Domesticity and Worldliness in the Victorian Period from the Cultural Studies Perspective

Victorian Parlor, c. 1850, Parlors, Thorne Rooms at KMA, Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, April 20, 2009 | © Courtesy of Knoxville Museum of Art/Flickr.
Victorian Parlor, c. 1850, Parlors, Thorne Rooms at KMA, Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, April 20, 2009 | © Courtesy of Knoxville Museum of Art/Flickr.

Ana Cristina Mendes and Iolanda Ramos, editors of “‘Victorians Like Us,” a special issue published by Open Cultural Studies in 2017, discuss in their introduction the insights that its various contributions offer on the domestic and public sphere in the Victorian era of the British Empire.

A Guest Article by Ana Cristina Mendes and Iolanda Ramos.


An increasing interest in the sphere of Victorian domesticity – and its ‘negative,’ the world beyond the confines of the domestic – has resulted in the uncovering of neglected archives in the past decades. Concurrently, the scope of the archive has become heavily examined and challenged. These approaches to the discourses of Victorian domesticity stress the interdisciplinary potential for interpretation of the characteristics of the period and often underline the strands of radical thought which encouraged aspirations for upward social mobility.

Bringing domesticity into the big picture and foregrounding paradoxes of historical continuity and disruption, the focus of this special issue of Open Cultural Studies – entitled ‘Victorians Like Us: Domesticity and Worldliness,’ edited by Ana Cristina Mendes (University of Lisbon) and Iolanda Ramos (Nova University of Lisbon) – is on the various forms, objects and modes of circulation that have been invested in the Victorians’ unprecedented attachment to domesticity, across a wide range of literary, artistic, cultural and political texts. Refracting both the individual experiences and collective memory of the Victorians, this special issue also brings the Victorians to the present by examining post-Victorian revisitations of both earlier texts and leading protagonists in fictional and real-life stories.

Through an analysis of the figure of Robin George Collingwood, particularly the ways the Collingwood family produced him as its representative, James Connelly’s article, entitled  “A late Victorian Family Life: The Typically Untypical World of the Collingwoods of Lanehead,” explores the life of this late Victorian household which was at the same time local, rural and cosmopolitan. Another such artistic community, one that grew up on Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight around the households of Alfred Tennyson and Julia Margaret Cameron, is the subject of the article by Kristine Swenson on “Hothouse Victorians: Art and Agency in Freshwater.”

In this special issue, while  Kathryn Ferry has explored the “Clutter and the Clash of Middle Class Tastes in The Domestic Interior,” Joanne Paisana has inquired into “How the Other Half Lives: Under the Arch with Lady Henry Somerset,” whereas Flore Janssen has been “Talking about Birth Control in 1877: Gender, Class, and Ideology in the Knowlton Trial.” Focusing on classed and gendered contexts, Kathryn Ferry, Joanne Paisana and Flore Janssen investigate how ideas on ‘betterment’ or ‘self-help’ were expressed not only in politics, religion, literature and philosophy but also in innovative aesthetics and were sustained by the acts of previously—female, middle-class and/or subaltern—unheard voices.

With a distinct focus on the British Empire and its afterlives, articles by Simon Magus and Iolanda Ramos consider authors and texts that have sustained our modern and postmodern relationships with the Victorians. Thus, Simon Magus shone a spotlight on “A Victorian Gentleman in The Pharaoh’s Court: Christian Egyptosophy And Victorian,” while Iolanda Ramos presented her findings on “R. F. Burton Revisited: Alternate History, Steampunk and The Neo-Victorian Imagination.” These articles draw on two of the most protean figures of mid and late Victorian England, the adventure writer and fabulist, H. Rider Haggard, and the famous diplomat, explorer of Africa, linguist and translator of Arabic and Portuguese, Richard Francis Burton.

This Open Cultural Studies issue, ‘Victorians Like Us: Domesticity and Worldliness,’ thus, puts together seven essays that challenge twenty-first-century readers to question if the reason why we still like the Victorians is because we are, indeed, in many ways like them.

Written by Ana Cristina Mendes and Iolanda Ramos.

Edited by Izabella Penier and Pablo Markin.


Featured Image Credits: Victorian Parlor, c. 1850, Parlors, Thorne Rooms at KMA, Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, April 20, 2009 | © Courtesy of Knoxville Museum of Art/Flickr.


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