Category Archives: Blog

A Victorian Taxonomy of Occupations

By Alison Hedley

In Summer 2018, the Ryerson Centre for Digital Humanities launched the website for the Yellow Nineties Personography, a biographical database of persons who contributed to a number of little magazines produced in Britain at the fin de siècle, as documented by the Yellow Nineties Online. The website is a culmination (but not the final output) of many years’ research and development. One of the most theoretically challenging aspects of this work has been developing the Personography’s domain model—a formal representation of its organizational structure which describes the Personography’s knowledge domain by assigning the data classes, attributes, and rules. The taxonomy of Victorian occupations that constitutes a specific sub-structure of this ontology illustrates how digitally documenting the Victorians can enhance our recognition of the possibilities and limitations inherent in both historical and contemporary models for structuring cultural knowledge.

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CFP: Fraud and Forgery

Submission due date: 15 January 2019

Victorian Review invites submissions for a special issue devoted to the topic of fraud and forgery in the long nineteenth century (1789-1914). This issue will consider representations of fraud and forgery in British literature and culture, ranging from thematic representations of these subjects in literature, their pervasiveness in economic cultures and discourses, to their entanglement with the processes of literary, artistic and cultural production.

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

  • The body: disguise; mistaken identity; the signature; impersonation; evidence of the senses; the body as text; misleading the senses; the body as evidence; sexual fraud and forgery; forged signatures
  • The child: illegitimate children; fraud and forgery in children’s literature; the child as forged ‘text’; children and trickery; child fraudsters
  • Love and marriage: bigamy; polygamy; fraudulent marriage contracts or vows; marital falsehoods; inheritance and the ‘marriage market’
  • Death: fraudulent deaths; death and authority; inheritance
  • Politics: political fraud and forgery; acts of censorship; mendacious politicians; political satire
  • Gender: cross-dressing; the gendering of fraud; gendered susceptibility to fraud and forgery
  • The spiritual and supernatural: spiritualism as fraud; the legitimacy of supernatural phenomena; spiritual means of divining ‘truth’; religion as moral economy; discursive overlap between religious ideas and the semantics of finance
  • Financial fraud and forgery: speculation; gambling; counterfeit money; relationship between financial writing and fiction; ideas of credit; paper money and the gold standard; financial bubbles and joint stock companies; trust formation and advertising
  • Counterfeit natures: Replacement food products; false medicine; fraudulent trade in livestock and animals
  • Genres and authorship: poetry and the poetics of monetary meaning; the authority of fiction; periodicals and authorship; financial narratives and ‘it-narratives’; pseudonyms
  • Paratexts: images and documents as evidence in literary narratives; maps; forged documents
  • Neo-Victorian and other anachronistic narratives: imitations of Victorian style and genre; adaptations or dramatisations of Victorian works.

Articles must be between 5000 and 8000 words and formatted according to MLA (8th edition) guidelines. Please submit manuscripts in Word-compatible format to the editors, Dr. Elly McCausland (University of Oslo, Norway) and Jakob Gaardbo Nielsen (Aarhus University, Denmark) by 15 January 2019 at fraudforgeryconference@gmail.com

Henry Hawkins’s Newspaper Heist of 1892

By Stephan Pigeon

“March of Education.” Punch Historical Archive [London, England] 17 May 1879: 227. Punch Historical Archive, 1841-1992. Web. 3 Aug. 2018. Gale News Vault.

In the nineteenth-century newspaper marketplace, journalists and editors prized access to the latest news. Consistently delivering desirable correspondence and the most up-to-date information meant a dedicated readership. An edge on competitors meant greater sales and profits.

While many British newspapers paid for updates and intelligence through a news agency or supplied their own correspondents, some papers relied on reprinting news from articles that had already been published. Without an effective copyright in news, texts regularly circulated throughout the press. While cutting out an article and reprinting it – known as ‘scissors-and-paste’ journalism – was a handy method to deliver the latest information, it still meant waiting for another paper to publish the news first. For some newspaper proprietors, this was not sufficient.

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A Crisis of Liberalism

Fosco pets a dog

“Count Fosco and the Dog” from The Woman in White (New York: Harper, 1873). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

by Sophia Hsu

Like the Victorians, we in the contemporary West are not as liberal as we think. The idea that the West is the world’s timeless arbiter of freedom is a myth that has been ingrained in our thinking since at least the nineteenth century. Whig historians such as Thomas Macaulay were largely responsible for creating this myth by obscuring English liberalism’s violent, erratic past—a myth that twenty-first-century Britons, Americans, and other Western peoples have inherited and rewritten for their own stories about their respective nations’ foundings.

