reception offers new insights into politics, media
and culture in the pre-democratic heyday of the Victorianpolitical system. A
critical study of this visual and material culture not only helps to explain the
emergence of what has been called ‘the golden age of the private MP’, with its
mass veneration of politicians and statesmen, but can also account for cultural
shifts in the public perception of politics and the emergence of new political
identities in an age of electoral expansion.1
Such a study is necessary and long overdue. Since the 1990s, historians of
.J. Feuchtwanger, Disraeli, Democracy and the Tory Party: Conservative Leadership and Organisation after the Second Reform Bill (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), pp.
x–xiii, 84, 102, 219–20.
4 J. Lawrence, Speaking for the People: Party, Language and Popular Politics in
England, 1867–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
5 Ibid., pp. 163–93.
6 M. Roberts, Political Movements in Urban England, 1832–1914 (Basingstoke:
Palgrave, 2009), p. 164.
7 A. Hawkins, ‘“Parliamentary Government” and VictorianPolitical Parties, c.
1830–c. 1880’, English Historical Review, 104 (1989
less known outside of specialised circles. The most influential study to date is Steven Forry’s ground-breaking book, Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from Mary Shelley to the Present (1990), which includes a comprehensive list of plays appearing between 1823 and 1986 and production details and commentary for many of those plays. Audrey A. Fisch’s Frankenstein: Icon of Modern Culture (2009) builds on Forry’s formative work, providing extensive summary and analysis of the nineteenth-century plays, as well as Victorianpolitical cartoons (also
, 2006 ), p. 397 .
6 C. Sylvest , British Liberal Internationalism, 1880–1930: Making Progress? ( Manchester : Manchester University Press , 2009 ), p. 46 .
7 Sylvest, British Liberal Internationalism , pp. 200–6.
8 D. Bell and C. Sylvest , ‘ International society in Victorianpolitical thought: T.H. Green, Herbert Spencer, and Henry Sidgwick ’, Modern Intellectual History , 3 : 2 ( 2006 ), pp. 207 – 38 , at p. 230 .
9 C. Hobson , The Rise of Democracy: Revolution, War, and Transformations in International Politics since 1776 ( Edinburgh
Victorianpolitics has been transformed
by a variety of studies of local politics, many of them influenced by the
‘New Political History’ (NPH). Scholars have analysed how individual
politicians developed support bases through appeals founded on gender,
class and imperial patriotism.24 In much of this literature the support base
of the Conservative Party in the localities appears to have owed little to
the rhetoric and policies of the national party leadership. During the
1870s and 1880s populist Tory politicians created a social culture which
united working- and middle
dominant model for early Victorianpolitics. From moral force Chartism and
Owenism on the ‘left’, through the Whig-Liberal ‘centre’ to the Conservative
‘right’, politics was increasingly understood as a rational contest, a battle of
ideas. Arguably, only the ultra-radicals and the ultra-Tories remained outside
this ideological consensus. Thus ‘meaning’ plays a central role in political
The centrality of meaning also allows us to grasp another dimension of the
generative role played by theatre in the political sphere. As numerous theorists
have argued, narrative
–1860. Ed. Roderick Floud, Jane
Humphreys and Paul Johnson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
Stedman Jones, G. (1983). Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class
History, 1832–1982. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
St John, I. (2010). Disraeli and the Art of VictorianPolitics. London: Anthem.
Thompson, L. (1951). Robert Blatchford, Portrait of an Englishman. London:
von Rosenberg, I. (1987) ‘French Naturalism and the English Socialist
Novel: Margaret Harkness and William Edwards Tirebuck’. The Rise of
Socialist Fiction, 1880
O’Shanassy government in the spring of 1857 had been intent on
establishing a Catholic Irish hegemony in Victorianpolitics, the
squatting interest and its adherents in the pro-Haines press (notably
The Melbourne Argus) had, The Banner claimed, tried to
distract the electorate from the real issue of land ownership. 72 The paper
’Neill Daunt, Esquire, Personal Recollections of the
Late Daniel O’Connell MP (London: Chapman and Hall, 1848, 2 vols).
79 See, for example, the articles by Maurice R. O’Connell (a descendant of
O’Connell) in O’Connell, Young Ireland, and Violence (Bronx: Fordham
University Press, 1972); Raymond Moley, Nationalism without Violence: an
Essay (New York: Fordham University Press, 1974).
80 An exception was Father Kenyon who was vitriolic in his attacks on
O’Connell; see Christine Kinealy, Lives of VictorianPolitical Figures: Daniel
O’Connell (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2007
, there could
be a fine line between individual MPs forcing an issue on to the political agenda
and gaining an unwanted reputation as a parliamentary bore or monomaniac.
Similarly, independence was venerated, but a dim view was taken of inconsistent
or random shifts of opinion by MPs. The spread and themes of parliamentary
portraiture demonstrates that Victorianpolitical culture was heavily individualised, with even political small fry becoming recognisable through the expansion