Author Archives: vr_wpadmin

Victorian Britain in the Mile High City

Today’s guest blogger is Jennifer R. Henneman, who holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Washington, and is Assistant Curator of Western American Art at the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum. Jennifer’s interdisciplinary transatlantic research, which has taken her from the wilds of the American West to the cosmopolitan streets of London, reflects her own upbringing on a cattle ranch in Montana and her interest in the dominant cultural and artistic spheres of the late Victorian era. In addition to creating exhibitions for the Denver Art Museum, Jennifer currently pursues a book project on the 1887 American Exhibition in London.

My daily walk to work at the Denver Art Museum includes a southward view down Broadway, one of Denver, Colorado’s primary north-south thoroughfares. Above the westward skyline rises “Jonas Bros / Furs” in red neon letters. A legacy of the city’s 1920s urban landscape, the sign towers over the art deco building out of which the Denver branch of the Jonas Brothers’ taxidermy and fur company operated for much of the 20th century.[1]

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What’s in a Year?

by Tara MacDonald

title page of Darwin's origin of speciesThis post begins with an observation: a number of very important books were published in England in 1859. John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty appeared in February, followed by Alexander Bain’s The Emotions and the Will in the spring, and Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species and Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help in November. This seems striking to me, but is it? I’m tempted to see these publications as part of some kind of ‘cultural moment.’ If anything connects these disparate books, it might be an interest in free will. They all grapple with what it Bain, a prominent Scottish philosopher, calls the “Free-will controversy.” Continue reading

Special Issue of VR: Trans Victorians

Submission Date: 15 October 2017

The Victorian Review invites submissions for its special issue devoted to Trans Victorians. From the Chevalier/Chevalière D’Eon, Fanny and Stella, Dr. James Miranda Barry, and Vernon Lee, to the intersecting identities found in gender diverse side shows, including Madame Clofullia and Julia Pastrana, and the political cross-dressing of the Welsh Rebecca Riots, the Victorian era was populated by all manner of non-binary and gender expansive slippages. At the same time, Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s conflation of queer sexual orientation and trans gender identity and expression became part of the scientific foundation that informed cisnormative and heteronormative standards not only in medicine and the law, but the popular imagination. This special issue seeks to explore the overt and covert constructions of resistance to the constructions of more rigid gender binaries throughout Victorian Britain and abroad.

Recent critical work in Transgender/Trans Studies has begun to reconsider narratives of “transness” within structures of intersecting identities that focus on race, class, national identity, ability, colonialism and imperialism, and has begun to tease out the mis-readings and differences between sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression. Within post-colonial contexts, trans research has also begun to interrogate the British global mis-readings of gender diversity among various groups in the colonies such as the hijras in India and tangata ira tane and takatapui (Maori) in New Zealand. How might we approach Victorian Trans Studies while recognizing that the term “trans” or “transgender” and the meanings we now grant to them did not exist in the Victorian period?

Possible topics may include (but are not limited to):

Trans Representation in Victorian Literature (all genres) including Supportive and/or Derisive Depictions
Gender Diversity in Colonial Contexts
British and European Authoritative Readings of Trans
British and European Embodiments of Trans
Trans and Sex Crimes
Trans and Medicine
Trans and Law
Trans and Religion
Trans Communities and Cultures
Cross-Dressing as Theatrical Performance
Cross-Dressing as Political Theatre
Cross-Dressing as Embracing Trans Identity
The Spectacle of Trans Embodiment
Trans Celebrity/Trans Legends

Essays must be between 5000 and 8000 words and formatted according to MLA (8th edition) guidelines. Please submit manuscripts to Ardel Haefele-Thomas (guest editor):
Electronic Submissions: athomas@ccsf.edu

Mailed Submissions:
Dr. Ardel Haefele-Thomas, Chair
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies
City College of San Francisco
50 Phelan Avenue
Box C11
San Francisco, CA 94112
USA

On Topography and Hunger in Mary Barton

This week’s guest, Thomas A. Laughlin, has a PhD in English from the University of Toronto.