In my article, I show how Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White disrupts the liberal fantasies Victorians liked to tell about themselves. Through its Italian characters Pesca and Fosco, the novel shines a light on English liberal hypocrisy, exposing the fallacy of England’s self-perception as a liberal sanctuary. Collins might seem like a strange figure to discuss to problematize the West’s liberal narratives. For a while, Victorianists viewed his sensation novels and the sensation genre in general as complicit in liberal ideology.[1] More recently, however, scholars argue that sensation fiction is more critically sophisticated than previously believed.[2] With my article, I join these scholars in illuminating the critical capacity of sensation fiction. Through my rereading of The Woman in White, then, perhaps we can not only reconsider the political function of the sensation genre but also remind ourselves of liberalism’s entanglement with violence, thus providing us with a model to unsettle our own complacencies about our national histories and identities.

Indeed, in revisiting my article to write this blog post, I’ve become increasingly struck by the continued relevance of Collins’s critique. As a Victorianist living in the U.S., I find myself thinking a lot about what it means to do Victorian studies in the age of Trump. I know I’m not alone in such contemplation. In addition to the many conversations I’ve had with friends, family, and colleagues, I’ve read numerous articles and blog posts that tackle this very question: what role do we as scholars of Victorian literature and culture play in what feels like a heightened time of racism, white nationalism, sexism, distrust, etc.?[3] My first answer usually lies in the significance of teaching and modeling critical thinking. Entangled with this is my second answer: teaching students how to think critically means giving them the tools to “historiciz[e] the present.”[4]

The importance of historicizing is, of course, not new. But historicizing gains a new sense of urgency now when both sides of the political spectrum appeal to popular but categorically false myths about the U.S. as a beacon of liberty, democracy, and order. For example, just before drafting this post, I spent my morning reading news articles that reported how Trump supporters and opponents alike are using the idea that the U.S. is a land of laws and equality in order to defend or attack the administration’s recent policy to separate immigrant families. While it may seem contradictory that these factions can appeal to the same national narrative, their appeal makes sense when we consider how and why this narrative persists. In exposing the beginnings of this myth, The Woman in White might not be the story we (or the Victorians) want to read, but it is perhaps the story we desperately need.

Read more.

Hsu, Sophia. “The History of Liberal Violence in The Woman in White,” Victorian Review
vol 43, no 1, Spring 2017, pp. 111-128.

Notes

[1] See, for example, Jonathan Loesberg, “The Ideology of Narrative Form in Sensation Fiction,” Representations 13 (1986): 115–38 and D. A. Miller, The Novel and the Police, Univ. of California Press, 1988, 146–91.

[2] See, for example, Anna Maria Jones, Problem Novels: Victorian Fiction Theorizes the Sensational Self, Ohio State Univ. Press, 2007.

[3] For a recent example of this literature, see the latest V21 series on pedagogy, “Victorian Teaching Now: Teaching Under Trump” (http://v21collective.org/victorian-teaching-now-teaching-trump/).

[4] Mary Mullen, “Teaching Under Trump: Historicizing the Present,” http://v21collective.org/teaching-trump-historicizing-present/. See also Ryan Fong, “Connection as Confrontation,” http://v21collective.org/connection-as-confrontation/.

Hamilton Prize Winner

We’d like to congratulate the Hamilton Prize winner for 2017, Scott Thompson of Temple University. Thompson’s prize-winning essay is entitled, “Subjective Realism and Diligent Imagination: G. H. Lewes’ Theory of Psychology and George Eliot’s Impressions of Theophrastus Such“; it will appear in the Fall 2018 issue of the Victorian Review.

Wilkie Collins and the Sensational Baby

Black and white photograph of a baby in a bonnet.

Baby ‘Pictet,” by Julia Margaret Cameron, image courtesy wikimedia commons.

by Tamara Wagner

The Victorian baby is generally thought of as a cliché, a useful icon of domesticity, an accessory in idealisations of motherhood, childhood, or the family. Once one takes a closer look, however, the baby of nineteenth-century popular culture emerges as a very volatile and flexible figure that appears in surprising forms and undertakes a range of narrative functions. The most provocative manifestation of odd literary babyhood in Victorian fiction is indisputably the sensational baby. Sensation novelists were aware of the controversial potential and often played out striking instances of incongruity, and yet the most revealing instances push the placements of infants in sensational scenarios beyond their usefulness as emblems of innocence that enhance – through sheer force of contrast – a sensational incursion into the domestic. Instead, babies are central to mysteries or import a potential threat. Wilkie Collins not only features infants in startling moments that play with the baby’s expected sentimentalisation; he challenges conventional representations of such controversial issues as illegitimacy, child-stealing, or adoption. In the process, he exposes the precariousness of childcare at a time when blended families were fairly common, but there was little to no legal protection for informally adopted or fostered children. He also interrogates normative conceptions of breastfeeding, for example, and in his early sensational novel Hide and Seek (1854), a clown’s wife offers to suckle a starving infant at the roadside, drawing attention to the wide variety of very visible breastfeeding scenes in Victorian literature. In his later novels, he explores the distress of birth mothers who have given up or lost their babies and creates one of the most explicit evocations of a baby-farmer in nineteenth-century fiction. Collins’s fictional babies indeed offer a compelling entry-point into a revealing re-examination of the ambiguities and contestations that lay underneath the Victorian iconography of babyhood.

