Houston, TX 77005
2:00 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013
On Campus | Alumni
“Communities of Place” expands upon a new current of scholarship in Victorian studies by exploring the role that England’s historic and geographic regions played in the development of the novel. Previous scholars of English regionalism have traditionally followed one of two paths into this topic. Theorists of British nationalism have glossed over England’s intranational identity and have directed attention beyond England’s borders, to France or Scotland, to analyze national identity within Great Britain as a whole. Scholars of England’s regions, meanwhile, have narrowly focused on county histories and the working classes. Both types of studies have effectively argued that the English middle class, and the middle-class Victorian novel, lack regional affiliation. This project breaks with these approaches by demonstrating how the development of distinctive English regional cultures paralleled, and occasionally destabilized, the formation of English national identity. I argue for a historically specific understanding of regionalism as a crucial structuring framework for the social, geographic, and environmental relations in post-Romantic English literature. The project develops from my assertion that the English middle classes and gentry, like the working classes, were in part defined by their regional connections. In each region studied, the project explore how regional class relations, topography, and recreation helped to shape discrete notions of Englishness outside of London. This methodology offers a productive alternative to center/peripheral models for reading Victorian novels. By focusing on regional responses to topics of national concern, ranging from industrialism to the rise of consumer culture, “Communities of Place” shows how they help shape contemporary discussions about local authority over the landscape, the cultural status of the local, and the conservation of green recreation spaces in the urban nation. “Communities of Place” argues that scholars can find the history of these concerns not only within the physical grounds of regional landscapes but also in the literary texts that helped to produce such places. Romantic-era literature linked regionalism to rural, working-class communities. Chapter One argues that novelists in England’s North began to dismantle these associations through their representation of Manchester, the center of the world’s first industrial region and a deliberately-crafted middle class cultural region. Chapter Two turns to the mixed rural and factory region of the Midlands: and shows how George Eliot, in Middlemarch, uses the county hospital as a symbolic charitable site that defines the Midland’s discrete identity as a palliative space. Chapter Three explores the conservation of pastoral landscapes for recreation in Trollope’s Barsetshire series. Chapter Four suggests that while Thomas Hardy tried to contain the influence of heritage tourism in Wessex, late Victorian preservation societies, such as the National Trust for Places of Historic or Natural Beauty, used the region’s material culture as historical evidence for a nationalist and imperialist vision of English social order.