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Paradoxe(s) victorien(s) – Victorian Paradox(es)

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William Findlay

II. L'Environnement

Paradoxical Places: Imagining the Urban and the Rural in Victorian Britain

Karen Sayer

Résumé

First some Paradoxes:
City = Culture therefore sophisticated & good, but also corrupting and bad.
Country = Nature therefore pure & good, but also bestial and bad, (or boring).
Countryman = innocent of politics vs. bumpkin.
Countrywoman = innocent of sex vs. earthy seductress.
Country = fresh air vs. mud; nice views (trees) vs. malaria.
It is not possible to consider Culture within the Victorian context without its binary opposite Nature. Yet the boundary that was supposed to exist between the country and the city was maintained in the nineteenth century (as before) despite a constant movement of people, money and goods across it. Ideologically, the same topography that separated the middle class home from the urban slum, and the middle class family from their servants, also mapped the division ‘country and city’. Through the establishment of the urban and rural as fixed, immutable and unconnected spaces, crosscutting experiences of class were elided, domesticity assembled and whiteness established. This is pertinent not just to our understanding of the Victorians but also to the way in which we write histories of the Victorians, the way we re- present the past

Texte intégral

  • 1 The Daily News was a radical paper, set up in 1846, which took most of its readership from the midd (...)

1It is a common opinion that a love of natural scenery is a purely modern passion [of one race, but the] middle class multitude in their selection of a home and in their regard for the beauties of nature... do not wish to get quite beyond the busy world. They like flowers, parterres, shrubberies, lawns, vineries and peach-houses, just as they like lace-curtains, glowing carpets, brilliant furniture and burnished grates. Both represent to them comfort and culture combined, are the signs of monied ease and elegance, and create a velvety sensation in the atmosphere by which they are surrounded. It is not a wrong taste in itself; it is a good one if not carried to excess, but indulged in exclusively, as we every day see it, it is the taste of a Sybarite, and anything but a proof of the love of nature. Take most people for a day into the real natural scenery and they will be at no loss for well-known epithets expressive of admiration. Leave them there, however, for a few days, and admiration will yield to weariness. There can be no genuine love here. Love of change, excitement, novelty, will make even mountains delightful, but custom makes them detestable, (Daily News, 9th July 1869)1

INTRODUCTION

2Back in 1973 Raymond Williams began The Country and the City with these lines:

  • 2 R. Williams, The Country and the City (the Hogarth Press, London, 1985; 1st edn 1973), p. 1

‘Country’ and ‘city’ are very powerful words, and this is not surprising when we remember how much they seem to stand for in the experience of human communities.2

3He ended it with these:

  • 3 Williams, The Country and the City, p. 306

It was always a limited inquiry: the country and the city within a single tradition. But it has brought me to the point where I can offer its meanings, its implications and its connections to others: for discussion and amendment; for many kinds of possible co-operative work; but above all for an emphasis—the sense of an experience and of ways of changing it—in the many countries and cities where we live.3

4Limited it may have been – certainly limited to the English tradition – but The Country and the City was also wide-ranging and politically astute – grounded in an emphasis on experience – The Country and the City has been and remains vastly influential for any discussion of the urban and the rural. So influential, indeed, that I will not survey the very many responses to it since its publication, nor the detail of Williams’ argument. Suffice to say, as Maclean, Landry and Ward have in The Country and the City Revisited (1999), that:

  • 4 G. Maclean, D. Landry, J, P. Ward (eds) The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politic (...)

Williams created an influential paradigm for conceiving of place and social space, country and city, the rural and the metropolitan, as dialectically related constructs, not fixed and separate entities.4

  • 5 Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 4
  • 6 Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 1
  • 7 Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 1

5But, things – criticism, theory and history – as Williams seemed to hope, have also moved on. Because, as indicated by Williams’ opening line, the words ‘Country’ and ‘City’ are replete with meaning, they have come to be mined extensively by critics. Moreover, these same critics have come to note that though, as Maclean et al point out, ‘Williams... represented the country and the city as dialectically related... country and city nevertheless function dichotomously in his scheme of things.’5 It has remained to more recent commentators to break this dichotomy down. One consequence of this is that the concept of ‘place’, so evocative in William’s writing, has come to be challenged.6 ‘However resonant the term ‘place’ may be of rootedness and fixity,’ Maclean, Landry and Ward observe, ‘no place can ever be wholly abstracted from the social relationships, capital flows, cultural representations, and global forces that later-twentieth-century theorists have come to call ‘space’.’7 Or rather, it could be added, ‘spaces’: multiple and contingent. In recognition of this, rural ethnographers, geographers and others now talk not of the creation a single ‘countryside’, but many contesting countrysides, many of them apparently paradoxical or conflicting. This paper will draw on this body of research to consider the paradoxes inherent within the Victorian rural/urban imaginary, by reviewing some of the psychic and spatial hierarchies established in and around that space called ‘home’.

