Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Masculinity

By James Eli Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Dandies and Prophets: Spectacles
of Victorian Masculinity

He looked very handsome then, with his black hair, fine Eyes, and a sort of crucified expression.

Edward Fitzgerald, recalling Carlyle in 1840

Who best
Can suffer, best can do.

Milton, Paradise Regained

"The Dandiacal Body," Carlyle savagely witty attack on dandyism in Sartor Resartus ( 1833), defines a manifold and richly suggestive juncture in the social history of early Victorian England. The caustic portrait of an England reduced to antithetical "sects" of Dandies and Drudges, which anticipates by more than a decade Disraeli's trumpeting of the "two nations," also heralds a distinctively middle-class ascendancy in British culture—and with it, a norm of middle-class manhood. In Carlyle's satire, the dandy becomes the grotesque icon of an outworn aristocratic order, a figure of self-absorbed, parasitic existence, against which Carlyle evokes a heroism founded on superbly self-forgetful devotion to productive labor—an ideal most famously celebrated as the reign of the "Captains of Industry" in Past and Present. This antagonism between the hero and the dandy not only organizes much of Carlyle's writing, but operates as one of the founding symbolic oppositions of Victorian discourse.

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