Snagging the Book of the Year!

At every NAVSA, as with most academic conferences, there are tables run by academic booksellers, offering discounts on great books. This is an important practice because most academic books have small print runs and are usually only purchased by libraries. Those of us still trying to establish ourselves just don’t have the income to buy all the ones we want to buy. In addition, it’s a great opportunity to connect with editors and to discuss your own work.

At one of these tables the “book of the year” as decided by NAVSA was for sale and I managed to be the first to reserve a copy so I was lucky to bring the display copy home with me. Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late-Victorian Print Culture by Elizabeth Carolyn Miller was published by Stanford University Press in 2013 in a beautiful hardcover edition.

Cover of Slow Print by Elizabeth Carolyn Miller

Here’s what the publisher has to say about the book.

“This book explores the literary culture of Britain’s radical press from 1880 to 1910, a time that saw a flourishing of radical political activity as well as the emergence of a mass print industry. While Enlightenment radicals and their heirs had seen free print as an agent of revolutionary transformation, socialist, anarchist and other radicals of this later period suspected that a mass public could not exist outside the capitalist system. In response, they purposely reduced the scale of print by appealing to a small, counter-cultural audience. “Slow print,” like “slow food” today, actively resisted industrial production and the commercialization of new domains of life.

Drawing on under-studied periodicals and archives, this book uncovers a largely forgotten literary-political context. It looks at the extensive debate within the radical press over how to situate radical values within an evolving media ecology, debates that engaged some of the most famous writers of the era (William Morris and George Bernard Shaw), a host of lesser-known figures (theosophical socialist and birth control reformer Annie Besant, gay rights pioneer Edward Carpenter, and proto-modernist editor Alfred Orage), and countless anonymous others.”

The book offers an important history of the socialist movement in Britain through from the perspective of publication. Miller’s book is a solid historical study of an important moment in literary history as well.

You can purchase the book directly from Stanford University Press here

http://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=22344

In addition to Miller’s book, I also recommend some of the authors she discusses as well.

1. William Morris. You can read all of his works in their original Kelmscott editions at William Morris Archive. Follow this link http://morrisedition.lib.uiowa.edu/

Autobiographical SketchesNews from Nowhere

2. Broadview Press offers editions of William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890) and Annie Besant’s Autobiographical Sketches (1885) Letters. Purchase those editions in print, pdf, or etext versions at this link http://www.broadviewpress.com/product.php?productid=946&cat=69&page=1

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3. Edward Carpenter is more challenging to find. Most of his work is now out of print. The last quality editions of his works were published by the Gay Men’s Press in the 1980s, including Towards Democracy, Love’s Coming of Age, and The Intermediate Sex. If you can find an edition at second-hand book shops, that would be much better than the print on demand stuff available on Amazon. His work is out of copyright so The Internet Archive would be a good source too – check out the link to your right on this site. Finally, there is The Edward Carpenter Archive. http://edwardcarpenter.net/ – this site offers versions of some of his work in full text. Others, only highlights. It’s a start. If you want to know more about the man, then I recommend the recent autobiography by Sheila Rowbotham, Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love (2009) which can be purchased directly from the publisher, Verso, here  http://www.versobooks.com/books/430-edward-carpenter

That’s all for now. Keep reading!

Vickie and Eddie.

 

 

Highlights from NAVSA 2014: the work of Dr. Linda M. Shires

I had the opportunity to attend my first conference of the North American Victorian Studies Association this year and I had the pleasure of attending some fantastic panels where a wide array of scholars spoke about their diverse research. I want to tell you about a few of them. More importantly, I want to introduce you to their work so that you have an opportunity to read it in a more accessible form.

