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TitleThe Language Of Gender And Class: Transformation in the Victorian Novel
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Page 2


In this lucid and cogently argued work, Patricia Ingham examines in
detail the widely accepted critical cliché, ‘Examining the representation
of gender always involves investigating the representation of class.’
Using historical material about ‘class’, she re-examines six major
Victorian novels. Focusing upon language, she explores how
stereotypes of gender and class encode cultural myths that reinforce
the social status quo. She shows how, in the standard plot, class conflict
is displaced onto romantic conflict between individual men and
women which can be happily resolved.

However, The Language of Gender and Class demonstrates that none
of the novelists, either male or female, completely accepts either the
stereotyped figures or the authorised story. The figures of the Angel
and the Whore are re-assessed and modified, according to Ingham’s
in-depth reading of the novels, with the result that, by the 1890s, the
treatment of gender is released from its task of containing and
neutralising class conflict. New accounts of femininity can thus begin
to emerge.

This highly original and innovative work will provoke debate and
encourage students and scholars in literary, linguistic and gender
studies to re-think their views on the Victorian novel.

Patricia Ingham is Fellow in English at St Anne’s College, Oxford,
and Times Lecturer in English Language. She has developed what is
recognised as an original linguistic model of criticism already used
illuminatingly in her previous works, which include Thomas Hardy:
A Feminist Reading (1989) and Dickens, Women and Language

Page 104



rather vague ‘’t’ of the opening, which presumably means what is
complained of, the passage leads to a culmination in an account of
an even vaguer ‘this’, growing ‘bigger…broader… harder’. The
marvellously specific quality of Barton’s similar complaint is lost in
uncertainty. The indication of dialect pronunciation in this novel is
reasonably accurate, and the syntax colloquial. The result is that what
the narrator represents is a narrow, limited and confused mind.
Stephen’s catchphrase, ‘’Tis a muddle’ (with all its variations), comes
ironically to reflect a confusion within him that matches the confused
uncertainty of his actions. This is what he ‘shows for himself’. The
narrator in practice is ambivalent: he asserts that this is a man of ‘perfect
integrity’ but constructs him as an individual whose moral confusion
and intellectual limitations confirm the conventions that dialect
speakers are in various ways inferior. Giving speech to individual
members of the working class within the existing novelistic convention
turns out to be a Trojan gift-horse. Enclosing dialect speech within a
narrative framed in middle-class language enacts and reinforces the
tradition of the natural inferiority of those who use it.

Dickens protested in the letter quoted at the head of this section
against those who wished to connect Hard Times with events in
Preston. To do so was to ‘localise’ a text which had a reference to
‘the working people all over England’ (Storey, Tillotson and Easson
1993, Vol. 7:291). This is the usual metonymic argument in industrial
novels: ‘as it happened here, so it might be everywhere’. The final
passage of the novel alludes to this implication: ‘Dear reader! It rests
with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things
shall be or not’ (p. 227). If the events of Coketown are to be taken
metonymically as an awful warning, they involve acceptance of the
demonstration that the child/worker needs control if he is not to bring
about and to suffer disaster. According to the narrator, political
economists have got it wrong but so too have those who wish for
radical social changes. Things are bad, human feelings are crushed,
but the status quo must be protected for fear of something worse.


‘In this strife I have almost repulsed and crushed my better angel into a

(Louisa Bounderby)

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Taken together, the narrator’s commentary and the industrial plot of
Hard Times seem to represent a defence of the existing class structure
camouflaged by a flippantly satirical attack on aspects of the theories
of political economy that underpin it. If that were really all that the
text offered, it would be difficult to account for the strong reactions
of those such as Macaulay and Leavis who disapprovingly or
approvingly regarded it as a powerful expression of social disaffection.
I would argue that this is because too much attention has been paid
to the industrial aspects of the text when the real disaffection has its
source elsewhere.

The narrator, for all his explicit claims to sympathy with the workers,
is too firmly placed as a viewing subject within the middle class to
react with anything other than a suggestion of the need for control to
signs of social disturbance. For Dickens the horror of revolution
expressed in Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities seems to be
evoked by any crowd of dissatisfied ‘inferiors’, even the amiable mass
of Coketown workers. But just as in the two historical novels there is
a contradictory titillation in the horror, so in Hard Times social anarchy
arrived at by a different route turns out to be a desired and even
exciting end. Such contradictory discourses often create a dialogic
effect in Dickens’ novels, creating a characteristic tension.

The dominant ideology that is enacted by the industrial story in
Hard Times is held in place by linguistic devices which include the
separation of middle-class angel and working-class whore, described
in Chapter 1. Significantly Louisa claims in the quotation that heads
this section to be stranded between the two. Earlier chapters have
shown the reworking of the ideal figure by woman writers who change
the significance of the House/Angel trope. Such contestations of
conventional signs were shrewdly noticed as early as 1855 by Margaret
Oliphant. Writing in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine about literary
heroines, she says ironically:

Here is your true revolution. France is but one of the Western
Powers; woman is the half of the world…Do you think that
young lady is an angelic being, young gentleman? Do you
compare her to roses and lilies…? She is a fair gladiator—she is
not an angel…Why should she be like a rose or lily any more
than yourself?

