Happy Belated Birthday to George Eliot!

November 19th was George Eliot’s Birthday. In honour of this, the British Library has posted a link to their page on Eliot’s brilliant novel Middlemarch (1871-1872). The site includes an audio clip of someone reading from the novel and an image from the Middlemarch Manuscript that they have in their holdings. What a lovely way to start a Thursday. Enjoy!


(Note: the image above is also from the British Library’s facebook update today – if you are  not already a facebook friend with the British Library, then either you are not on facebook or there is something seriously wrong with you)


CFP: The Victorianists’ Workshop 2013

The Victorian Reading Group @ Western presents:

“The Victorianists’ Workshop:
New Approaches to Archives, Methods, and Pedagogy”

Saturday, April 6, 2013 – Western University, London, Ontario

The developments of new critical methodologies, archival resources, and pedagogical practices have radically transformed Victorian Studies. The digitization of newspapers, penny dreadfuls, pamphlets and other forms of print matter, the increased attention to new forms of media, including sound recordings and forms of early cinema, and a variety of new critical schools, from animal studies and eco-criticism to new formalism, book history, object theory and disability studies, have changed the means and methods by which we understand the literature and culture of Victorian Britain. This day-long series of workshops will seek to answer a variety of questions: How do these new resources, methods, and approaches change how we read and what we read? What authors or texts do they bring into view for the first time, or return to view? What issues, cultural, political, economic, are valorized by these approaches and why? How do these changes benefit our field in the coming decades? What opportunities do these new methods present to emergent scholars entering the field now? How do our recent developments in Victorian Studies inform our understanding of contemporary culture?


Keynote Speaker:


Professor of English Literature, Ryerson University

Author of Aestheticism and Sexual Parody (2001), Sexual Visuality from Literature to Film (2004), The Nineteenth-Century Child and Consumer Culture (2008) and
Dissipating Nature: The Eco-Pagan Vein of British Decadence (forthcoming)
Co-Editor of The Yellow Nineties Online and Nineteenth-Century Studies


“Dickens’ Dream” – Robert William Buss

Submission Details:

As an interdisciplinary workshop, we encourage topic of interests from all disciplines: art, art history, cultural studies, education, film, history, geography, law, literary studies, linguistics, media studies, medicine, music, natural sciences, philosophy, political science, religious studies, etc.

Participants should submit a “Topic of Interest” (in Microsoft Word format; no more than one page) to Madison Bettle (victorianistworkshop@gmail.com). This one page document may include methodological approaches to research and/or teaching pedagogy relating to the Victorian period. At the top of the submission, please include the scholar’s name, home institution, email address/contact information, brief biographical statement, and any audio-visual or technological equipment needed in your assigned workshop.

Submissions are due on January 15, 2013. You will receive the committee’s decision by February 1, 2013. Once a topic has been accepted, participants will be asked to transform their TOI into a 2-3 page discussion paper. They will then be asked to send this paper to the above address by March 15, 2013. This document will then be made available to all participants in the applicant’s assigned workshop.

Our current sponsors include: Victorian Studies Association of Ontario (VSAO), The Victorian Reading Group @ Western, Western’s English Department, and Western’s Graduate English Society.

The Sorrows of Marie Corelli

Have you ever heard of Marie Corelli? At one point she was England’s bestselling author. I’m currently reading her bestseller The Sorrows of Satan (1895) and despite sympathy with theories of cultural degeneration that smack of Max Nordau, it’s a delightful read.

