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Portable Property

Portable Property: Victorian Culture on the Move

John Plotz
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Portable Property
    Book Description:

    What fueled the Victorian passion for hair-jewelry and memorial rings? When would an everyday object metamorphose from commodity to precious relic? InPortable Property, John Plotz examines the new role played by portable objects in persuading Victorian Britons that they could travel abroad with religious sentiments, family ties, and national identity intact. In an empire defined as much by the circulation of capital as by force of arms, the challenge of preserving Englishness while living overseas became a central Victorian preoccupation, creating a pressing need for objects that could readily travel abroad as personifications of Britishness. At the same time a radically new relationship between cash value and sentimental associations arose in certain resonant mementoes--in teacups, rings, sprigs of heather, and handkerchiefs, but most of all in books.

    Portable Propertyexamines how culture-bearing objects came to stand for distant people and places, creating or preserving a sense of self and community despite geographic dislocation. Victorian novels--because they themselves came to be understood as the quintessential portable property--tell the story of this change most clearly. Plotz analyzes a wide range of works, paying particular attention to George Eliot'sDaniel Deronda, Anthony Trollope'sEustace Diamonds, and R. D. Blackmore'sLorna Doone. He also discusses Thomas Hardy and William Morris's vehement attack on the very notion of cultural portability. The result is a richer understanding of the role of objects in British culture at home and abroad during the Age of Empire.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2893-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PREFACE Getting Hold of Portable Property
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. INTRODUCTION The Global, the Local, and the Portable
    (pp. 1-23)

    One universally acknowledged truth about the Victorians is that they loved their things.¹ Deborah Cohen has recently argued that in nineteenth-century England moral uplift came for the first time to be associated with the accumulation and harmonious arrangement of possessions; home-decoration turned into a saintly affair.² The objects that pack Victorian parlors—aquaria, terraria, globes, books, and beetle collections among them—might seem to make bourgeois life into a collector’s paradise, an alternative to ever quitting the home.³ However, the titles of popular works such as Friedrich Ernst’sThe Portable Gymnasium, John Bartholomew’sPortable Atlas, and Elizabeth Kent’sFlora Domestica,...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Discreet Jewels: Victorian Diamond Narratives and the Problem of Sentimental Value
    (pp. 24-44)

    This book explores an era in which global capital flow simultaneously engendered new forms of fungibility and new sentimental attachments to objects that seemed capable of warding off that fungibility. Marx’s commodities and Mrs Tulliver’s linens grew up together, and the quest was on for ways to represent the far-flung movements of household treasures as antithetical to the simple exchange of commodities. The complicated relationship that grew up between trade-born fungibles and local repositories of identity sparked a search for ways to understand the movement of Victorian English goods and government overseas, to see that migration as something other than...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The First Strawberries in India: Cultural Portability Abroad
    (pp. 45-71)

    Strawberries first taught Harriet Tytler she was English. Born, bred, and married in India, the octogenarian Tytler in 1903 still described herself and her fellow Anglo-Indians as “exiles in a foreign land.”¹ Her obdurate refusal of Indianness helps explain why one of her strongest memories is of being taken, at age eight, to see

    the first strawberry plants that ever grew in India. . . .Two of the plants had one ripe berry each. Of course everyone was delighted at the novel sight. No one touched them, but all expressed the desire to be Lord Auckland [and so] to have...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Someone Else’s Knowledge: Race and Portable Culture in Daniel Deronda
    (pp. 72-92)

    The economic and sentimental value attached to objects in motion produced an avalanche of Victorian texts exploring new notions of cultural portability. Diamond stories opened ways for novelists to reflect upon the logic of social exchanges that at once interfere with and help to constitute putatively sheltered domestic tranquility. And a range of Anglo-Indian travel writings—whether focused on palpably portable properties like strawberries or on the literary quotations that could craft a sense of continuous selfhood in England as also in India—explored both institutional and idiosyncratic alternatives to the ominous fungibility of market transactions. The novel, I have...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Locating Lorna Doone: R. D. Blackmore, F. H. Burnett, and the Limits of English Regionalism
    (pp. 93-121)

    Eliot’s memorabilia, Gaskell’s letters, Trollope’s necklace, Eden’s quotations: are these anything more than Victorian oddities, bits of portable property afloat by chance in the era’s most capacious genre? Grant that portability proves a powerful paradigm for novelists such as Trollope, preoccupied with the ways that sentimental value can adhere to objects seemingly defined by their fiscal nature only; grant that Emily Eden would be preoccupied with deciding how literary quotations could constitute an Englishness on the move; even grant that in setting out to represent the unrepresentability of Jewish culture, Eliot is exploring how deeply portable culture can be embedded...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Going Local: Characters and Environments in Thomas Hardy’s Wessex
    (pp. 122-143)

    Thomas Hardy’s characters have rarely been called “portable”; they have, though, often been dubbed puppets. Whether ruled by the whim of “the President of the Immortals” or by the ironclad “fact of individual unfreedom,” Hardy’s characters can appear so determined by overarching forces that they finally become indistinguishable from their surroundings.¹ His finely developed eye for the agricultural seasons and climatic exigencies of Wessex has long struck readers as proof of his indifference to the nuances of individuated human experience. Henry James, for one, detects little in Hardy beyond “a certain aroma of the meadows and lanes—a natural relish...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Nowhere and Everywhere: The End of Portability in William Morris’s Romances
    (pp. 144-169)

    Throughout the nineteenth century, local truths seemed the novel’s distinctive contribution to the Smithian project of producing effective sympathy. A letter tucked inside a set of stays, the unmistakable set of a heroine’s mouth, a whispered cockney version of the Lord’s Prayer—each generates generality from extreme particularity:¹ no type without the individual, no general rule without the proper noun, the named character who strikingly exemplifies it.² Tolstoy’s claims that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own peculiar way, for example, requires him to produce a new and unfamiliar piece of domestic unhappiness that can be recognized, precisely on...

  12. CONCLUSION Is Portability Portable?
    (pp. 170-182)

    How durable was Victorian portability? I have been describing a coherent set of representational practices and aesthetic assumptions that flourished in England and Greater Britain between 1830 and 1870, then continued in various vigorous forms at least until the end of the century. A variety of economic and political forces sustained it, and its continued allure is evidenced in lacunae as much as it is by extant texts: the failure of American-style regionalism to take root in England between 1870 and 1900, I argued in chapter 4, results from the imperial requirement for representations of a coherent, uniform, and thus...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 183-234)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-256)
  15. Index
    (pp. 257-268)