The picturesque, portraiture, and the manor house: The social functions of art in mary augusta ward's marcella

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Abstract

The very first line of Mary Augusta Ward's novel Marcella ends with the word beautiful, repeated twice, the second time in italics. In this paper I will argue that this symbolizes the central role of aesthetics in the novel in a discourse that engages the social criticism of John Ruskin and William Morris. Some scholars have assessed Marcella (1894) as having a retrograde ending of Marcella marrying a Tory politician and landowner. Judith Wilt's critical study of Ward is entitled Behind Her Times, an indication of the general view of Ward as a political conservative, although Wilt argues that she was also progressive in many ways, and Ward has enjoyed other nuanced, sensitive re-readings and assessments (Argyle; Sutton-Ramspeck). I, too, am arguing that Ward's political and social views in this novel are complex and mixed and that examining the novel's Victorian cultural discourses can illuminate complex socio-political content that draws on late-century art world debates. The very texture of Marcella belies an unstable view of class and social problems, as the eponymous protagonist goes through several stages of thinking and trial-And-error solutions, some socialist, to problems of poverty and class disparity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)857-880
Number of pages24
JournalVictorian Literature and Culture
Volume45
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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