The first scholar I want to mention is Linda M. Shires, David and Ruth Gottesman Professor of English and Co-Chair of the Department of English at Stern College, Yeshiva University. Dr. Shires’ paper, “Three Text-Image Relationships in Wessex Poems and Cognitive Styles,” looked at the illustrations that Thomas Hardy prepared and incorporated into the first edition of the Wessex Poems (1898). Shires read the images in relation to the poems and offered new insight into both the images and the poetry. Her point was that the images were part of the creative work that Hardy presented in the book and argued that the book of poems should be studied as a total work of art with poetics and visual art interacting. What I appreciated in the paper was her persistence in arguing an actual thesis. Her thesis spoke to the subjective experience of reading and the many different readings that could occur when different people look at the same book of poems. Her use of neuro-science deepened her argument without taking over the paper.

Throughout her talk, I found myself writing copious notes, trying to remember the many names she used to support her work. As a researcher of book history, I was particularly engaged with her work and the opportunity she opens for bibliographical analysis and close reading to work together.

With that in mind, I want to mention a few of her published works so that you too can have the opportunity to read great scholarship.

Her most recent monograph is Perspectives: Modes of Viewing and Knowing in Nineteenth-Century England (Ohio State University Press, 2009). The book can be purchased directly from the publisher here: https://ohiostatepress.org/index.htm?books/book%20pages/shires%20perspectives.html

She also edited Rewriting the Victorians: Theory, History, and the Politics of Gender (Routledge, 2012). The book can be purchased directly from the publisher here: http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415521734/

Dr. Shires Wrote the Introduction and Notes for the Penguin Classics edition of Thomas Hardy’s The Trumpet Major (Penguin 1988). The edition can be purchased directly from Penguin here: http://www.penguinclassics.co.uk/books/the-trumpet-major/9780140435405/

Her articles include “Hardy’s Memorial Art: Image and Text in Wessex Poems.” Victorian Literature and Culture 41.4 (2013); Hardy’s Browning: Refashioning the Lyric” Victorian Poetry 50.4 (2012); and “Browning’s Gifts” SEL Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 48.4 (2008).

Linda M. Shires is an established and knowledgeable scholar of Victorian poetry and if you have not had the chance to read her work, I highly recommend you spend some time reading one of more of the above.

Thanks again Vickie and Eddie readers. There will be more ramblings to come. Keep reading the 19th century!

Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins (1893)

I’m currently reading Sarah Grand’s novel The Heavenly Twins (1893). One of the last three-deckers of the Victorian age, Grand’s book break all other conventions of sentimental realism with book that addresses venereal disease (likely syphilis), gender norms, women’s education, infanticide, and other taboo subjects for women. As a book aimed at women, Grand considers how women are denied much of the information she attempts to reveal in the novel by a patriarchal system that values women’s innocence (i.e. ignorance) regarding sex, health, love, and the separation of the sexes into spheres.

Sarah Grand

I can understand why this book is rarely assigned on reading lists. Its size is enormous and if a course in Victorian literature were going to incorporate a large novel of the period, Dickens or George Eliot are more likely choices. Unfortunately, this novel is the best example I have read so far of New Woman fiction. It’s didactic, women-centred, and brutally honest without any sentimentality or romance. Women were asked to read literature for instruction (read Kate Flint’s book, The Woman Reader for some great insight into this concept), and this novel offers that in a complex plot that interweaves multiple storylines on the notion of fear that results from women’s ignorance regarding late-Victorian sexual practices outside of marriage.

Men are condemned – husbands who spread disease and fathers who ignorantly marry off their daughters to men who will ultimately transmit their illnesses to both her and any children they have. However, women are also condemned – condemned for allowing men the power to abuse and dictate their decisions for them. The novel’s politic insists that it is not men who will change the situation, but obstinate women like Evadne and Angelica who will fight to change things.

The women in this novel fail. It’s a tragedy and follows the naturalist form of realism that makes the work of George Gissing so dark. However, there is intelligence to the novel that makes it a very engaging read.

The highlight of the novel for me is the relationship between Angelica and her twin brother Theodore, nicknamed “Diavolo.” Diavolo so far, seems to represent how men can be educated to see how their treatment of women is atrocious and that men can be the allies of the New Woman. Their mischief together is not only wildly entertaining but a political and intellectual challenge of existing systems of authority such as fathers, religious orders protestant and catholic alike, silent women who refuse to disturb their men, and secrets that keep women in blissful ignorance. I suspect that these characters will not fare well as the novel does not seem to promise happy endings for anyone.

