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Victorian Liberalism and Material Culture

Kevin A. Morrison

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An interdisciplinary study of British liberalism in the nineteenth century

Victorian Liberalism and Material Culture assesses the unexplored links between Victorian material culture and political theory. It seeks to transform understanding of Victorian liberalism’s key conceptual metaphor − that the mind of an individuated subject is private space. Focusing on the environments inhabited by four Victorian writers and intellectuals, it delineates how John Stuart Mill’s, Matthew Arnold’s, John Morley’s, and Robert Browning’s commitments to liberalism were shaped by or manifested through the physical spaces in which they worked. The book also asserts the centrality of the embodied experience of actual people to Victorian political thought. Readers will gain new historical and literary understanding and will be introduced to an innovative methodology that links material culture and political theory.

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Introduction: Frames of Mind
1. John Stuart Mill’s Ascent
2. Matthew Arnold’s Beatitude
3. John Morley’s Impersonal Domesticity
4. Robert Browning’s Domestic Gods
Conclusion: ‘Presentness is Grace’.

About the Author

Kevin A. Morrison is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Syracuse University. He is the editor of Companion to Victorian Popular Fiction (McFarland, forthcoming in 2018) and Victorian Poverty and Philanthropy: Reading London’s East End (Cognella, 2016).


Victorian Liberalism and Material Culture is a masterful rapprochement between methodologies that hardly ever converge. Morrison gives us liberal political philosophy from the inside out, using archival research to peer into the domestic interiors and built environments that framed the influential thought of J.S. Mill, Matthew Arnold, John Morley, and Robert Browning. A crucial study for political theorists and material culture scholars alike.

- Lauren M. E. Goodlad, Rutgers University

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