The Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada conference, Victorian Humanity and its Others, has come to a close. It was held at Coast Hotel in Vancouver, a location that has, ladies and gents, left me feeling a little nostalgic. I attended my first VSAWC meeting at the Coast in 2009 — my first visit to Vancouver. Fellow Floating Academician Daniel Martin gave me a tour of Stanley Park over a lunch hour and was kind enough to introduce me to the Victorian Studies who’s who of Western Canada.
Since then Daniel has moved east and I’ve moved west. It was great to have mini FA reunion at the conference: Daniel, Jennifer Esmail, and I Continue reading
I’ve spent the last three years writing about the origins of bodybuilding as a middle-class pursuit. The project has been a pleasure: I’ve been able to splosh about in seas of Victorian ephemera, most of which did not turn out to be immediately germane, but which were still well worth the wade. As we head into what I consider the cruelest month (really, Eliot, winter may have kept us warm, but the fight to stick to new year’s resolutions is fraught with more potential for heartache than wet feet are in April), here’s some advice from the comic song Oh, Mr. Sandow! (Father’s Been Sandowing in his Gown). Lampooning the famous strongman Eugen Sandow, the song warns about the perils of too much exercise:
At last [Father] left off practicing
But that was worst of all,
For quickly though his muscles rose
More quickly did they fall!
And ere a day or two elapsed
The change in dad [sic] was dire,
For all his muscles had collapsed
Just like a punctured tyre!
Oh, Mr. Sandow, you’ve a lot to answer for!
Now none of father’s clothes will fit.
They all want “taking in” a bit!
We all thought father’s cranium
Would soon be turned, so mother burned
His model gymnasium.
Do be careful, and happy new year!
I’m testing out some ideas about neurasthenia, my favourite nineteenth-century nervous complaint. Mark Micale and Elaine Showalter have argued quite convincingly that neurasthenia was polite metonym for male hysteria. I, however, am interested in the ways that it differs from hysteria – the particulars that made it non-feminizing. The following are some of my musings to that end. Yet again I am sucked into the American context (“really,” the lady protests, “when I’m not splashing about with humanities computing, 98% of my research is on the British, not that you can tell from this blog”): the term neurasthenia was coined by American nerve specialist, George M. Beard, and popularized by his two books Nervous Exhaustion (Neurasthenia) (1880) and American Nervousness: Its Causes and the Consequences (1881).
The central distinctions between Nervous Exhaustion (Neurasthenia) and American Nervousness arise from the books’ tone and audience. While Nervous Exhaustion (Neurasthenia) was written for the medical community, and excerpted and summarized in the periodical press, American Nervousness was, in Beard’s own words, “of a more distinctly philosophical and popular character than [Nervous Exhaustion (Neurasthenia)] which was specially addressed to the professional and scientific reader” Continue reading
"Gentleman Jim" Corbett
I’ve been working through the various models of masculinity on display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. One of the Exposition’s most popular entertainments (alongside the first Ferris wheel, Buffalo Bill’s Rough Riders, and movable sidewalks) was a daily boxing demonstration by heavyweight champion James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett. Corbett used multiple venues –the ring, the stage, the press, film– in his attempt to use popular science to make the strong male body signify as genteel. Continue reading
Reprieve! I’ve been steeped in regret at not having posted a review of Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage when it was on at the AGO over the summer. My impressions have liquefied and dribbled off somewhere in the intervening months. Let me offer the Elizabeth Siegel’s curatorial lecture in their stead. In July I would have said that Victorian ephemera was ideal for the summer months, but now that patio season is over, I’m more inclined than ever to get out my pinking sheers in solidarity with Siegel’s subjects.
I’ve spent the last week mulling over how mark-up languages’ form and function encode knowledge into a text – but have been sidetracked by an amusing site devoted to nineteenth-century mustaches. Drawn from the University of Kentucky archives, these are almost exclusively American mustaches. I’ve been trying to divine each sitter’s nationality by reading his whiskers (John Wilkes Booth from the May 25th post features a distinctly Clemensesque soup strainer). Which makes me wonder, in keeping with my reading on mark-up languages, do Victorian mustaches have a function, symbolic or otherwise, or are they pure form?
I’m feeling relieved – I’ve reached my whimsy quota for the week, and it’s only Wednesday.
Word Cloud for On the Origin of Species, 2nd edition
I hope visualizations entertain you as much as they do me. I’ve recently generated two word clouds which denote the word frequency in the second and sixth editions of On the Origin of Species. As always, they support what we already know (for example, the increased frequency of “Mr” in the sixth edition confirms that there were more men that Darwin could draw on to substantiate his work in 1872 than he had been able to in 1860). That said, I’m not sure how to interpret the later text’s dwindling use of the word “varieties” relative to “variations,” or the virtual disappearance of the word “believe.” I suppose visualizations really do make us question the text, rather than providing us with answers.
