Archives par mot-clé : identity

How Did Charles Burton Barber Showcase Victorian Identity Through His Paintings?

The 19th century, often remembered as the Victorian Era, is known for the drastic changes that took place in British society. With the industrial revolution, the ancestral feudal system had been shattered and new classes emerged. The new and increasingly powerful working and middle classes wanted to climb the social ladder of a very hierarchical society in order to share the same values and lifestyles than the upper-classes. These aspirational ideals inspired many artists who started to paint traditional images of Victorian life.

Such is the case of Charles Burton Barber (1845-1894), a Norfolk born painter who became famous thanks to his talent for sentimental paintings of children and dogs which perfectly captured the Victorian mood and exemplified the country’s transformations that took place during this period. After studying at the London Royal Academy, Barber excelled in the realist movement and was commissioned by Queen Victoria to do paintings of her grandchildren and her dogs which allowed him to become very popular. In fact, images and stories of children were very appealing to the Victorians for at the time the family was the structural backbone of English society. Therefore, painting children in such a wonderfully realistic way was a guarantee for the artist to sell his works.

Off to School

Off to School (1883) is a beautiful example of Charles Burton Barber’s taste for details and desire to construct a Victorian identity. In this painting there are two characters, a young girl and her huge dog walking her to school. And indeed, the 19th century is famous for the important changes that took place in education and schooling matters. Some private and therefore selective schools were turned into public schools and girls started to have the possibility to study after the opening for example of North London Collegiate in 1850 or Cheltenham Ladies’ College in 1858. Moreover the 1870 and 1880 Education Acts really launched mass education by making school attendance compulsory for children from 5 to 10 years old who all needed to be taught the famous 3Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. Therefore, if the little girl in Off to School existed, as she seems to be between 7 and 10 years old, it is possible that she would be amongst the first generation of little girls attending compulsory school.

With his paintings, Charles Burton Barber perfectly captures the Victorian frame of mind. By focusing on the innocence and tenderness of young boys and girls with their pets, the artist illustrates the general classless affection for children and animals. The dog who proudly leads her mistress to school in Off to School is guiding her towards a better life where she will be educated and independent and therefore maybe he metaphorically leads Britain towards a better future in which there would be no gender or class distinctions but where everyone would have equal rights. Other artists, contemporaries to Barbers, have tried to satisfy the Victorians’ desire for child-related and sentimental works by concentrating on the same subjects. Such is the case of two London born painters, Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) and Arthur John Elsley (1860-1952) who both, along with Barber, helped to build a Victorian identity – that is one of positive metamorphosis and progress.


The painting featured as a header is entitled Suspense
The pictures used are in public domain.

In Memoriam: Apprehending History as Self-Reflection

Tackling the final essay of your Master’s degree is more than just a random research project. Now, of course, when considering the importance of what is at stake, the task appears beset with hardships and expectations. But its interest may lie in an unexpected — if not overlooked — dimension. Whatever the subject may be — whether in literature, history or linguistics — the student should not limit his investigations to the world of his chosen academic topic, but extend it to himself. Regarding the essay’s general direction, personal interests are evidently important. No one wants to struggle with the burden of an undesired subject. If the choice of the supervisor is important, the student is the main individual concerned. It is his private background that will shape the original route of his research course. If this essay can be considered as the first distinctive achievement of a future career, it will always be the mirror of a given identity, and the reflection of an intellectual evolution.
Considering historical research, historians are acutely aware of the influence of their own cultural background. Whether expressed at an individual level or at a more collective one, the concepts of memory and identity appear to be fused1. But the following question often remains: why and what do we choose to remember?

When the city of Québec celebrated the 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plaines of Abraham in 2009, what exactly did it chose to commemorate? The French defeat entailed the destruction of New France and the end of its imperial ambitions in North America. Moreover, it meant the permanent submission of a wide Catholic and French-speaking population to a reviled foreign power. Yet presently, the event is regarded as one of Canada’s founding moments, with the bonding of divided populations by law and pain to share a common future. New monuments now celebrate this cultural marriage2.
While growing up in Michigan, I rarely missed an opportunity to assert my distinct nationality. In spite of the elaborate rituals around the American flag, anthem and Pledge of Allegiance — dutifully repeated in class every other morning — I willingly remained conscious of my linguistic and cultural uniqueness. Perhaps I was being snobbish and unnecessarily chauvinistic, but I was certain that unlike the many European families who had preceded us in ages past, we had not crossed the Atlantic for good. Visiting the landscapes of America and nearby Canada, I remember being struck by the legacy of my past countrymen. Forts, churches, cities… countless areas linked to the history of my country remained in this foreign land. It was a story few of my fellow classmates were aware of, as we were so young. Yet I remained determined to explore it.

Je me souviens

is the city of Québec’s motto. I have simply chosen to do the same.


1 Philippe Joutard : Histoire et mémoires, conflits et alliances ; Paris, La Découverte, collection « Ecritures de l’Histoire », 2013, 275 pages.

2 Mémorial de la Guerre de Sept Ans and Monument François-Gaston-de-Lévis :