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Connections — Culture and the Social Order

  • Simon Dentith
Chapter
Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)

Abstract

Nineteenth-century England was a social order undergoing rapid transformation, and one split along multiple different and overlapping lines of fissure. In this chapter I examine those cultural institutions, intellectual positions, and cultural forms, which acted cohesively, as a kind of social cement — which sought to counteract some at least of those lines of division. Above all, this chapter will be concerned with authority, with the attempt to sustain authority in its crucial social sites. Accordingly, I start with religion, the importance of which in nineteenth-century England can hardly be overestimated. I move on from there to consider some of the intellectual alternatives that were proposed to religion when its authority came to be questioned in the course of the century. In effect I argue that the collapse of the intellectual and social authority of religion posed a crisis of hegemony for the social order, which different intellectuals sought to solve in different ways. A crucial figure in the chapter is therefore Matthew Arnold (1822–88), whose project was explicitly to sustain the social authority of religion by refiguring it as ‘culture’. But I conclude in a rather different vein, by considering those cultural forms — the large multi-plot novel, above all — which sought to encompass the whole social order. The very capacity to imagine a whole social order is radically extended via such cultural forms, and the chapter ends with a brief consideration of the political ambivalence of such acts of imagination.

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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Quoted in Owen Chadwick, The Victorian Church, 2 vols. (Adam and Charles Black, London, 1970), I: 515.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., II: 151.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Doreen M. Rosman, Evangelicals and Culture (Croom Helm, London, 1984).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Chadwick, The Victorian Church, II: 56–7, for these figures.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Rev. Legh Richmond, Annals of the Poor (J. Briddon, Ryde, c.1830), p. 122.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Rosman, Evangelicals and Culture, p. 33.Google Scholar
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    See Beth Tobin, Superintending the Poor; Charitable Ladies and Paternal Landlords in British Fiction, 1770–1860 (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1993);Google Scholar
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    See Chadwick, The Victorian Church, I: 220.Google Scholar
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    I allude here of course to Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy (1869).Google Scholar
  20. 16.
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  21. Past and Present (1843) addresses explicitly the problem of authority in a secular state.Google Scholar
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    Charles Dickens, Bleak House (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1975), pp. 49–50.Google Scholar
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    See Peter K. Garrett, The Victorian Multiplet Novel: Studies in Dialogic Form (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1980).Google Scholar
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    W. M. Thackeray, The Newcomes (1853–55), ch. XXIV.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Simon Dentith 1998

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  • Simon Dentith

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