HOME

  • 8 See P. Stallybrass and A. White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (London, 1986)
  • 9 T. H. Walker Good Servants, Good Wives, & Happy Homes (VIth edn. Partridge & Co., c. 1888), Preface (...)
  • 10 T. H. Walker Good Servants, Preface p. i
  • 11 S. B. Ortner ‘Is female to male as nature is to culture?’ in Mitchelle, Z. et al, (eds.) Woman, Cul (...)
  • 12 T. H. Walker Good Servants p. i
  • 13 S. Garton ‘The Scales of Suffering: love, death and Victorian masculinity’ in Social History Vol 27 (...)
  • 14 Garton, ‘Scales’, p. 54

6As Stallybrass & White have cogently discussed, Victorian constructions of ‘home’ emerged at least in part from writing and debate on the city and its contents – its sewers, rats and ‘savages’.8 For the bourgeoisie, ‘Home’, cared for by a good wife and protected by her husband, was perceived as a haven. It was “That one spot of earth supremely blest,/A dearer, sweeter spot than all the rest,”9 The wife’s role was paramount in creating this refuge, because ‘woman, in every instance,’ as one commentator, the Rev T. H. Walker, wrote ‘[is] a help-meet to man,--- his solace,--- his ministering angel,--- his most beloved companion,--- his greatest earthly treasure’.10 In other words, Woman, as Sherry Ortner has shown, helped create a small clearing of Culture within the wilderness.11 Such a wife was the guarantor of the ‘general interests of society’12 because she enabled men to overcome their baser instincts, ‘to overcome’ as Stephen Garton puts it, ‘their appetites, their animal natures, in order to gain self-control and a sense of the civilized self.’13 What men had to battle laid outside not just the home, but outside of ‘Culture’: ‘the exotic ‘other’ – lands, climates, peoples that required incorporation into the empire.’14

  • 15 On this process see Stallybrass & White
  • 16 See P. Tristram, Living Space in Fact and Fiction (Routledge, London, 1995); L. Davidoff, J. L’Espe (...)
  • 17 See R. J. Lawrence, Housing, Dwellings and Homes, design, theory, research and practice (Wiley, Chi (...)

7Within this paradigm, the topography of the body was mapped onto that of domestic space.15 As the notion of individual ‘privacy’ became dominant, ‘respectable’ – mostly elite – homes were divided into ever-smaller rooms, each with its own use, and each for the use of specific persons in a hierarchy determined by physical need, propriety and desire. Servants were given their own, distanced, entrances and exits, they were relegated to their own back room and back-stairs regions. Children and adults, men and women, servants and their masters were kept apart. Only those who had keys had access to rooms and the doors of those rooms swung inwards to guard the occupants at the moment of entry.16 It was consequently always possible to identify a ‘stranger’ in any ‘decent’ home. In fact, there were subsets of ‘strangers’: visitors/relatives/neighbours. In addition, though renting altered much of the common sense of these public/private relationships, owner-occupied homes had strict legal boundaries, regardless of how their spaces were used or their actual physical demarcation.17

  • 18 F. Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford, A Trilogy (Harmondsworth, [1939, 1941, 1943] 1979), p. 497. N (...)
  • 19 Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, p. 144-5.

8The furnishings of each room were gendered and helped signify status – magazines, the piano and sewing table spoke of feminine accomplishment; ornaments suggested political interests; consumables and pot plants from around the world hinted at patriotism and wealth.18 Other objects were materially incorporated into the process of disciplining the middle class body.19 As one man remembered:

  • 20 David Gamett, c. 1896, quoted in I. Stickland (ed.) The Voices of Children 1700-1914 (London, 1973) (...)

one morning my uncle came into my bedroom and found me sitting on the chamber pot. He told me that I must not sit on it because it was unmanly and I was a little boy. Girls and women sat on chamber pots. If I could not stand up and hold the pot in front of me for fear of spilling its contents, I had better kneel down in front of it to use it.20

  • 21 Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, p. 144

9As the bourgeois child grew up, Stallybrass and White argue, it was ‘cleaned up, the lower bodily stratum [was] regulated or denied, as far as possible, by the correct posture (‘stand up straight’, ‘don’t squat’, ‘don’t kneel on all fours’ – the postures of servants and savages)’.21

  • 22 Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, p. 130-2.
  • 23 See Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 6-8.

10This model for elite urban living was being established at a time when Britain was re-negotiating its position as a world power, and the two are not, as might be gathered, unconnected. This sanitary mapping of health and disease acted in parallel with colonial and anthropological, social and sexual, discourses to outline distinctions of civilised and savage, right and wrong.22 Of course, Victorian imperial processes, the day-today running of the empire and movements of people goods and ideas within it, continued to have – as they had since the C16th – a huge impact on both town and country. The import and export of goods and capital connected people world-wide. The landscape of empire could therefore be mapped out materially not just imaginatively or ideologically.23 Nonetheless, for the Victorians that empire was also epitomised by emergent scientific theories, social and religious debate at all levels.

  • 24 See F. Barret-Ducrocq Love in the Time of Victoria: sexuality, class and gender in nineteenth-centu (...)
  • 25 Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, p. 148-50.
  • 26 Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, p. 150-165; L. Davidoff ‘Class and Gender in Victorian (...)