I’ve previously read Wormwood and A Romance of Two Worlds and from these works I can tell you that Corelli is a sensationalist writer with plots that combine the supernatural works of Bram Stoker with the shocking scandal of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. She adds her own distaste for Aestheticism, effeminate men, women, the New Woman (who she does not even categorize as a woman!), and of course her own literary critics.
The Sorrows of Satan is Corelli’s opportunity to lambast all of these groups and to celebrate her own assumed genius with the figure of Mavis Clare.
I highly recommend this novel. There is a great edition published by Valancourt Books right now so check out the link to their website to the right for more information. Oxford World’s Classics used to have an edition but it has sadly gone the way of Marie Corelli’s fame. She was a success in her time that I can only compare to the Dan Brown Da Vinci Code Phenomenon of more recent times. Add to that success an ego that made her characterise herself as both a timeless beauty and the Shakespeare of her own times and you have a force to be reckoned with.
Sadly she was also a wretched character in many ways. Corelli condemned the New Woman and the Suffragette movement (apparently she thought women incapable of handling the vote?). She also cooperated with the British Government who complied a list of “German Spies” that numbered 23,000 names at one point. The names that she and others submitted were artists, immigrants (often jews) and homosexuals. Yes, a good Social Darwinist, she, like many of her fellow Brits and Europeans at the time, thought homosexuality was a disease one could catch from the Germans. Philip Hoare provides a good account of this horrid situation in his book Oscar Wilde’s Last Stand which I highly recommend.
With that in mind, I think Corelli’s novel’s are even more important as historical artifacts of late-Victorian and Edwardian popular culture with a surreal dose of xenophobia that will intrigue the modern reader.

Happy reading this weekend!

Vernon Lee’s “Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady”

Have you heard of Vernon Lee? She’s quite popular now within late-Victorian scholarly circles. She also has a small following among gothic fiction fans. She wrote a wonderful collection of stories called Hauntings and there are a couple good editions of these stories on the market today. My favorite is the Broadview Literary Edition Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales.

Vernon Lee was born Violet Paget. She took a man’s name for her publishing and travelled in the same social and literary circles as Walter Pater, Henry James, and Oscar Wilde. Most of Lee’s work is Aesthetic Criticism. Her book The Handling of Words (1923) was an important Response to Lubbock’s The Craft of Fiction. Her Book Renaissance Fancies was an important response to the Decadent Movement in English Aestheticism.

Vernon Lee by John Singer Sargent

Vernon Lee is often criticised for her morality – morality being a bad Victorian habit that had to be shaken off. I think this is a problematic way to read Lee. Her work is less a moral criticism and more of a remembrance of the human consequences for our choices. She demands that you look at the effect of your choices and she aims her demands at her fellow Aesthetes. Walter Pater understood Lee’s position and maintained a longtime correspondence.

I am a fan of her novel Miss Brown (1884). Criticised by her Aesthetic critics for being too long and poorly edited, the novel serves as a critique of Decadence. From the perspective of Anne Brown, a Lizzie Siddell figure who is the object of other men’s desires, Lee explores the concerns of women who were made symbolic objects and their own conflicting desires. Anne loves Hamlin but she also experiences sexual desire with another woman (for her own pleasure, despite the men who look on). The problem is that the novel is a three-decker when, I think, it should have been edited down to the size of Dorian Gray. However, it was the 1880s and brevity was not yet marketable.

What was marketable were her short stories published in places like The Artist and Journal of Home Culture and The Yellow Book. I was to direct your attention to one story in particular from the Yellow Book: “Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady.”

Here’s a link courtesy of Mount Royal College’s Gaslight Project:

Vernon Lee’s “Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady”

Lee craft’s a macabre fairy tale with a Decadent and jealous aristocrat, a beautiful youth (a teenaged boy of idealised beauty), and a cursed snake lady who comes to the boy and shows him the only love he has ever known.

There are elements of Aestheticism and Decadence (a good example of her love of Decadence done well), emotional empathy with the protagonist and the snake lady, subversive explorations of sexuality, beauty and youth, and an attention to setting and architectural detail that would make Huysmans proud.

I love this story. And I love Vernon Lee. Please enjoy the story link (it is a short story) and tell me what you think about Lee’s writing. I would also recommend a wonderful article written on this story by the great Margaret Stetz – a brilliant scholar who reads parallels between Prince Alberic and Oscar Wilde who was on trial and imprisoned at the time that Lee wrote and published the story. Lee, despite her satires of Wilde in Miss Brown, appreciated and respected Wilde. This story can be read as a beautiful lament for the injustices done to the man who inspired a generation of late-Victorians to change culture and establish England’s literary avant-garde.

Please enjoy and head over to the John Singer Sargeant Gallery to get details on the image I include on Vernon Lee that he painted.