Tom1

William Wyld, Manchester from Kersal Moor, 1852

“Mrs. Gaskell could not just give what we would now call a ‘slice of life,’ partly because she wanted to offer more, but also partly because the novel as a form was felt to require movement, the progress of a story. This is the problem of form. Mrs. Gaskell has to overcome the difficulty that whereas her strength lies in evocation, description, analysis of a situation, the strength of the novel seemed to lie in the fact that it could absorb readers in a story, that is, that it worked through plot.” (Gill 22)

This is the famous contradiction and tension at the heart of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1848 novel, Mary Barton. The novel gathers more content and conflicts than its narrative can adequately process. The plot, we have to admit, isn’t the greatest. Nor is there much satisfaction to be derived from the characters, who, in my opinion, are obstinately and unbelievably single-minded in their concerns and pursuits. But personally, I like that it begins in the countryside, dwells in the twisted streets and back alleys of a Manchester working-class neighborhood, traverses both the factory floor and the union meeting, brings back news of the Chartists’ disappointed presentation of the People’s Charter to the Parliament in London, connects the working class to the wandering “lumpen” masses, involves a secret assassination plot, follows Mary to Liverpool and almost all the way out to sea, has a courtroom melodrama, and ends with Mary and Jem emigrating to Canada! There is a kind of topographic euphoria in the novel—a will to connect and “complete,” as Eric Hayot might say (see Hayot 60-67). Each topos is as vivid and valid—that is, as believable and necessary—as the previous, even if their relationship remains arbitrary, a connecting contingency of geography. Continue reading

Tennyson and the French Poets

by Ann Kennedy Smith

Oil Portrait of Tennyson

1840 portrait of Tennyson by Samuel Laurence. Copyright National Portrait Galley, London.

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) is often seen as a very British poet. A new book, The Reception of Alfred Tennyson in Europe, examines how Tennyson’s poetry was published, distributed, translated and reviewed in the wider context of Europe from 1832 until today. I wrote about his French reception in it, and in this blog I’ll focus on some of the French poets and writers who admired, were influenced by, borrowed or stole from Tennyson.

Perhaps surprisingly, one of Tennyson’s very first fan letters was from a French poet. Hippolyte Lucas’s first collection of poetry was published in 1832, the same year that Tennyson’s early Poems appeared. Lucas’s letter has since been lost, but Tennyson’s reply of April 1834 shows how flattered he was to receive it.

It is a pleasurable thing to have found out a poetical spirit that can sympathize with me on the other side of the broad seas. Poets, as you say, are – at least they ought to be – bound together by an electric chain – for a Poet does not speak only to his own countrymen but wishes that his words and feelings penetrate wherever there exists a brother to echo them.[i]

Was the ‘electric chain’ that Tennyson refers to here connected to early experiments in electrical telegraphy? It’s a delightful image if so, evoking an international network of poets communicating and sharing their ideas across borders, regardless of differences in language and culture. Unfortunately, his optimism was unfulfilled, and for many years Tennyson’s poetry went largely unread outside Britain. Most nineteenth-century Europeans were still in love with the dashing, dramatic poetry of Lord Byron, who had died a hero fighting for Greek independence, and Tennyson seemed rather tame and insular by comparison.

But French poets did continue to read Tennyson, sometimes discovering his poetry through unusual channels. In 1851 Charles Baudelaire was preparing to translate some stories by Edgar Allan Poe, then a little-known writer. By chance he came across an obituary of Poe by the editor John R. Thompson. ‘Among modern authors his favourite was Tennyson,’ Thompson wrote,

and he delighted to recite from ‘The Princess’ the song ‘Tears, idle tears’; a fragment of which ‘– when unto dying eyes / The casement slowly grows a glimmering square’ he pronounced unsurpassed by any image expressed in writing.[ii]

This was Baudelaire’s introduction to the English poet’s work and he began reading it in earnest. Six years later he instructed his publisher to send copies of his own first collection of poetry, Les Fleurs du mal (1857) to just three English writers: De Quincey, Browning and Tennyson. We don’t know if Tennyson ever received it. Soon afterwards Baudelaire was prosecuted for offending public morals, and all remaining books were seized and destroyed.

Other French poets paid tribute to Tennyson by borrowing freely from him. Joseph Autran’s ‘Gertrude’ (1856) was a straightforward translation of Tennyson’s ‘Dora’, even if Autran did not admit it. André Theuriet’s eleven-part poem ‘In Memoriam’ (1857) went further, taking the name and theme of deep mourning from Tennyson’s 1850 work, and inserting lines from ‘Mariana’, an earlier poem.

