'A misunderstood generation': Victorians and the Twentieth Century peepshow

Oulton, C. (2012) 'A misunderstood generation': Victorians and the Twentieth Century peepshow. In: Arts and Humanities Faculty Conference, 8th June 2012, Canterbury Christ Church University.

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The 21st Century places the neo Victorian narrator in a dangerously exposed position, operating a text which seeks engagement between an assumed reader and characters with immeasurably different cultural norms. But this location of narrative authority posed similar problems for writers nearly a century ago. In their post WW1 memoirs late Victorian writers such as Mary Cholmondeley, Netta Syrett and E. F. Benson were forced to renegotiate the terms of fin de siècle ‘rebellion’ in the light of twentieth century assumptions about the Victorian age. Each of these authors deploys different strategies in order to resist or complicate historical appropriations of the 1880s and ‘90s.

In her 1918 Under One Roof Cholmondeley measures the achievements of her sister Hester against her lack of opportunity; however she qualifies her account of Hester as ‘by nature a free lance and a rebel’ with the comment that the conventions she attacked ‘were those of twenty-five years ago’, and her niece Stella Benson complained in consequence that the book ‘misses a lot of chances of explaining a misunderstood generation to the present lot’. In As We Were: A Victorian Peepshow (1930) E. F. Benson claims that ‘as a matter of fact, the revolt against Victorian conventions and reticences which is supposed to animate [the 1890s] had already taken place and had long ago been completely successful.’ Syrett’s The Sheltering Tree (1939) likewise argues that ‘some at least of the old ladies of today enjoyed in their youth almost as much freedom as any modern girl’. But consciously or otherwise, all three authors invoke the familiar cult of personality as an agency of cultural change, even as they resist ascribing the rebellion against ‘Victorian values’ to a fin de siècle literary élite.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain > DA0020 England > DA0028 History > DA0129 By period > DA0300 Modern, 1485- > DA0550 Victorian era, 1837-1901
P Language and Literature > PR English Literature > PR0111 Women authors
Divisions: pre Nov-2014 > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English and Language Studies
Depositing User: Prof Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2012 15:52
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2014 14:10
URI: https://create.canterbury.ac.uk/id/eprint/10989

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00