Vol. 5 No. 1: Victorian Other Worlds
Introduction: Victorian Other Worlds
(Southampton University / Queen Mary, University of London)
Victorian Britain’s ‘other worlds’, like our own, were connected to and inspired by the material world of everyday life. The nineteenth-century fascination with alterity of every kind is grounded in its industrial and imperial expansion – perhaps especially when it seeks to escape from their effects. The Victorian imagination – by no means confined to literary and visual art, but expressed there with astonishing richness and brio – was energized by the dizzying and disruptive pace of modernity. The threats and promises of political reform, from the abolition of slavery to the extension of the franchise, not to mention the changing and contested relations between men and women and the accelerated development of scientific knowledge all find their possibilities and drawbacks tried out as romance or fantasy, often juxtaposed with the detailed depiction of the grim conditions of work in Victorian Britain, as they are in Charles Kingsley’s Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby (1863), but also erupting in his social novels of the late eighteen forties, Yeast (1848) and Alton Locke (1850). Mid-century adult fiction was a mixed genre in which realism and fancy were intertwined. The alternative to dystopian futures draws longingly on the past. The fondness for medieval stories and settings in Tennyson or the Pre-Raphaelites, the idealizing of feudal society in Disraeli’s fiction, draw this invented past forward, appropriating conservative social imaginary in the face of radical challenges to it in the Victorian everyday.