In Search of America: Transatlantic Essays, 1951-1990

By Marcus Cunliffe | Go to book overview

VICTORIAN AMERICA AND AFTER

The half-dozen essays assembled here address themselves to cultural and literary themes, running in chronology from roughly 1830 to 1930. I wish there had been room for various additional essays which bring us closer to modern or postmodern times. The bibliography at the end of the book indicates where readers can turn for such material in my writings.

Still, I realize upon reflection that over the years I have felt especially at home with those elements of American thought and behaviour that are often described as "Victorian." The term may seem a misnomer, applied to a society whose polyglot, republican inhabitants tended to evince either indifference or outright hostility to whatever British monarchy connoted to them. However, even if nineteenth century Americans may not commonly have spoken of themselves as "Victorian," historians in the twentieth century find it a useful label for the period covered by the present sample of essays.

During those decades the United States and Great Britain maintained a complexly antagonistic parallelism whose balancing features have largely disappeared since about 1930. Early rivalrous resentments are sketched in the essay on Frances Trollope Domestic Manners of the Americans ( 1832), which aroused more attention in the United States than in Mrs. Trollope's own country. Some not dissimilar emotions are sketched in the account of London's "Great Exhibition" of 1851. This essay deals with American involvement in the first of what was to be a series of international extravaganzas during the Victorian era, including the Philadelphia centennial in 1876, and the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. Like its successors, the pioneering London venture was an international competition masquerading as a love-feast. Whether the United States intended a direct challenge to the host-nation or was a merely peripheral entrant, was not clear at the outset. Yet when the Great Exhibition closed and Paxton

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