Reverse slumming: Cross-class performativity and organic order in Dickens and Gaskell

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This essay explores a mode of performativity in Victorian fiction that viewed class dualistically-as a regulative hierarchy constituted by self-fashioning actors. "Reverse slumming" designates a mode of middle- or lower-middle-class performance that mimics upper-class behaviors so as to reaffirm social hierarchy in the very process of denaturalizing it. This cross-class performativity reconciled politically progressive mid-century notions about social circulation and inclusiveness with ideals of organic community. Critics tend to assume that organicism was a reactionary appeal to preindustrial paternalism, but by examining reverse slumming in works by Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell, this essay argues that performative conceptions of class enabled Victorian novelists to transform organicism into a moderately progressive vision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-499
Number of pages29
JournalVictorian Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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