Category Archives: Blog

George Gissing’s Microscript, New Grub Street, and the Scalar Economics of the Late-Victorian Literary Marketplace

by Sean Mier

Photo of the manuscript of Gissing’s short story “The Firebrand,” cut into slips for typesetting, with compositors’ markings, showing Gissing’s microscopic hand. George Gissing, “The Firebrand,” Autograph MS, Undated but [June 1895], Box 1, Gissing Papers, 1863-1958, Lilly Library Archives, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, IN, 1 May 2017. Photograph by Zach Downey. Courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Compared to the shapely legibility of George Gissing’s earlier writings, the drafts of New Grub Street (1891), notably, and all his manuscripts that would follow instead showcase a uniquely miniaturized hand, nearly illegible to the naked eye, each page crammed with tiny words. While I was exploring the historical archives in the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington for the first time, Gissing’s microscopic holographs provoked in me a new mode of inquiry, akin yet distinct from hermeneutical approaches and even from analyses of textual revision and variation over time. Instead, the archive revealed a compositional landscape in which the materiality of Gissing’s handwriting seemed to contribute to textual meaning just as much as linguistic, narrative, and/or generic considerations might have allowed. Why would an already published author like George Gissing abruptly change his handwritten style in such a dramatic way years into his professional career? Was his adoption of a miniscule handwriting an individual quirk or rather a response to an external demand from the literary marketplace?

In the essay, I argue that Gissing’s compositional idiosyncrasy fittingly concretizes many of the same anxieties expressed in his contemporaneous, self-conscious three-volume novel about the state of professional authorship near century’s end. Specifically, H.G. Wells claimed that Gissing’s adoption of a microscopic hand allowed him to visually conceptualize and measure the length of a manuscript as he was in the process of drafting it. Gissing used the miniaturized form to more efficiently calculate the average words per line and page of manuscript, thereby compressing larger scales of text into more measurable/manageable units. Furthermore, as you will see, Gissing’s handwritten form that ostensibly standardized word count per page reflected his ambivalent loyalty and hesitant conformity to the reigning system of the three-volume or triple-decker novel, which, in comparison with other nineteenth-century print forms, relied on amassing large quantities of words as a standard of profitability and intelligibility.        

Conventionally, we have been taught that the Victorian compulsion for verboseness and long-form texts was a response to both economic and novelistic trends (think Dickensian seriality). But while Gissing’s adoption of a microscopic handwritten form around 1890 confirms these suppositions, it also uniquely exposes how large-scale forces infiltrated and altered an author’s everyday writing practices. Richard Salmon, among others, has articulated the historical-cultural transition from the Romantic notion of the author as a literary genius to the Victorian phenomenon of the author as a writing professional, but my article highlights how late-nineteenth-century macroeconomic dynamics engendered a comparable expression on the individual level, shifting control over textual forms and sizes from the individual author to the coercive techniques of the publishing industry.

Yet the Gissing microscripts and the history of their subsequent transference into print formats also complicate this ostensibly one-sided transaction. My essay explores how Gissing’s drafts not only conformed to the publishing conventions of the time, but also how they intervened within these very same institutions—self-reflexively calling attention to the material absences usually effaced in the transformation from a private to a public textual format. The archive reveals how Gissing’s New Grub Street, for example, sustains a commitment to the occluded labour of Victorian writers under the reigning triple-decker print economy. Critics have already deemed the novel as semi-autobiographical in its reflection of a writer’s (Gissing’s) struggle to survive as a professional author, but the essay binds the material archive with the narrative context, extending the analysis to the minutiae of Gissing’s writerly practice. Gissing’s microscopic handwriting impeded, to varying degrees, the transformation of his stories into commodities, slowing down or prolonging their time to publication. Gissing’s microscopic archival form bears witness to the print industry’s sway over authorial labour, but it simultaneously acts as a protest to the constraints of the three-volume’s predetermined size and form. Without Gissing’s miniaturized manuscripts, the novel becomes divorced from the material reality of its construction and distribution. My archival analysis refuses to disremember the authorial labour that preceded the novel’s consumption as a commodity. Gissing’s microscript inserts the material constraints of novelistic production and authorial toil upon the commodity-form’s state of fictional amnesia.         

For more see: Mier, Sean. “Size Matters: George Gissing’s Microscript and the Late-Victorian Print Market.” Victorian Review, vol. 48 no. 2, 2022, p. 249-269. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2022.a900626.

