FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY: Britain in the Victorian Age by Margaret Drabble

FOR QUEEN AND COUNTRY: Britain in the Victorian Age

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This is not the cultural history one would expect from a novelist of rich so. chi textures. Though recognizing in her introduction the difficulties of treating so long and various a period in a ""short book,"" she then seems to give in to a survey that simply reiterates the conventional generalizations. Beginning with Victoria's marriage and excessive mourning and the effect that her domesticity and emphasis on respectability had on her subjects, Drabble goes on to describe the ostentation of the new rich and the display of prosperity at The Great Exhibition, then (in ""The Other Nation"") the deplorable conditions of the poor--noting especially the efforts of reformers and the fact that the people weren't really much worse off than in pre-industrial times. Chapters on the arts concentrate on how individual paintings and other works reflect the taste and ideals of the time--fair enough, but here as elsewhere Drabble's writing and her content are stale if not vacuous. (On The Great Exhibition: ""But was it an artistic success? Did it not rather illustrate what we think of as typically Victorian 'bad taste?' One could argue either way."") Taking to heart the children's-book imperative to ""argue either way,"" Drabble seems to feel that she must find something nice to say even about Victorian music, and she ends up with what seems from this side a complacent view of the ills and benefits of Empire. And though she concludes with a chapter on Darwin (""For me, the greatest single discovery of the nineteenth century was the discovery of the theory of evolution""), she shows no understanding of his ideas and instead merely perpetuates the Victorian clich‚s and misconceptions.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1979
Publisher: Seabury