Names and Stories: Emilia Dilke and Victorian Culture

By Kali Israel | Go to book overview

6
FRENCH VICES

In January 1895, Oscar Wilde's Mrs. Cheveley, in his newly opened play, An Ideal Husband, told a politician, "Nowadays . . . everyone has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues--and what is the result? You all go over like nine pins--one after the other. Not a year passes in England without somebody disappearing. Scandals used to lend charm, or at least interest to a man--now they crush him." Mrs. Cheveley was retrospective as well as prescient. Through the late nineteenth century, a series of highly mediated but detailed scandals, causes célèbres, and exposes permitted diverse constituencies to struggle over the construction of meaningful stories about bodies and danger. 1 The 1885-1886 divorce case of Crawford v. Crawford and Dilke shares with other scandals a great mixing and competition of narratives in court, press, and street, which revealed and contributed to class and gender tensions. The divorce court, like the courtroom in murder trials, was a space of sociosexual spectacle, promising access to the secrets of sex and marriage. 2 In retrospect, Charles Dilke's fate appears a rehearsal for Charles Parnell's, especially since their two cases were heard by the same judge, but each of the famous cases of the 1880s displayed tensions and possibilities differently. The Colin Campbell case of 1886 produced a vivid spectacle of upper-class male degeneracy, the "Maiden Tribute" exposé incited anxieties about childhood and class, and the Cleveland Street scandal combined male homoeroticism with the secrets of aristocracy. In the Parnell case, gender and sexual ideology were most overtly harnessed to national and international politics, but all these cases show the imbrication of gender and sexual ideologies with other politics, and all drew on the versatile generic language of melodrama, of guilt and innocence, villainy and victimization. 3 In and beyond the truth-seeking theatricality of the courtroom, stories multiplied.

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Names and Stories: Emilia Dilke and Victorian Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction Genres of Life-Writing 3
  • 1 - On Not Being an Orphan 19
  • 2 - Pictures and Lessons 39
  • 3 - Making a Marriage 74
  • 4 - Bodies Marriage, Adultery, and Death 108
  • 5 - The Resources of Style 162
  • 6 - French Vices 198
  • 7 - Renaissances 240
  • Notes 265
  • Identified Works by E F. S. Pattison/Dilke 341
  • Index 347
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