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

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

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


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. – 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

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:

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:

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:

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.