Sublime Transport: Ruskin, Travel and the Art of Speed

  • Peter Garratt
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


Towards the end of George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Tom Tulliver’s uncle Mr Deane observes that the defining quality of modern life is its speed. Life, he tells Tom, ‘goes on at a smarter pace’ than a generation before, accelerated by the effects of ‘steam’.1 Reclining after an intake of snuff (a gesture poised curiously between idle recreation and stimulation), he warms to his theme:

Why, sir, forty years ago, when I was much such a strapping youngster as you, a man expected to pull between the shafts the best part of his life, before he got the whip in his hand. The looms went slowish, and fashions didn’t alter quite so fast —I’d a best suit that lasted me six years. Everything was on a lower scale, sir —in point of expenditure, I mean. It’s this steam, you see, that has made the difference —it drives on every wheel double pace and the wheel of Fortune along with ‘em … I don’t find fault with the change, as some people do.2


Fatigue Dust Europe Steam Transportation 
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Notes and references

  1. 1.
    George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, ed. A.S. Byatt (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), p. 507.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Samuel Butler, Erewhon, ed. Peter Mudford (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), p. 207.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Walter Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), p. 7.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Andrew Thacker, Moving Through Modernity: Space and Geography in Modernism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), pp. 47, 32.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Sara Danius, The Senses of Modernism: Technology, Perception, and Aesthetics (New York: Cornell University Press, 2002), pp. 140–1.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Nicholas Daly, Literature, Technology, and Modernity, 1860–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 10–55.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    See Barrie Gold, Thermopoetics: Energy in Victorian Literature and Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010)Google Scholar
  8. Tamara Ketabgian, The Lives of Machines: The Industrial Imaginary in Victorian Literature and Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 12.
    John Ruskin, The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, 39 vols (London: George Allen, 1903–12), IV, p. 31.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    Ford Madox Ford, The Soul of London: A Survey of a Modern City (London: Alston Rivers, 1905), p. 94.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Edith Wharton, ‘The Vice of Reading’, North American Review 177 (October 1903), 516.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    For a discussion of the reader as a machine in this period, and the advent of speed reading and fears over the potential of novels to encourage mechanical consciousness, see Nicholas Dames, The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neural Science and the Forms of Victorian Fiction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), especially ch. 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 24.
    Alfred Austin, ‘The Vice of Reading’, Temple Bar 42 (December 1874), pp. 251, 253.Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. John M. Robson, 33 vols (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963–91), XVIII, p. 134.Google Scholar
  15. 38.
    For a related discussion see Kate Flint, ‘Traveling Readers’, The Feeling of Reading: Affective Experience and Victorian Literature, ed. Rachel Ablow (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010), pp. 27–46.Google Scholar
  16. 41.
    Piers Brendon, Thomas Cook: 150 Years of Popular Tourism (London: Secker & Warburg, 1991), p. 81.Google Scholar
  17. Leslie Stephen’s The Playground of Europe (1910), which gathers his essays from the Alpine Club, Fraser’s Magazine and the Cornhill, marks Ruskin’s influence while being an incarnation of almost exactly what he regarded as fearful about popular tourism.Google Scholar
  18. 44.
    Jeffrey Richards, ‘The Role of the Railways’, Ruskin and Environment: The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century, ed. Michael Wheeler (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), pp. 139–40.Google Scholar
  19. 50.
    John Ruskin, Letters from the Continent 1858, ed. John Hayman (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), p. 162.Google Scholar
  20. 58.
    Peter Garratt, ‘Ruskin’s Modern Painters and the Visual Language of Reality’, Journal of Victorian Culture 14 (2009), 53–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Peter Garratt 2016

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  • Peter Garratt

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