Wagner, Tamara S. “Wilkie Collins’s Sensational Babies: Lost Mothers and Victorian Babyhood,” Victorian Review, vol 43, no 1, Spring 2017, pp. 129-142.

To read more, click here.

On Ravens and Writing Desks: Alice’s Adventures in Taxidermy

taxidermy cats hold a tea party


“The kittens at tea – Miss Paulina singing“, Hermann Ploucquet, 1851.

by Lin Young

Touring the world of Victorian taxidermy inevitably leads you down a number of strange, otherworldly rabbit holes. Although grim and garish by today’s standards, Victorians were enchanted by stuffed animals in waistcoats, and animal taxidermy could be found both in natural history museums and private studies. In my own research, I came across plenty of stories of Victorians wandering the grounds of the Great Exhibition, taking in the sights of Hermann Ploucquet’s animal taxidermy tableaux of frogs at their shaving-tables and kittens sipping tea. There’s also Walter Potter, arguably the most famous Victorian taxidermist, whose popular ‘masterwork’, The Death of Cock Robin, was produced in 1861—exactly one year before Lewis Carroll first entertained Alice Liddell with his own stories of anthropomorphic rabbits.

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CFP: Victorian Animals, Deadline August 15

The dormouse speaks to Alice, the birds and a crab

Illustration to the third chapter of Alice in Wonderland by John Tenniel. Wood-engraving by Thomas Dalziel.

In light of the recent flowering of scholarship that brings together Victorian Studies and Animal Studies we are soliciting submissions for a cluster of essays on Victorian Animals, which will be published in our Spring 2019 issue. Essays might address any aspect of Victorian Animality, from studies of specific animals, institutions, and organizations, to readings of the figure of the animal in the literature and art of the period. Queries can be addressed to Submissions Editor Kristen Guest at vreview@unbc.ca.

Submissions are due August 15 to vreview@unbc.ca and should conform to the requirements of the journal (5,000-8,000 words, MLA style; full guidelines at http://victorianreview.org).

Island Encounters in Focus

by Carla Manfredi

Lloyd Osbourn

Lloyd Osbourne dressed as a Marquesan. Image Courtesy The Writers’ Museum, Museums and Galleries Edinburgh.

In June 1888, Robert Louis Stevenson and his family set sail for the Pacific Islands aboard the Casco. It was not long before the famous author, encouraged by his wife and step-son who had packed at least two cameras and 1200 plates, became an enthusiastic practitioner of travel photography. Over the course of three years spent cruising, Stevenson visited no less than fifty islands across the areas known as Polynesia and Micronesia and, in collaboration with his family, produced approximately 600 photographs. When the peripatetic family settled in Sāmoa in 1891, they organized their photographs into four family albums. Stevenson, however, never left the Pacific; after his death in 1894, the precious album collection remained with his family until they bequeathed them to Edinburgh’s Writers’ Museum in the 1930s.

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Distracted Readers

by Tara MacDonald

Why are there so many bad readers in Victorian fiction? There are readers who read in ways that are detrimental to their lives outside of books. Consider Isabel Gilbert in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s The Doctor’s Wife (a revision of Madam Bovary) whose romantic and sensational reading gives her an unrealistic understanding of what her own life will be like: her reading of Byron and Bronte causes her to find her life as a quiet doctor’s wife incredibly mundane and disappointing.

Fallen Asleep While Reading (1873) by William Powell Frith

But what of all the distracted readers? I find them across a range of novels (though especially littering the sensation novels that I am currently reading). In Margaret Oliphant’s The Doctor’s Family, Dr Rider attempts to read at home one evening and cannot make himself interested in either the newspaper or his novels: “It is indescribable how Dr Rider yawned – how dull he found his newspaper – how few books worth reading there were in the house – how slow the minutes ran on … he went to bed early, dreadfully tired of his own society” (55). Continue reading