11The city itself was in flux at the time. It was from its chaos and growth that the bourgeoisie retreated. While the good wife occupied the home, her antithesis, the whore, could be seen on the streets. Unless a woman went from place to place with purpose, she was assumed to be ‘fallen’. The Elite themselves negotiated city-space carefully, working between home and park, arcade or work in carriages and with chaperones. They feared the working classes use of the streets, the way that public space gave way to private purposes.24 Within this dynamic, because of their work and association with what their employers discarded, housemaids belonged literally and imaginatively ‘both to the bourgeois family and to ‘the nether world’ of the city,’ so that they ‘mediated between the home and the lure of the city.’25 And this rhetoric of spatial and physical opposition, helped construct a landscape of desire traversed by a series of High/Low oppositions.26

  • 27 S. Daniels, Fields of Vision, Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United Sta (...)
  • 28 J. Kamm (ed.) The City and the Country: proceedings from the sixth British and Cultural Studies Con (...)
  • 29 J. Agyeman and R. Spooner, ‘Ethnicity and the Rural Environment’ in Cloke, P., and Little, J., (eds (...)

12But, despite these tensions, myths of national identity used ‘home’ to delineate what was worth fighting for, what must be defended. Indeed, such myths helped define ‘home’ and were created in part by keeping the Other out, out of the city – especially London – and beyond Britain. In addition, Imperialists used their preferred fantasy of national identity to place an embargo on the identity myths of others’ places. This practice created a space within which colonists might belong, while they themselves remained separate from that which surrounded them. ‘For every magnificent, even multi-cultural, prospect of national identity,’ geographer Stephen Daniels therefore observes, ‘there is a more homely ethnic enclosure’.27 Within this topography country and city took on complex, at times antagonistic, connotations. The City, i. e. London, became the Centre, the mercantile progressive metropolitan heart of the Empire, which encapsulated all that was most Civilised, most Cultured. Home to a growing and assured sense of cosmopolitan internationalism.28 The Country on the other hand became a pure ‘white space’,29 the epitome of Englishness, apparently static, timeless and unchanging. As such, as embodiment of England, images of the country could rescue the Englishman from the perils of exchange and the lure of foreign lands. For the Victorians, ‘nostalgia’ as literal “homesickness” had a geographical dimension.

  • 30 ‘Where indeed shall we go,’ he asked, ‘before the escalator stops?’ Williams, The Country and the C (...)
  • 31 Williams, The Country and the City, p 291
  • 32 Williams, The Country and the City, p. 9-12, 289-91 Where the country retains its imaginative power (...)
  • 33 Williams, The Country and the City, p 12
  • 34 Williams, The Country and the City, p. 10

13Raymond Williams argued of course that nostalgia is a commonplace. He described a constant/formula of regret. There is, he believed, an unvarying sorrow at the loss of a “golden age”, an ‘escalator’ that can be followed back in time.30 Such ideas, he observed, ‘express... human interests and purposes for which there is no other immediately available vocabulary.’31 The retrospect for each period in consequence always has its own nuance,32 so that ‘Old England, settlement, the rural virtues---all these, in fact, mean different things at different times’.33 Such unvarying grief, in his view, is therefore never a matter of ‘historical error, but historical perspective.’34 As such, for the Victorians (as for those of other eras) – harnessed as it was at least in part in ethnic opposition to ‘the Empire’, to far-flung exotic worlds and peoples – the countryside was never treated simply.

COUNTRY

  • 35 The middle class did not want to get “quite beyond the busy world”, so it was often easier, certain (...)
  • 36 ‘Observe a company of haymakers. When you see them at a distance, tossing up forkfuls of hay in the (...)

14As the epigraph suggests, the ‘real’ countryside – well known for its mud-bound toil, tedium and isolation – and was rarely desired by the Victorian “middle class multitude”. Metropolitan and other commentators were well aware of the difference between ‘natural scenery’ and ‘Nature’.35 Hence, George Eliot, in her essay on ‘The Natural History of German Life’ (published in the Westminster Review 1856), criticised the arts for indulging in pastoral and insisted that painters, writers, thespians and musicians try as a corrective to observe ‘real’ peasant life.36 This tension between pastoral conceptions of the natural world and knowledge about the real produced its own ambiguities. In the first half of our period, for instance, Andrew Combe MD wrote:

  • 37 A. Combe The Management of Infancy, Physiological and Moral intended chiefly for the use of parents(...)

