Tag Archives: Victorian studies

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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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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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

Dickens’s Extraordinary Traveller: Immersive Media Forms and the World as Panorama

By Daniel Martin

Of all of Dickens’s prose non-fiction, the one piece that has consistently troubled me the most since I started thinking about Dickens’s journalism and its bearing on the prehistory of immersive media spectacles is “Some Account of an Extraordinary Traveller,” published in Household Words in April, 1850. A typical Dickensian flight of Fancy, this notice introduces readers to the figure of Mr. Booley, who at the age of 65, “left England for the first time” (511) on a series of trips around the world. “Mr. Booley’s powers of endurance are wonderful,” Dickens writes: “All climates are alike to him. Nothing exhausts him; no alterations of heat and cold appear to have the least effect upon his hardy frame. His capacity for travelling, day and night, for thousands of miles, has never been approached by any traveller of whom we have any knowledge through the help of books […] Though remarkable for personal cleanliness, he has carried no luggage; and his diet has been of the simplest kind” (511-12). Readers follow this account of Mr. Booley’s travels, which take him to such far-off locales as New Orleans in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Egypt, India, and the Arctic regions of the World, before reading in Booley’s own words the inspiration for his “roving spirit” (515):

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Interview with Chris Kent at VSAWC 2015

Dr. Chris Kent, one of the founding members of Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada (VSAWC), met with us at the 2015 conference of VSAWC to talk about his current and past research as a historian and Victorianist.  At this conference, his paper discussed a topic from his latest project, which focuses on the Anglo-American artist Matthew Somerville “Matt” Morgan. Dr. Kent explained to us that Morgan’s work as an artist was in fields often neglected by historians: commercial art, poster art, and theatrical scene painting. In the video below, Dr. Kent comments on the source of interdisciplinarity in his historical research.

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Dr. Kent also mentioned how the development of women’s and gender studies has been one of the most productive avenues in Victorian studies and described how they have fundamentally influenced his research.

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Interview with Juliet McMaster at VSAWC 2015

At the 2015 conference of Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada, we were given the opportunity to speak with Dr. Juliet McMaster about VSAWC’s origin, inaugural conference, and role in Western Canada. Dr. McMaster told us that in 1971, following the Middlemarch Centennial Conference held in Calgary and organized by University of Calgary professor Ian Adam, Dr. Adam suggested that they begin a Victorian studies association for Western Canada, since there was a similar organization in Toronto. They decided that, while Toronto’s organization met on a single day, VSAWC would need to hold a longer conference to make it worth the extra travelling that attendees would need to do. Dr. McMaster organized the conference for the following year. “It was a very congenial, happy event,” she said, adding, “In those days, we did conferences about stars. We had six speakers and that was it.” In the video below, she describes that first conference and comments briefly on how the organization has since developed.

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In this second video, Dr. McMaster reads from a speech given by her late husband, Dr. Rowland McMaster, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the organization. Both Juliet and Rowland note that the core characteristic of the VSAWC, in addition to its high-quality scholarship, has been geniality. Of the VSAWC’s keynote address, newly named the McMaster lecture in honour of both Juliet and Rowland, Dr. McMaster commented, “I would like it to exemplify the best in Victorian studies, by the best.”

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Floating Academy: Bodily Sympathy, Imitation, and Victorian Literature

Three images of facial expressions of disdain and disgust from Darwin's Expression of Emotions.

From Darwin’s Expression of Emotions… From: Wellcome Library, London.

By Tara MacDonald Sympathy is perhaps the most frequently discussed emotion among scholars working in Victorian literature and culture. Many have argued how important notions of sympathy and later empathy were to the development of nineteenth-century subjects and the novel as a genre. Most of these critics understand sympathy as cognitive, or as a kind of mental feeling. In Scenes of Sympathy, for instance, Audrey Jaffe draws from Adam Smith’s 1759 Theory of Moral Sentiments when she explains that “sympathy ‘does away’ with bodies in order to produce representations, replacing persons with mental pictures, generalized images of ease and of suffering” (11). Yet for many Victorian thinkers, sympathy did not ‘do away’ with the body. In fact, in Victorian scientific and philosophical writing, as well as in much literature of the period, sympathy was often understood as an affective response that was deeply physiological and embodied. Henry George Atkinson, writing to Harriet Martineau in their collaborative text Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development in 1851 called sympathies between individuals, “the influences of one organized body upon another” (117-18). If scholars working on nineteenth-century literature have been so invested in notions of sympathy as a cognitive and ultimately ethical response to reading, how might we read literary texts alongside a more embodied and potentially more ambiguous understanding of sympathy? more