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The Mid-Victorian Generation 1846-1886 (New Oxford History of England) Paperback – 10 Aug 2000
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This book is a magnificent achievement, a worthy addition to the series, and a volume for which students and lecturers, as well as general readers, will long have reason to be grateful to its author. (Matthew Cragoe, Welsh History Review)
Theodore Hoppen's book will define our views of mid-Victorian society for the next two or three generations, and well it should. It is a book written from deep knowledge, wide reading and sparkling historical vision; students and scholars will gain much from reading it. (D. G. Paz, An American Journal - A Quarterly Journal devoted to British Studies)
About the Author
Theodore K. Hoppen is Professor in History at the University of Hull.
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Three stars, mostly because I'm a tough grader. Two and a half stars would be average, and this is slightly above average.
He writes about an unusually chaotic period in English politics, beginning with the repeal of the Corn Laws that tore the Conservative party in half. What followed was a whirl of minor parties and factions -- old Whigs, Ultras, Peelites, and Radicals -- and just as things seemed to be settling out (Hoppen describes the rise of formal party organizations to channel political impulses and the money behind them), the Irish question upended everything once again. In this way it is also a story of William Gladstone, who served in nearly every Liberal cabinet during the period, and had a hand in most of the major bills, until his humiliating failure in 1886. We like histories that also have some narrative to them, right?
Even so, political history gets a little dizzying. The most appealing part of the book is the obligatory chapter on the literature and art of the period. In the introduction, Hoppen says that such chapters usually turn into "breathless lists of the good and the great," which is all too true. Instead, (appropriately for a book on Victorianism) he writes about the fine arts from an economic perspective. There are some fascinating insights (why, for example, Victorian novels are all so long, and how that seemingly creative choice was actually dictated by the publishing industry) although others, like his attempt to explain the lack of decent English composers in business terms, seem a little more strained. Still, it's an interesting point of view on an important cultural period. Given how much of our current literary world was shaped in the 19th century, any theories about its origins are welcome.
Would it make me seem ignorant to say that I'm also glad this volume includes, in the appendix, a map of the ceremonial counties of Great Britain? Not all of us can remember the difference between Hertfordshire and Herefordshire, you know.
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