- Guide to the Year's WorkGeneral Materials
In Victorian Literature and the Victorian State: Character and Governance in a Liberal Society, Lauren M. E. Goodlad shifts the paradigm for studying Victorian society from the disciplinary panopticism of early Foucault, as deployed by D. A. Miller and others, to the "later Foucauldian idea of 'pastorship'" (p. x). As she convincingly points out, Benthamite panopticism more nearly describes the centralized state of the European continent than the liberal governance of Great Britain, and "we have yet fully to document the disciplinary subject of Foucault's Franco-oriented and presentist genealogy, and the modes of character idealized by and produced in Britain's self-consciously liberal society over the course of the nineteenth century" (p. x). Goodlad is surely right to question the widespread, nearly hegemonic tendency of Victorian studies to focus on Benthamite panopticism rather than to ask "why it was that nineteenth-century Britons declined to build any Panopticons" (p. x), though she is less convincing about the need to look to late Foucault as an essential correction to early Foucault. Indeed, when she coyly pretends to be quoting John Stuart Mill before attributing the quotation to Foucault (p. 240), she presumably intends to illustrate the perfect fit of Foucault's late thought with Victorian concerns, but she also illustrates that the crucial arguments she wants to make could as easily be illustrated and supported by the Victorians themselves.
In practice, as it turns out, Goodlad has relatively little to say about Foucault, early or late, and she does draw her materials and arguments from Victorians such as Arnold, Mill, Dickens, and most extensively, from such social reformers as Edwin Chadwick, Thomas Chalmers, and Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth. The crucial problem for liberal governance, as Goodlad demonstrates, is to balance the need for state guidance and support with the desire for individual freedom and growth, the need to balance, as Arnold would say, the guidance of the national best self with the Englishman's insistence on "doing as one likes." Obviously these concerns are not far to seek in Victorian literature, but are the main issues examined in such [End Page 313] major works as Arnold's Culture and Anarchy, Mill's On Liberty, and virtually all of Carlyle's and Ruskin's social criticism. Rather than focusing on the familiar writings of the sages, however, Goodlad looks most closely at the political and social movements prompting the sense of urgency about balancing the individual's claims against state engineering or manipulation: Chadwick's plans for sanitary reform, promotion of state education by Kay-Shuttleworth and others, and the 1834 New Poor Law. As her title suggests, Goodlad is interested in Victorian literature as well as the Victorian state, and her readings of Dickens' Oliver Twist, Bleak House, and Our Mutual Friend, and of Trollope's The Three Clerks, convincingly demonstrate that the novelists were responding to and complicating the social debates as they examined the effects of governance on characters and of characters and the concept of character-building on governance. In her closing chapters, Goodlad analyzes the competing late Victorian and Edwardian models of pastoral governance offered by the Fabian Society and the Charitable Organization Society, and offers complementary readings of Gissing, H. G. Wells, and E. M. Forster.
Goodlad's study is a welcome intervention into new historicist critical practices, and has all the strengths of new historicist methodology, particularly in examining the discursive networks from which literary works emerge and, in this case, the central importance of Chadwick, Chalmers, Kay-Shuttleworth, and others in generating the major concerns of Victorian novelists. But Goodlad's study also shows the limitations of new historicism as generally practiced: according Chadwick's or Chalmers' writings equal status with Dickens' and Trollope's, and choosing literary works for analysis based on their engagement with particular social issues has a tendency to eliminate the literary as such (as many new historicists do on principle). For students of Victorian poetry, of course, the problem is that poetry tends to be especially marginalized in such approaches. Not surprisingly, the "Victorian Literature" of Goodlad's title does not include any poetry...