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.
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“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.
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 email@example.com.
Submissions are due August 15 to firstname.lastname@example.org and should conform to the requirements of the journal (5,000-8,000 words, MLA style; full guidelines at http://victorianreview.org).
by Carla Manfredi
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.
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
By Sarah Bull
I’m not sure whether it’s appropriate or not that, while writing a book, I’ve become obsessed with fast, cheap, and lazy (“efficient?”) ways to make them.
by Karen Bourrier
I’ve been listening to a lot of the bestselling (contemporary!) author Liane Moriarty on audiobook over the last year. She’s the one who wrote Big Little Lies. If you haven’t read the book, maybe you’ve had a chance to watch the HBO series? At the same time, I’ve been teaching an upper year seminar on “The Victorian Bestseller,” which includes a unit on sensation fiction. We read The Moonstone as it was originally published in periodicals, comparing its appearance in Harper’s in the US to its appearance in All the Year Round in the UK. (We also do a digital assignment comparing The Moonstone’s appearance in these two publications, which you can read about here.)
All this has me wondering whether domestic noir, the genre that Liane Moriarty as well as Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train) and Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) write in, is the new sensation fiction. There are a lot of similarities between sensation fiction and domestic noir on both a formal and a thematic level.
by Fiona Coll (reposted from the Floating Academy)
I teach at a beautiful campus on the southern shores of Lake Ontario in Oswego, New York. Oswego is a place of remarkable history. Its geographical position relative to waterways and other supply routes through central New York made it the target of military tussling between French and British forces during the Seven Years’ War and between American and British forces during the War of 1812. The Oswego Canal, completed in 1828, connected the epic Erie Canal system to Lake Ontario, thus accelerating Oswego’s contribution to the anthropogenic remaking of the Great Lakes ecosystem that’s been ongoing since the seventeenth century. Oswego was a launching-point to Canada for those traveling on the Underground Railway; its library, founded in 1853 on a principle of universal access for all persons, regardless of “their race, complexion, or condition,” is the oldest continuously operating public library in New York State (“About Us.”). In 1943, Oswego became the site of the single World War II refugee camp in the United States.
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.
by Tara MacDonald
This 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