Making Sense of What We See (or don’t see!): Disability in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by Olivia Abram

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Color lithograph by National Printing & Engraving Company, 188?. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In my time as an English Language Arts teacher, one of my favourite texts to teach was Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde–for reasons beyond the fist bumps and high fives celebrating its manageable length. Strange Case is approachable, engaging, and was a perfect culminating book-length study in my unit on mood and tone. Eurowestern readers of Strange Case will almost certainly have at least an idea of the storyline: one man is both the upstanding Jekyll and the evil Hyde; he transforms between identities using an experimental concoction until one day, he becomes stuck as Hyde and perishes, having pushed beyond the boundaries of science. The fears percolating in the Victorian public at the time Stevenson is writing—of the unknown, the dark side of human and “progress,” and, of course, the Other—remain relevant for 21st century readers.

Many have interpreted and problematically pathologized the central characters Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde as a single subject, assuming both subjects’ consciousnesses reside in the same human body.[1] As such, Strange Case has been described as a Victorian construction of A) mental illness[2] or B) the deepest, darkest, regressed parts of humanity.

Strange Case reflects the public and literary objective of the time: to “control, cure, or comprehend” otherness (Hingston 163). The growing association between disability and evil—and the developing fear of the potential of the human species to regress into primitive, animalistic, murderous beings—coincided with an increasing interest in and newfound ability to investigate and surveille. In Strange Case, Stevenson positions the text’s fear-inducing threat—that is, disability—as something strange to see, something that must be watched closely for the community’s stability.

One central tenet of writing of the time is an emphasis on looking. To read Strange Case more ethically and meaningfully, we must analyze modes of looking both exemplified and promoted in the text. Thought leader in disability justice and culture Rosemarie Garland-Thompson’s thinking on staring can help us do so; in Staring: How We Look, she advocates for a replacement of the gaze (“an oppressive act of disciplinary looking that subordinates”) with the stare, “an intense visual exchange that makes meaning” (9). Reading works about disability often places the reader and the disabled subject in an asymmetrical power relationship of interpreter (looker) and interpreted (looked at), respectively. The idea of staring, when applied to reading methods, can promote a more ethical approach to engaging with disabled characters. But you might be asking, how do texts encourage (or discourage) readers and characters to look? Some texts, especially suspenseful ones, don’t let us see much—subjects are left mysterious often on purpose. More ethical reading, here, of disability, requires an attention to interpreting what/how we do “see

[1] Spoiler alert: like other scholars working within Disability Studies, I read Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde as separate subjects. 

[2]For scholarship that diagnoses or pathologizes Hyde and/or Jekyll, see Angela Smith (epilepsy); Anne Stiles (double-brain); Altschuler and Wright, Oates (substance dependence); Royeka Sarker (dissociative identity disorder). As Kylee-Anne Hingston notes in her chapter on the text, Strange Case has, since its publication, become synonymous with DID, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia (McNally and Mathiasen are cited in Hingston 165).

For more see Olivia Abram. “Seeing and Surveilling Disability: Ethics and Modes of Looking in R.L. Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Victorian Review, vol. 48 no. 2, 2022, p. 309-326. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2022.a900629.

Mind and Reason in Anne Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by Rebecca Sheppard

Robert Sayer, “The Comforts of Matrimony: A Smoky House & Scolding Wife” (1790)

What’s with blaming Helen for her husband Arthur’s increasingly bad behaviour? Going back to the first reviews of Anne Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) Helen has been chided for her “self-willed rashness” (“Tenant” [Sharpe’s] 182) and her bad decision “to link herself … [with] a sensual brute” (“Tenant” [Rambler] 65). More recently, literary critics condemn Helen’s “superior attitude” (Jackson 204), “incessant lecturing” (Langland 143), and “special arrogance” (McMaster 355). Was it, though, Brontë’s intention to chastise the wife, or are we meant to take a longer look at the path Arthur has chosen for himself leading to his own demise (and death)?

In the novel, Helen’s diary serves two purposes: to exculpate herself for the crime of leaving her husband (legally, she is at fault) and to serve as a model for Gilbert, whose behaviour is in need of modification. Helen includes a detailed account of her four-year cohabitation with Arthur: an excruciating, monotonous litany of emotional abuses. Arthur’s progressively atrocious behaviour speaks to each objective. There is a rather large qualification to make here, however. Arthur’s violence is in his words and deeds (such as forcing alcohol on his young son and destroying Helen’s paintings); it is not physical. Nevertheless, Brontë asks us to draw parallels between physical abuse (both spousal and Gilbert’s attack on Mr. Lawrence) and Arthur’s immoral conduct. The mid-nineteenth century saw an increase in domestic abuse cases tried in courts of law. There was in the law, concurrently, a newer emphasis on reason and rationality as the standard for cases involving provocation.

