In her obituary for Dinah Mulock Craik, Margaret Oliphant wrote how pleased the author had been to learn that American tourists were flocking to Tewkesbury, a medieval market town in Gloucestershire, “not so much to see the town and abbey, as to identify the scenery of John Halifax”.* As postcards commemorating the sites of the novel attest, this literary tourism continued well into the twentieth century. As late as 1977, Dorothy Eagle pointed tourists to the haunts and homes of the Author of John Halifax in The Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles.
The Bell Hotel, said to be Abel Fletcher’s Residence
The Bell Hotel in Colour
The Abbey Mill, Abel Fletcher’s Mill in John Halifax
Sites of John Halifax in Tewkesbury
Rubens, Teresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove, c.1614
Many of us from The Floating Academy attended the annual Victorian Studies Association of Ontario conference this weekend. The conference’s theme — “Manipulation: Victorian Variations on Hands, Handling, and Underhanded Behaviour” — was taken up in various illuminating ways by the day’s speakers (including our own Gregory Brophy) but one key thread that emerged through all the papers was a critical identification of hands with agency. In addressing this concept of agency, or, in some cases, control (as in the case of Thackeray’s puppetmaster, which Peter Capuano discussed in his interesting analysis of the relationship between text and image in Vanity Fair), the day’s speakers often highlighted the ambiguity inherent in the concept of agency.
I found James Eli Adams’s talk, “The Dead Hand: George Eliot and the Uses of Inheritance” particularly compelling in this regard because he added a new layer to my understanding of the image of Dorothea Brooke as a “foundress of nothing” in Middlemarch:
“Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centering on some long-recognizable deed” (4). Continue reading
I just got back from the British Women Writer’s Conference in Columbus, Ohio, and I thought I’d take a second in the lull before the storm as the semester winds down to post about it.
I have long intended to go to this conference, but this was the first year I made it. There are a few things that are truly great about it:
- It is completely organized by graduate students, which I didn’t know before. This tradition stems from the conference’s beginnings as a grass roots newsletter about women writers sent around by graduate students almost twenty years ago. Amazing. Continue reading
I’ve just finished my holiday reading, and not a moment too soon since classes start tomorrow. In addition to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the new Jonathan Franzen novel, which I read while travelling, I read Lillian Nayder’s new biography of Catherine Dickens, The Other Dickens (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2010), which was too fat to take on the plane.
I was completely compelled by Nayder’s portrait of Catherine as a competent wife and loving mother, counter to Dickens’s accusations that she was so far incapable of raising her children and managing a household that her sister Georgina had to take over. One challenge of writing this biography seems to have been how many of Catherine’s letters were destroyed. Nayder inventively solves this problem by drawing on banking records and legal documents–showing that Catherine, not Georgina, was running the household until very near her separation from Dickens in 1858, as the large cheques drawn in her name suggest, and extrapolating Catherine’s tender feelings about her family from the sentimental objects she bequeathed them in her will. 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.
I’ve returned home from lovely Princeton and from a very rich and collegial conference experience at this year’s NVSA conference. As I mentioned in my first post about the conference, the topic this year was “Fighting Victorians,” which is a theme I’d like to respond to as I think back over the conference. I really enjoyed how the focused topic allowed all of the papers to build on each other another and thereby construct a larger, aggregate sense of what fighting meant to the Victorians (and the wide range of issues that they had to fight over). Continue reading
1) Why do we retain the pseudonym when discussing George Eliot/Mary Anne (etc.) Evans but not when referring to other Victorian writers like Currer Bell/Charlotte Brontë?
2) Why is Eliot’s (supposedly unattractive) appearance mentioned so frequently in Eliot criticism?
I have noticed an interesting affective moment that recurs again and again in George Eliot’s fiction. The typical scene involves the struggle of a man to resist his attraction to, and involvement with, a woman he knows he should keep his distance from. Then, despite his good intentions, he witnesses her tears and instantly loses his head in a passionate capitulation to his desire. Continue reading