Sugar is in the bloodstream of our modern world. We crave it as a treat and fear it as an increasingly urgent health risk. Although sugar had been used for centuries in small quantities as a spice, a medicine, and a foodstuff, it was only in the nineteenth century that it became the omnipresent, mass-produced, habit-forming and health-impacting commodity we recognise today. This article charts the staggering increase in sugar production in the Victorian period - from 572,000 tons in 1830 to 6.1 million tons by 1890 - to suggest that sugar, and acts of consuming it, acquired figurative and culturally-contingent meanings that Victorian writers could use to represent and respond to some of the most pressing cultural questions of their day. For scholars of the nineteenth century, sugar affords us a lens for viewing Victorian cultural change and for interrogating the stories that Britain continues to tell itself today about the physical, economic, and moral health of the nation.
- Research Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies