Moral Taste: Aesthetics, Subjectivity and Social Power in the Nineteenth-century Novel
University of Toronto Press, 2007 M01 1 - 483 pages
One of the particular concerns of the Victorians was the notion of 'taste' and the idea that good taste in any field - clothing, décor, landscape, music, art, even food - meant good taste in all, and that tastefulness was a reliable sign of moral sensitivity, indeed of national, even racial, quality. Moral Taste is a study of the ideological work done by the equation of good taste and moral refinement in a selection of nineteenth-century writings.
Drawing on the theories of Pierre Bourdieu, Marjorie Garson discusses a number of Victorian texts that treat aesthetic refinement as an essential mark of proper middle-class subjectivity. She situates each text in its historical moment and considers it in the light of contemporary anxieties, providing insights into why certain ways of representing and endorsing tastefulness remained serviceable for many decades. In addition, this study demonstrates how the discourse of taste engenders a wider discourse about middle-class subjectivity and entitlement, national character, and racial identity in the period.