I just finished reading a Digital Humanist who actually proposes a return to the University as a culturally unifying institution replacing Cardinal Newman and Matthew Arnold’s nationalistic centrality of Victorian literature (literature read primarily by the middle classes), with the study of digital code as our new culturally unifying discourse. This “scholar” then proposes that we are entering a third “wave” of DH, disguising a Victorian (not Victorianist) discourse of progress under a thin veil of social Darwinism with imagery of human’s leaving the water and walking on land, as if humanity (not just the humanities) were somehow better off because we use computer hardware instead of paper books more often to share information and disseminate knowledge. I’ve read some great DH research but this author is not such an example. The disunity introduced by the Decadents at the end of the nineteenth century to middle-class values as universal ideals was a good thing. That disunity allowed people silenced by the privileging of the Anglo-Saxon, male, Protestant heterosexual to introduce new ways of understanding and adapting to the challenges and struggles of modernity. The disunity introduced by postmodernism that challenged the privileging of Modernism’s constructed unity of defined by art and literature written by Snglo-Saxon, male, protestant heterosexuals was a good thing too. Disunity, difference, and competing perspectives on culture is not chaos and Universities and the scholars that they employ have no business suggesting otherwise. Such calls for Victorian-style cultural unity suggests a xenophobic reaction to change that is little more than xenophobic ideology disguised as scholarly discourse. We who appreciate both the Digital Humanities and Victorian literature and culture need to do better and dissuade such dangerous appropriations of scholarship. As Victorian Studies scholars we must recognize the dangerous appropriation of Victorian social ideologies that today amount to little more than opportunities for a new elite to systematize a rejection of difference and change of the sort that produced the eugenics, colonialism, paterfamilias, and the medicalisation of sexual diversity as disease in the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-centuries.
Greetings all fans of Vicky and Eddie. Since finishing my Ph.D., I have been busy building my publication record and developing my own particular niches in the field of Victorian Studies. 2015 was an incredibly productive year for me and I’m looking forward to reading what my colleagues have in store for 2016.
At the same time, I have also made a point of reading across the field of Victorian and Edwardian literature and culture. Some of the works I’ve been obsessing over lately include the following:
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens: while I have read a number of Dickens works, this is my first time reading his first full-length novel. Episodic in format with a fascinating publication history, The Pickwick Papers is not a book to read if you are looking for a complex and layered plot – Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend are much better options for such a work – however, I am half way through Pickwick and I am enjoying the clear influence of eighteenth-century fiction, especially Henry Fielding, on Dickens’ writing. Reading Pickwick, you can also see more clearly the similarities between Dickens and Thackeray – the great competitors of Victorian serial novelists. While not a great novel, Pickwick is a great cultural artifact. If nothing else, you too can develop a crush on the adorable Sam Weller: such a doll!
Penny Dreadful: a Showtime/ Sky television series starring Eva Green, Josh Hartnett and Billie Piper. A rollicking neo-Victorian adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, featuring occult spiritualism, colonial imperialism, gothic suspense, and, yes, lots of sex and nudity, Penny Dreadful takes the sensational form of the cheesy serials of the Victorian age from which it takes its name and re-imagines these great novels as parts of a larger fin-de-siècle soap opera. Anachronistic, campy, and smart, Penny Dreadful playfully presents late-Victorian culture for a diverse audience that loves Victorian literature and an audience that has never read anything from the nineteenth century. Coming soon: season/series three which will feature Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
My current obsession in scholarship is Matthew Potolsky’s The Decadent Republic of Letters: Taste, Politics, and Cosmopolitan Community from Baudelaire to Beardsley (Penn State University Press, 2013). Decadence is a complicated and elusive concept that many scholars have tried and failed to define. Potolsky’s book is, in my opinion, the best definition of Decadence as a cultural movement to date. While Potolsky’s emphasis is on pedagogy, the book has applicability and relevance to a multitude of academic interests in British Aestheticism and European Decadence.
More Decadence is available for students now thanks to the editorial efforts of Kostas Boyiopoulos, Yoonjoung Choi, and Matthew Brinton Tildesley on The Decadent Short Story: An Annotated Anthology (Edinburgh University Press, 2015). Stories from Oscar Wilde, Vernon Lee, Ada Leverson, and many others are featured in this fat and juicy book in an attempt to show the diverse literary output of Decadence in British literature in the late-Victorian and Edwardian period(s). Bloxom’s controversial “The Priest and the Acolyte” is included. With useful and interesting introductions and annotations, this book is a must for students, instructors, and general fans of the period.
I have been intensely focussed on my own research for the past year – hence my lack of updates here. This page was originally envisioned as a resource page to link readers to great sources and texts around the web and within culture. I want to keep that focus so I’ve avoided promoting my own work (even avoiding publishing my name on this page). Now that I have work in press, forthcoming, and in development, my own reading will be expanding. I want to return to classic Victorian texts and cultural representations of those works within culture. As I explore a diverse group of readings in 2016, I will share those readings with those of you using this page if, for no other reason, than to inspire new reading and research options for those of you seeking new avenues of study and entertainment.
Some works that I (shamefully) have not read yet but plan to in the coming months include the following:
Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (sensation fiction classic)
William Makepeace Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis (as important as Vanity Fair!)
Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South
George Moore’s Esther Waters
John Oliver Hobbes’ The Dream and the Business
James Thomson’s The City of Dreadful Night
Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho!
Rudyard Kipling’s The Light that Failed
Eliza Lynn Linton’s The Rebel of the Family
Poetry by Matilde Blind, Augusta Webster, and Grace Aguilar
There will be many more (I hope!) and I look forward to continuing my life-long study of Victorian and Edwardian literature and culture.
Happy reading to all of you. Here’s hoping for an even more productive 2016.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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).