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Victorian Soundscapes$
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John M. Picker

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195151916

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195151916.001.0001

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Victorian Professional Identity and Urban Noise

Victorian Soundscapes

John M. Picker (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter argues that later 19th-century Londoners' deliberations over street music serve as a gauge of that urban community's explicit demands and entrenched biases. It shows how fights for silence repeatedly emerged as regional struggles against street music, insofar as they attempted not only to protect literal neighborhoods and city blocks from intrusive noises but also to defend more abstract regions of identity, those critical domains of nationality, professionalism, and the body. These ongoing battles over sound were concretely as well as conceptually territorial. Even as those opposed proclaimed as their principal goal the removal of music from the streets throughout the City and West London, including Belgravia, Kensington, and Chelsea, they endeavored to maintain clear boundaries in three main interrelated and at times overlapping areas: first, defending the purity of English national identity and culture against the taint of foreign infiltration; second, upholding economic and social divisions between the lower classes and middle-class professionals; and third, protecting the frail, afflicted bodies of (English, middle-class) invalids from the invasive, debilitating effects of (foreign, lower-class) street music. The chapter considers the verbal and visual responses of large numbers of Londoners, including Thomas Carlyle, Charles Dickens, and John Leech, to the strains of a powerful threat.

Keywords:   Charles Dickens, Charles Babbage, Thomas Carlyle, John Leech, Organ-Grinders, London, middle class, professionals

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