of style, taste, and comportment. This collection examines the diverse ramifications of vulgarity in the four areas where it was most discussed in the nineteenth century: language use, changing social spaces, the emerging middle classes, and visual art. Exploring the dynamics of the term as revealed in dictionaries and grammars; Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor; fiction by Dickens, Eliot, Gissing, and Trollope; essays, journalism, art, and art reviews, the contributors bring their formidable analytical skills to bear on this enticing and divisive concept. Taken together, these essays urge readers to consider the implications of vulgarity's troubled history for today's writers, critics, and artists.

    Contents: Introduction: varieties of vulgarity, Elsie B. Mitchie and Susan David Bernstein; Part I Vulgar Words: The vulgarity of elegance: social mobility, middle-class diction, and the Victorian novel, Beth Newman; Wulgarity and witality: on making a spectacle of oneself in Pickwick, James Buzard; Rudeness, slang, and obscenity: working-class politics in London Labour and The London Poor, Ellen Bayuk Rosenman. Part II Common Places: Vulgar Christianity, Elsie B. Michie; Breeding, education, and vulgarity: George Gissing and the lower-middle classes, Rosemary Jann; Too common readers at the British Museum, Susan David Bernstein; 'A religion of pots and pans': Jewish materialism and spiritual materiality in Israel Zangwill's Children of the Ghetto, Meri-Jane Rochelson. Part III Vulgar Middles: Gross vulgarity and the domestic ideal: Anthony Trollope's The Small House at Allington, Carolyn Dever; 'It went through and through me like an electric shock': celebrating vulgar female desire and the realist novel in Trollope's Ayala's Angel, Deborah Denenholz Morse; Vulgarity, stupidity, and worldliness in Middlemarch, Joseph Litvak. Part IV Visual Vulgarity: Poison books and moving pictures: vulgarity in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Ronald R. Thomas; James Tissot's 'coloured photographs of vulgar society', Nancy Rose Marshall; Vulgar India from nabobs to nationalism: imperial reversals and the mediation of art, Julie F. Codell; Afterword: how Victorian was vulgarity?, John Kucich; Index.


    Susan David Bernstein is Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Elsie B. Mitchie is Associate Professor of English at Louisiana State University, USA.

    'Viva Vulgarity! And especially Victorian Vulgarity, which the editors and contributors clearly show is vulgarity of a most superior kind! This book, with its wide-ranging and eminently readable essays, does an excellent job of showing the centrality - and elusiveness - of definitions of the vulgar to Victorians' understandings of themselves and their culture. This book will be of significant use in the classroom and the scholar's library alike.' Pamela K. Gilbert, University of Florida, USA

    ’... all the work in the collection is first-rate. ...Bernstein and Michie did a fine job bringing these essays together and providing them with a thoughtful and polemical frame; the result is an important and wonderfully readable contribution to Victorian cultural studies.’ Victorian Studies

    '... [Victorian Vulgarity] convincingly shows that the discussion of vulgarity in the nineteenth century is a crucial one even if its main term can be found almost anywhere. The editors are to be commended for assembling an impressive group of essays on an important topic.' Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies

    '...the collection's achievement perhaps lies in the fact that readers will likely find these essays to be as useful for their separate commentaries on nineteenth-century subjects as they are for identifying and recasting this particular, if pervasive, consciousness within the Victorians' self-image.' Dickens Quarterly