(Oliphant 1855, Vol. 77:558)

Oliphant in this passage is deriding heroines in whom submissiveness

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Sheets, R. 122, 125
Shelley, Percy Bysshe: ‘Laon and

Cyntha’ 166; ‘Prometheus
Unbound’ 138

Shelston, A. 12, 66
Shirley (Brontë) 2, 8, 12, 27, 28, 31–

54, 78; compared with North
and South 57, 58, 62, 65

Showalter, E. 141, 170
Shuttleworth, S. 126, 129
signs 2–3; dominant 12; re-

accenting 4, 27–8; and syntax

Simpson, Richard 114
slavery image 18–19
Smiles, Samuel 111, 170, 172, 173,

174; Self-Help 66, 82, 106
Smith, Adam 13; An Enquiry into

the Origins and Nature of the
Wealth of Nations 9, 10

Smith, F.B. 103, 107, 120, 121
Smith, Samuel 144
Smith, S.M. 8
social justice 112, 174–5
social mobility 106, 112; downward

social status: and economic value

9–10, 19; and moral value 105–7
socialism 11, 78, 160
society: adversarial two-level model

of 6; as a developing organic
whole 118–21; as groups of
patriarchal families 15–19;
representation in the early
nineteenth century 1–19; as
thestruggle for existence 12–15,
64–5, 105–6

Sophocles, Antigone 133
Spector, S.J. 84
Spiegel, G.M. 30, 142
Sraffa, P. 10
Stael, Madame de, Corinne 32
standard English, use of 62, 91, 164
Stark, M. 41, 42, 47, 48, 74, 156
Stephens, Fitzjames 169
stereotypes 119, 152; changes in

Stone, Elizabeth, William

Langshawe 86, 90
Stone, Marjorie 82

Storey, G. 84, 85, 86, 93
Strachey, J. 98
strikes 28, 58–71, 85–6, 160
Stutfield, H.E.M. 162, 175
suffragists 160
Swinburne, Algernon Charles, ‘Our

Lady of Pain’ 161
symbolism 24–5, 26–7
Symington, J.A. 33, 34, 40, 53–4
syntax: colloquial 92–3; and signs


taboos, negation and 98
Taine, Hippolyte 78
taste 126–8
Taylor, Mary 53; Miss Miles 42
Thompson, N.W. 11, 12
Tillotson, K. 84, 85, 86, 93
Titunik, R. 2, 3, 20
Tonna, Charlotte Elizabeth,

Combination 86
trade unions 86–9, 160
transgenderings 49–54, 74–7
transvestism 162
Tristan, Flora 68
Trollope, Frances, Michael

Armstrong 1, 3, 27, 28, 83, 90
Tyrell, R.Y. 161, 162, 173–4, 175

Unclassed, The (Gissing) 2, 112,

137–59, 161, 164, 178, 182
underclass 106, 144, 175
universities, social role of 168–71
upper classes 109–11
urban subclass 107
utilitarianism 14–15, 19, 29, 81

Vincent, D. 23, 90
violence, working-class 117–23
virtue, gender and 21–3
Vološinov/Bakhtin 2–3, 4, 20, 30
voyeurism 179–80

Wakefield, Edward Gibbon 111
Walkowitz, Judith 24, 27–8, 29–30,

137, 143, 144
Wallech, S. 9
Ward, R.P. 110
Watts, G.F., Found Drowned 158

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Waugh, A., ‘Reticence in Literature’,
140, 161

Westminster Review 85
Whipple, Edwin 31, 99
whore, working-class 94
Whore/Disorder 29, 30, 44
Wilberforce, William 18–19
Wise, T.J. 33, 34, 40, 53–4
Woman: New 161, 173, 175, 181;

use of term 111; womanly 20, 21;
see also fallen woman

women: as a group 152; new
language of 91; parallel with the
working class 126–9, 167; self-
suppression of 73–4, 174; as
texts misread by men 44–6; see
also working-class women

women as signs, rewriting 177–82;
alternative angels 152–9; the
Angel in prison 39–49; the
Avenging Angel 93–101; the
fallen woman as Medea not
Magdalen 129–36

women’s work 41–2
Wordsworth, William 16
workers: as children see

paternalism; and slaves 18–19
working class: differentiation from

middle class 21; individuals 182;
new representation of 106–9,
129; plural and singular form 10;
residuum 106, 129; as a silent
class 140–1; urban 137–43; use
of term 7

working-class women 112, 141;
invisibility of 23; sexual deviance
of 23, 24–5; silent 136

Yonge, Charlotte M. 131
Young, A.C. 145, 147, 151

Zedner, Lucia, Women, Crime and

Custody in Victorian England 26
Zola, Emile 161

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