Becoming Somebody in Victorian England
Before the political and industrial revolutions that initiate the 19th century, a stunning number of people followed a single pattern in their lives: kings and commoners tended to inherit their identity and stick to it. That would include social class, level of education, economic prospects, a particular line of work, their roles as men and women… and so on. That pattern may have changed less radically and rapidly in the 19th century than it would in the 20th, but the transformation of personal prospects would become a favorite legend in the literature of the new, post-revolutionary world. We will focus our attention on two prime examples in the literature of Victorian England: Charles Dickens, Great Expectations and George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, both published in 1860. Dickens’ Pip and Eliot’s Maggie Tulliver have pitched their expectations to the tune of the times. We will read supplementary texts in order to support the sense that they were not alone—including portions of John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1850) and The Subjection of Women (1869) and Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (1848).