The first and most essential requisite in a nursery is the constant supply of pure air. To obtain this, a residence should be selected in a dry and rather elevated situation, removed from humidity and all sources of contamination, and, at the same time, sheltered from the violence of the wind. When a choice can be made, the country should be preferred to the town; ...37 [My emph]

  • 38 For example, see J. Burchardt Paradise Lost; rural idyll and social change since 1800 (I. B. Tauris (...)
  • 39 Herman Muthesius (1861-1927) trained first as a philosopher and then as an architect in Germany. Ha (...)
  • 40 H. Muthesius, The English House, Sharp, D., (ed.) Seligman, J., (trans.), (London, 1904), p. 7-11

15This seems reasonable enough. The best medical theories of the day dictated that an ample supply of fresh air was requisite to the maintenance of a robust constitution, while most practitioners believed that the foul air, or ‘miasma’, generated by humidity and waste propagated disease. We know that, despite the veneer of ‘Culture’, the shoddily-built urban back-to backs of the rapidly industrialising towns gave rise to dirt and disease and that industry itself produced vast choking clouds of smoke and other contaminants38 In contrast, as already noted, the Victorian middle class often saw the country, like ‘home’, as a safe haven, self-contained and bounded by its own timeless, moral order. They imagined it picturesque or sublime depending on their taste, and inherently suggestive of health, the rural was looked to for physical good. They modelled their homes on the country estate. Where moving out of the city was too pricey, the terrace town house, covered in naturalistic details and laid out in rambling suburbs, persisted as a cheaper alternative. Which is why, as Hermann Muthesius39 observed at the turn of the century, that the Englishman flew from the metropolis in search of respite, refuge and renewal.40

16However, Combe went on:

  • 41 A. Combe The Management of Infancy, p. 157-8

The close vicinity to the house of trees or thick shrubbery, of ponds, undrained meadows, or sluggish water-courses, ought to be scrupulously avoided; for however ornamental they may be, they are invariably prejudicial to health, not only from the humidity and in many cases the impurities which they diffuse through the air, especially at night, but also from the obstruction which they present to free ventilation. For the same reason, narrow valleys, and localities shut up by thick woods or overhung by hills or mountains, ought never to be chosen as the sites of houses or villages. From overlooking the unfavourable influence of a stagnant humid air, families going to the country in pursuit of health often sustain serious injury, by settling in situations which a better acquaintance with the laws of animal economy would have taught them to be very ill suited to the infant constitution.41

  • 42 ‘Cultured’ at least in agricultural terms

17Here Combe seems to start writing directly against Nature, but in a pastoral mode. Trees, ‘thick shrubbery’, ponds, ‘sluggish water-courses’, ‘undrained meadows’, ‘thick woods’, overhanging hills and mountains, ‘narrow valleys’ all recognisably ornamental within the picturesque are, in his view, intrinsically unhealthy. The difficulty seems to be with their unimproved, untamed or uncultured42 state. Disorder disturbed the country as much as the city. Aesthetically pleasing they might be, but the meadows are uncultivated, the shrubs untrained, the streams unmanaged, the woodland unruly. The Romantically sublime mountains and valleys, enclosing and oppressive, are equally bad for the families’ strength. Drawing on medical discourse, the passage looks at nature through the lens of the body’s needs, setting these in opposition to Nature as described in two of its dominant cultural modes.

18The suggestion is that wild, promiscuous Nature will catch out the innocent bystander, its impurities passively and fluidly diffusing through the dark to catch the unwary, its more substantial elements actively obstructing the entry of purer airs. Fraught with contradiction – it’s unclear where fresh air might come from given the unwholesome surroundings, while the ‘violence’ of the wind from which the inhabitants need shelter must somehow be kept at bay without trees, shrubs, woods, cliffs etc, i. e. any natural windbreaks – this passage exemplifies the complexity of responses to Nature that might be found among urban bourgeois audiences in the mid nineteenth century.

19This level of complexity and concern with disorder could also be found at the level of the (rural) built as well as the natural environment:

  • 43 Norfolk News, cited by R. Heath in The English Peasant; Studies: Historical, Local and Biographic ( (...)

A stranger cannot enter [a] village without being struck with surprise at its wretched and desolate condition. Look where he may, he sees little else but thatched roofs---old, rotten, and shapeless---full of holes and overgrown with weeds; windows sometimes patched with rags, and sometimes plastered over with clay; the walls, which are nearly all of clay, full of cracks and crannies; and sheds and outhouses---where there are any---looking as if they had been overgrown very early in the present century, and left in the hopeless confusion in which they fell.43 [mid-1860s Norfolk News]

  • 44 A firm believer in laissez faire, Austin was an expert who had already served on two previous Commi (...)

20Descriptions like this became stock in trade to mid nineteenth century reformers. They formed a parallel image or antithesis to domestic pastoral and to the ideal bourgeois ‘home’. They had their own tropes – weed-ridden rotten thatch, broken/insufficient windows, draughty walls – their own formulae – a stranger, (immediately visible in the village), sees the cottage and is surprised/shocked – and their own realist project. This antithesis became integral to the rural imaginary, so that the ‘real’ country cottage like the urban tenement worked as an object of elite fascination, subject to constant inspection. And, images of dirt and decay in the country became symptomatic of infection, immorality and dehumanisation. Alfred Austin,44 for instance, wrote in the 1843 Reports of the Special Assistant Poor Law Commissioners on women’s and children’s work in Agriculture of a village in Dorset:

