"The mind washes its hand in a basin": Walter Bagehot Literary Essays and Impure Criticism

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Abstract

Bagehot’s literary essays provide fertile ground for the exploration of mid-Victorian
negotiations with notions of aesthetic impurity. Bagehot looked at the increasing democratisation of culture and the changing habits of readers with more excitement than apprehension. His critical perspective was predicated not on an elitist form of detachment from the unrefined philosophies of the commercial classes, but on a kind of respectful proximity to the practicalities that affected the life of of what he called the "transacting and trading multitudes". In order to bring literature to business, Bagehot brought business into literature. His stance lacks purity and solemnity: standards of value imported from the business sphere co-habit with more traditional
notions of aesthetic excellence; a mixture of high-brow and middle-brow concerns inspires his assessments of literary works. As this article demonstrates, Bagehot’s criticism thrives on an impure and sometimes awkward combination of aesthetic and business values.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-234
Number of pages18
JournalEnglish Literature
Volume2
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015

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Keywords

  • Criticism
  • Business
  • Bagehot
  • economics

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