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Middle-Class Life in Victorian Belfast$
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Alice Johnson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781789620313

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789620313.001.0001

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A ‘Northern Athens’? Cultural and intellectual life

A ‘Northern Athens’? Cultural and intellectual life

(p.92) 3 A ‘Northern Athens’? Cultural and intellectual life
Middle-Class Life in Victorian Belfast

Alice Johnson

Liverpool University Press

In the Victorian period, Belfast was known as the ‘Northern Athens’ – a title which referred to the city’s cultural and intellectual credentials. The term was still being used in the early twentieth century. Yet in the second half of the nineteenth century, as the city’s cultural societies struggled to survive, Belfast’s cultural claims were increasingly under question. By the end of the century it was felt that Belfast was now known more for its hard-headed business character than for its culture. This chapter assesses the cultural and intellectual life of Victorian Belfast and questions the validity of the ‘cultural centre to cultural desert’ narrative. It offers a nuanced discussion of the city’s cultural strengths and weaknesses and those of comparable provincial centres elsewhere. Cultural and scientific associations are examined in some detail; and theatre, music, literature and newspapers are all covered. In addition, the mental intellectual landscape of Belfast’s middle-class elite is discussed.

Keywords:   Culture, music, theatre, literature, associational culture, natural history, science, newspapers, intellectual life

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