  • 45 ‘Reports of Special Assistant Poor Law Commissioners’, p. 19-21

Behind the cottages the ground rises rather abruptly; and about 3 yards up the elevation are placed the pigsties and privies of the cottages. There are also shallow excavations, the receptacles apparently of all the dirt of the families. The matter constantly escaping from the pigsties, privies, &c., is allowed to find its way through the passages between the cottages into the gutter in the street, so that the cottages are nearly surrounded by streams of filth. It was in these cottages that a malignant typhus broke out about 2 years’ ago, which afterwards spread through the village.45

  • 46 Though the pig was kept for meat, it was also used for human hygiene, the ‘pig’s ‘dustbin’ habits p (...)
  • 47 The Times (30th December 1843), p. 5
  • 48 Saturday Review 13th February 1869, p. 213
  • 49 Stallybrass and White Politics and Poetics, p. 130

21Moated by the worst kind of refuse, here the cottage became the inverse of the Englishman’s home. The proximity of their pig/pigsty endangered the health of its inhabitants, and, in having their pigsties so close, the poor were at risk of behaving like pigs – despite the fact that, as Soper points out, the pig’s handling largely induced its behaviour.46 In response, a clergyman wrote in to the Times to declare that English cottages were in danger of being reduced to the ‘standard of the Hottentot’.47 By the 1860s the Saturday Review was able to write of the agricultural labourer that he lived like a ‘pig... in [a] hovel’, and that ‘his actual position in many counties tends to degrade him, not only as an English citizen, but even as a human being’.48 In other words thanks to his home the cottager was in danger of becoming a savage, even a beast. As in the city, discussions of the sewer and its contents were, in Stallybrass and White’s words, ‘unstable, sliding between social, moral and psychic domains’.49 In this instance, imperial and medical discourse intersected to remove the figure of the labourer from the human domain.

  • 50 W. Howitt The Rural Life of England (London, [1838] 1844) p. 113
  • 51 For a discussion on the relationship of science to the construction of the animal and female body i (...)

22The Victorian rural working class like its urban counterpart took on those characteristics that the metropolitan middle class rejected, and these characteristics were part of the imaginary of country as well as urban life. Indeed, the urban labourer could be held up as a paragon compared to his/her country cousin. The ‘mechanic sees his weekly newspaper over his pipe and pot’ William Howitt wrote in the first half of the century, but ‘the clodhopper, the chopstick, the hawbuck, the hind, the Johnny-raw or whatever name, in whatever district, he may be called’ is the same everywhere. He has no paper and would have no interest in reading one even if he had one – or could read. ‘He is’ Howitt declared, ‘as much an animal as air and exercise, strong living and sound sleeping, can make him, and he is nothing more.’50 Drawing on the language of animal vs. human (in tension with human as animal),51 Howitt became caught in the need to write the rural as Naturally ideal vs. a desire for the Culture of the city. In the process of homogenising the rural labourer he like many was torn simultaneously between sympathy and disgust.

  • 52 Mark Freeman ‘the Agricultural Labourer and the ‘Hodge’ Stereotype c. 1850-1914’ in Agricultural Hi (...)
  • 53 Rural women were often represented as unsexed by their paid work – especially when this was field w (...)
  • 54 K. Soper, What is Naturel? p. 91
  • 55 Agriculture often depended on their work. They were frequently represented Romantically, and were i (...)

23For many writers on the subject, the old association of the natural world with Classical bucolic earthy pleasures, and the linking of dirt with carnality, meant that a degree of licence not simply ignorance was inherent within rural life. Where the City was associated with what was civilised, with ‘Mind’, the country was associated with the savage, the ‘Body’. Though as Mark Freeman argues the ‘Hodge’ stereotype altered in the course of the century, as the economic social and political position of agricultural labourers changed,52 the very fact of their work nonetheless required farm servants to become strong, tired and dirty. All too like the beasts of burden they worked with, it required a particular effort for labouring men to control themselves/raise themselves up out of this world, something that they might have to achieve without a good (domestic) woman.53 As Kate Soper argues, where what is human is identified purely with what is within reach of the elite, the labourer, urban or rural, must necessarily become ‘less than human’54 and this process can clearly be seen at work in the Victorian period. Further complexities came into play for migrant labourers who travelled to find work, often moving regularly between town and country, creating tensions between rational social/economic mobility vs. ideal fixity, individuality vs. community.55

CONCLUSION

24In English, the word ‘country’ is derived from contrada/contrate (Latin), meaning ‘that which lies opposite’. But, it is not enough simply to set City against Country, it is necessary to look at the ways in which they interrelate. This is pertinent not just to our understanding of the Victorians but also to the way in which we write histories of the Victorians, the way we re-present the past.

  • 56 Daniels, Fields of Vision, p. 8
  • 57 Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 4
  • 58 Massey, Space, Place and Gender, p. 4 Or, as Annie Hughes puts it, rurality, like gender, is an ‘un (...)

