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VOLUMES OF NOISE

  • Matthew Bevis (a1)

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ON OCTOBER 23, 1873, an enthusiastic reporter for the Times observed: “In the course of these fifty years we have become a nation of public speakers. Everyone speaks now, and tolerable well too …. Eloquence is but a facility, or instrument, or weapon, or accomplishment, or, in academic terms, an art …. We are now more than ever a debating, that is, a Parliamentary people” (7). What an understanding of this nation of public speakers might mean for the study of socio-political and literary culture in the nineteenth century has only recently begun to be explored. In last year's issue of Nineteenth-Century Prose, the historian Martin Hewitt observed: “The platform culture of nineteenth-century Britain was so ubiquitous that its omnipresence has helped to render it strangely invisible. We look through it in search of material on all aspects of the period, but we fail to look at it, to interrogate it as a cultural form in its own right” (1). Seeing voices can be a tricky business, but – given the pervasive nature of this platform culture – Hewitt's call for a shift of emphasis from “material” to “form” is timely. What I want to offer here is a survey of this emerging field of study via an account of recent work by social and political historians. My account of what has been done will then lead to a suggestion of what might be left to do, and more particularly, to a consideration of the uses of this body of historical research for the study of literature in the period.

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VOLUMES OF NOISE

  • Matthew Bevis (a1)

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