“The scope of Engelhardt’s research on Victorian dance and its cultural resonances is truly impressive, and the volume includes a number of wonderful anecdotes, examples, and illustrations from the dance history archives.…Engelhardt’s style is refreshing and fun—she weaves in casual references to popular culture, such as the high-school prom, hip hop, and Dirty Dancing—encouraging readers to see links between our own culture of dance and that of the Victorians with regard to topics such as socialization and courtship.”
“Engelhardt’s study is thorough and smart. Her commitment to underscoring the limitations of the Foucauldian and Freudian approaches informing other scholarly work on dance is exciting.”
“Dancing Out of Line makes the compelling case that understanding the social ritual of Victorian dance is a necessary prerequisite for grasping the Victorian construct of femininity. It is an outstanding work of feminist cultural studies and essential reading for any scholar of nineteenth-century social history.”
Journal of British Studies
“Like its topic, Dancing out of Line knows how to move: the pacing is brisk, the voice is up-tempo, and the historical narrative is insistent but light on its feet. In tracing the complex patterns of nineteenth-century dance and its novelistic representations, Engelhardt doesn't miss a step.”
Emily Allen, author of Theater Figures: The Production of the Nineteenth-Century British Novel
Dancing out of Line transports readers back to the 1840s, when the craze for social and stage dancing forced Victorians into a complex relationship with the moving body in its most voluble, volatile form.
By partnering cultural discourses with representations of the dance and the dancer in novels such as Jane Eyre, Bleak House, and Daniel Deronda, Molly Engelhardt makes explicit many of the ironies underlying Victorian practices that up to this time have gone unnoticed in critical circles. She analyzes the role of the illustrious dance master, who created and disseminated the manners and moves expected of fashionable society, despite his position as a social outsider of nebulous origins. She describes how the daughters of the social elite were expected to “come out” to society in the ballroom, the most potent space in the cultural imagination for licentious behavior and temptation. These incongruities generated new, progressive ideas about the body, subjectivity, sexuality, and health.
Engelhardt challenges our assumptions about Victorian sensibilities and attitudes toward the sexual/social roles of men and women by bringing together historical voices from various fields to demonstrate the versatility of the dance, not only as a social practice but also as a forum for Victorians to engage in debate about the body and its pleasures and pathologies.
Molly Engelhardt is an assistant professor of English at Texas A & M University–Corpus Christi. She has published works on Jane Austen, dance manias in Victorian medicine, and American cheerleaders and feminists in the 1970s popular press. More info →
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The late-Victorian discovery of the music hall by English intellectuals marks a crucial moment in the history of popular culture. Music Hall and Modernity demonstrates how such pioneering cultural critics as Arthur Symons and Elizabeth Robins Pennell used the music hall to secure and promote their professional identity as guardians of taste and national welfare. These social arbiters were, at the same time, devotees of the spontaneous culture of “the people.”
Tea drinking in Victorian England was a pervasive activity that, when seen through the lens of a century’s perspective, presents a unique overview of Victorian culture. Tea was a necessity and a luxury; it was seen as masculine as well as feminine; it symbolized the exotic and the domestic; and it represented both moderation and excess.
Tracing the Victorian crisis over the representation of working-class women to the 1842 Parliamentary bluebook on mines, with its controversial images of women at work, Hidden Hands argues that the female industrial worker became even more dangerous to represent than the prostitute or the male radical because she exposed crucial contradictions between the class and gender ideologies of the period and its economic realities.
Music was at once one of the most idealized and one of the most contested art forms of the Victorian period. Yet this vitally important nineteenth-century cultural form has been studied by literary critics mainly as a system of thematic motifs. Angelic Airs, Subversive Songs positions music as a charged site of cultural struggle, promoted concurrently as a transcendent corrective to social ills and as a subversive cause of those ills.