The Floating Academy is jumping into the fray of year-end book recommendations. We’ve selected Victorian Studies books recently published (from 2006 onwards) that we find illuminating, intriguing, thoughtful and provocative. Please do add your own recommendations in the comments!
Nicholas Dames. The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neural Science, and the Form of Victorian Fiction. Oxford UP, 2007.
Dames’s study offers a spectacular rethinking of the ways in which Victorian physiologists and psychologists understood the experience of reading. In contrast to reader response theory and similar hermeneutical accounts of the reading process, Dames situates the Victorian novel within the context of neural-scientific notions of speed, rhythm, velocity, and duration.
Christine Ferguson. Language, Science, and Popular Fiction in the Victorian Fin-de-Siècle: The Brutal Tongue. Ashgate, 2006.
Ferguson’s book aims to “show the extent to which late Victorian popular fiction responded to cultural and scientific anxieties about language” (6) in her focus on texts by Marie Corelli, H.G. Wells, Grant Allen, H. Rider Haggard, and Bram Stoker. She elegantly combines close readings of this fiction with a consideration of the relatively understudied area of Victorian philology in order to overturn critical dismissals of “middle-brow,” popular, late-Victorian fiction.
Shanyn Fiske. Heretical Hellenism: Women Writers, Ancient Greece, and the Victorian Popular Imagination. Ohio UP, 2008.
Shanyn Fiske’s book traces how women engaged with the circulation of Greek history, art and literature in popular culture. She charts women’s attempts to intervene in a discourse that was generally the sole purview of Oxbridge educated men. Her treatment of authors like Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot, who feared that their reliance English translations rendered them intellectually inferior to their male peers, is both lively and novel.
Kate Flint. The Transatlantic Indian, 1776-1930. Princeton UP, 2009.
Flint’s wide-ranging and important study of the figure of the Native American in British culture argues that “the Indian is a touchstone for a whole range of British perceptions concerning America during the long nineteenth century and plays a pivotal role in the understanding and imagining of cultural difference” (2). One of the book’s many strengths is its attention to both sides of the relationship between Native Americans and the British by addressing not only how the British imagined what it meant to be Native American but also how Native American’s imagined the British.
Anna Maria Jones. Problem Novels: Victorian Fiction Theorizes the Sensational Self. Ohio State UP, 2007.
Jones traces the tropes of current Victorian scholarship back to Victorian literary sensationalism; both engage the reader “in a fantasy of knowingness in which suspense and uncertainty anticipate the pleasures of revelation and explanation” (5). Her book challenges contemporary critical agency by calling attention to “sensational scholarship” and also challenges how we read the Victorians by suggesting that they were not so susceptible to discipline as they are often represented as being. Instead, Jones shows how a variety of Victorian novels (often non-canonical) theorize a “critically empowered subject” (6). Her comparison between contemporary literary criticism and sensation novels is unique, and her suggestion that literary critics attempt to acknowledge and explore our attachments to the sensational genre is thought-provoking.
Richard Menke. Telegraphic Realism: Victorian Fiction and Other Information Systems. Stanford UP, 2008.
Menke’s study of the influence of emerging information systems in Victorian fiction offers a provocative argument for fiction’s latent technological production. The study is not concerned so much with the appearance of new media in Victorian fiction as it is with the ways in which fiction and other media create systems of information transmission, storage, and reception.
Linda H. Peterson. Becoming a Woman of Letters: Myths of Authorship and Facts of the Victorian Market. Princeton UP, 2009.
We are long past many second wave feminist ideas about the woman writer–including the notion that shared themes and rhetorical devices stemmed from biology. But other ideas about the woman writer (particularly the early to mid-Victorian woman author)–including the notion that she only wrote after being abandoned by a cruel husband or father, and that she feigned a dislike of fame–are still commonplace after thirty years. Peterson’s book provides a timely reassessment of how myths of the woman writer were shaped by the literary marketplace.
Jennifer Ruth. Novel Professions: Interested Disinterest and the Making of the Professional in the Victorian Novel. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2006.
Ruth’s methodology eschews a “hermeneutics of suspicion” in favour of an approach that complicates our understanding of the relationship between the artist and the market. She employs Bourdieu in what seems to be a refreshing manner, suggesting that unacknowledged affinities exist between what Victorian authors “already knew” and what Bourdieu “figured out”: that purity and complicity are not diametrically opposed options for authors and artists negotiating the terrain of apparent disinterestedness. Especially striking is the work Ruth does to link Victorian anxieties surrounding a developing professional class of writers and authors to the issues of professionalization currently occupying the academy.