The other interesting element is the discourse of eugenics and social Darwinism that pervade the novel. The focus of sexuality is on health and wellness, not on desire or beauty. I think this is an important idea regarding late-Victorian realism which I will save for future academic work.

The only existing edition is a reprint with a critical introduction by Carol A. Senf (Georgia Institute of Technology). The introduction is well done and offers important insight into the novel but the actual book from Ann Arbor Paperbacks/U of Michigan Press is a poor quality reprint where words fade, some things are underlined and the lines sometimes curve on the page, all indicating that the novel is little more than a photocopy. This is unfortunate because I think there is a need for a real edition of this novel. Perhaps if it were available, Grand would get the attention she deserves and her work would be taught as an important representation of the New-Woman Novel. Then perhaps, Grand would become the preferred choice for a long novel and compete with Dickens and Eliot.

Sure, I’m kidding myself here, but I choice to be hopeful. Too much critical ink has been used to deride the quality of New Woman writing when it’s a form of realism that reflects not only the journalistic work these women were engaged in as a means to earn a living, but it also reflects the limits the educational opportunity that many of these women could access. To critique its quality without recognizing the limits of women’s access to knowledge about writing is to misunderstand the Victorian woman. Not all women had access to knowledge and books the way Austen and Eliot did. The Heavenly Twins reflects a different readership – a readership nurtured by Sensation fiction, the popular press, and women’s newspapers.

If you have not yet read The Heavenly Twins, I highly recommend it. Let me know what you think.

I’m Still Here – Just busy getting my PhD!

Hello kind readers,

I just wanted to give you an update. My PhD is now complete and I will receive me degree at convocation later this month. That’s good news for me.

I’m telling you this because the good news for this page is that I will return with regular updates very soon. I will be attending the annual conference of the North American Victorian Studies Association next month and I will be bringing my readers updates on the latest in Victorian and Edwardian research and scholarship. This will include new websites and blog links.

I will also be looking at some of the exciting digital archives of Victorian and Edwardian materials that give both scholarly and fan readers of nineteenth-century literature free access to increasingly higher quality editions of some lost favourites.

I will also be using the site to bring attention to journal articles and books that I think deserve wider attention. As I stated when I began this blog, the Victorians are for everyone and I think that includes Victorianist scholarship.

Victorians and Edwardians were actually avid readers of scholarly journals in the arts and sciences. I think an emulation of such practices would enrich our daily lives and I encourage you to do so.

Thanks for checking in – even lately when I haven’t checked in. I promise to reward your interest very soon.

Vicky and Eddie’s Resource page.

George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891)

 

George_Gissing_c1890sI have to admit that I was not looking forward to reading George Gissing’s New Grub Street. I enjoyed The Odd Women but also found it very dark and, frankly, depressing. Being in the final stages of dissertation writing, I tend to go for books that seem fun or at least pleasantly entertaining. With Gissing, it seems that everyone starves to death and experiences nothing but misery along the way.

I cannot say that New Grub Street is very different. However, as a student of book and publishing history of the nineteenth century, I found it an incredibly satisfying read. My Penguin Classics edition (edited in 1968) claims that Edwin Reardon is the central figure of the novel but I disagree. Women take centre stage in Gissing’s portrayal of the effects of the novel industry, not as writers but as the spouses and daughters of mediocre and unsuccessful novelists without any power to change the circumstances of their lives.

Gissing portrays strong, if put upon women who defy the “Angel of the House” trope that Dickens relies so much on. Instead, Gissing’s women, express their opinions and argue with their husbands and fathers.

Marion Yule, Amy Reardon, and, my personal favourites, Dora and Maud Milvain, are subtly well-developed characters. They are not heroic or martyrs to the plot but disappointed, hardened, and familiar. They are wonderful examples of Gissing’s naturalist style.

