Grace and the “Material Media” of Hardy’s Desperate Remedies

Thomas Hardy likes graceful women, but none are as deliberately graceful as Cytherea Graye in his first published novel, Desperate Remedies (1871). In a scene rife with small-town prying eyes and the unconscious self-caricaturizing of town locals displaying their cultivation through the organization of a Shakespeare reading, the beautiful Cytherea enters a room – her appearance forming “an interesting subject of study for several neighbouring eyes.” Hardy highlights the “gracefulness of her movement, which was fascinating and delightful to an extreme degree,” before further describing the faultlessness of her figure in the following terms: Continue reading

What’s the time, Mister Wolf?

As part of my dissertation research on representations of automata in Victorian literature, I’ve been reading a bit about the figurative history of clocks. I’ve been particularly fascinated by the changing fortunes of the clock in metaphors relating to the nature and construction of knowledge. As Otto Mayr details in Authority, Liberty & Automatic Machinery in Early Modern Europe, the clock was an extremely flexible concept that was conscripted for symbolic use in many different epistemological projects. Continue reading

What (and how) does “Victorian” mean?

I have been thinking about what the term “Victorian” means and how our notion of our field differs from how scholars in other fields of English literature conceive of their area of specialization. I recently presented a paper at a Modernist Studies conference. My research is primarily Victorian-focused but the work I have been doing lately on the relationship between Victorian sound technology, disability and cultural ideologies of language has bled past the century-boundary into the modern period. Leaving aside the issue of the arbitrariness of periodization for the time being, (though it is certainly a discussion we can have in the comments), I wanted to post about an interesting distinction I noticed between Victorian Studies and Modernist Studies. Continue reading

Gather ‘Round: T. H. Huxley’s Fairy Tale

John Dickson Batten's illustration of Jack and the Giant. English Fairy Tales (1890)

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

Tangled Up in Blue

 Illustration from the 1875 Chatto & Windus Piccadilly Novel

Illustration from the 1875 Chatto & Windus Piccadilly Ed. of Poor Miss Finch

A striking coincidence: while writing a funding proposal for a project on epilepsy in the Victorian imagination, this interview popped up on The Huffington Post. It’s a segment from The Today Show with Paul Karason, the “blue man” who’s been treating a skin condition with colloidal silver for over a decade. (The show seems to have a penchant for curious bodies—just yesterday they featured an young girl who’s been sneezing ten times a minute for the past two weeks.)

Anyway, I was particularly struck by Karason’s story because I’ve reading Wilkie Collins’ Poor Miss Finch, a highly original meditation on the intersections of disability and visibility.  Continue reading

An Embarrassment of Riches…

I’m putting together a syllabus for a general course on the Victorian novel, and am finding it difficult to decide what 5 or 6 novels to include. This syllabus is for a job application, so it is a course that I’d like to teach someday, rather than one that I will actually be teaching soon. I need to keep it general, but have decided to include a broad focus on representations of the family, especially alternative families (surrogate parents, siblings living with in-laws, adults living with parents, etc). Continue reading

Muffin, anyone?

A Guest Post by Emily Simmons

At the recent VSAWC/VISAWUS conference I heard a fascinating paper on the cultural signification of the muffin in Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby. The presenter, Susan Cook, offered a nuanced account of the muffin’s origins, its ingredients (I had no idea they were made using potatoes), and, of course, the dubious connotations of the muffin man’s residence on Drury Lane (very much an area of mixed social repute in the 1830s).  In Nicholas Nickleby the muffin is on an upward social trajectory, yet it still speaks to an economic disconnect between the muffin sellers and their own product, which they cannot afford.  After the paper I began thinking about another Victorian novel that is a favourite of mine for its food —  Cranford. Continue reading