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ARTICLES DESIGNING PROGRESS: THE ARCHITECTURE OF SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS IN DISRAELI'S "YOUNG ENGLAND" NOVELS KRISTINA K. DEFFENBACHER Hamline University "... in all forms of things there is a mind." — Wordsworth Alfoxden Note-Book "'Oh!' cried Mrs. Skewton, with a faded little scream of rapture, 'the Castle is charming! — associations of the Middle Ages — and all that . . ."' — Dickens, Dombey and Son Critics have well illuminated the political significance of symbolic representation in Benjamin Disraeli's Sybil (1845). Catherine Gallagher argues that "synecdochal symbolism," the optimal example of which is the king's representation of both the nation and God's sovereignty, is a literary method as well as a political principle in Sybil, and that "[t]he simple device of making Walter and Sybil Gerard, the Chartist leader and his daughter, the descendants of Saxon aristocrats is the most obvious encoding of this ideology in the novel" (202). In Sybil Disraeli is, as Richard Stein asserts, "constructing a historical mythology" according to which symbolic characters such as Walter and Sybil Gerard can have meaning (282). But as such readings of the novel have brought the conceptual content of its symbols to the fore, they have tended to reduce the story's physical environment to mere background by not considering its specific role in the political process of mythmaking . Gallagher reads the passage in which Sybil's father explains that '"holy walls . . . have made her what she is'" as evidence that Sybil serves "as a symbol of the sacred" (Gallagher 214-5); taking such conclusions as my point of departure, I wish to return to the actions Victorian Review 24.1 (Summer 1998) Victorian Review performed by the walls themselves. In Disraeli's "Young England" novels, as in the architectural theories that informed them, certain walls engender specific ideals in their observers and inhabitants, and thereby help to shape social consciousness. My reading of these novels takes its impetus from Henri Lefebvre's declaration that social space is a social product (26), and that analysts of western cultural productions must examine the spatial practices inherent to the codes of capitalism (18). I do not, however, assume that these spatial/political practices were necessarily "hidden from critical view under thick veils of illusion" (Soja 50) until the forging of such interpretive frameworks in the 1970s. To do so would obscure the historically-specific nuances of the mid-nineteenth-century debate on the social significance of spatial design. In the 1830s and 1840s, the question of architecture's effects upon those who experience it was openly argued and directly linked to central political concerns in numerous public forums, but nowhere more significantly than in the intersection of architectural theory and novelistic discourse. Disraeli's engagement in this cultural debate pervades his "Young England" novels, in which the ideological is often bound up in certain styles of the material. Many critics trace the desire to revive aristocratic paternalism that recurs throughout his novels of the mid- 1840s to the influence of Thomas Carlyle, especially through Past and Present (1843). But this lineage does not fully account for the specific role that Disraeli came to believe architecture would play in the creation of a modern, feudal society. Disraeli's insistence upon the political significance of style and form can certainly be linked to Teufelsdröckh's theorem that '"Society is founded upon cloth'" (Carlyle, Sartor Resartus 41), but his concern with "Christian architecture" in Coningsby (1844) and its social effects in Sybil has another source, in the architectural theories of Augustus Pugin.1 For Pugin, as later for Disraeli, the architectural and the social were inextricably intertwined. In his writings of the 183Os and 1840s, Pugin bound "pointed" or Gothic architecture not only to the Christian (Catholic) faith, but also to the medieval social system that he believed it to embody (Contrasts 1-3). As James Stevens Curl notes, to Pugin "Gothic was not a style, but a principle, a moral crusade, and the only mode of building possible for a Christian nation" (37). By the time Disraeli wrote Sybil, he had come to assert that certain kinds of architecture would help to produce the social consciousness that would rebuild a Christian, or paternalistic, England. At the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 1-11
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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