“There is something wonderful about naming a species. To bring a thing that is wild, and rare, and hitherto unobserved under the net of human observation and human language…” – William Adamson, “Morpho Eugenia”
still from Angels and Insects (dir. Philip Haas, 1995)
In one of her first postings for the Floating Academy, Tara MacDonald discussed her experiences teaching Alasdair Gray’s neo-Victorian novel, Poor Things (1992), in an introductory-level literature class. This year I decided to teach Angels & Insects (published the same year as Gray’s) in an upper-year undergraduate class, bookending the term with Byatt’s pair of novellas. Our department’s program offers a couple of classes on the Victorian novel, and devotes another two to the study of poetry and prose from the period. In my experience, the latter courses require a much more careful hand in the selection and curation of materials. I felt Byatt’s novellas, composed as they are from fragments of Victorian texts and glimpses of historical perspectives, offered a creative example of the kind of collage we were undertaking as a class. Continue reading
I’m a little behind on my New Yorker reading these days, which is too bad because there have been a huge number of Victorian-related articles lately. (I’m counting one on H.G. Wells from the October 17th issue as Victorian, never mind that he published most in the 20th century.)
Henry James was a through-line in the article, and one sentence that really struck me compared the two men’s sexuality: “Henry James’s famous celibacy is more fertile for our imaginations than Well’s amorousness–just as James’s artistry is more compelling than Wells’s productivity” (85).
One thing I learned in the article was that Wells slept around a lot. Now, I’m used to critics rather problematically linking prolific women writers to unconstrained sexuality and maternity (as in, “Margaret Oliphant wrote too much and had too many kids to support!”) but this one about men’s sexuality and writing productivity was new for me. What do you think? Have you seen this before?
I recently moved to London, England. For a Victorian scholar, living in England’s capital certainly has its perks, including the fact that I get to visit wonderful exhibitions, like the Wellcome Collection’s “Exquisite Bodies.” The Wellcome collection brings together the artefacts of entrepreneur and traveller Henry Wellcome, showcasing his interests in medicine, health, and sexuality. Continue reading
I recently taught Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things (1992) in an introductory-level English class. It is both a neo-Victorian novel and a postmodern rewriting of Frankenstein. There are many narrative strands, some of which refute one another, and it is a great example of what Linda Hutcheon calls “historiographic metafiction.” One of the narratives tells the story of Bella Baxter, a woman who is created by a love-deprived doctor named Godwin Baxter. Baxter finds a pregnant woman’s body after she has committed suicide by drowning and replaces her brain with that of her unborn fetus. She is now (creepily) the Victorian man’s dream: the body of a woman with the brain of a child. Continue reading