There are strong echoes with the 19th centuryby Maria Misra / May 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Over the last few weeks I have had the fascinating task of helping to select 60 people “whose actions have had a significant impact on lives in these islands and/or given the age its character” for a forthcoming BBC Radio 4 series. Entitled The New Elizabethans, we had, it seemed, been invited to update the story of “Good Queen Bess.” And initially such parallels appeared plausible enough: a 60-year saga of stability emerging from conflict (post-reformation or post-imperial); of elitist culture turning popular (Shakespeare then, the “classless society” now); and of a revivified economy (driven by globalisation in both cases).
But as we chewed over the choices, a very different era came to mind: not so much new Elizabethans, but neo-Victorians, or at least new late Victorians. If there has been a revival in the last 60 years, it has been of the cosmopolitan London-centric entrepôt of the fin de siècle, not of good old “Merrie England.” The era from the 1870-1914 saw finance triumph over industry as the country’s pre-eminent economic interest, setting the scene for the accelerating inequality and plutocracy that would reach its apogee in the finance-led boom of the Edwardian era. It was the age of “Pont Street Dutch”—when the elaborate red-brick baroque mansion-houses so beloved of the current international financial elite mushroomed throughout Mayfair, Kensington and Chelsea.