Ashton, Ellen. “The Scolding Wife.” Reynold’s Miscellany of Romance, General Literature,
            Science, and Art, vol. 15, no. 388, 1855, p. 333.

And what do we learn from Arthur? Wildfell Hall was written at a time when crime was seen primarily as a moral failing; individuals with deficient character broke the law. Within the legal domain, individuals were increasingly seen as rational and responsible beings who ought to be held accountable for their decisions. Arthur’s gradual deterioration—both physical and moral—is attributed to the structure of his mind and his alcoholism, both of which were thought to be in an individual’s control. Arthur’s dying words— “Oh, Helen, if I had listened to you, it never would have come to this! And if I had heard you long ago—oh God! How different it would have been!” (TWH 367)—are an acknowledgement that absolves Helen of responsibility for her husband’s decline.

Arthur’s conduct also serves a model. Brontë shows no sympathy for Gilbert’s physical assault on Mr. Lawrence. He acts out while in a passionate state of mind; however, he should have known better. Unlike a “reasonable man,” he has not controlled his emotions, something he must learn to do in order to become a suitable partner for Helen. While Gilbert can and does improve, Arthur has a deteriorating ability to be reasonable. In keeping with the more conservative aspects of the law Brontë, restricts responsibility for one’s actions to include a degree of accountability for one’s past moral deeds. The “moralizing subtext,” which Martin Wiener locates in the law—the “hardly questioned acceptance of strengthening self-discipline, foresight, and reasonableness of the public” (83)—plays out in the novel.

The novel is less of a conduct manual for wives to be less nagging; rather, it is a condemnation of men to behave better in full accordance of the changing nineteenth-century legal standards.

For more see: Sheppard, Rebecca. “”You Have Only Yourself to Blame”: Mind and Reason in Anne Brontë’s: Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” Victorian Review, vol. 48 no. 2, 2022, p. 207-224. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2022.a900624.


Brontë, Anne. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Oxford UP, 2008.

Jackson, Arlene. “The Question of Credibility in Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.”

            English Studies, vol. 63, no. 1, 1982, pp. 198–206.

Langland, Elizabeth. Anne Brontë: The Other One. Barnes & Noble, 1989.

McMaster, Juliet. “’Imbecile Laughter’ and ‘Desperate Earnest’ in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

            Modern Language Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 4, 1982, pp. 352–68.

“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” The Rambler, Sept. 1848, no. 3, pp. 65–66.

“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” Sharpe’s London Magazine, July 1848, no. 7, pp. 181–83.

Wiener, Martin J. Reconstructing the Criminal. Cambridge UP, 1990.

Victorian Comfort Books and the Ideal Dead Child

by Mary Gryctko

“At Rest.” George Cattermole, illustration from The Old Curiosity Shop (1841).

Dead children like Charles Dickens’s Little Nell (picture above on her deathbed) were a staple of sentimental Victorian fiction, to the point that even contemporaries apparently found it a tired enough trope to mock (see Oscar Wilde’s famous, if maybe apocryphal, quip that one “would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing”). Many Victorians enjoyed these texts unironically, however, which is attested to by the eagerness of parents to apply sentimental scripts to their own children’s deaths. Postmortem photographs and texts written by bereaved parents show the ways in which sentimental scripts influenced parents’ perception and performance of “correct” mourning, but they also show how sentimental fiction reflected the actual changing value of the child in the Victorian era.

“Comfort books,” texts written by and for bereaved parents in nineteenth-century Great Britain and the US, offer a unique insight into the ways in which bereaved parents interacted with and adopted sentimental scripts in their own mourning processes. What struck me most about these texts when I first encountered them was how impersonal they tend to be: how much the parents/authors who wrote them relied on scripts laid out by sentimental fiction, rather than on memories of a real person who died. Most comfort book subjects are not newborns, yet parents’ apparent memories of their child almost invariably focus on (sometimes difficult to believe) accounts of the child’s goodness, and on the beauty of the child’s body, stressing racialized markers of beauty like blond hair and blue eyes. Echoing Dickens’s description of the dead Nell, many comfort book authors insist that their dead children are more beautiful in death than they were in life—the unnamed author of “The Dead Child ” (included in Walter Aimwell’s 1870 collection Our Little Ones in Heaven) puts it bluntly: “Few things appear so beautiful as a young child in its shroud” (107).

