The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. (1852)


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!

Reminder: CFP ‘Cosmopolitanism, Aestheticism, and Decadence 1860-1920’

This is a conference I wish I could afford to go to this year. Looks like a fantastic lineup. I am especially impressed with Dr. Stephano Evangelista’s book British Aestheticism and Ancient Greece (Palgrave Macmillan). This book is worth a read if you are at all interested in Aestheticism, Decadence, or discourses of same-sex desire in late-Victorian literature and culture.

The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates

Reminder: Call for Papers deadline 3 March 2014

Cosmopolitanism, Aestheticism, and Decadence 1860-1920
University of Oxford, 17-18 June 2014

Plenary Speakers:
Dr Stefano Evangelista (Trinity College, Oxford)
Professor Jonathan Freedman (University of Michigan)
Dr Michèle Mendelssohn (Mansfield College, Oxford)

This conference is supported by the Kent Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (KIASH) and the Faculty of English Language and Literature of the University of Oxford.

Over the past twenty years, the term “cosmopolitanism” has been the focus of intense critical reflection and debate across the humanities. For some, it represents a potential remedy for oppressive and antagonistic models of national identity and a means of addressing the ethical, economic, and political dilemmas produced by globalisation. Others consider it a peculiarly insidious form of imperialism, and argue that it advocates an untenable ideal of a privileged, rootless observer, detached from — and disposed to romanticise or commodify — very…

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The Invisible Woman

Apologies for my lack of posts of late. I have been deep in the world of my dissertation and rarely get a chance to poke my head out into the wider world of the Victorians and Edwardians.

We are having a lovely blizzard here this evening and snow always makes me think of Dickens. Normally, that means returning to A Christmas Carol, but this year, actor / director Ralph Fiennes offers an interesting alternative.

Fiennes takes on the role of Charles Dickens and tells the story of Ellen Ternan – his mistress, or as the title of the film suggests – the invisible woman.

Dickens embraced the Victorian tradition of the paterfamilias – the head of a “morally” upright Victorian middle-class family, who openly cheated on his wife with a young, impressionable women made vulnerable by a social system that condemned her (not the married man) for her participation in non-marital sexual intercourse.

Fiennes seems to be telling the story of those consequences for Ms. Ternan. It looks promising. Something I will certainly track down once this massive project is off my plate.

I promise that this space is alive and well and I look forward to many more comments and links on Victorian and Edwardian literature and culture.

For now, it is to time return to the dissertation. There is a lot to accomplish between now and Christmas Day!

Happy snow!

The Victorians: Sexuality and Gender


This is a fantastic lecture by Professor Richard J. Evans of Gresham College on Sexuality and Gender issues in Victorian England. This is a topic that takes of a great deal of my own time and research. I am particularly interested in how reactions to sexual discourse are replaced by acts of violence. Oh the papers I will write when my dissertation is finally done!

This is a great history lesson for anyone who is interested in the history of masculinity, the division of labour by gender in the nineteenth century in reaction to industrialization, and the rise of feminism in the mid- to late-nineteenth century.

I will warn you that the lecture is recorded on what seems to be a home video recorder. In other words, the visual quality is limited. However, I think his delivery and his visual examples make up for the lack of HD.

Happy Weekend!

Salome (1923) – Silent Film Adaptation


Hey Vicky and Eddie Lovers! I just found a copy of Charles Bryant’s 1923 silent film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome!

This is the film that, according to rumours Vito Russo heard, was performed by an entirely homosexual cast. I don’t know if that is true; however, it is still a beautiful adaptation that uses dance to convey the ideas developed by both Oscar Wilde’s words and Aubrey Beardsley’s iconic drawings for the 1894 Bodley Head book.