The Sanitary Arts
Aesthetic Culture and the Victorian Cleanliness Campaigns
195 pp. 6x9
$75.95 cloth 978-0-8142-1258-5
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$26.95 paper 978-0-8142-5278-9
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“In The Sanitary Arts, Eileen Cleere offers a revisionary history of nineteenth-century aesthetic theory that brings aesthetics into dialogue with sanitary reform and eugenics. This exciting intervention will draw the interest of a wide-range of Victorian and modernist scholars. Cleere’s carefully-researched and well-argued work revisits and recasts thinkers with whom we are all familiar while at the same time introducing us to new writers and novels. This book is an impressive scholarly accomplishment.” —Barbara Leckie, Carleton University
“Theoretically informed and interdisciplinary in scope, The Sanitary Arts carefully examines a major shift in the cultural history of taste, illustrating how dominant models of beauty yielded to a Victorian aesthetic of cleanliness that relied on senses other than vision alone. Rethinking how cultural change occurs, Eileen Cleere establishes discursive and ideological connections among sanitation reform, medicine, science, art criticism, painting, and literature. Scholars in all these fields will greatly benefit from the concrete analyses this book provides.” —Linda M. Shires, David and Ruth Gottesman Professor of English, Yeshiva University
Eileen Cleere argues in this interdisciplinary study that mid-century discoveries about hygiene and cleanliness not only influenced public health, civic planning, and medical practice but also powerfully reshaped the aesthetic values of the British middle class. By focusing on paintings, domestic architecture, and interior design, The Sanitary Arts: Aesthetic Culture and the Victorian Cleanliness Campaigns shows that the “sanitary aesthetic” significantly transformed the taste of the British public over the nineteenth century by equating robust health and cleanliness with new definitions of beauty and new experiences of aisthesis. Covering everything from connoisseurs to custodians, Cleere demonstrates that Victorian art critics, engineers, and architects—and even novelists from George Eliot to Charles Dickens, Charlotte Mary Young to Sarah Grand—all participated in a vital cultural debate over hygiene, cleanliness, and aesthetic enlightenment.
The Sanitary Arts covers the mid-forties controversy over cleaning the dirt from the pictures in the National Gallery, the debate over decorative “dust traps” in the overstuffed Victorian home, and the late-century proliferation of hygienic breeding principles as a program of aesthetic perfectibility to demonstrate the unintentionally collaborative work of seemingly unrelated events and discourses. Bringing figures like Edwin Chadwick and John Ruskin into close conversation about the sanitary status of beauty in a variety of forms and environments, Cleere forcefully demonstrates that aesthetic development and scientific discovery can no longer be understood as separate or discrete forces of cultural change.
Eileen Cleere is professor of English at Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas.