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The Sanitary Arts

Aesthetic Culture and the Victorian Cleanliness Campaigns

Eileen Cleere

Publication Year: 2014

Eileen Cleere argues in this interdisciplinary study that mid-century discoveries about hygiene and cleanliness not only influenced public health, civic planning, and medical practice but also powerfully reshaped the aesthetic values of the British middle class. By focusing on paintings, domestic architecture, and interior design, The Sanitary Arts: Aesthetic Culture and the Victorian Cleanliness Campaigns shows that the “sanitary aesthetic” significantly transformed the taste of the British public over the nineteenth century by equating robust health and cleanliness with new definitions of beauty and new experiences of aisthesis. Covering everything from connoisseurs to custodians, Cleere demonstrates that Victorian art critics, engineers, and architects—and even novelists from George Eliot to Charles Dickens, Charlotte Mary Young to Sarah Grand—all participated in a vital cultural debate over hygiene, cleanliness, and aesthetic enlightenment. The Sanitary Arts covers the mid-forties controversy over cleaning the dirt from the pictures in the National Gallery, the debate over decorative “dust traps” in the overstuffed Victorian home, and the late-century proliferation of hygienic breeding principles as a program of aesthetic perfectibility to demonstrate the unintentionally collaborative work of seemingly unrelated events and discourses. Bringing figures like Edwin Chadwick and John Ruskin into close conversation about the sanitary status of beauty in a variety of forms and environments, Cleere forcefully demonstrates that aesthetic development and scientific discovery can no longer be understood as separate or discrete forces of cultural change.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix-xiii

This project began accidentally. A copy of Samuel Smiles’s Character appeared in the hefty pile of Interlibrary Loan books I received one morning while working on my first book, Avuncularism, at my first job at Simmons College in Boston. I returned it after a quick read when I found...

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Introduction: Foul Matter

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pp. 1-18

It should already be apparent that Victorian ecclesiastical painter Wyke Bayliss and I have a few things in common. When I began my research for this project on the nineteenth-century sanitation reform movement and its connections with Victorian aesthetic philosophy, my hybridized...

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1. Dirty Pictures: John Ruskin, Modern Painters, and the Victorian Sanitation of Fine Art

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pp. 19-42

When Edwin Chadwick denounced John Ruskin’s insensitivity to filth in his 1862 address “The Manual Labourer as an Investment of Capital,” he called attention to his own peculiar place in the history of Victorian aesthetics, a place unintentionally established twenty years earlier with his...

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2. The Sanitary Narrative: Victorian Reform Fiction and the Putrescence of the Picturesque

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pp. 43-66

In 1860, Ruskin published the first few chapters of Unto this Last in the Cornhill Magazine, thus inaugurating his well-documented intellectual shift from aesthetics to economics and from paintings to people as the main focus of his lectures and writings. Indeed, there is no mistaking Ruskin’s...

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3. Victorian Dust Traps

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pp. 67-86

An important aspect of the argument I have been making in The Sanitary Arts is that, by mid-century, the connection between art and dirt was topographically obvious. For reformers like Edwin Chadwick, art was dirty because its cherished environments were dirty: Venice, that revered...

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4. The Surgical Arts: Aesthesia and Anaesthesia in Late-Victorian Medical Fiction

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pp. 87-109

One of the most striking features of Pater’s infamous conclusion to The Renaissance is that it begins not with the “inner world of thought and feeling,” but with what he terms our “physical life.”1 In any exquisite, isolated moment of bodily sensation, he asks, what is our physical life “if not a combination...

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5. Aesthetic Anacrhonisms: Mary Ward's The Mating of Lydia and the Persistent Plot of Sanitary Fiction

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pp. 110-137

Given standard accounts of the sudden “rise” of germ theory in the 1870s, the ideological meaning of the picturesque should certainly be anachronistic by the early years of the twentieth century. The pollution anxiety conveyed so effectively by the dilapidated cottage, the dirty street, and...

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6. Intensive Culture: John Ruskin, Sarah Grand, and the Aesthetics of Eugenics

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pp. 138-164

The previous chapters of The Sanitary Arts have worked to undo a series of standard narratives about aesthetic revolutions and scientific discoveries, demonstrating, above all, the ideological complexity and interdisciplinary context of such seemingly straightforward epistemologies. This sixth chapter...

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Coda: On Methods, Materials, and Meaning

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pp. 165-168

Ellis’s words nicely capture the physiological meaning of beauty that became a dominant strand of sanitary discourse at the end of the nineteenth century. In its physiological phase, the Sanitary Idea worked as an aesthetic power to make the human body healthy through the enlightened...


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pp. 169-177

Works Cited

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pp. 178-186


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pp. 187-195

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814273159
E-ISBN-10: 0814273157
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814212585
Print-ISBN-10: 0814212581

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 884534731
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Sanitary Arts

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Aestheticism (Literature).
  • Art and literature -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Social values -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sanitation in literature.
  • Sanitation in art.
  • Sanitation -- Social aspects -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
  • Hygiene -- Social aspects -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century.
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