In 1864 Tennyson’s Enoch Arden, etc was an immediate bestseller both in Britain and in Europe. The title poem tells the story of a shipwrecked sailor who returns home after ten years to find his wife, believing him dead, has remarried. It struck a lasting chord with French readers, and was translated many times over the years. One translator, Émile Blémont, agreed with Browning who admired Tennyson’s poem but disliked the ending. So Blémont simply changed it. In his translation, the heroic Enoch ensures that his identity is kept secret after his death. The poet Stéphane Mallarmé loved Blémont’s version: ‘The real translation! And how one hears Tennyson singing through it, if one has the slightest ear for English!’[iii] Mallarmé himself had published a ‘poetic prose’ translation of ‘Mariana’ in 1874 while translating Poe’s stories. As Gerhard Joseph has pointed out, the musicality of Poe’s and Tennyson’s English language inspired the French poet’s own stylistic concept of pure poetry.[iv] Mallarmé acknowledged his debt to the English poet in his 1892 essay ‘Tennyson, vu d’ici’ (‘Tennyson, seen from here’) which was included in his collection of poetic critical essays, Divagations in 1897.[v]

Other French writers took a less reverent approach. Émile Zola’s brilliant novella, Jacques Damour (1880), about a former Communard who returns to Paris after the amnesty to find his newly bourgeois wife does not want him back, is clearly a satirical reworking of ‘Enoch Arden’. Zola always claimed that he had never read a line of Tennyson, but I’m convinced that he knew the story well. One mystery remains. Did Victor Hugo ever read Tennyson? If he did, he kept quiet about it. Despite their political differences, Tennyson read and admired Hugo’s poetry throughout his life, and even wrote a questionable sonnet in his honour. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – Hugo did not return the compliment.

Bio:

Dr Ann Kennedy Smith is a panel tutor at Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education. She is currently researching Cambridge’s university wives 1870-1914, and has contributed to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Her Twitter handle is @akennedysmith.

Notes

[i] The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson eds Cecil Y. Lang and Edgar F. Shannon, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982–90). III: 451

[ii] ‘The Late Edgar E. Poe’ (1849), in appendix of Edgar Allan Poe: sa vie et ses ouvrages, Charles Baudelaire, W.T. Bandy (ed.), (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1973)

[iii] Clerget, F., Emile Blémont (Paris: Bibliothèque de l’Association, 1906) pp. 130–31

[iv] ‘Stéphane Mallarmé’s Tennyson vu d’ici’ in Tennyson Research Bulletin, 7. 5: November 2001

[v] In Mallarmé in Prose, Caws, M. A. (ed.) (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2001) pp. 70–73

Notes on the Economics of Library Economy

 

Stamp

Stamps. From Library Bureau. Classified Illustrated Catalog of the Library Bureau …: A Handbook of Library and Office … Library Bureau, 1890. Internet Archive. Web. 13 Dec. 2016. Page 49

by Constance Crompton

While in Middlemarch, published serially in 1871 and 1872, dear Dorothea suffered great “annoyance at being twitted with her ignorance of political economy, that never-explained science which was thrust as an extinguisher over all her lights” (Eliot 42) there were many other economies being developed in the 1870s which would rely on women as employees and proselytizers. I will leave domestic economy to the side for the nonce — it’s the economy of knowledge storage devices and spelling reform that has my interest.

I have completely fallen for the late-century American passion for efficiency experts, so once again will, at the risk of taxing Victorian Studies readers, offer up a post that features more American cousins rather than British ones. I had touched earlier in this blog on the invention of the vertical file. I’d like to pick up where I left off with a few remarks about the company the marketed the vertical file, the Library Bureau and the Bureau’s founder, that great promoter of “library economy,” Melvil Dewey (Classification 5). I’ve been dipping of late into Dewey’s “Librarianship as a Profession for College-Bred Women”, published by the Library Bureau, while Dewey was Columbia’s chief librarian. Continue reading

Caroline Levine’s NAVSA Plenary or What Can the Victorians Teach us?

by Tara MacDonald

NAVSA – the North American Victorian Studies Association – just held its annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona. This year’s theme was Social Victorians, a rich topic that lent itself to a wide variety of papers. When I decided that I would like to write a post for The Floating Academy on Caroline Levine’s thought-provoking plenary – which ended the conference – I had no idea that I would be writing after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, an event that has prompted an increase hate crimes and reactionary protests. It now seems that Levine’s calls to action for humanities scholars are more important than ever.

