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2013

Vol 5, No 2: Winter 2013

Victorians And The Law: Literature And Legal Culture

Cathrine O. Frank
(University of New England, Maine)

‘Notwithstanding the seeming incongruity, there subsists a very intimate connection between law and literature’.

Edward Said changed the way readers approached Jane Austen when he argued that Mansfield Park, indeed all nineteenth-century novels, could only be understood in the context of imperialism. How else did Sir Bertram make his money, and why was he absent from his estate for so long, otherwise? The idea that the culture of imperialism was so ingrained in writers and readers alike meant that the colonies and their far-flung subjects could be in the novel even when they weren’t, apparently, in the novel. A similar point can be made about the pervasiveness of law in Victorian fiction: there is a kind of legalism at work that makes it possible to read for the law even when legal matters don’t appear to be part of the novel’s immediate subject. ‘Legal Culture’ in this sense might mean the assumed structure that invisibly, or at least unquestioningly, supports social relationships, individual aspirations, and expressive forms, for example, the way coverture informed the structure of the novel’s marriage plot. It might mean a way of thinking or reasoning, such as Ayelet Ben Yishai describes in her recent book on precedent, i.e. the way legal attitudes towards the past were used to accommodate change and create a ‘commonality’ outside recognisably legal venues or processes. To appreciate and understand the reach of law’s cultural network, a cultural critique of law is needed, one that, as Christine Krueger has argued, works best when it strives for historical specificity and applies multidisciplinary tools of analysis to the material conditions of its working.

This issue of Victorian Network focuses on Victorians and the Law—two subjects that, daunting in their breadth, draw our attention to an only slightly less formidable pair, law and literature. ... Read the full text here.

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Vol 5, No 1: Summer 2013

Introduction: Victorian Other Worlds

Cora Kaplan
(Southampton University / Queen Mary, University of London)

Victorian Britain’s ‘other worlds’, like our own, were connected to and inspired by the material world of everyday life. The nineteenth-century fascination with alterity of every kind is grounded in its industrial and imperial expansion – perhaps especially when it seeks to escape from their effects. The Victorian imagination – by no means confined to literary and visual art, but expressed there with astonishing richness and brio – was energized by the dizzying and disruptive pace of modernity. The threats and promises of political reform, from the abolition of slavery to the extension of the franchise, not to mention the changing and contested relations between men and women and the accelerated development of scientific knowledge all find their possibilities and drawbacks tried out as romance or fantasy, often juxtaposed with the detailed depiction of the grim conditions of work in Victorian Britain, as they are in Charles Kingsley’s Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby (1863), but also erupting in his social novels of the late eighteen forties, Yeast (1848) and Alton Locke (1850). Mid-century adult fiction was a mixed genre in which realism and fancy were intertwined. The alternative to dystopian futures draws longingly on the past. The fondness for medieval stories and settings in Tennyson or the Pre-Raphaelites, the idealizing of feudal society in Disraeli’s fiction, draw this invented past forward, appropriating conservative social imaginary in the face of radical challenges to it in the Victorian everyday. ... Read the full text here.

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2012

Vol 4, No 2: Winter 2012

Introduction: Sex, Courtship and Marriage in Victorian Literature and Culture

Charlotte Mathieson
(University of Warwick)

Hetty had never read a novel [...] how then could she find a shape for her expectations?

George Eliot, Adam Bede (1859)

This line from George Eliot's 1859 novel Adam Bede, reflecting on the thoughts of young, naïve country girl Hetty Sorrel as she falls in love with the older, wiser and wealthier gentleman Captain Arthur Donnithorne, provides an indicative point from which to begin a discussion of sex, courtship and marriage in Victorian literature and culture, opening up many of the ideological tensions and wider cultural resonances that these terms and their intersections produced. In the naïvety of Hetty's innocent unknowing and shapeless expectations, Eliot signals the problem of ignorance about sex prevalent among young women in the period; in the assertion that ‘a novel' would provide Hetty with a guide to understanding, we are reminded of the centrality of courtship and marriage in structuring many novels of the period, as well as the cultural work that literature played in ‘shaping' the ideas of its readers. ... Read the full text here.

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Vol 4, No 1: Summer 2012

Introduction: Production and Consumption in Victorian Literature and Culture

Ella Dzelzainis
(University of Newcastle)

A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders, if he do not work upon the compassion of some of her guests. If these guests get up and make room for him, other intruders immediately appear demanding the same favour. The report of a provision for all that come fills the hall with numerous claimants. The order and harmony of the feast is disturbed, the plenty that before reigned is changed into scarcity; and the happiness of the guests is destroyed by the spectacle of misery and dependence in every part of the hall, and by the clamorous importunity of those who are justly enraged at not finding the provision which they had been taught to expect.
          T. R. Malthus, Essay on the Principle of Population (2nd ed., 1803)

First published in 1798, Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population was repeatedly revised by its author, the last version appearing eight years before his death in 1834: the same year that the New Poor Law Act, a piece of legislation inspired by his theories, was passed. Malthus’s key theory in the Essay was that while the food supply expanded arithmetically, population grew geometrically, invoking the prospect of mass starvation as well as ever-increasing demands on the public purse by the indigent. ... Read the full text here.

