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Moral Taste

Moral Taste: Aesthetics, Subjectivity, and Social Power in the Nineteenth-Century Novel

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 544
  • Book Info
    Moral Taste
    Book Description:

    Moral Tasteis a study of the ideological work done by the equation of good taste and moral refinement in a selection of nineteenth-century writings.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8462-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-38)

    The eighteenth-century habit of using the word ‘taste’ in paired constructions – ‘taste and elegance,’ ‘taste and resources,’ ‘taste and merit,’ ‘taste and judgment,’ ‘taste and accomplishments’ – assimilates aesthetic response to a wide range of sometimes contradictory mental and moral qualities, and the breadth of reference is not dropped in the decades that follow. The term ‘taste’ carries more weight in this period and is applied in a wider variety of situations than it is today. It often means no more than gentility or manners, but it can meanmores(one of Burney’s characters declares that in ‘the taste of the...

  5. 1 The Discourse of Taste in Waverley
    (pp. 39-71)

    Assuming a reader for whom good taste is the necessary mark of the novelistic hero or heroine, Scott takes care to establish the equal tastefulness of both of the women in whom Edward Waverley has a romantic interest. In the amusing chapter 54, where the protagonist, attempting to decide which lady deserves his love, undertakes a systematic comparison of Rose Bradwardine and Flora Mac-Ivor at Holyrood House, it is made clear to us if not to him that in point of taste there is nothing to choose between them. The touchstone is Shakespeare. Waverley judges Rose to have the superior...

  6. 2 A Room with a Viewer: The Evolution of a Victorian Topos
    (pp. 72-113)

    While the theatrical encounter between Edmund Waverley and Flora Mac-Ivor in her glen lives on in literature, shaping scenes in later nineteenth-century novels,¹ Waverley’s visit to Rose Bradwardine’sTroisième Étage, though less exciting than this encounter, provides a still more useful model for Scott’s successors. The visits to Flora and to Rose seem rather carefully paired. In both cases Waverley is granted access to the lady’s private space by a male relative and guided to it by a minor character who functions like the Spenserian porter or gatekeeper, and in both cases he has to make a rather laborious ascent...

  7. 3 Resources and Performance: Mansfield Park and Emma
    (pp. 114-172)

    Mrs Elton inEmmais one of those Austen characters whose vulgarity is signalled by the relentless repetition of a limited number of words. One is ‘barouche-landau’: she manages to work into almost every conversation she joins some allusion to her sister Selina’s wealthy husband, her estate Maple Grove, and her fashionable carriage. Another is ‘exploring.’ Avid for distraction, Mrs Elton urges ‘exploring’ expeditions, jaunts, she points out, so comfortably accomplished in a barouche-lan-dau. A third is ‘resources.’ Cravenly dependent on society of any kind – ‘No invitation came amiss to her’ (224) – Mrs Elton nevertheless proclaims her ability to live...

  8. 4 The Improvement of the Estate: J.C. Loudon and Some Spaces in Dickens
    (pp. 173-238)

    Humphry Repton’sFragments(1816) is a collection, assembled by the famous ‘improver’ of landed estates, of his most interesting and impressive projects. In this valedictory volume, prepared at the end of his life in order to preserve ‘the memory of an art which had declined,’¹ he published for the first time the text of a number of the Red Books prepared for his grander clients. These books consist of aesthetic assessments of their properties, with his prescriptions for improvement, but also describe a number of the more modest estates on which he had been working in recent years. Repton’s market...

  9. 5 Charlotte Brontë: Sweetness and Colour
    (pp. 239-289)

    Charlotte Brontë relies on polarity to organize her fictions, positioning her characters against one another in terms of the values they embody: flesh and spirit, frankness and secrecy, acquiescence and rebellion, domination and submission, plainness and beauty, English rectitude and foreign vice. While such polarization is a feature of Brontë’s juvenile work,¹ its effect on her prose style was no doubt consolidated by the pedagogy of Constantin Heger, her adored teacher in Brussels, who, by insisting that his students base their French compositions on canonical models, developed in Brontë not only a taste for antithetical parallelism in sentence structure but...

  10. 6 North and South: ‘Stately Simplicity’
    (pp. 290-329)

    Somebody had to die to produce the tableau of tastefulness with which Elizabeth Gaskell introduces her heroine Margaret Hale. While Margaret’s pretty cousin Edith Shaw, ‘a spoiled child’ (36) arrayed like Titania in blue and white and ribbons, snoozes on the sofa, Margaret has climbed up to ‘the very top of the house’ (38) to return ‘laden’ (39) with the heavy shawls acquired by Edith’s deceased father, ‘the General’ (37), presumably in the course of his career in India. Now she stands ‘right under the chandelier, quite silent and passive, while her aunt Shaw adjust[s] the draperies’ (39), her ‘tall,...

  11. 7 The Importance of Being Consistent: Culture and Commerce in Middlemarch
    (pp. 330-367)

    ‘Consistency’ is a word that turns up all the time in nineteenth-century moral discourse. To be accused of ‘inconsistency’ is no light charge: it implies a fundamental lack of moral seriousness. Hester Chapone recommends that her young readers ‘acquire habits of constancy and steadiness,’ for ‘without them there can be no regularity or consistency of action or character.’ J.C. Loudon says that rather than being tempted to purchase a house beyond one’s means it is ‘more manly and consistent’ to calculate from the outset what one can afford. Hannah More refers to the ‘character of a man of sense, of...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 368-386)

    My study concludes withMiddlemarch, a high Victorian text still deeply invested in the notion of ‘moral taste.’ Attempting to illustrate what patterns will emerge if we take tastefulness as seriously as did the nineteenth century, and convinced that the only way to do that is to look closely at its shaping influence on individual texts, I have necessarily limited myself to a small number of authors and to the high Victorian period.

    Other novelists who could well have been included in such a discussion will come immediately to mind. Dickens might well have a whole chapter, and so might...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 387-446)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 447-466)
  15. Index
    (pp. 467-483)