25An ‘apparently simple picture of a country scene’ Daniels observes, ‘may yield many fields of vision.’ The association of national identity with certain landscapes he goes on ‘negotiates many other forms of identity: local, regional and international; social, religious and familial’.56 Or, as Maclean et al have put it: ‘What Williams figured as an analytical dichotomy can be more satisfactorily grasped as a series of permeable boundaries.’57 Moreover, conflicts can emerge when the perceptual landscapes of different groups collide: the struggle for meaning is reified. To draw on social geographer Doreen Massey, every single attempt to fix spatial identity is in consequence an attempt to distinguish between many competing representations of a particular geographic region, or to lay claim to a particular history, as inflected through other forms of cultural identity based on ethnicity, class, gender and faith. And, in the process of making the attempt, the histories and identities of others living in that territory are necessarily excluded. Thus, the way that space is thought of, the way it is organised, is ‘integral to the production of the social, and not merely its result. It is fully implicated in history and politics.’58 The negotiation of such different perceptions, or impulses & processes, leads historically to the creation of many contesting, culturally constructed and often paradoxical countrysides, and multiple contingent rural/urban spaces.

  • 59 See Paul Cloke and Jo Little, ‘Introduction: Other Countrysides?’ in Cloke, P. and Little, J., (eds (...)

26But if we accept that such spaces are always fully implicated in social relations, then one account of the country/city is no more ‘authentic’ than any other. What they do express are disparate experiences and distinct ways of seeing mapped out within capital. At the same time, different visions of the ‘rural’/’urban’ and the practices that have resulted have still worked materially to include and exclude. The rural idyll that became hegemonic in the Victorian period marginalised at the same time as it placed the privileged at its ‘centre’.59

  • 60 R. Sales English Literature in History 1750-1830: pastoral and politics (Hutchinson, London, 1983). (...)
  • 61 Agyman and Spooner have traced the language of ‘native’ and ‘alien’ in discussions of wildlife and (...)
  • 62 Agyeman and Spooner, ‘Ethnicity and the Rural Environment’, p. 205-12. Agyman and Spooner therefore (...)

27The supposed conservatism of the country, as compared to the perceived radicalism of the city, for example, in many ways turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy; its ‘conservatism’ belongs to the chain of meaning that links country-life to conservation, the native and the ‘natural’ order. The Victorian image of the country home described (by writers like Howitt) as the embodiment of a natural age-old domesticity can be seen as part of this ‘natural order’, a rural virtue that the middle class sought.60 Meanwhile, the imaginary ‘unspoiled’ countryside has been and is still mobilised to resist actual, material change – usually termed ‘progress’. In the twentieth century it was still used to fight the invasion of the ‘alien’·61 Meanwhile, the rhetoric of this ‘native’, ‘natural order’, reinforces the construction of country as white, (inner) city as ‘black’.62 The language of the natural has therefore come to be used in the negotiation between material reality and the perception of rural life and through it we can see how images of the country and the city have worked as coded responses to social and cultural change.

  • 63 Williams, The Country and the City, p, 297-303
  • 64 Murdoch Pratt ‘Topography’, p. 51

28The underlying shift or ‘crisis’ in Williams’ view was an inability to deal with the present – where the country connoted the past and the city connoted the future. Williams saw capitalism as the history of country and city, and he called for resistance to it. However, he noted, while Marx and Engels ‘denounced what was being done in the tearing progress of capitalism and imperialism’ and insisted on struggle, they nonetheless believed that ‘the bourgeoisie had ‘rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of country life’,’ and celebrated modernism as against uncivilised barbarism. The urban proletariat was then, according to Marxism, destined to create a higher form of society, a society with ‘values higher than ‘rural idiocy’or ‘barbarism’’. In radical discourse ‘city’, just as for someone like Howitt, was equated to progress, ‘country’ to backwardness.63 As Jonathan Murdoch and Andy C. Pratt observe, even today academic writing on the rural often perpetuates images of harmony, consensus and timelessness, by presenting the rural as a social space that is homogenous.64

  • 65 Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 4

29What is perhaps most paradoxical here re the Victorians – or at least most obviously paradoxical, given that it can be broken down into a myriad of little contradictions – is the hegemonic maintenance of the gap between rural and urban despite the constant movement of people, money and goods across it. As Maclean et al have put it: ‘While country and city may continue to describe concrete and specific geographical places, they do so as relational constructs within the social production of space, with its movements of capital, labour and commodities.’65 Meanwhile, through the attempt to establish the urban and rural as fixed, immutable and unconnected, the cross-cutting experiences of class were elided, domesticity assembled and whiteness established.

Notes

1 The Daily News was a radical paper, set up in 1846, which took most of its readership from the middle class. Its nearest rival, the Morning Chronicle, was more expensive and in decline by the time that the News was set up.

