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Response to Review of Victorian Political Culture: ‘Habits of Heart and Mind’

I am glad, first of all, to thank Dr Simon Morgan for his thoughtful review. He characterises Victorian Political Culture as not a textbook, but ‘essentially a work of synthesis’, informed by archival research. Certainly, the valuable work of fellow historians over the past decades is an essential foundation to the book. But my intention was not simply to synthesise recent scholarship. My purpose was to draw together my own and recent research to present a new overarching interpretation of British political culture for the 19th century. To describe a dynamic and shifting set of public values whose salient features offer some modification to the view of Victorian politics as expressive of liberal modernity and processes such as secularisation. To propose a broad understanding of 19th-century political culture in which the past, morality and community continued to shape attitudes and values, while accommodating important shifts in religious, social, scientific and political thinking. For an 80-year period this is undoubtedly an ambitious undertaking. Yet, there is value and importance, I believe, in periodically proposing an overview of an extended period which suggests a context for more specialised studies. Victorian Political Culture is an attempt to do that. Such an undertaking will, hopefully, stimulate further debate, either by way of endorsement or critical reaction. The weight given to particular aspects of political culture in such an overview will also be the subject of legitimate debate. Dr Morgan’s suggestion that local government and the role of women in politics could have been given greater space is a case in point. Other aspects of political culture during the period could also reasonably be seen as deserving of and requiring more extended attention. I am looking forward to the continuing discussion about the broad nature, assumptions and values of Victorian public life.