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Victoria Powell

Title of thesis

  • ‘The Knight from Nowhere’: a biographical case study of social mobility in Victorian Britain
  • My research explores the tension between the cultural fantasy and the reality of the self-made man, and the processes by which mobility happened in practice. Education, behaviour, language, the role of patronage, the significance of sociability, and self-fashioning in private/public spaces are key themes of my investigation into how men constructed and maintained their social status. I focus on one man in particular, the actor Henry Irving, whose upward trajectory via a career in the theatre took him from an impoverished lower middle class background into the heights of London Society.


Research interests

  • I’m interested in all things Victorian, as well as architecture, material culture, the history of design, social class, the history of education, London in the nineteenth century, history of theatre, and gender and queer studies.

Papers given

  • ‘The “Polite” and the “Vulgar”: male behaviour and social status in mid-Victorian London’ Birkbeck HCA Graduate Research Day, November 2012
  • ‘Acting Up: movers, shakers and self-makers in the theatre of mid-Victorian London’ Urban Studies seminar series convened by Raphael Samuel History Centre, February 2012

Honours and awards

  • My research is funded by a Birkbeck College Research Studentship