Word Cloud for On the Origin of Species, 6th edition
I expected to be able to hear Molly Porkshanks Friedrich’s Complete Mechanical Womb tick. It didn’t look as though it should pulse with life, but I did anticipate a mechanical buzzing or whirring. I was alone in the basement of Oxford’s history of science museum, at what the museum billed as “the world’s first museum exhibition of Steampunk art.” I’m sure the little figure in the gravid pneumatic tube was honoured by the Continue reading
Bewick, Thomas et al. A History of British Birds. Printed by J. Blackwell and Co., for R.E. Bewick, 1847. 161
I’ve just returned to my online search for John Gould’s bird lithographs. I haven’t had any luck, but I have found a copy of Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds – the volume whose letterpress Jane Eyre disliked so much. Assuming that she was reading the first volume of the1847 edition, then we can all go to Google books to give the offending letterpress the once-over.
The online reproduction of British Birds doesn’t quite afford me the affective pleasure that I’m looking for (let me nod to your post from October, Daniel). I think I’d flinch if I handled a physical copy of the edition with which John Reid brained our heroine, but I can’t tell how large or heavy a more material rendering of Google’s reprint would be.
I recently made at trip (or as one friend put it, “what you’re describing is a pilgrimage, Crompton”) to the Natural History Museum in London. It has all the qualities that I like in a museum: super-fatted gothic architecture, knowledgeable staff, and a sensational bird collection.
Victorian curatorial practices are curious to the contemporary visitor. A bird case from the Museum’s inaugural year, 1881, is tucked into one corner of the bird hall. Rather than displaying the mounted birds whole, the case is full of disembodied heads, wings, feet and feathers – the better, I assume, to teach the viewer about bird anatomy. The accompanying text is excessively didactic. The Latin names of the each joint and tendon season the explanatory prose since, as the 1886 catalog suggested, by “the aid of explanatory labels, the essential characters and the principle modifications of all these Continue reading
If you haven’t seen it yet, let me recommend the video that chronicles the production of John Carrera’s edition of the Merriam-Webster engravings. The Linotype was cast on a machine from the 1930s, but the binding process reminds me of so many images of Victorian binders seated as sewing frames.
Pictorial Webster’s: Inspiration to Completion from John Carrera on Vimeo.
For years I’ve felt right at home in the nesting colony that is Victorian Studies. As Victorian Studies expanded in the last decade to include history along side literary criticism, I’ve snuggled in and lined my Victorian Studies nest with novels, popular science treatises, artificial limb catalogues, late-century films, and body building manuals. Although visual culture is central to Victorian Studies, it was only at the joint VSAWC and VISAWUS conference in October that I started to think about the art historians that might be nesting in the same Victorian Studies colonies.
This year’s joint Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada Continue reading
John Dickson Batten's illustration of Jack and the Giant. English Fairy Tales (1890)
At Oxford in 1893 Thomas Henry Huxley opened the Romanes lecture with a fairy tale: “Here is a delightful child’s story, known by the title of “Jack and the Bean-stalk,” with which my contemporaries who are present will be familiar. But so many of our grave and reverend Juniors have been brought up on severer intellectual diet, and, perhaps, have become acquainted with fairyland only through primers of comparative mythology, that it may be needful to give an outline of the tale” (47). Continue reading
Merciful heavens- I haven’t posted in ages. Like Bob Cratchit, “I am behind my time,” like Ebenezer Scrooge, I’ve reformed and promise to be as good a friend as this good old blog has ever known.
Of late I’ve been thinking about how to treat willful lies in an autobiography. As the Toronto contingent of the Floating Academy has likely heard far too often, I’m working with the promotional materials of Eugen Sandow, the Prussian body builder. Continue reading
Fiona’s last post left me musing about Francis Galton’s composite photography. Galton proposed the process as a simple method, inspired by Herbert Spencer, for achieving a photographic average. In an article, “Composite Portraits, Made by Combining Those of Many Different Persons into a Single Resultant Figure,” Galton describes a method for exposing a photographic plate to several photographs, each containing the image of a face. The result, he suggested, “represents no man in particular, but portrays an imaginary figure possessing the average features of any given group of men” (132-133). He suggests, however, that his readers might be able recognize someone who is likely to commit a crime, based on that person’s resemblance to the composite photograph. Continue reading
I’ve been musing about transatlanticism since last year’s NAVSA conference. At one of the concluding panel discussions Amanda Claybaugh suggested that the Victorians’ orientation towards the United States is hard for us to grasp if we only focus on the literature of the United Kingdom. Continue reading
“Now don’t say a word if you’ve read it… I owe everyone a grudge who tells me the plot of a story that I’m interested in” (The Heavenly Twins 1893, 527)
While making my way through New Woman novels this year, I’ve been musing on the New Woman and the problem of heredity. I’ll save my thoughts on Neo-Lamarkian and Darwinian theories for another post – for the nonce, I’d like to open up a discussion about heredity’s relationship to mystery novels in Sarah Grand’s The Heavenly Twins (1893). Continue reading
The Ontario Art Gallery’s new curatorial practices are challenging to those of us who’ve had a sensible middle school education in art history. Years of studying visual culture has helped me silence my internal philistine, but when I am daunted, thrilled, or over-stimulated by the AGO’s eclectic thematic groupings, I can hear the voice of my ten year-old self asking why we can’t just look at the works of art in chronological order. I suspect William Holman Hunt would understand the Gallery’s novel curatorial vision and would disapprove of my inner philistine, since neither Hunt’s paintings nor the AGO’s exhibit, Sin and Salvation: Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision, are bound by chronological dogmatism. Continue reading