Volume 6, Number 2 (Winter 2015)

Victorian Dirt

William A. Cohen, Associate Provost and Professor of English
(University of Maryland)

Every idea about our Victorian forebears is in some sense an idea about ourselves. Knowledge of the past is inevitably refracted through the present. The phrase “Victorian dirt” invites consideration in part because it strikes us as an oxymoron: even with all we know about the range and variety of human experience in the nineteenth century, it is hard not to cling to the caricature of the Victorians as stuffy prudes who found the very idea of dirt alarming, not to say unthinkable. The phrase promises disenchantment, titillation, and defamiliarisation. With the presumed superiority of our own acuity and worldliness, and the privileges of hindsight, we harbour the fantasy that we may know the Victorians better than they knew themselves. What we learn from such investigations, however, is just how attached we are to values of cleanliness and sanitation, which makes the discovery of nineteenth-century dirt a perpetual experience of joyful disgust and self-affirming discomfort. Even more, perhaps, we learn how attracted we are to the experience of revelation itself: the unveiling of the hidden, the secret, the unknown—even when the constituents of that knowledge can hardly continue to surprise us.

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Table of Contents


Guest Editor’s Introduction: Victorian Dirt Abstract PDF
William A. Cohen (University of Maryland)
Dirty Work: Trollope and the Labour of the Artist Abstract PDF
Flora C. Armetta (City University of New York)
Dirt, Dust and Devilment: Uncovering Filth in the Workhouse and Casual Wards Abstract PDF
Laura Foster (Cardiff University)
Eco-Conscious Synaesthesia: Dirt in Kennedy’s Yeast and Alton Locke Abstract PDF
Margaret S. Kennedy (State University of New York, Stony Brook)
Bad Property: Unclean Houses in Victorian City Writing Abstract PDF
Erika Kvistad (University of Oslo)
Neo-Victorian Dirt and Decomposition Abstract PDF
Nicola Kirkby (King’s College London)
Review: Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth, by Lee Jackson (Yale, 2014) Abstract PDF
Sarah Ross (Johns Hopkins University)
Review: Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape: England’s Disciples of Flora, 1780–1870 by Judith W. Page & Elise L. Smith (Cambridge, 2011) Abstract PDF
Tara Puri (University of Warwick)
Review: Exploring Victorian Travel Literature: Disease, Race and Climate by Jessica Howell (Edinburgh, 2014) Abstract PDF
Katie E. Wetzel (University of Iowa)
Review: Postal Pleasures: Sex, Scandal, and Victorian Letters by Kate Thomas (Oxford, 2012) Abstract PDF
Karin Koehler (University of St Andrews)

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