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2011

Vol 3, No 2: Winter 2011

Theatricality and Performance in Victorian Literature and Culture

Beth Palmer
(University of Surrey)

Performance and theatricality have become key terms for scholars working across wide reaches of Victorian studies. Closely related and multiply resonant as they are, I will not attempt to disentangle them here. Thomas Postlewait and Tracy Davis in defining just one of these terms suggest that:

the idea of theatricality has achieved an extraordinary range of meanings, making it everything from an act to an attitude, a style to a semiotic system, a medium to a message. It is a sign empty of meaning; it is the meaning of all signs. Depending on one's perspective, it can be dismissed as little more than a self-referential gesture or it can be embraced as a definitive feature of human communication. Although it obviously derives its meanings from the world of theatre, theatricality can be abstracted from the theatre itself and then applied to any and all aspects of human life.

We see how richly useful and widely usable these terms are in the diverse approaches demonstrated by the work gathered in this issue of Victorian Network. These are not articles purely about the theatre but they do recognise the importance, both metaphorically and literally, of theatricality and performance in a number of areas of nineteenth-century culture and society.  Read the full text here

(Cover image scanned by George P. Landow.)

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Vol 3, No 1: Special Bulletin

Crossing the Line: Affinities Before and After 1900

Regenia Gagnier
(University of Exeter; President, British Association for Victorian Studies)

It is with great pleasure that I write the Preface to this special issue of the AHRC-funded Victorian Network journal, as the President of the British Association for Victorian Studies, with its over 700+ international membership, and as the keynote speaker at the conference from which the papers were selected, "Crossing the Line" of 28-29th January 2010 at the University of Liverpool. My keynote lecture, "Individualism, Decadence, and Globalization: on the Relationship of Part to Whole: 1880-1920," was in part subsequently published as an Appendix on J. K. Huysmans to my book Individualism, Decadence, and Globalization: on the Relationship of Part to Whole 1859-1920 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), and I owe the conference organizers and Professor Mark Llewellyn a debt for their comments and criticisms after the lecture. ... Read the full text here

(Cover image © Stuart Keates 2011)

 

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2010

Vol 2, No 1: Summer 2010

Introduction: Victorian Literature and Science

Ian Henderson
(King's College London)

On 5 April 2010 the New York Times sponsored a debate in its online pages: 'Can "Neuro Lit Crit" Save the Humanities?'. The question rose from an earlier article in the same paper on the 'Next Big Thing in English' (31 March 2010), outlining work by (among others) Professor Linda Zunshine (University of Kentucky) which merges eighteenth-century literary studies and evolutionary psychology, referencing Professor Elaine Scarry's seminars on 'Cognitive Psychology and the Arts' at Harvard, and highlighting a project at Yale led by Emeritus Professor Michael Holquist which uses MRI scans to explore the mental functioning involved in reading complex texts. Behind these projects, it was claimed, there was recognition that

science not only offers unexpected insights into individual texts, but that it may help to answer fundamental questions about literature's very existence: Why do we read fiction? Why do we care so passionately about nonexistent characters? What underlying mental processes are activated when we read?

Science, apparently, could also 'prove' the advantages for cognitive development of reading literature (part of its 'saving' function; it makes literary study 'relevant' to mental health) and there followed the startling suggestion that literary history might make manifest psychological evolution in humans.

Naturally the framing of the article and subsequent question for debate prompted critical responses, ... Read the full text here

 

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2009

Vol 1, No 1: Summer 2009

Victorian Network: Guest Editor's Introduction

Muireann Ó Cinnéide
(University of Galway)

It is a great pleasure for me to introduce the first issue of this exciting new journal, Victorian Network. The journal, with generous support from the AHRC, provides a central forum for postgraduate students to publish their work, offering an important insight into the cutting-edge of Victorian Studies at the present time. The title Victorian Network represents Victorian culture in terms of interconnectivity rather than discrete ideas, disciplines and institutions. Links in the period between literature, history, painting, religion and science have been well-explored, but what ‘Network’ highlights, it seems to me, is a more interactive, vibrant, and essentially socialised sense of structures of connection. It also speaks to the value of facilitating Victorianist networks. The production of the journal itself brings together an editorial team of postgraduate students, working with a different guest editor for each issue, and will continue to involve new generations of postgraduate students in its development. Read the full text here

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