‘I tremble lest my powers of thought are not what they ought to be’: Reputation and the masculine anxieties of an eighteenth–century statesman
Date: 3 February 2018
This paper explores how masculine norms were rendered consequential through the practices of historical actors and institutions. It does so by focusing on changing perceptions of the masculine ‘character’ of the Georgian politician, William Windham of Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk (1750-1810). Obituaries described him as ‘the politest man in ...
This paper explores how masculine norms were rendered consequential through the practices of historical actors and institutions. It does so by focusing on changing perceptions of the masculine ‘character’ of the Georgian politician, William Windham of Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk (1750-1810). Obituaries described him as ‘the politest man in England’, the epitome of the poised, accomplished eighteenth-century statesman. Yet the publication of diaries in 1866 revealed that such apparently effortless attainments were accompanied by constant self-doubt, self-criticism, hypochondria, and restlessness. These revelations downgraded Windham’s historical reputation into the early twentieth century. This paper will use changing perceptions of Windham’s life to explore three elements of ‘public’ masculinity in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Firstly, it will examine Windham’s perception of the relationship between his public persona and his private doubts, and how far he understood his experiences and anxieties primarily as a consequence of the over-riding necessity for ‘sincerity’ in public life. Secondly, the paper will compare these to contemporary assessments of posthumous Windham’s ‘public’ character as politician, orator and socialite, in relation to contemporary norms of masculinity. Thirdly, the paper will examine how reception of his diaries led him to be displaced from the pantheon of ‘worthy’ public role models for aspirant men in mid-Victorian England. By these means, the paper will attempt to situate this political agent within both the prevailing contemporary norms of masculinity in the public sphere, and as a marker for aspects of normative change through the ‘long’ nineteenth century.
College of Humanities
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