Re-visiting the Victorian subject
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In entitling this collection of essays Changing the Victorian Subject, we are not supposing that the Victorian subject has ever been singular or monolithic. Indeed, we take Martin Hewitt’s caution against just such an assumption to be self-evident. In 2001 Hewitt wrote:
The denomination ‘Victorian’ continues to be widely used in the 1990s both denotatively and connotatively, but in ways which make no attempt to interrogate the nature of the ‘Victorian.’ Where the ‘Victorian’ is subject to direct critical enquiry, it is almost always as part of a conventional reading against the grain, in which some monolithic ‘Victorian’ identity is conjured only for the doubtful and unenlightening pleasure of deconstructing it. Taken to its logical conclusion, such a stance leaves Victorian Studies as a label of purely temporal convenience. (143)
As academics based in Australia but working within a field that goes by the name of a British sovereign, we are fully cognisant of the plurality of what might fall under the rubric ‘Victorian’. The imagined relationships of colonial subjects to a foreign monarch, and a foreign yet hegemonic culture, need always to be imagined in the plural. For colonial subjects, the ‘Victorian’, even taken as ‘a label of purely temporal convenience’, is fraught with complexity and nuance, since in the colonies that very epoch saw the emergence of discourses of nationhood and of anti-colonial rhetoric, alongside strident declarations of allegiance and conformity to metropolitan values. In the colonies, the Victorian and the anti- Victorian co-existed: indeed, the colonies were the prime sites of contestation of, and ambivalence about, metropolitan values and social mores.