Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity: Art, Opera, Fiction, and the Proclamation of Modernity (Martin Classical Lectures)
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How did the Victorians engage with the ancient world? Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity is a brilliant exploration of how the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome influenced Victorian culture. Through Victorian art, opera, and novels, Simon Goldhill examines how sexuality and desire, the politics of culture, and the role of religion in society were considered and debated through the Victorian obsession with antiquity.
Looking at Victorian art, Goldhill demonstrates how desire and sexuality, particularly anxieties about male desire, were represented and communicated through classical imagery. Probing into operas of the period, Goldhill addresses ideas of citizenship, nationalism, and cultural politics. And through fiction--specifically nineteenth-century novels about the Roman Empire--he discusses religion and the fierce battles over the church as Christianity began to lose dominance over the progressive stance of Victorian science and investigation. Rediscovering some great forgotten works and reframing some more familiar ones, the book offers extraordinary insights into how the Victorian sense of antiquity and our sense of the Victorians came into being.
With a wide range of examples and stories, Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity demonstrates how interest in the classical past shaped nineteenth-century self-expression, giving antiquity a unique place in Victorian culture.
response depended on what narrative the picture was meant to capture— different narratives reveal different interests and silences. Particularly telling is a lengthy article published in The Nation in New York ﬁve years after the exhibition, which ﬁnds the painting outrageous 80 CHAPTER 2 and viciously attacks it—for its archaeological inaccuracies.45 The author was particularly upset that the little statue of Victory could not have been produced until at least two hundred years after Sappho,
ﬁgure of a Roman citizen.”94 When Marx wrote that the French Revolution was enacted in Roman dress, he was referring primarily to the Republican spirit and Roman rhetoric of liberty that ran throughout the language of the era—classical texts were a way of understanding and promoting political action.95 But the public neoclassical architectural space of theatre, also constructed a space for the performance of citizenship. The theatre of the ancient world was held up as an ideal of seriousness in
being performed, and its effect on me was indescribable. Nothing, however, could equal the sublime emotion with which the Agamemnon trilogy inspired me, and to the last word of the Eumenides I lived in an atmosphere so far removed from the present day that I have never since been really able to reconcile myself with modern literature. My ideas about the whole signiﬁcance of the drama and the theatre were, without a doubt, marked by these impressions.10 It is through a German translation,
necessary past for Victorian Britain. At another, interlinked level, the rapid social change associated with industrialization, produced a heightened awareness of the period as “an age of transition,” or “an age of progress.”43 The modernity of the nineteenth century reconstructed the medieval and more distant past and even the eighteenth century, as a lost world, whose difference deﬁned the present; and at the same time, looked forward to a future (where progress was heading), of technological
FOR GOD AND EMPIRE 169 jected on historical grounds, what did this mean for the Gospels? What was the connection between faith, historical realism, and the miraculous? When and how could healing be seen as miraculous?55 Between Anglicans, Tractarians, and Roman Catholics, the reasonableness or wonder of miracles became a charged battleground, which shifted its lines of attack over the century. Paradigmatically, Robert Elsmere’s crisis of faith—which was for so many readers the paradigmatic