Rather than mourning a lost loved one, these texts often seem to celebrate the fact that the child will never grow up, and will instead be frozen forever in an idealized, passive form. Comfort books echo sentimental fiction in depicting dead children as ideal children. The child subjects of these texts are described as precious in a way that their siblings who grow up—and grow out of their parents’ control—cannot be. Authors frame child death not as losing a family member, but as gaining an eternal infant. Belief that this preservation was often literal—many comfort books authors (and Victorian protestants in general) believed that they would meet their children again, at the age at which the died, in heaven. These authors imagined a heaven in which power structures between parents and children that were temporary in real life were made permanent: a paradise for parents that relied upon the eternal subjugation of their children.

This notion of the dead child as an ideal child reflects the tension between the new figure of the innocent, unproductive child, and the realities of Victorian childhood. The Victorian cult of the child framed children as emotionally precious luxury items (as they are typically seen today), rather than as people who could provide physical help around the house/farm, financially, or in old age. Comfort books show parents grappling with how their own children, and their relationships with their children, can be made to fit into this new, bourgeois notion of childhood. The dead child fit neatly into this figuration in a way that no living child could.

For more see Mary Gryctko, “”The Sweetest Little Thing That Ever Died:” Nineteenth-Century Comfort Books and the Creation of the Immortal Child.” Victorian Review, vol. 48 no. 2, 2022, p. 293-308. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2022.a900628.

Curry and Rebellion: G.F. Atkinson’s Curry and Rice

by Meghna Sapui

Plate 29, “Our Cook Room.” Illustration by G.F. Atkinson, Curry and Rice (London: Day and Son, 1859)

The first restaurant I ever went to in the United States was the Chipotle on Archer Road in Gainesville, FL. Here, I asked the server to add capsicum and onions to my bowl. At this, the server looked baffled. It occurred to me then that Americans call bell peppers what Indians call capsicum. Understanding (I got my bell peppers) and laughter (I suppose capsicum can sound vaguely sexual) ensued. For an Indian woman with a bowl of rice, beans, and capsicum in a Tex-Mex chain, this was also a good reminder that I needed to get on with my American. Cultural differences can feel particularly immediate and forceful when they intervene in one’s alimentary practices.

But I am hardly the first to notice this—nineteenth-century colonial authors often faced the same predicament. The British empire in South Asia was a diasporic enterprise. A substantial part of this imperial diaspora’s lifeworld was marked by gustatory encounters and exchanges, skewed as they were by the politics of race and empire. Unsurprisingly then, culinary and gustatory representations recur in texts by Anglo-Indians (a term that in the nineteenth century denoted British residents in India). An instance of one such text is George Francklin Atkinson’s illustrated book Curry and Rice (1858) that uses an extended food conceit to talk about India—“her Majesty’s Eastern dominions,” newly minted as such following the Revolt of 1857.

Curry and Rice was written and published in the months following the Revolt, a time when narratives of 1857 constituted the bulk of English-language literature from India. Atkinson, a captain in the Bengal Engineers, a unit of the Company’s army in Bengal , had first-hand experience of 1857. However, Curry and Rice elides any mention of the Revolt. Atkinson declares in his preface that he wishes to provide a reprieve “after all the narratives of horror that have of late fallen upon the English ear.” Thus, the book constitutes of brief vignettes of life in a fictional cantonment town called Kabob. It depicts characters named after Indian foods—Garlic, Turmeric, Huldey, Tamarind, Coriander, and even a Capsicum(!)—and “Indian” scenes, like a tiger hunt, a “burra khanah” (“big dinner”), a cantonment ball, a dinner with the Nuwab of Kabob, and so on.

Atkinson’s choice of medium—an illustrated book—can be attributed to his training as an illustrator, as proficiency with pencil and Indian ink were admission prerequisites at the Company’s military seminary in Addiscombe. His professional and artistic career was also a continuation of a familial tradition. He was one of six children of the renowned Orientalist James Atkinson. Atkinson senior was well known for his English translations of Persian poetry as well as his literary endeavors and friendships with other Orientalists like James Prinsep, Horace Hayman Wilson, and Charles D’Oyly—he even named one of his sons Charles D’Oyly Atkinson! (A little aside: to this day, I have never found an image of any of the Atkinsons except James.) Among James Atkinson’s many translations, the following are some of the most popular ones: the first independent English translation of the Rostam and Sohrāb episode of the Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, an eventual abridged version of the entire epic, and Nizami Ganjavi’s Laila and Majnun.

