Ouida

The November 21st issue of The New Yorker had a poem about Ouida by Christopher Stace, in case any of you missed it.

On First Seeing Ouida’s Tomb at Bagni de Lucca

Nature she knew by heart; on birds and flowers

She could discourse for hours and hours and hours.

Sententious, sentimental, repetitious, she

Would never choose one word if there were three.

Pith was her weakness; clichés were her strength.

And here she lies now, as she wrote, at length.

Now, I’ve only read The Moths, but it strikes me that the bits about boring nature writing, sentiment, and length are more clichés about the Victorian novel than actually applicable to Ouida herself.  The descriptions of high society, make-up and fashion in The Moths (not to mention sordid affairs with opera singers) seemed pretty fast-paced to me.  I also wondered how many typical readers would know who Ouida was.  (My informal survey revealed that 3 out of 3 PhDs in other areas had no idea.)  What do you think?

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Darwin and the Mechanisms of Human Expression

from The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy
Duchenne de Boulogne and Patient, from The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy

A recent bout of research on photography and duplicity has led me back to Cambridge’s indomitable Darwin Correspondence Project. This editorial project is an extraordinarily valuable resource for Victorianist researchers, but I’m especially impressed by the compelling points of access the site provides into a mass of information that might otherwise seem quite imposing. I imagine that many curious but casual readers have been drawn in by the site’s weekly blog posts.

One especially intriguing item popped up a couple of weeks ago. It’s an interactive quiz that recreates an experiment Darwin conducted on his own friends and acquaintances. The DCP takes you through a series of Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne’s famous photographs of electrically induced emotions, first collected in his Mechanism of Human Physiognomy (1862), and later included in Darwin’s Expression Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). (Have a look at the photos here.) Continue reading “Darwin and the Mechanisms of Human Expression”

Victorians in The New Yorker

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?