Spaces of the sacred and profane : Dickens, Trollope, and the Victorian cathedral town

Bridgham, Elizabeth A, Department of English, University of Virginia
Chase Levenson, Karen, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Arata, Stephen, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Milbank, Alison, Department of English, University of Virginia
Reilly, Lisa, AR-Arch History Dept, University of Virginia

This dissertation focuses on the unique cultural space of the Victorian cathedral town in the works of two of the era's most prolific and popular novelists: Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope. Dominant discussions of geographic setting in Victorian novels often posit a limited dichotomy between urban and rural space. For example, many critics emphasize the importance of London as the primary setting of Dickens's novels, opposing the metropolis to pastoral country alternatives; none have examined a crucial third space in works like Martin Chuzzlewit, David Copperfield, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood: that of the cathedral town. In Trollope's novels, this setting comes to the fore; his series of Barsetshire novels turns a microscope on the intricate social politics and mores of the fictionalized version of Salisbury that he calls Barchester. I argue that intersections of sacred and secular, space within cathedral towns provide social novelists like Dickens and Trollope a stage on which to dramatize and intervene in debates about religious, political, socio-economic, and cultural change.

By situating contemporary debates in cathedral towns, Dickens and Trollope complicate the restrictive dichotomy between urban and rural space often used to demonize and isolate urban social ills. Their cathedral towns are well worth considering as secondary loci of social unrest. Both writers resist the glorification of the past that seems inherent to the very physical space and architecture of the cathedral, firmly situating the towns' political and social concerns in the Victorian present day. This dissertation focuses on the appearance of three such key concerns appearing in the cathedral towns of each writer: religious fragmentation, the social value of artistic (and especially musical) labor, and the Victorian taste for Gothic architecture. In considering these subjects, Dickens and Trollope consider and reject the Romantic nostalgia for the past by concentrating on the ancient, yet vital (as opposed to ruined) edifices of the cathedrals, and by demonstrating ways in which modem sensibilities, politics, and comforts supersede the values of the cloister. In this sense, their cathedral towns are not idealized escapes; rather, they reflect the societies of which they are a part.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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