Consuming Angels: Advertising and Victorian Women

By Lori Anne Loeb | Go to book overview

3 Progress in the Victorian Advertisement: Productive Engines and Consuming Conflagrations

The Victorian attitude toward progress was characteristically ambivalent. Victorians welcomed unprecedented material accomplishment. But by the end of the century there was a pervasive unease especially about the country's moral condition. This concern with moral progress found a number of well-known expressive avenues such as the aesthetic movement. I will argue in this chapter that advertisements, too, reflect the conflicted temper of the popular mood. Advertisements celebrate material progress; they praise its miraculous potential with grandiose images of smokestacks and production lines. But the springs of guilt that ran beyond consumerism are brought to a focus in advertisements in a surprising stress on feminine sexuality. With very particular images of sexy women, advertisers, probably unconsciously, remind consumers of the Fall, a message that apparently contradicts the advertiser's commercial intentions. Such contradictions characterize the advertisement's portrait of the material and the moral side of progress.


The Idea of Progress

J. B. Bury, the great historian of the idea of progress, has suggested that a belief in progress did not really arrive in western thought until the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. 1 Progress was built on the Enlightenment's celebration of scientific and technological advances and on the political values of liberty and equality espoused during the French and American Revolutions. For the first time instead of looking back to a

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