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A Room of His Own

A Room of His Own: A Literary-Cultural Study of Victorian Clubland

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Ohio University Press
Pages: 328
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    A Room of His Own
    Book Description:

    In nineteenth-century London, a clubbable man was a fortunate man, indeed. The Reform, the Athenaeum, the Travellers, the Carlton, the United Service are just a few of the gentlemen's clubs that formed the exclusive preserve known as "clubland" in Victorian London-the City of Clubs that arose during the Golden Age of Clubs. Why were these associations for men only such a powerful emergent institution in nineteenth-century London? Distinctly British, how did these single-sex clubs help fashion men, foster a culture of manliness, and assist in the project of nation-building? What can elite male affiliative culture tell us about nineteenth-century Britishness? A Room of His Own sheds light on the mysterious ways of male associational culture as it examines such topics as fraternity, sophistication, nostalgia, social capital, celebrity, gossip, and male professionalism. The story of clubland (and the literature it generated) begins with Britain's military heroes home from the Napoleonic campaign and quickly turns to Dickens's and Thackeray's acrimonious Garrick Club Affair. It takes us to Richard Burton's curious Cannibal Club and Winston Churchill's The Other Club; it goes underground to consider Uranian desire and Oscar Wilde's clubbing and resurfaces to examine the problematics of belonging in Trollope's novels. The trespass of French socialist Flora Tristan, who cross-dressed her way into the clubs of Pall Mall, provides a brief interlude. London's clubland-this all-important room of his own-comes to life as Barbara Black explores the literary representations of clubland and the important social and cultural work that this urban site enacts. Our present-day culture of connectivity owes much to nineteenth-century sociability and Victorian networks; clubland reveals to us our own enduring desire to belong, to construct imagined communities, and to affiliate with like-minded comrades.

    eISBN: 978-0-8214-4435-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-4)

    This book takes up the gauntlet thrown down by George Augustus Sala long ago when he taunted us with an insider’s challenge: “Clubbism is a great mystery” (Twice, 213). To clarify this mystery and to consider all that it can tell us about Victorian society at the same time as it casts some light on certain fundamental desires in us all, one could do worse than begin with Samuel Johnson’s famously spare and sensible definition for a club: “An assembly of good fellows, meeting under certain conditions.” What it means to be a “good fellow” who meets with other “good...

  6. Introduction The Man in the Club Window
    (pp. 5-32)

    A man’s home is his castle—or is it not? The nineteenth-century architect Robert Kerr seemed to think it was in his brash tribute The Gentleman’s House (1864). This far-from-timid volume aims to establish the pedigree of the English gentleman’s house, tracing through a wide historic scope its patrimony “from the Hall of the Saxon Thane to the Mansion of the modern Gentleman” (2). Executing his mission to provide middle-class patrons with the houses they deserve, Kerr produced a volume explosive with a pride and authorial earnestness that make his prose positively galvanic. As Kerr educates his middle-class readers on...

  7. 1 A Night at the Club
    (pp. 33-87)

    A nineteenth-century clubman, James Smith, once recounted his clubland routines:

    At three o’clock I walk to the club, read the journals, hear Lord John Russell deified or diablerised, do the same with Sir Robert Peel or the Duke of Wellington, and then join a knot of conversationists by the fire till six o’clock. We then and there discuss the three per cent. consols (some of us preferring the Dutch two-and-a-half), and speculate upon the probable rise, shape, and cost of the new Exchange. If Lady Harrington happens to drive past our window in her landau, we compare her equipage to...

  8. 2 Conduct Befitting a Gentleman Mid-Victorian Clubdom and the Novel
    (pp. 88-111)

    When Pip moves to London to realize his great expectations, he aspires to join a club, “The Finches of the Grove,” as part of his plan to become a smart young gentleman. This longing to belong is only one of Pip’s “lavish habits,” which include hiring the servant the Avenger, purchasing new furnishings that place himself and his friend Herbert in a “quantity of debt,” and keeping “late hours and late company” (270). Even Pip cannot fathom the object of this club, where men spend recklessly on dinners and quarrel, leading servants to drink—what Dickens facetiously calls the club’s...

  9. 3 Clubland’s Special Correspondents
    (pp. 112-146)

    If the focus of my preceding chapter is the importance of clubland to the novel—the genre committed both to the “new” and to that which is “news”—then this chapter takes the currency of novelty one step further by examining the ties between club culture and the fourth estate, journalism. This step is also justifiable, of course, because of the nineteenth-century serialized novel’s reliance on journalistic publication. So, in the instance of Phineas Finn, the novel, the periodical, and the club converge: Trollope’s second Palliser novel found an appropriate venue by appearing serially for a male readership in Saint...

  10. 4 Membership Has Its Privileges The Imperial Clubman at Home and Away
    (pp. 147-174)

    In 1866, Anthony Trollope profiled a prominent personage, the Alpine Club man, in his Travelling Sketches. His interest in his subject had two likely sources. As a lover of foxhunting in particular and the sporting life more generally, Trollope had longed to join the Alpine Club but realized that both his age and his level of athleticism made him unfit for membership. Then, in the aftermath of a fatal climbing accident on the Matterhorn that took the lives of several Alpine Club members, Trollope’s admiration deepened. Trollope begins his sketch by acknowledging the club’s, and the country’s, recent loss. Writing...

  11. 5 The Pleasure of Your Company in Late-Victorian Pall Mall
    (pp. 175-200)

    About his iconic protagonist, Jules Verne need only write, “Phileas Fogg belonged to the Reform Club—and that was all” (8). Verne’s reticence, his assertion that “that was all” his readers needed to know, makes for a peculiar introduction to the hero of Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). In the novel’s opening pages, we learn everything that Fogg is not. He is not a public man and can claim no civic involvement. He is not a professional man who must work and instead enjoys a wealth whose source remains unknown. He has no family, choosing to live “alone...

  12. 6 A World of Men An Elegy for Clubbability
    (pp. 201-218)

    Masterful at shaping narrative structure, John Galsworthy knew precisely where to begin The Forsyte Saga (1922): a chronicle of a family can start at no better place than at home, with an “at home” at old Jolyon’s Stanhope Gate in celebration of his granddaughter June’s engagement to the architect Philip Bosinney. This trilogy (The Man of Property [1906], In Chancery [1920], and To Let [1921], published as a single volume in 1922 as The Forsyte Saga) takes its first step by halting the reader, arresting the eye upon a family portrait, as the Forsytes gather to pose for an introductory...

  13. Epilogue A Room of Her Own
    (pp. 219-238)

    For much of the nineteenth century, conventional wisdom deemed women intractably unclubbable. The standard arguments in circulation at the time often began by pointing to women’s “natural” inclination not to be social. As shy creatures, they did not possess the savoir faire that men embodied. Furthermore, women did not value solidarity; they were not capable of a wider view and, therefore, had little sense of class, or group, allegiance. Even more damning, conventional wisdom saw women as inherently competitive. One anonymous reviewer in the Saturday Review in 1874 announced that “[t]he very dress of women is a non-clubable element” (“Last...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 239-276)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-292)
  16. Index
    (pp. 293-302)