Victorian Time

Written by Trish Ferguson (ed.)
Review by Sarah Bower

Pardon the pun, but this is a timely publication when current technological advances are affecting the way we perceive time as fundamentally as the Industrial Revolution changed the Victorian understanding of it. As the advent of the railways and mass production required a standardisation of time and a shift away from the natural cycle of an agricultural economy, so the Internet and the network of instant communications it has made possible has caused a contemporary shift towards something radically more fluid and flexible. There are many contemporary echoes in the essays collected here, which look at aspects of Victorian time through Victorian literature. In Jenny McDonnell’s chapter on Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, for example, the logic of Butler’s upside down world results in ‘a society in which ill-health is considered a crime while criminal acts… are treated as illnesses; banks replace cathedrals; physical beauty is prized over moral fortitude.’ Yet these are not so much consequences of up-ending logic as speeding up time until – pace Einstein – it gets ahead of itself and that which is instantly appealing acquires more value than that which must be striven for. Fascinating and thought-provoking, if very expensive.