“A vagrant of the sea”: Introducing Morgan Robertson

I teach at a beautiful campus on the southern shores of Lake Ontario in Oswego, New York. Oswego is a place of remarkable history. Its geographical position relative to waterways and other supply routes through central New York made it the target of military tussling between French and British forces during the Seven Years’ War and between American and British forces during the War of 1812. The Oswego Canal, completed in 1828, connected the epic Erie Canal system to Lake Ontario, thus accelerating Oswego’s contribution to the anthropogenic remaking of the Great Lakes ecosystem that’s been ongoing since the seventeenth century. Oswego was a launching-point to Canada for those traveling on the Underground Railway; its library, founded in 1853 on a principle of universal access for all persons, regardless of “their race, complexion, or condition,” is the oldest continuously operating public library in New York State (“About Us.”). In 1943, Oswego became the site of the single World War II refugee camp in the United States.

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Summer rambles.

ThomasAllenEddy’s thoughtful post about Jeremy Deller’s kaiju-Morris mural in this year’s Biennale is full of interesting observations about what happens when nineteenth-century ideas about art and commerce and social engagement are juxtaposed with twenty-first-century versions of the same. Amid all those big ideas, I found myself quite taken by the small affective moment that kicks off Eddy’s discussion, the “Hey!” that resulted from Eddy’s unanticipated encounter with William Morris in a Globe and Mail image. Continue reading “Summer rambles.”

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

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.

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Monday afternoon verbiage

The third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English debuted last week, granting something approaching critical legitimacy to some 2,000 newly-added words and phrases. Focusing as it does on current English usage (unlike the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, which traces wordiness along a historical axis), this Oxford embraces and explains words of recent provenance like freemium, sheeple, and, a personal favourite, chillax.

I love words. I get a giddy thrill out of discovering freshly-minted and newly-disseminated coinages, and I happily await those competing “word of the year” announcements from organizations like the American Dialect Society, The Global Language Monitor, and the New Oxford American Dictionary. At the very same time, however, I find myself growing ever more appreciative of words that I come across while reading Victorian literature, words that feel a bit mossy or stodgy upon first encounter, words that never made it out of the nineteenth century. Continue reading “Monday afternoon verbiage”

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’s the time, Mister Wolf?”