While George Francklin’s literary output is not as prolific as his father’s, their works share similar themes. For instance, both write about the peculiarities of the Anglo-Indian experience—James in his melancholic City of Palaces, G.F. in his humorous Curry and Rice. Both write about imperial wars—James wrote and published extensively about his experiences in the First Afghan War, G.F. wrote The Campaign in India, 1857-1858 about 1857. Given his personal and professional background, it is fascinating that following the imperial event that became the boogeyman of the nineteenth-century imperial imaginary, G.F. wanted to write Curry and Rice which was advertised as “the best Christmas gift book.”

Atkinson dedicates Curry and Rice to W.M. Thackeray: “My tiny vessel is to follow in the wake of your big men-of-war.” Thackeray was considered something of an authority on all things Anglo-Indian—born in Kolkata, he thanked Atkinson for writing about his “native country.” Thackeray was also a popular Victorian gourmand who in “Memorials of Gormandizing” declared: “remember that every man who has been worth a fig in this world, as poet, painter, or musician, has had a good appetite: and a good taste.” For a book about India couched in the language of gustation, there could be no more appropriate interlocutor than Thackeray. Thackeray responded to Atkinson’s gesture with gratitude and a warning. He warned Atkinson about the pitfalls of publishing and the harm that a bad review could do, citing the 1852 Times review of The History of Henry Esmond. Curry and Rice in its turnreceived mixed reviews. Some found the timing of this humorous book vexing, appearing as it did so close to the events of 1857. Others reviewing it with its “companion” volume, The Campaign in India, thought it quite appropriate—praising both for their lithographs but finding Campaign much more palatable than Curry and Rice.

Curry and Rice uses the humorous and seemingly innocuous language of food—the residents of Kabob constitute the “curry and rice” dished out on the forty lithograph “plates.” This alimentary discourse, however, becomes politically supercharged when situated within the context of 1857, widely reported by the Anglo-Indian and British press as an affair of peregrinating chapatis, adulterated cartridges, and contaminated salt and flour sold in cantonment bazaars. While at first glance, the hapless Anglo-Indians of Kabob may also seem like inappropriate representational choices at a moment of such unrest, Atkinson’s book might not be as out-of-joint with its historical moment as it claims (or appears) to be. Curry and Rice is generously peppered with apparently jocular racial slurs, marked by the horrifically humorous specter of imperial appetites that miscegenate white bodies and families, and haunted by simian Indian servants who haunt Kabob’s gleaming, though stiflingly hot, dining rooms. All in all, Curry and Rice is a lesson in many things. It shows us how food can be deployed to overwrite imperial politics; how implicit racism is foundation to imperial genres, like Anglo-Indian satire; and how foodways can be useful in interpreting the political stakes and racial ideologies at work in imperial texts.

To read more, see Sapui, Meghna. “The Culinary and the Colonial in G.F. Atkinson’s Curry and Rice.” Victorian Review, vol. 48 no. 2, 2022, p. 225-248. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2022.a900625.

Varsity Visits and Textual Tourism: Questions of Access, Belonging, and Nostalgic Longing

by Rachelle Stinson

Left: The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green: An Oxford Freshman (James Blackwood, 1857). Image courtesy of Internet Archive.
Right: Alden’s Sixpenny Guide to Oxford (2nd edition, 1875). Image courtesy of Hathitrust Digital Library.

Having analyzed numerous nostalgically-charged accounts of newcomers and visitors to Oxford throughout my doctoral studies, I have often inadvertently recalled my own visit to the university town seventeen years ago as a tourist and newly-minted BA. My Oxford visit was motivated, to a large extent, by nostalgia: I wanted to touch the medieval stones of the ancient college walls and gaze at the “dreaming spires” above me, I wanted to envision medieval monks meandering beneath the cloistral arches and sixteenth-century philosophers rambling the garden paths, I wanted to disturb the centuries-settled dust of a Bodleian tome and awaken some ghost in a forgotten college corner. Like so many Oxford tourists, I arrived wanting to be transported to an illusive/elusive university of the past. But present reality is ever the disruptor of illusion. I tried to imagine myself a student of some bygone era, gliding silently, pensively along the stone-lined walks, academic robes flowing behind me, but my power wheelchair was a rather annoying anachronism against this ancient academic backdrop, clunking noisily along Merton’s cobbled thoroughfare. And robes never display as well on the seated, unfortunately.

