Chapter 1: Serving God and Mammon: Victorian art, sensation and market imperatives
Chapter 1 Serving God and Mammon: Victorian art, sensation and market imperatives
In a letter to Edward Bulwer Lytton written in 1863, the rising novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon describes a professional dilemma she was facing as follows:
I want to serve two masters. I want to be artistic and to please you. I want to be sensational, & to please Mudie’s subscribers. Are these two things possible, or is it the stern scriptural dictum not to be got over, “Thou canst not serve God and Mammon”. Can the sensational be elevated by art, & redeemed from all it’s [sic] coarseness?1
In addressing her friend and mentor, Braddon candidly admits to being torn between conflicting aspirations. Her inability to choose between “God and Mammon” cogently renders the difficulty of the negotiation between the agonistic forces underlying the Victorian cultural order. More specifically, the clash between elevated and sensational forms of art mentioned in the letter evokes a cluster of contending drives which were shaping the field of artistic production in the mid-nineteenth century. Divided as they were between disinterestedness and profit, highbrow and lowbrow forms, restricted and large-scale production, Braddon and other Victorian artists had to define their professional status within an epistemic space that was strongly influenced by the opposing principles of heteronomy and autonomy of art – two principles which, as theorized by Pierre Bourdieu, played a crucial role in the representation of “the ← 29 | 30 → symbolic struggles between artists and the ‘bourgeois’...
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