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Christmas in the workhouse: staging philanthropy in the nineteenth-century periodical

Foster, Laura 2017. Christmas in the workhouse: staging philanthropy in the nineteenth-century periodical. Journal of Victorian Culture 22 (4) , pp. 553-578. 10.1080/13555502.2017.1295641

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This article provides an overview of the representation of workhouse philanthropy in the nineteenth-century periodical. In the 1830s and 40s, the popular representation of the workhouse was of a cruel institution in which paupers were systematically beaten and starved. However, the ideological significance of the workhouse shifts in the depictions of privately funded philanthropy that proliferated in magazines and newspapers during the Christmas publishing season. In representations of the workhouse at Christmas, paupers are shown receiving gifts and enjoying entertainments against a festively decorated backdrop. Middle-class benevolence is at the heart of these Christmas performances: these treats are not funded by the poor rates, but by individuals, who are frequently depicted in attendance at the workhouse Christmas. The institution, now redolent with ideas of care, charity and goodwill, functions in these texts as a stage for the projection of a bourgeois philanthropic self; the reader, the audience of this ideological performance, is encouraged to self-identify with the middle-class values that overlay these workhouse scenes. Entwined with these depictions of private philanthropy are underlying ideas of discipline and control. Just as the middle-class guests enact an idealized identity, so too do the paupers enact the role of the indebted and grateful poor. This article examines how the nineteenth-century periodical constructs the workhouse as a performance space for the middle classes; it explores the various agendas of these constructions and analyses the ideological messages they convey.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Uncontrolled Keywords: workhouse, Christmas, philanthropy, performance, periodicals, identity
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 1355-5502
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 4 May 2017
Date of Acceptance: 13 February 2017
Last Modified: 06 Oct 2018 06:38

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