Downton Abbey

I feel a little shamefaced posting about Masterpiece theatre, but I can’t be the only Victorianist out there watching Downton Abbey.  I think overall the first season was a little stronger than the second, but have enjoyed every episode nonetheless.

I wondered as I was watching the first season if the disability themes were meant to be educational.  There was a fair bit of didactic content meant to teach history in the first couple of episodes.  For example, the valet would iron the newspaper and explain to the new maid that it was so the master wouldn’t soil his hands with ink.  One major plot in the first season was the scheming to get rid of the valet, Bates, on the spurious grounds that his limp made him unable to fulfill his duties.  The cook also accidentally swapped salt for sugar, endangering her job by revealing that she was going blind.  (Her sight seems to have recovered this season.)  I wondered as I watched these incidents if they were supposed to point out to a twenty-first century audience the precariousness of employment as a servant in the early twentieth century, when you could be turned out after years of service with nothing, depending on your master’s goodwill. Continue reading

Links Round-up: Digital Platforms, Open Access and the Future of Scholarly Publishing

In the last few weeks, I have read some thought-provoking articles/essays/posts on scholarly publishing. My ideas are still percolating but I invite you to check out these links and contribute your thoughts in the comments about some of the questions raised by these writers:

If, as the MLA has repeatedly recommended, we should be moving away from the proto-book model of graduate dissertations, what should we be moving towards?

How do we, as scholars, ensure equitable and open access to our published research?

Has it been your experience, like Aimee Morrison’s (below), that “the more you write, the more you write”? (That is, that writing that doesn’t “count” because it isn’t peer reviewed, for instance, can facilitate increased writing output in the kinds of writing that do “count”? )

How have you successfully integrated blogging (and twitter?) into your research and teaching?

How have you been addressing these various issues of access and digital publishing  in your own publishing practices? Continue reading

CFP: Victorian Thresholds: Between Literature and Anthropology, 28 April 2012

The Victorian Studies Association of Ontario is soliciting paper proposals for its annual conference, which is happening on April 28th this year, at York University’s beautiful Glendon campus in Toronto.

The call for papers might be of interest to those working on or around 19th-century borders, boundaries, hybrids, peripheries, dusks, dawns, doorways, vestibules, amphibians, fringes, frontiers, ambiguities, or other similarly delicious ideas that relate to that of  “the threshold.” Continue reading

Dickens’s 200th Birthday

Charles Dickens beat out Keira Knightley for the lead story in the entertainment section of the Toronto Star today, with an article featured here on a local collector of his works.  The paper also had a cool map of places in Toronto that Dickens visited on his 1842 visit to North America, which I don’t see reproduced online.

We are still a couple of weeks away from Dickens’s 200th birthday, on February 7th.  It will be interesting to see what kind of mainstream media coverage the big event gets, in addition to the academic conferences and special publications being planned.  Seems like the Victorians have enough cachet to trump starlets.

CFP: Special Issue of Women’s Writing on Dinah Mulock Craik

NPG 2544,Dinah Maria Craik (nÈe Mulock),by Amelia Robertson Hill (nÈe Paton)

Sketch of Dinah Mulock, 1845, by Amelia Robertson Hill, National Portrait Gallery

Guest Editor: Karen Bourrier, Consulting Editor: Sally Mitchell

Throughout her lifetime and since her death, Dinah Mulock Craik (1826-1887) has been considered either ahead of her time or a touchstone for all things Victorian. Henry James, for example, assessed her work as “kindly, somewhat dull, pious, and very sentimental.” At the other end of the spectrum, Elaine Showalter found that she excelled at a “peculiar combination of didacticism and subversive feminism.”1 Continue reading

Sandowing and Other Resolutions

I’ve spent the last three years writing about the origins of bodybuilding as a middle-class pursuit. The project has been a pleasure: I’ve been able to splosh about in seas of Victorian ephemera, most of which did not turn out to be immediately germane, but which were still well worth the wade. As we head into what I consider the cruelest month (really, Eliot, winter may have kept us warm, but the fight to stick to new year’s resolutions is fraught with more potential for heartache than wet feet are in April), here’s some advice from the comic song Oh, Mr. Sandow! (Father’s Been Sandowing in his Gown). Lampooning the famous strongman Eugen Sandow, the song warns about the perils of too much exercise:

At last [Father] left off practicing
But that was worst of all,

For quickly though his muscles rose

More quickly did they fall!

And ere a day or two elapsed 

The change in dad [sic] was dire,

For all his muscles had collapsed

Just like a punctured tyre!



Oh, Mr. Sandow, you’ve a lot to answer for!

Now none of father’s clothes will fit.

They all want “taking in” a bit!

We all thought father’s cranium

Would soon be turned, so mother burned

His model gymnasium.

Do be careful, and happy new year!

The Heroic Life of George Gissing

In the spirit of Karen’s Holiday Reading post, I thought I’d offer a few words on a book in which I’ve been luxuriating this holiday season: the first volume of The Heroic Life of George Gissing. Pierre Coustillas’s eagerly-anticipated, triple-decker biographical tour-de-force has been several decades in the making, and, judging by this first installment, the completed project will deliver a masterfully detailed account of Gissing’s strange life.

Continue reading