Victorian VisionsVol. 9 (2020)
In the course of the long nineteenth century, advances in technology, developments in medicine and psychology, and corresponding innovation in the arts and literature, participated in a reconceptualisation of sight. The advent of mass production by way of print, photography, optical apparatus and toys (such as panoramas, kaleidoscopes, and finally moving pictures), introduced the visual as a more pervasive and accessible feature of daily life. At the same time, dreams, daydreams, hallucinations, and mesmeric visions garnered scientific attention. The arts and literature, as well as the disciplines of clinical medicine and psychology, became preoccupied with the possibilities and limitations of seeing, of making visible, and of visual representation.
In recent years, a rapidly expanding field of Victorian studies has increasingly drawn attention to the diverse ways in which vision, visuality, and seeing – in both their optical and imaginative meanings – shaped the cultural and social landscape of the long nineteenth century. Scholars including Kate Flint, Christopher Otter, Daryl Ogden, Jonathan Potter, and Srdjan Smajić have investigated how vision, in its myriad interpretations, functioned in the lives of the Victorians. Their work has contributed to discourses on sight and blindness, on gendered visions and the politics of the gaze, as well as political and ideological visions. All highlight the manifold points of contact between visuality, the visual arts, and literature.
Thinking about 'Victorian Visions’ thus invites us to move beyond the obvious, to focus on how visuality engages with our senses, and to look at the complex intellectual and philosophical significations that new-found attitudes towards optics and visuality generated.
Forgery and ImitationVol. 8 (2018)
Forgery and Imitation
Aviva Briefel, Professor of English and Cinema Studies (Bowdoin College, Maine, USA)
Debates on forgery in the Victorian period were inseparable from questions of personhood. In part, this was due to the fact that until the 1832 and 1837 Forgery Acts, individuals charged with this crime would lose their personhood through the death penalty. But the act of forgery also had the power to redefine the identities of the living in significant ways. In her pivotal book on the topic, Forgery in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture, Sara Malton writes, ‘As it exposes the fragility of a financial system that grants increasing agency to its individual participants, forgery thus becomes centrally implicated in changing ideas of selfhood.’ She goes on to argue that ‘forgery poses acute challenges to deeply held cultural beliefs about the primacy of individuality, identity, and origins’; Pip’s formation into adulthood in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1862), for instance, is fueled by counterfeiting and modes of deceptive self-fashioning. In my book about faking, The Deceivers, I explored multiple ways in which art forgery act generated complex vocabularies ‘for defining persons as well as things.’ The artistic practices of copying, forging, restoring, and fraudulent dealing constructed new categories for thinking about identity along gendered, social, racial, and national lines, which reached far beyond the aesthetic sphere. (...) Read the full text here.
Victorian BrainVol. 7 (2016)
Sally Shuttleworth, Professor of English (University of Oxford)
In April 1878 the first issue of Brain: A Journal of Neurology was published. Edited by the eminent psychiatrists J. C. Bucknill and James Crichton-Browne, and by the rising stars in the field of experimental and clinical studies of the brain, David Ferrier and John Hughlings Jackson, it sought to lay claim to a new disciplinary territory: neurology. An index of the journal’s self-conscious modernity in its use of this term is perhaps to be found in the fact that nearly a century and a half later it is still a leading journal in the field, and publishing under exactly the same title. 1 Indeed, there are even similarities in format, with clinical case studies accompanied by articles addressing medical issues of the day, such as ‘brain forcing’ of school children, or effects of alcohol on the brain, in the 1878 volume, matched by short pieces on the Zika virus and Alzheimer’s, in recent issues. 2 Such apparent similarity and continuity of course also masks major shifts. (...) Read the full text here.
Winter 2015Vol. 6 No. 2
Victorian DirtWilliam A. Cohen, Associate Provost and Professor of English
(University of Maryland)
Every idea about our Victorian forebears is in some sense an idea about ourselves. Knowledge of the past is inevitably refracted through the present. The phrase “Victorian dirtâ€ invites consideration in part because it strikes us as an oxymoron: even with all we know about the range and variety of human experience in the nineteenth century, it is hard not to cling to the caricature of the Victorians as stuffy prudes who found the very idea of dirt alarming, not to say unthinkable. The phrase promises disenchantment, titillation, and defamiliarisation. With the presumed superiority of our own acuity and worldliness, and the privileges of hindsight, we harbour the fantasy that we may know the Victorians better than they knew themselves. What we learn from such investigations, however, is just how attached we are to values of cleanliness and sanitation, which makes the discovery of nineteenth-century dirt a perpetual experience of joyful disgust and self-affirming discomfort. Even more, perhaps, we learn how attracted we are to the experience of revelation itself: the unveiling of the hidden, the secret, the unknownâ€”even when the constituents of that knowledge can hardly continue to surprise us.
Summer 2015Vol. 6 No. 1
The BodyPamela K. Gilbert, Albert Brick Professor of English
(University of Florida)
The body: a surface on which events are inscribed [... ] Genealogy, as an analysis of where things come from is thus situated at the point of articulation of the body and history. Its task is to show a body totally imprinted with history, and history destroying the body. â€”Michel Foucault
Gender is always a doing[.] â€”Judith Butler
I am honoured to introduce this issue of Victorian Network, which directs our attention to one of the most durable areas of inquiry in contemporary scholarship on Victorian literature and culture: the body. The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are the period in which the body as we understand it is elaborated: modern medical models of the body are developed, modern political relations to the body are instantiated, and modern identities relations to class, race and gender are being inscribed.
The body is a bountiful topic. Over the last decades, study of the body that began with gender and bio-politics continued into explorations of materialism and ergonomic/economical concerns, evolution and industrialism, disease and health, sexuality, cyborgs, medical and legal history, and the new “neuro-humanities.â€ Of the many areas of research showing unabated vitality, two of the most fecund continue to be the earliest. Michel Foucault casts a long and justified shadow over the last several decades of scholarship on the body. Foucault’s explorations of the relation of power and surveillance to both representations and the lived experience of bodies in the modern period have been foundational for subsequent studies.
Winter 2013Vol. 5 No. 2
Victorians and the Law: Literature and Legal CultureCathrine 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 Lawâ€”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.
Summer 2013Vol. 5 No. 1
Introduction: Victorian Other WorldsCora 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.
Winter 2012Vol. 4 No. 2
Introduction: Sex, Courtship and Marriage in Victorian Literature and CultureCharlotte 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, naà¯ve 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 naà¯vety 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.
Summer 2012Vol. 4 No. 1
Introduction: Production and Consumption in Victorian Literature and CultureElla 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.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 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.
Winter 2011Vol. 3 No. 2
Theatricality and Performance in Victorian Literature and CultureBeth 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.Â Read the full text here
(Cover image scanned by George P. Landow.)
Special BulletinVol. 3 No. 1
Crossing the Line: Affinities Before and After 1900
(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 Â© Stuart Keates 2011)
Summer 2010Vol. 2 No. 1
Introduction: Victorian Literature and Science
(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, ...Â Read the full text here
Summer 2009Vol. 1 No. 1
Victorian Network“: Guest Editor's Introduction
Muireann à“ Cinnà©ide
(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