|22 Sep 2023|
What was special about 1845 and why does it deserve particular scrutiny? Michael Wheeler addressed this question in a talk based on his latest book. He argued that this was the critical year in a decade which witnessed revolution on Continental Europe, the threat of mass insurrection at home and radical developments in railway transport, communications, religion, literature and the arts. The effects of the new Poor Law now became visible in the workhouses (especially in Andover); a potato blight started in Ireland, heralding the Great Famine; and the Church of England was rocked to its foundations by John Henry Newman’s conversion to Roman Catholicism. What Victorian England became was moulded in the crucible of 1845. Having outlined the story of a seismic epoch through the lives, loves and letters of leading contemporaneous figures, Michael focused upon the remarkable letters of Newman in ‘that prodigious year of excitement and disaster’.
Michael Wheeler is a leading cultural and literary historian of the nineteenth century. Now a Visiting Professor at the University of Southampton, he led the project to build the Ruskin Library and research centre at Lancaster University until 1999, when he moved to Hampshire to be one of the founding directors of Chawton House. His books include Heaven, Hell and the Victorians (1994), Ruskin’s God (1999), The Old Enemies: Catholic and Protestant in Nineteenth-Century England (2006), St John and the Victorians (2011) and The Year that Shaped the Victorian Age: Loves, Lives and Letters of 1845 (2023), all from Cambridge University Press. His official history of The Athenæum: More Than Just Another London Club was published by Yale in 2020. He is currently writing a spiritual biography of Gladstone for Oxford.