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Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity:
Art, Opera, Fiction, and the Proclamation of Modernity
Simon Goldhill

Winner of the 2012 Robert Lowry Patten Award, SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Rice University

Hardcover | 2011 | $55.00 | £45.95 | ISBN: 9780691149844
360 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 16 color illus. 32 halftones.
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How did the Victorians engage with the ancient world? Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity is a brilliant exploration of how the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome influenced Victorian culture. Through Victorian art, opera, and novels, Simon Goldhill examines how sexuality and desire, the politics of culture, and the role of religion in society were considered and debated through the Victorian obsession with antiquity.

Looking at Victorian art, Goldhill demonstrates how desire and sexuality, particularly anxieties about male desire, were represented and communicated through classical imagery. Probing into operas of the period, Goldhill addresses ideas of citizenship, nationalism, and cultural politics. And through fiction--specifically nineteenth-century novels about the Roman Empire--he discusses religion and the fierce battles over the church as Christianity began to lose dominance over the progressive stance of Victorian science and investigation. Rediscovering some great forgotten works and reframing some more familiar ones, the book offers extraordinary insights into how the Victorian sense of antiquity and our sense of the Victorians came into being.

With a wide range of examples and stories, Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity demonstrates how interest in the classical past shaped nineteenth-century self-expression, giving antiquity a unique place in Victorian culture.


"[I]mmensely scholarly, highly-entertaining and broad-ranging. . . . Goldhill's timescale offers a new and contentious definition of the term 'Victorian', stretching from 1760 to the 1980s."--Jane Thomas, Times Higher Education Supplement

"[G]ripping."--Literary Review

"Simon Goldhill, a professor at Cambridge, is a leading expert on Greek literature and culture; if you want to know more about the world of Aeschylus and Euripides, Goldhill is your man."--Daniel Snowman, Literary Review

"Using reception theory, Goldhill examines paintings, operas, and novels produced in Europe that appropriate stories from the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews. He shows how artists and writers retold these ancient stories to further their political and religious agendas. The author is persuasive in arguing that in the 19th century the classics were used to bolster an agenda of anti-Semitism, setting the state for WW II. The book contains beautiful color plates and also black-and-white photos showing works of art of the period and poses drawn from classical statuary. . . . The book is well written and the thesis well worth development."--Choice

"[T]he book is of interest from a Wagnerian perspective in the insight it offers into the concerns of a society contemporary with Wagner and just across the water. . . . In its main topics, the painting and historical novel of Britain in the 19th century, this book is an eye-opener in its fascinating material and its approach."--Michael Dyson, Wagner Journal

"In its scope and verve, Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity clearly signals just how far reception studies has come within the field of classics, but remains, as well, a timely reminder of just how far we have to go if we are to achieve a true, lasting, and abiding interdisciplinarity."--Thomas E. Jenkins, New England Classic Journal

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