2 R. Williams, The Country and the City (the Hogarth Press, London, 1985; 1st edn 1973), p. 1

3 Williams, The Country and the City, p. 306

4 G. Maclean, D. Landry, J, P. Ward (eds) The Country and the City Revisited: England and the Politics of Culture, 1550-1850 (CUP, Cambridge, 1999), Introduction, p. 1

5 Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 4

6 Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 1

7 Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 1

8 See P. Stallybrass and A. White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (London, 1986)

9 T. H. Walker Good Servants, Good Wives, & Happy Homes (VIth edn. Partridge & Co., c. 1888), Preface p. v

10 T. H. Walker Good Servants, Preface p. i

11 S. B. Ortner ‘Is female to male as nature is to culture?’ in Mitchelle, Z. et al, (eds.) Woman, Culture and Society (Stanford 1974), p. 67-87. Such a mediating role, Ortner has show, is fraught with contradictions.

12 T. H. Walker Good Servants p. i

13 S. Garton ‘The Scales of Suffering: love, death and Victorian masculinity’ in Social History Vol 27: no. 1., p. 54

14 Garton, ‘Scales’, p. 54

15 On this process see Stallybrass & White

16 See P. Tristram, Living Space in Fact and Fiction (Routledge, London, 1995); L. Davidoff, J. L’Esperance, and H. Newby, ‘Landscape with figures: home and community in English society’ in Mitchell, J., and Oakley, A., The Rights and Wrongs of Women (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1986); T. Rivers, D. Cruickshank, G. Darley, & M. Pawley, The Name of the Room, a history of the British house and home (London, 1992); S. Brand, How Buildings Learn, what happens after they’re built (London, 1997)

17 See R. J. Lawrence, Housing, Dwellings and Homes, design, theory, research and practice (Wiley, Chichester, 1987) NB ‘stranger’ is also used re the village – see Davidoff et al

18 F. Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford, A Trilogy (Harmondsworth, [1939, 1941, 1943] 1979), p. 497. Not that moral and political messages that challenged old hierarchies and tradition could not be inscribed onto interior space. The possession of anti-slavery texts and decoration of one’s home with anti-slavery prints, pin cushions, china, pottery, stationary or art, for instance, deliberately revealed the political stance of the home-owner. L. Walker and V. Ware, ‘Political Pincushions: Decorating the abolitionist interior, 1780-1860, paper delivered at Reading the nineteenth-century Domestic Space, King Alfred’s College, Winchester, (April, 1996)

19 Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, p. 144-5.

20 David Gamett, c. 1896, quoted in I. Stickland (ed.) The Voices of Children 1700-1914 (London, 1973), p. 198

21 Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, p. 144

22 Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, p. 130-2.

23 See Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 6-8.

24 See F. Barret-Ducrocq Love in the Time of Victoria: sexuality, class and gender in nineteenth-century London, Howe, J. (trans) (Penguin, London, 1981), p. 8.

25 Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, p. 148-50.

26 Stallybrass and White, Politics and Poetics, p. 150-165; L. Davidoff ‘Class and Gender in Victorian England’ in Newton, J. L., Ryan, M. P., Walkowitz, J. R. (eds.) Sex and Class in Women’s History: essays from feminist studies (London, 1985) p. 18-29.

27 S. Daniels, Fields of Vision, Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States (Cambridge, 1994), p. 5-7

28 J. Kamm (ed.) The City and the Country: proceedings from the sixth British and Cultural Studies Conference Dresden 1995 (Die Blue Eule, Essen, Germany, 1997) p. 10 makes the point that this can already be identified back in the mid C18th

29 J. Agyeman and R. Spooner, ‘Ethnicity and the Rural Environment’ in Cloke, P., and Little, J., (eds.) Contested Countryside Cultures, otherness, marginalisation and rurality (London and New York, 1997), p. 212

30 ‘Where indeed shall we go,’ he asked, ‘before the escalator stops?’ Williams, The Country and the City, p. 10-11

31 Williams, The Country and the City, p 291

32 Williams, The Country and the City, p. 9-12, 289-91 Where the country retains its imaginative power its persistence relies on pastoral, but the exact images, forms and ideas within that pastoral change over time, and their function is to interpret different kinds of experience to different eras.

33 Williams, The Country and the City, p 12

34 Williams, The Country and the City, p. 10

35 The middle class did not want to get “quite beyond the busy world”, so it was often easier, certainly cheaper, for the city – though figured as a site of public excess, unrest and promiscuity – to be rewritten & redesigned with lawns and flowers added.

36 ‘Observe a company of haymakers. When you see them at a distance, tossing up forkfuls of hay in the golden light, while the wagon creeps slowly with its increasing burthen over the meadow, and the bright green space which tells of work done gets larger and larger, you pronounce the scene 'smiling', and you think these companions in labour must be as bright and cheerful as the picture to which they give animation. Approach nearer, and you will certainly find that haymaking time is a time for joking, especially if there are women among the labourers; but the coarse laugh that bursts out every now and then, and expresses the triumphant taunt, is as far as possible from your conception of idyllic merriment. That delicious effervescence of the mind which we call fun, has no equivalent for the northern peasant, except in tipsy revelry; the only realm of fancy and imagination for the English clown exists at the bottom of the third quart pot.’ [my italics]
Eliot, G., 'The natural history of German life' from
Westminster Review, July 1856, in (ed.) Byatt, A. S., George Eliot, Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings, Harmondsworth, 1990, p. 108-9

37 A. Combe The Management of Infancy, Physiological and Moral intended chiefly for the use of parents (Maclachlan and Stewart, Edinburgh, ninth edition 1860) p. 157; an earlier edition is entitled A Treatise on the Physiological and Moral Management of Infancy (4th edition 1840).

