In 1852, Charles Kingsley (1819-75) declared his wish to ‘put the anthropology of men of my own generation on as sound a footing as I can,’ so that they would have clear religious and moral principles with which to face the challenges ahead of them. He expresses a strong sense of belonging to a significant generation, both in terms of his family, school and Cambridge contemporaries, as well as the Christian Socialists with whom he formed a lifelong association. This chapter will argue that, having lived through the historical turning points of the Bristol Riots of 1831 and the Chartist campaigns, Kingsley drew on generational models and a vocabulary of generational shared identity to delineate the moral seriousness of the times in which he lived. Karl Mannheim’s ‘The Problem with Generations’ (1927), which theorizes the challenges of demonstrating that people born around the same time necessarily share similar values, contextualizes discussion of Kingsley’s lifelong fascination with a common experience of social change and moral and spiritual awakening.
Beginning with an overview of Kingsley’s personal circumstances, the chapter will demonstrate how a generational model helped him articulate his disappointment with the working-class poetry that followed Burns’s authentic recording of what he called the ‘heart experiences of his generation.’ Discussion will then turn to Kingsley’s fiction, especially Lancelot Smith’s earnest wrestling with his sense of moral responsibility, in Yeast (1848/1851) and the growing urgency for social reform, echoed by the heroes of Alton Locke (1850) and Two Years Ago (1857). While Kingsley’s heroes see themselves as morally superior to the previous generation, with a responsibility to compensate for the shortcomings of their predecessors, he also indicates that this is likely to emerge as a jumbled self-regeneration, both of individuals and societies, in the face of continuing challenges.
Sanders, V. (2019). 'Charles Kingsley's Anthropology of the Generations'. Journal of Victorian Culture, 24(3), https://doi.org/10.1093/jvcult/vcz019