Nineteenth-Century Prose

Home » Vol. 44.1 (Spring 2017)

Vol. 44.1 (Spring 2017)

David Thiele, “A Damsel in Distress: Geraldine Jewsbury and the Rhetoric of Knowledge Diffusion” (1-20)

Despite her prolific output as a critic, novelist, and publisher’s reader, Geraldine Jewsbury is perhaps best known among scholars for the letters she exchanged with her close friend Jane Welsh Carlyle, a third-hand kind of literary significance. This essay places her in another context, examining critiques of the knowledge diffusion movement that she wrote for Douglas Jerrold’s Shilling Magazinein 1847. I argue these represent an extraordinary contribution to the discourse surrounding the movement, which includes contributions by a diversity of major authors who identified knowledge democracy as an epoch-defining cause. Jewsbury achieves this significance by repurposing familiar elements of the knowledge diffuser’s rhetoric in radical ways, turning them to the unfamiliar task of dramatizing crisis and conflict within the movement during a crisis in public confidence. Readers are confronted with a salutary struggle in which she, the true believer, must break ranks to confess and reconcile disparate convictions at war within herself, challenge leadership, and emerge with a vision that has the integrity as well as the grandeur to restore faith in movement ideals. The results offer a candid perspective on the struggle to reconcile élite culture with democratic values.

Ellen J. Stockstill, “Degenerate or Victim? Fallen Women, Disease, and the Moral Strength of the British Empire” (21-38)

This essay highlights the competing narratives about fallen women during the passage and enforcement of the Contagious Diseases Acts and emphasizes the irony of Britain’s attempts to fashion itself as a morally superior nation while sanctioning illicit sexual acts. One narrative about the fallen woman claims that she is a harbinger of disease and degradation who threatens to weaken Britain’s imperial might, while the other claims that she is a seduced and betrayed victim of hypocritical men, and she is treated unjustly by the law. Josephine Butler’s writing on these men not only serves as an example of Victorian feminist writing, but also as an example of prose that highlights the inherent hypocrisy of the imperial project.

Bryce Hal Taylor, “The Unconstitutional Constitution: Under-standing Post-Civil War Constitutional Disobedience through Lysander Spooner” (39-66)

This essay analyzes the post-Civil War constitutional disobedience of the historically neglected nineteenth-century New England radical Lysander Spooner. I explore Spooner’s arguments in No Treason: The Constitution of No Authoritywritten in 1870 when the United States Constitution experienced unparalleled acclamation and became a quasi-canonical text akin in many respects to the Bible. Spooner represents a minority in his attempt to prove the Constitution is paradoxically unconstitutional. By uncovering Spooner’s constitutional qualms, a new window into the complicated world of post-Civil War America is opened by understanding one man’s struggle with constitutional sovereignty. 

Chiara Ferrari, “Subversive Aims: Science and Contamination in Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray” (67-86)

The framing of scientific understanding and its relation to aesthetics has been the subject of renewed scrutiny in Oscar Wilde scholarship since the publication of his Oxford Notebooks in the late 1980s. From that moment on, the traditional understanding of Wilde’s aesthetic vision as an uninformed reaction to science and positivism of the age became untenable. While this reassessment of science in Wilde’s work has rectified previous misconceptions, it has also brought new theoretical and interpretative limitations, stemming either from an overreliance on Wilde’s notion of “harmony” as “master idea” or from narrow depictions of Wilde’s aesthetic project that characterize it as “informed” by science. These approaches have insufficiently appreciated the subversive character of Wilde’s work – his vision of a scientific epistemology driven by the imagination toward a pursuit of knowledge and pleasure instead of simply accounting for reality. This essay argues that Wilde’s narrative in The Picture of Dorian Grayis not merely informed by science but attempts the aestheticization of the scientific method. Wilde empowers the artist/scientist by allowing the contamination of the object of study, hence disrupting the boundaries of observation.

R. Eric Tippin,“Serious Humor: The Play of Style and Thought in G.K. Chesterton’s Essays” (87-112)

G.K. Chesterton has often been labelled a flippant, light, and amusing essayist; however, a further examination of his work reveals a deeper relationship between the forms he utilizes – often humorous and whimsical – and his subjects. Chesterton’s view of essay style and his practice of it are consistent rebuttals of the idea that the serious and the humorous are mutually exclusive. Instead, he argues and demonstrates that the serious and the foundational are necessary building blocks of the humorous, and that the style of any essay is largely a working out of thought rather than an ornament to it. This thinking as well as Chesterton’s careful attention to the shades of meaning in words inflects and complicates the work of essay theorists such as Theodor Adorno, György Lukács, and others who have grappled with the relationship between the essay, humor, and foundational thought.


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