On the Connexion of Lovelace and Somerville

Ada Lovelace

As part of  Ada Lovelace Day, “an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science,”  Rob MacDougall put up a great post about Lovelace’s mentor Mary Somerville, (much of which he borrows from Jay Clayton’s Charles Dickens in Cyberspace).

My favorite line of MacDougall’s — “Ada Lovelace is cool, don’t get me wrong. But it has become difficult to see her clearly through the steam and the punks and the hey hey hey. She comes presoaked in alternate history and wishful thinking.”

Neo-Victorian Monsters Run Amuck

As Karen’s post on Alice in Wonderland demonstrates, there is no shortage of Victorians in film these days. I haven’t had a chance to see Burton’s new film yet, but I did see Sherlock Holmes, which was entertaining despite being more like a combination Holmes-tribute, action film and Dan Brown novel than an actual Conan Doyle story. I stumbled across an even stranger example of twenty-first-century revisions of nineteenth century works today. Many of you will have heard of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Books, 2009), which imagines the Bennet sisters battling the undead. Continue reading “Neo-Victorian Monsters Run Amuck”

Alice in Wonderland

Even if the Disney Film isn't out of copyright--the Tenniel surely is!

I’ve just seen the new Alice in Wonderland (And got caught in a thunderstorm on the way home.  I feel like the dormouse in the teapot! Or something like that.)  The new movie is sort of an Alice-meets-The Wizard of Oz action-fantasy, with the Red Queen pitted against the White Queen and Alice as Jabberwock-slayer.  Not what I was expecting, but I had fun seeing it over Spring Break anyway, and it’s generated a few random questions for me: Continue reading “Alice in Wonderland”

Where is the Text in Textual Materialism?

"It's a great cake. A bride-cake. Mine!" Image from Harper's weekly serialization of Great Expectations. (Scanned by Philip V. Allingham).

As a scholar working in the field of Deaf Studies who thinks daily about the fraught triangulation of written language, signed language and spoken language, I was intrigued by Bill Brown’s recent call to “extend textual materialism beyond the manuscript and the book and to expand the ways of locating physical detail in a sign system, which is how we make matter mean” (25). Brown issues this call in an introduction to a series of articles on textual materialism in the January 2010 issue of PMLA in which he traces the complementary and contradictory ways that book history, “theory,” digitality, and thing theory/material culture studies combine. Continue reading “Where is the Text in Textual Materialism?”

Avifauna for the Masses

Three rooks' heads from the Natural History Museum, London. First displayed in 1881.

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 “Avifauna for the Masses”

Green Thinking circa 1888?

I came across an interesting article in a volume of All the Year Round from 1888 that got me thinking about Victorian fascinations with the future. One particular passage about energy technologies in the year 1988 struck me as curious, especially considering our own green movement,  so I thought I would post it here for your perusal:

It will require but little fanciful exaggeration to picture a very much changed England in A.d. 1988. Long before that date, in all probability, steam will have been superseded by electricity; the railways of to-day will be unknown; the lumbering, puffing locomotives, of which we are now so proud, will have been relegated to the region of the useless, even as the good old stage-coach has been, and noiseless hundredmile-an-hour electric engines will have taken their places. Possibly even these latter will be found too cumbersome for our progressive successors of a century hence. Who knows but that the pneumatic tube may be so improved upon that passengers, in days to come, may be shot along from station to station at a speed which, with our nineteenth century knowledge, we can but guess at?

After reading this passage, I couldn’t help asking myself, if the Victorians could predict the coming of electric vehicles and the Jetsons, why can’t we figure out what happened to the electric car?

Source: “England a Century Hence: A Speculative Forecast.” All the Year Round 43 (17 November 1888): 474.