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MLA December 2009
The Politics of Culture in Victorian England
Victorians grappled with the interlinked problems of improving the laborerâ€™s lot and enhancing
class relations. Some, like Arnold, proposed the spread of culture, arguing that it â€œseeks to do
away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current
everywhere. â€¦ This is the social idea; and the men of culture are the true apostles of equality.â€
Others, the â€œfalseâ€ apostles, championed a political rather than cultural form of equality, to be
achieved through enfranchisement or revolution. Arnold assumed that elevating the workersâ€™
culture through increased access to the arts would lead to an improvement in their social and
material conditions. Conversely, some of his opponents assumed that ameliorating the workersâ€™
social and material conditions would conduce to their spiritual uplift. Representing a third school
of thought, Morris staked a middle ground between what may be called the idealist and
materialist positions, promoting art and life equally on the grounds that they were
interdependent and in the belief that their joint fruition could only come about through
What other positions were staked out at the intersection of the â€œlabor questionâ€ and the great
Victorian â€œculture debateâ€?
What was the role of the arts in proposed solutions?
What was the role of institutionsâ€”e.g., museums, art galleries, librariesâ€”in increasing public
access to the arts?
How did the lower and middle classes seek to acquire culture in the absence of access to cultural
and educational institutions?
As access to such institutions increased, how did these classes take advantage of their cultural
What was the relationship between, on the one hand, social and material conditions and, on the
other hand, cultural and spiritual conditions?
What was the relationship between art and life?
What was the relationship between art and revolution?
Please send 500-word abstracts by March 20 to John Pedro Schwartz at
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Received on Wed Feb 18 2009 - 19:32:48 EST