Then, of course, my touristic identity, disrupting the illusion that I might blend in to the university of the present. The tourist guidebooks and pamphlets I had purchased for my trip, which had been immensely helpful in my historical envisioning, were also a dead giveaway of nonbelonging. I remember carrying them covertly, holding them close to my chest and under my arm, indulging in the thought that passers-by might take me for an Oxford student with books of a more studious nature. Does Oxford urge impostor syndrome it its students in the same way it triggers a feeling of trespass in its visitors I wonder? I think it must, because it is so impervious and unmoving, so revered and so old. Does anyone ever truly feel like they belong there?

The question of access is central to my current studies of Oxford, and especially of Victorian Oxford, where so many (women, the working class, certain religious groups, tourists) were gaining access for the first time. More precisely, it is the relationship among access, belonging, and nostalgia that interests me, and how it manifests in and through mass-market Oxford literatures like tourist guidebooks and Victorian varsity novels. This is the focus of my article. Situating Cuthbert Bede’s comedic Verdant Green varsity series (1853, 1854, 1857) alongside Oxford tourist guidebooks, as another kind of touristic text, widens the textual landscape for considering the intricacy of the relationship mentioned above.

Tourists, varsity newcomers, and varsity readers are welcomed but with reserve, are given access to the ancient university but only provisionally, and are often, through guidebooks and other popular literature, touring only through a fictive or carefully constructed idea of a university. And what is the role of nostalgia in texts that cater to these particular Oxford enthusiasts, to these reading tourists and touring readers? Is it simply the intoxicating sentiment the tourist carries with her to Oxford? Or might it serve some commercial purpose? Most importantly, might it work to Oxford’s advantage, and at the tourist’s expense (in both meanings of the term)?

For more, see Rachelle Stinson, “Mass-Market Spires: Varsity Paperbacks, Guidebooks, and Commodified Nostalgia.” Victorian Review, vol. 48, no. 2, 2023.

CFP: “Videogames and Victorian Studies”

Submission date for Proposals : September 15,2023

The Mansion of Happiness (1842), A nineteenth-century board game. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Victorian Review invites submissions for a special issue devoted to the topic of Videogames and Victorian Studies.” This issue will consider how game texts interact with Victorian genres, aesthetics, and literary themes by commenting on or critiquing their original contexts. Articles will examine how the embodied, user-driven mode of storytelling employed by videogames can offer new engagements with the era’s many lingering legacies in the present. This includes, but is not limited to, questions of class, race, gender and sexuality, colonialism, the professionalization of science, ableist modes of reading, etc.

How do video games, from indie darlings to AAA titles, preserve the influences of the Victorian era and introduce its literature and culture to new audiences? How do games involve users with agentive play that immerse them in nineteenth-century concerns and perspectives? How can game environments, user participation, and active play enrich our understanding of the Victorian period? And how is our understanding of the period evoked, deconstructed, or reaffirmed through game narratives, design, and gameplay?

Possible topics include – but are not limited to:

  • Victorian aesthetics and the videogame.
  • Perspectives of disability studies in relation to game themes, genres or modes.
  • Queering Victorian texts through gaming form, theme or narrative.
  • Combat and colonialism (as critique or underexamined re-entrenchment) in games
  • Victorian themes and genres re-worked in unexpected ways through game worlds and environmental design.
  • Adaptations of Victorian texts, figures or histories in games.
  • Victorian-era predecessors or precursors to the videogame – texts that anticipate interactivity, games, virtual realities, etc.
  • Examinations of Victorian texts/games from a ludology or narratology critical perspective (or its debates).
  • Representations of Victorian-era historical events.
  • The use of gameplay, mechanics, and/or design to engage Victorian-era genres or themes.

Proposals of 400-500 words should be submitted along with a 60-word author biography and one-page CV to Brooke Cameron ( and Lin Young ( by September 15, 2023.

We will notify applicants of results by October 15, 2023. Following acceptance, final papers should be between 5,000 and 8,000 words and will be due by January 15, 2024.

Posthumanism in Alice in Wonderland

by Sandy Burnley

Burnley, Sandy M. “Looking Back: Posthumanism and Sympathy in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Victorian Review, vol. 48 no. 1, 2022, p. 107-123. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2022.0002.

