REDISCOVERING THE VICTORIANS
[Introduction to "cluster" articles]
The reputation of the Victorians fared poorly in the hands of their immediate successors, the early moderns. Popular literary indictments, such as Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918), depicted 19th-century Britons as humorless prigs and moralizing hypocrites. Add mean-spirited, money grubbing, aesthetically impoverished, and imperialistic, and the dismal anti-Victorian bill of particulars is almost complete. Unfair and onesided as that picture was, it remained the standard view, at least among most intellectuals, for a goodly portion of this century. During the past two decades, however, scholars and others have taken a fresh look at the culture and society of the Victorians and found a richness and humanity previously denied. Looking at several aspects of the Victorian achievement—from the visual arts (once dismissed as merely decorative) to the empire—our authors explain why the Victorian experience may speak more clearly to us at the end of the 20th century than it did to those who lived in its immediate aftermath.