Levine’s talk, “Forms of Sociability: Novels, Numbers, and Other Collectives” began with the claim that we, as humanities scholars, typically do not deal with generalities but with singularities. Singularities are exceptions to the rule, oddities, moments or examples of strangeness. Why and how do we study singularities, she asked? Singularities are typically what humanities critics point out, through skills like close reading. Emphasizing singularities can help us to poke holes in broad arguments, to argue for nuance, and to say that things are not as they might obviously seem. But, being scholars of singularities might mean that we are on the defensive or that we don’t get to make large, important claims. Or perhaps it means – and this was one of Levine’s main claims – that we can point out social or political problems but not contribute to their solution.

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Teaching the Dramatic Monologue

By Karen Bourrier

If your syllabus looks anything like mine, at least once a semester you’re dusting off your Tennyson and Browning skills and teaching the dramatic monologue. My personal favourites to teach are “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover” (Day One) and then “Tithonous,” “Ulysses,” and “St Simeon Stylites” (Day Two).

This semester I decided to do something a little different. I have the privilege of teaching my Victorian literature class in one of the fancy new classrooms at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. My 40-person class has six big touch screens, and as a result we’ve been able to do a lot of hands-on work in small groups leading into discussions with the whole class.

In the past, on Day One I’ve introduced the dramatic monologue in terms of Robert Langbaum’s classic argument that we both judge and sympathize with the speaker. (The Duke is so evil! But so compelling!). Then, on Day Two, I introduce Cornelia Pearsall’s idea that the speakers of the dramatic monologue may not be bumbling fools, but might be well aware of the aims of their own rhetoric. (What if St Simeon is in on the joke that you can’t ask to be made a saint, especially by whining about the 30 years you’ve already spent atop that pillar).

This semester, in introduced a new component. We used Prism, a tool developed by graduate students in the Praxis Program at UVa that allows classes to crowdsource interpretations of a text. Students highlight portions of a text as falling into one to three categories (or facets) designated by the instructor. Then, Prism collates all of the highlights to see how most people categorized each portion of the text, which should lead to further discussion.

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Prism allows collaborative highlighting of texts.

Prism works really well when you want students to highlight for two or three specific concepts, which is exactly what I wanted for my lesson plan on the dramatic monologue.

On day one, I asked students to highlight passages in Browning where they felt sympathy or judgment for the speaker. Starting with textual annotation and close reading actually led to a much more balanced discussion than I’ve had in the past when I’ve posed the question of whether we sympathize or judge Browning’s speakers. (I don’t think many students have outright sympathized with the Duke since the 1950s when Langbaum wrote his study.)

We then did two short mock trials, in which the Duke and Porphyria’s Lover stood accused of murder. One group stood as jury, and other groups were assigned the defense and the prosecution. It seems a little silly, but it was really fun, and all the same points came out that would have in a lecture or discussion. (Thanks to my colleague Anthony Camara for the mock trial idea!)

On day two, we used Prism again to highlight Tennyson, this time for sympathy, judgment, and comedy (shorthand for self-aware, motivated rhetoric), following Pearsall’s argument. Each group worked on a different dramatic monologue and was responsible for presenting their findings to the class. The groups also read portions of their assigned monologue aloud two different ways: as if the speaker is giving away more than he realizes (Langbaum) and as if he is in on the joke (Pearsall). Reading the dramatic monologues aloud helped a lot.

Many more students have decided to write on the dramatic monologue for their final paper than has been the case in the past, so I think this was a successful lesson. We’ll see tomorrow, when we tackle “Locksley Hall.” Am I the only one who has vivid memories of being an undergraduate and not understanding at all what was going on in that poem?

Sex Ed, the Aspiring Swell, and the Night Guide

* The following is a post by Sarah Bull, the newest member of our Floating Academy collective. Sarah is a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge *

For the past year and a half, I’ve been working on a project about Victorian commerce in works on sexual health. This has gotten me thinking a lot lately about what counted then—and what counts now—as a medical publication. I’ve mainly been looking at how works on topics like reproductive anatomy and physiology, venereal disease, contraception and pregnancy, and sexual desire were put into print, advertised and disseminated to readers. However, I’m discovering more and more that information about sexual health reached Victorian readers in a wider variety of forms, often through books and pamphlets that we would not consider “medical” at all.

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