Mathilde Blind’s Contribution to Victorian Cosmopolitanism
Hill, Ulrike Ina
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Blind’s autonomous cosmopolitanism is in four distinct layers. The first layer is her unusual everyday family background in the transition from Jewish tradition to the life of European revolutionaries in the 1840s and exile in Britain. The second layer is Blind’s mental and moral development under Friederike’s care and educational guidance according to the German concept of Bildung. The third layer comes from Mazzini’s challenge for Blind to critically evaluate her German cultural heritage and the moral danger in the well-intended German concept of self-cultivation. Blind derives the fourth layer of her autonomous cosmopolitanism from Darwin’s theory of evolution and Buckle’s argument for a scientific approach to history. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection postulates sexual autonomy of the individual organism as a pre-condition for evolution by natural selection. Buckle’s argument for a scientific approach to the study of history extends this concept by observing that the variety of geographical conditions around the globe gives rise to a diversity of cultures. The concept of social evolution is then anchored in the nature of interdependence between the individual and her society as it changes over time. Overall, my argument is that Blind’s contribution to Victorian cosmopolitanism is to write about controversial subjects and to transcend ideological polarizations. She does this by transferring socio-political topics from the public domain into the intimacy of making “an immediate sensuous contact” with the individual reader. Her aim is to touch her reader’s heart and to trust in her reader’s ability and social will to care rather than to teach her about the individual poet’s particular ideas of what should be done to solve problems.
The thematic approach focuses on the cultural influences on Blind’s cosmopolitanism from her German background as the child of international revolutionaries of the 1840s. The influential themes on Blind’s assertion of her autonomous cosmopolitan voice are her Darwinism and the Pre-Raphaelitism of her friends from the political left among artists, writers and poets. The dominant theme for analysing the aesthetic quality of Blind’s texts is her Darwinian view of the importance of the autonomy of the individual for both the biological evolution of the species and for the social evolution of humankind. This explains the deflection of authorial authority in all of Blind’s writings. For her non-fiction texts, Blind’s in-depth contextual analysis facilitates critical evaluation of her narrative from a diversity of points of view. For her novel and poetry, Blind subverts the linearity of social realism by presenting universal social typologies. She adds significance to the dialogue between author and reader by associating her writing with the cultural age she shares with her reader. Her novel relates to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, her poems echo MacPherson’s Ossianic Ballads, Goethe’s Elective Affinities, Browning’s Pippa Passes or Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”
Please note the following corrections to this text: Pages 150 & 157 - 'geological basalmic structures' of Fingal's Cave should read 'geological basaltic structures'