Pedagogy and Activism in the 19th Century: Those Who Can

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Thomas Carlyle’s injunction to his age to “Produce! Produce! […] Work while it is called To-day; for the Night cometh wherein no man can work” reveals simultaneously the Victorian conviction of the loss of meaning after the fall of what Lyotard terms the ‘master narratives’ of their society, and the desire to fill that void with an episteme of activity . This study proposes that teaching arises in the age as an antidote to the perceived failure of other creative and cultural discourses to generate new meaning for the modern age.

The Romantic retreat to the certainties of the self, triggered by the failure of the political experiment of the French Revolution, had developed by the Victorian period into a crisis of inertia. Enervated heroes populate mid-century fiction and poetry, embodying the paralysis felt within the cultural discourses of politics, art, and literature: ‘Action will furnish belief’ says Claude, Arthur Hugh Clough’s representative mid-century intellectual, ‘but will that belief be the true one?’

The teacher arises in the Victorian period as a figure of uncharacteristic epistemological clarity and potential. This book addresses not only representations of teaching in Victorian art and literature, but argues that the act of teaching provides a philosophical antidote to the modern disease of inertia. To the age’s leading sages including Carlyle, Ruskin and Arnold, the pedagogical act offers hope in an age of epistemological, aesthetic and political crisis. Teaching in this argument becomes not just a vehicle for the transmission of ideas but a creative act delivering meaning in the context of the diminishing returns of more traditional modes of cultural discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusIn preparation - 2020

Publication series

NameLiterature and Education

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