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1895: Drama, Disaster and Disgrace in Late Victorian Britain

Nicholas Freeman
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    'Kill the bugger!' _x000B_So read one telegram to the Marquess of Queensberry before his legal battle with Oscar Wilde in the spring of 1895. Today's readers often see the Wilde case as dramatising the intolerance and cruelty of late-Victorian life, but what was its contemporary significance? What was it like to live in Britain in 1895? Which stories, personalities and events really captured the headlines?

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-5084-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Julian Wolfreys
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Into the Past: A Brief Foreword
    (pp. 1-6)

    In Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno, Concluded (1893), the mysterious ‘Mein Herr’ tells how, in his country, maps are no longer drawn to scale: each mile on a map is a mile long. Jorge Luis Borges’s parable, ‘On Exactitude in Science’ (1960) relates a similar story, explaining how the Cartographers Guilds of an ancient civilisation surveyed their empire in such detail that the map they produced was the same size as the terrain it covered. The fate of these hapless geographers is a salutary one, and I was mindful of it throughout my work on this book. During the 1890s,...

  8. Winter: 15 September 1894 – 28 February 1895
    (pp. 7-74)

    Late 1894 was unseasonably warm, with raspberries picked in Essex the week before Christmas. The high temperatures prompted thunderstorms, with the south-west seeing its heaviest rain since 1882. On 14 November, George Gissing noted the ‘Newspapers are full of floods and wrecks’ (Gissing 1978: 353), and a deluge in the Thames Valley meant ‘Eton was flooded out, and the school had to be broken up’ (Hamilton 1986: 190). Oscar Wilde received an intimation of changes in the moral climate a few days earlier. The first night of Haddon Chambers’s John O’Dreams, starring Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Mrs Patrick Campbell (Beatrice...

  9. Spring: 1 March 1895 – 30 May 1895
    (pp. 75-136)

    ‘Should golf be encouraged at public schools?’ Golf was perfectly acceptable in itself, said Blackwood’s, but it should not join cricket and rugby on the educational curriculum. ‘Except in rare cases, we should instinctively condemn the boy who devoted his play-time to a more or less solitary and selfish game,’ it announced, characterising golf as a pastime in which ‘bad temper towards adversaries, and mutual recrimination between partners’ replaced the cricket eleven’s esprit de corps. Cricketers recognised and applauded their opponents’ successes, but golf had no moral compass. Indeed, its presence in schools risked swelling the numbers of ‘malingerers or...

  10. Summer: 1 June 1895 – 31 August 1895
    (pp. 137-174)

    On the day Wilde was sentenced to two years in prison, Conan Doyle wrote to his mother to tell how, on the advice of Grant Allen, he had decided to spend £3,500 on having a new house built in Hindhead, ‘the most improving part of England’ (Lellenberg 2007: 353). Had this been public knowledge, a newspaper editor may well have contrasted the two events to illustrate how Vice and dissidence had been punished, and Virtue and conformity rewarded

    Justice Wills had passed sentence on a Saturday afternoon, so Wilde and Taylor were held in cells at Newgate until the morning...

  11. Autumn into Winter: 1 September 1895 – 31 December 1895
    (pp. 175-214)

    Reflecting on the Conservatives’ election victory, Blackwood’s identified Agriculture, the Poor Law, Education and Labour as urgent priorities for Salisbury’s government (8/95: 306). In August however, the Queen’s Speech was confined to foreign affairs. Balfour, the Tories’ leader in the Commons, hoped for ‘a period of calm and peace’ (P 24/8/95: 91), but it was obvious to informed observers that his party would have to work hard to fulfil their electoral promises. A large majority did not guarantee a common purpose.

    Outside Parliament, debate surrounding the ‘sex problem’ continued. F.A. Atkins’s The Ideal Husband collected essays on the perfect partnership...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-227)
  13. Index
    (pp. 228-234)