I first engaged with other-than-human animal representations as a master’s student who had just transitioned from veterinary medicine to literature. What these domestic companions had to teach me was not to be found in a clinic but in their sociohistorical imbrication—an entanglement that began to pique my interest when I was a young child reading Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty (1877)and Sarah Trimmer’s The History of the Robins (1786). These entanglements are ubiquitous. Every novel I opened invited interspecies encounters and companionship, but I wanted to know why. Are they simply metaphors for human existence? Or are they conduits who challenge what it means to be human, unraveling the neoliberal and immaterial imaginary that molded the concept of the human in the nineteenth century?

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland offered one possible and curious position for its infamous human character. Alice’s perpetual shapeshifting and attempts at sympathizing with other animals dismisses any stringent parameters hoping to contain the “human” and invites a posthumanist reading where the categories between human, animal, and object playfully reorient themselves. However, there was something else happening in the perimeters. I found myself less drawn to Alice and more focused on the anthropomorphized characters who consistently resisted Alice’s attempt to humanize them. Alice’s adventures evolved beyond what it means to be human and instead showcased the immaterial and imaginary mechanisms that makes one human—the sympathetic gaze.

In Alice’s well-known fall down the rabbit hole, Alice engages with a variety of species, such as a rabbit, mouse, pig, and caterpillar, to name a few. Despite Alice entering Wonderland with arguable politeness, Wonderland’s denizens resist every sympathetic attempt that Alice tries to initiate. Such resistance stands out against the backdrop of Victorians’ movement to preach kindness and sympathy for other species, which could inadvertently function off the idea that other species are vulnerable, passive, and helpless in these interspecies entanglements. Unlike in Sewell’s or Trimmer’s work, these characters were not chastising humans for cribbing or cruelty. Rather, these individuals were vehemently protesting the idea that Alice had any idea or way of imagining what it was like to be in their position and to be of their species.

This refusal to accept Alice’s sympathy led me down my own rabbit hole. I began to investigate sympathy as a mechanism in policing such encounters with the help of Audrey Jaffe’s and Rae Greiner’s scholarship and translating David Hume’s and Adam Smith’s notions regarding sympathy to more-than-human encounters. In this investigation, sympathy no longer seemed like a benevolent and noble framework, but another veiled appropriation of foreign experiences that subordinated these animals to a range of human purposes and representations. It was no wonder they refused such attempts. These sympathetic renderings are exactly what placed the infamous rabbit in a waistcoat—the paradoxical inverse of a human in fur. However, in their silence, in the Caterpillar’s truncated responses, and a kitten’s mute arrest, there is so much more to be said. In every encounter, these individuals do not and cannot teach us how to be human. Instead, they demonstrate the harm of positioning an anthropocentric and sympathetic umbrella over a biopolitically diverse population and harboring these animals solely within our domestic purview. Alice’s encounters promote readers to wonder about their own environment and teach us a kind of applicable reverence that places posthumanist thought well into the nineteenth century.

Burnley, Sandy M. “Looking Back: Posthumanism and Sympathy in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Victorian Review, vol. 48 no. 1, 2022, p. 107-123. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2022.0002.

Species Feeling in Gissing’s New Grub Street

by Jill Galvan

Gibbons mate for life. Matthias Kabel, “Pair of Lar Gibbons at Salzburg Zoo,” May 2006. Wikipedia Creative Commons License.

When I first read George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891), I was startled to find how much it focuses on a miserable marriage. I had heard about everything else this novel depicts: hack writers, the literary marketplace, the ravages of capitalism, a cruel post-Darwinian world. But Edwin and Amy Reardon were a shock. Gissing devotes so much time to their home life and to showing how the scarcity economy destroys their relationship.

New Grub Street was the very first novel that piqued my interest in fictional troubled marriage, the subject of my current research. I’ve come to think that there is something about strained wedlock that lends itself to realism and reveals its aesthetics, giving us special insight into the fiction of lifelikeness. Indeed, naturalism, a subgenre of realism—with its great attention to material and biological life as such—often dwells on marital coupledom gone awry. Think of all those spouses or near-spouses in Thomas Hardy’s novels (The Return of the Native [1878], Tess of the D’Urbervilles [1891], Jude the Obscure [1895], and so on) who find coupling up a losing game. The understudied Lucas Malet (Mary St. Leger Kingsley Harrison) likewise plots Nature’s torpedoing of wedlock in Colonel Enderby’s Wife (1885). Several other works in Gissing’s oeuvre, too, hang their naturalism on the story of a bleak engagement or marriage.

