chapter  7
A heart of darkness? Leisure, respectability and the aesthetics of vice in Victorian Wales
Pages 19

Conversion was an important concept in Victorian Wales. Perhaps we should expect little else from a country in which Nonconformity had become woven into the very fabric of ‘Welshness’ itself.3 If imaginative literature is any guide, some sinners managed to turn their backs forever on the most dissolute of pasts. For others, the fall from grace was as speedy as it was inevitable. Yet no matter how short-lived the effects of the periodic religious revivals that swept through the land, no matter how quickly the inspiring words of generations of white-haired preachers were forgotten, the notion that the virtuous were engaged in an ongoing struggle against the

vicious was a powerful one that surfaced repeatedly in public discourse. The battle was given added significance after the nineteenth century’s mid-point. In the late 1840s Welsh respectables were sent reeling by the findings of a royal commission that had been set up to inquire into the state of education in the Principality. The resulting document became known less for its pronouncements on the schooling system than for its slurs on the morality of the Welsh people. It alleged that Welsh women were lascivious, that the Welsh language was a brake on the progress of civilisation and that the chapels had singularly failed in their role as moral guardians. The ‘Treason of the Blue Books’, as the episode became known, was a seismic event whose shock waves reverberated throughout the remaining decades of the century.4 Nonconformity was galvanised as a political force and scores of opinion-shapers, commentators and public figures did all they could to repair the damage that they believed had been done to the country’s reputation.5 Increasingly, the public image projected to the wider world and, indeed, to the Welsh themselves was of a Wales that was fervently religious, intensely moralistic and decidedly pure.