The De-Moralization of Society, by Gertrude Himmelfarb
Gertrude Himmelfarb is probably the most distinguished American historian working on 19th-century England. In recent years she has also written as a critic of miscellaneous social and cultural developments in today’s Western world. The present volume continues both activities. It will interest those who like to read about the last century, and those who worry about the current one.
Himmelfarb returns here to a subject she has dealt with extensively in earlier works: the moral fabric of Victorian society and the undeservedly bad press it has received from later commentators. Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918) can be seen as the prototype of the sour view of that period of English history, supposedly marked by social oppression and moral hypocrisy. As a result of such pejorative interpretations, the very term “Victorian” is still widely used today to indicate repressed sexuality, bourgeois stuffiness, and a generally retrograde world view. Himmelfarb is a “revisionist” with regard to this school of interpretation; she does not idealize the Victorians, but she insists on a balanced picture. More, she argues that there are important aspects of Victorian culture that merit our emulation.
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