38 For example, see J. Burchardt Paradise Lost; rural idyll and social change since 1800 (I. B. Tauris, London, 2002) p. 17-19

39 Herman Muthesius (1861-1927) trained first as a philosopher and then as an architect in Germany. Having spent time in Tokyo, and having travelled in Italy, he joined the German Embassy in London as architect and technical attaché in 1896. From there he reported on English architecture, culture and society for over six years. His work was widely published and respected in Germany, and it appears that it contributed to the belief that buildings should be adapted to Nature, rather than the reverse – later taken up by conservative architects who contributed to the Nationalist-Socialist movement In 1904 he built his first house, called ‘the English house’ which attracted widespread interest and acclaim. However, he was also widely criticised in 1907 for attacking the ‘trash’ produced by the arts industry in Germany. He was critical of both art nouveau and Bauhaus movements as fashions. He wanted houses to be built according to the self-conscious (rather than fad-conscious) needs of those who dwelled within them. Norbert Böhnke, http://www.hermann-muthesius.de/vortrag_eng.htm

40 H. Muthesius, The English House, Sharp, D., (ed.) Seligman, J., (trans.), (London, 1904), p. 7-11

41 A. Combe The Management of Infancy, p. 157-8

42 ‘Cultured’ at least in agricultural terms

43 Norfolk News, cited by R. Heath in The English Peasant; Studies: Historical, Local and Biographic (Wakefield, [1893] 1978), p. 69

44 A firm believer in laissez faire, Austin was an expert who had already served on two previous Commissions – the 1838 Handloom Weavers Commission and the 1840-43 Children’s Employment Commission.

45 ‘Reports of Special Assistant Poor Law Commissioners’, p. 19-21

46 Though the pig was kept for meat, it was also used for human hygiene, the ‘pig’s ‘dustbin’ habits provided its owner with a primitive form of sewage and refuse disposal, [therefore] a voraciousness and filthiness imputed to pig ‘nature’ was enforced in the interests of human appetites and cleanliness.’ K. Soper, What is Nature? Culture, politics and the non-human (Oxford, 1995) p. 87

47 The Times (30th December 1843), p. 5

48 Saturday Review 13th February 1869, p. 213

49 Stallybrass and White Politics and Poetics, p. 130

50 W. Howitt The Rural Life of England (London, [1838] 1844) p. 113

51 For a discussion on the relationship of science to the construction of the animal and female body in particular, see Lynda Birke, ‘Exploring the Boundaries: Feminism, Animals and Science’ in Carol J Adams and Josephine Donovan (eds.) Animals and Women: feminist theoretical explorations (Duke University Press, Durham and London, 1995)

52 Mark Freeman ‘the Agricultural Labourer and the ‘Hodge’ Stereotype c. 1850-1914’ in Agricultural History Review 49, II, p. 172-86

53 Rural women were often represented as unsexed by their paid work – especially when this was field work – by parliamentary reporters and other commentators. K. Sayer Women of the Fields: representations of rural working women in the nineteenth century (MUP 1995)

54 K. Soper, What is Naturel? p. 91

55 Agriculture often depended on their work. They were frequently represented Romantically, and were idealised yet threatenrig figures of criminality.

56 Daniels, Fields of Vision, p. 8

57 Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 4

58 Massey, Space, Place and Gender, p. 4 Or, as Annie Hughes puts it, rurality, like gender, is an ‘unstable and interactive reference [point]’ constructed through social and cultural practices, which have given [it] meaning in everyday life.’ A. Hughes, ‘Rurality and ‘Cultures of Womanhood’: domestic identities and moral order in village life’ in Cloke and Little, Contested Countryside Cultures, p. 124

59 See Paul Cloke and Jo Little, ‘Introduction: Other Countrysides?’ in Cloke, P. and Little, J., (eds) Contested Countryside Cultures, otherness, marginalisation and rurality (London and New York, 1997), p. 1

60 R. Sales English Literature in History 1750-1830: pastoral and politics (Hutchinson, London, 1983). Sales breaks pastoralism down into ‘five ‘R’s: refuge, reflection, rescue, requiem and reconstruction.’ p. 15 Through these rural virtues are selected and retrieved for the present.

61 Agyman and Spooner have traced the language of ‘native’ and ‘alien’ in discussions of wildlife and plants, Agyeman and Spooner, ‘Ethnicity and the Rural Environment’, p. 207

62 Agyeman and Spooner, ‘Ethnicity and the Rural Environment’, p. 205-12. Agyman and Spooner therefore address the construction of whiteness, its relationship to power and exclusion.

63 Williams, The Country and the City, p, 297-303

64 Murdoch Pratt ‘Topography’, p. 51

65 Maclean et al, Revisited, p. 4

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