Conventionally, historians have argued that the traditional experience of community, resonant with positive associations, declined in the nineteenth century under the weighty pressures of industrialism. The family left its village support networks, moved to the city, and retreated behind the sheltered hedges of suburbia. Consumerism seems at first glance to fit this pattern. Advertisements might seem in Marxian terms to glorify a commodity fetishism predicated on selfish greed, a greed antithetical to most abstract ideals of community. But in fact consumerism redefined rather than abandoned the relationship between the community and the individual. Individuals might be joined by self-illusory hedonism, by the shared experience both of being consumers and enjoying the anticipation of satiation. This was a sort of community, even though it was not tied to one specific physical place. Accordingly, products are not always peddled in the Victorian advertisement with particular reference to the satisfaction of individual needs. With surprising frequency, advertisers manipulate a broad awareness of social context. Their striking use of physical and ideological settings reveals a new interpretation of community, freshly adapted for the increasingly commercial mental and physical universe of the late Victorian individual.
Until the nineteenth century the rural village defined the British experience of community. In the village individuals depended on each other for