With all its focus on evolution and biology and its animalization of the human, naturalism has often been treated as a rather science-y mode. Yet it, like all realism, is an artful genre, careful and formally tricky with character. This trickiness includes a sly play with spatiotemporal scale, along with a heightened awareness of the errors of human perception. Naturalism even includes a subtle perceptual misdirection of us, its human readers. (New Grub Street illustrates this especially well through its meta-treatment of language, story, and reading.)

Perception, like sensation, is both a biological and an aesthetic issue. This makes it a major source of naturalism’s artful realism. Consider a now well-established concept in animal studies, umwelt. This is an organism’s specific in-the-world, perceptual uptake and inhabiting of the environment. A snail, for instance, experiences its environment in a certain way, and this is fundamentally non-translatable to any other type of organism: a unique being-as-experience. What happens when we apply this concept to humans, as also animals? As Ed Yong says in An Immense World (in a helpful metaphor borrowed from umwelt’s original 1909 theorist, Jakob von Uexküll), the human’s inhabited perceptual “house” may be “bigger” than other animals’, but that house still has only so many windows: we are “still stuck inside . . . , looking out. Our Umwelt is still limited; it just doesn’t feel that way. To us, it feels all-encompassing. It is all that we know, and so we easily mistake it for all there is to know. This is an illusion, and one that every animal shares.”[1]

Naturalism is constantly trying to get inside the small-scale human umwelt-house—our species’ little, ordinary, perceptual experience of life, even in its illusions. It is time to think about naturalist lifelikeness in character-perceptual terms: to get down on the ground with characters. This would include lots of attention to affect—not just bodily sense-being, but also emotion, like the emotion of being in love. In naturalism, love makes characters perceive their fates as controllable, even while the text is hinting at the cruel randomness of Nature-as-Fate. This conflict between life and Life, fate and Fate is a scalar one, and it makes naturalism oscillate; that oscillation is crucial to naturalism’s form. Naturalism renders reality not in spite of human illusion, but because of it. The illusion is, ironically, essential to the realism.  

[1] Ed Yong, An Immense World (NY: Random House, 2022) 6.

To read more, see Jill Galvan, “Love Story’s Ontology: Species Feeling in New Grub Street.” Victorian Review, vol. 48 no. 1, 2022, p. 69-90. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2022.0000.

The Trollopes and Stylometry

by Eleanor Dumbill

The name Trollope is familiar to most readers of Victorian literature. It is most readily associated with Anthony Trollope, though many Victorianists are also familiar with at least the headlines of his mother’s (Frances Milton Trollope) life. There were, in fact, seven published authors in the family over the course of the nineteenth century. We wanted to see how similar the writing styles of these authorial Trollopes were, especially after our identification of particular similarities between works by Thomas Adolphus Trollope and his mother. We suspected that this may, in fact, have stemmed from the mother and son’s professional collaboration, in addition to their close personal relationship. They also acted at various times as the other’s editor. We decided to use stylometry (the statistical analysis of writing style) for a fresh perspective on the relationship between these Trollopes, and between members of the Trollope family more generally.  

After removing those family members who primarily worked in genres other than prose fiction or to whom only one novel was attributed, our corpus consisted of four authors: Frances Milton Trollope, Frances Eleanor Trollope, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, and Anthony Trollope. Rounding out the group was Charles Dickens, chosen because of his editorial relationship with the three younger members of this group and his more scandalous connection to Frances Eleanor Trollope, née Ternan. Our work was guided by two research questions. To what extent can we trace the influence of familial relations on one another’s work? How might we go about the process of untangling these influences when some of these authors are markedly more well-known by modern readers?  

Figure One. Stylometric analysis of prose by the five Trollopes.

The latter question warrants more substantial thought than is possible in an initial study of this kind. However, our results indicated several interesting conclusions about familial and editorial influence. The five authors appear in more or less overlapping clusters (see above figure). A particularly busy area of this analysis represents the similarities between the fiction of Thomas Adolphus, Frances Eleanor, Dickens, and Frances Milton. In our Victorian Review article, we explore what this busyness might mean. In the article, we also reflect on other conclusions we draw from our computational literary analysis, showing how researchers can use ‘distant reading’ techniques like stylometry to complement more traditional methods.  

For more, see Henrickson, Leah and Eleanor Dumbill. “Tangling and Untangling the Trollopes: A Stylometric Analysis of Frances Milton Trollope, Frances Eleanor Trollope, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, and Charles Dickens.” Victorian Review, vol. 47 no. 2, 2021, p. 243-262. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/vcr.2021.0032.