The men in the book who seem to go out of their way to make these women miserable seem to forget that in their search for artistic recognition and creative freedom, they have wives and children to support – dependents who were promised one way of life and are disappointed in the reality that they face. Amy Reardon is particularly portrayed as a terrible person because she thought she was marrying a soon-to-be successful author. However, when Edwin Reardon continues to makes sarcastic jokes about the workhouse and gives up writing entirely to take a clerk position that pays only 25 shillings a week, well, it was not what Amy signed up for. She has a son (who Edwin clearly admits he does not care anything about) to feed and educate and Edwin’s lack of sympathy, makes for an interesting and complex dynamic.

Amy’s attitudes towards the limited divorce laws of the late-Victorian age are also informative and help to shed light on the realities and risks of marriage.

So, while a sad novel, it is not tragic. Instead, New Grub Street is cynical, ironic, angry, and topical. If you have any interest in the Victorian publishing industry, I highly recommend the novel. If you like your fiction “real” – whatever that means – then, this is also a novel for you.

Happy reading!

The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. (1852)

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The first Victorian novel that seduced me onto the path I have as a Victorian scholar was William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. This novel without a hero drew me in by mocking everything that was wrong with Regency and Victorian culture even as the latter had barely begun. Becky Sharp was a slap in the face to the hypocrisy of the middle-class bourgeois attitude toward difference. From the moment she throws that damnable dictionary out the window until we leave her smirking in Amelia’s face at the end, she is an unmatched survivor. I am Becky Sharp – at least I wish I was Becky Sharp.

I have also read Barry Lyndon (excellent!) and The Newcomes (a bit dry). I have recently begun my fourth Thackeray: The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. (1852).

What fascinates me about Esmond is the role that books play in this book. First, it was originally printed in an eighteenth-century typeface to reflect the historical period in which the novel takes place (1690s until the early-eighteenth-century reign of the good Queen Anne). My Penguin Classics editors did not use that type and I find that unfortunate because the materiality of the book is so central to work.

In addition, the novel’s bildüngsroman of Book I follows the coming of age of Henry (Harry) Esmond as he works as a page and is eventually sent to university by his Aristocratic Catholic family members Lord and Lady Castlewood. Throughout the book we are told what he is reading from the Restoration comedies he sneaks out of Lord Castlewood’s collection, to Horace, Pope, Swift, etc.

The novel addresses the Tory/Whig conflicts as well as the battle for religious toleration in Britain’s Augustan age. Esmond’s conflict is a microcosm of the larger political conflict that occupied the politics of the era. I am just about to read Book II and I cannot wait to see what happens now that his life has fallen apart and Harry finds himself in prison, abandoned by his family and no one to turn to.

Thackeray’s works are very reminiscent of the episodic novels of Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding; however, Thackeray’s work features a unity of storytelling that does not typically leave loose ends hanging or engage in an adventurous turn without some larger narrative purpose.

If you have not yet had the chance to read Thackeray, why not start now? Vanity Fair and Barry Lyndon are both fantastic reads and have quality editions available with Oxford World’s Classics. With Vanity Fair, I do recommend the Norton Critical edition assembled by Victorian and Bibliographical Scholar, Peter L. Shillingsburg.

Happy reading Vicky and Eddie readers!

(P.S. The Image is Beatrix Knighting Esmond (1857) by Augustus Leopold Egg, held by the Tate Gallery in London, UK).

 

 

Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend Reading Project

Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend Reading Project

This sounds like a fantastic project. In my opinion, part of the reason that people find Victorian novels so challenging is the cumbersome twentieth-century formats in which we ask people to read them. This project asks people to reconsider Dickens the way he was read by his fellow Victorians – as a monthly, over a 20-month period of time.

The Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend Reading Project is a WordPress page dedicated to people reading the novel as it was originally designed, over the original period of time and as a shared experience to be shared between friends.

I’m planning on joining this group and reading along. I am of the opinion that we need to find new ways of sharing our passion for VIctorian literature if we are to interest digital generation in these fantastic works. This project is one such way.

Click on the link in this post to join the Victorian fun.

Happy reading Vicky and Eddie fans!