War

Cornelia Pearsall
2018 Victorian Literature and Culture  
War CORNELIA PEARSALL V ICTORIANS enjoyed a few months of peace, here or there. Otherwise, theirs was a nation and a period constantly at war, defined traditionally as declared armed conflict between nations or states, a contest to persuade, or overwhelm, by force. Factoring in less traditionally defined but nevertheless organized collective hostile engagements in defense or pursuance of Britain's perceived interests, one would strain in scanning the full stretch of the Victorian timeline to
more » ... t the days when arms were laid down. This fact merits our keener attention because in a sense attention and more particularly its lack is a crucial feature of Victorian war awareness, and our own. My concern here is less with specific battle scares or scars than with the social and cultural impact of what I would term war abstractedness: war was what happened while most Victorians were busy making other plans. Unquestionably, war flared into acute public awareness at numerous flashpoints throughout the period-phenomena often well-studiedbut we have attended insufficiently to a broad-based Victorian abstractedness regarding war; that is, to a kind of disregarding of war, a cognitive and affective inattentiveness or absence to its ever-presence. Maintaining this steady lack of focus on or indeed gaze away from war required energies, I would argue, akin to those expended in its waging. Concurrent with whatever other Victorian subjects occupy our attention, war was essentially always being waged. What are the implications for its literature and culture, indeed for every aspect of its social being, for a nation to be almost continuously at war, somewhere or another, somehow or another? To see Victorian war steadily and see it whole would be to see not only the powerful impact of war in the abstract but to see the forms abstractedness takes. Complex and shifting literary and visual kinds; beautifully weighted conversations and densely freighted compositions; meaningful gestures, pregnant pauses, killing looks: whatever their temporal or spatial dimensions, these and innumerable other representational practices take place and shape in wartime. Most appear abstracted from that fact; without recognition, no reckoning. It is not news that wars for territory and sovereignty, forwarding instrumental and ideological aims, were frequent and wide-spreadindeed they often constituted the news, trooping through numerous dailies and periodicals, as our archival databases easily demonstrate with WAR 945 https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.
doi:10.1017/s1060150318001250 fatcat:hgb33nrxfreerfuszfrgjnf7jy