Notes on the Economics of Library Economy

Stamps. From Library Bureau. Classified Illustrated Catalog of the Library Bureau ...: A Handbook of Library and Office ... Library Bureau, 1890. Web. Page 49
Stamps. From Library Bureau. Classified Illustrated Catalog of the Library Bureau: A Handbook of Library and Office. Library Bureau, 1890. Internet Archive. Web. 13 Dec. 2016. Page 49

While in Middlemarch, published serially in 1871 and 1872, dear Dorothea suffered great “annoyance at being twitted with her ignorance of political economy, that never-explained science which was thrust as an extinguisher over all her lights” (Eliot 42) there were many other economies being developed in the 1870s which would rely on women as employees and proselytizers. I will leave domestic economy to the side for the nonce — it’s the economy of knowledge storage devices and spelling reform that has my interest.

I have completely fallen for the late-century American passion for efficiency experts, so once again will, at the risk of taxing Victorian Studies readers, offer up a post that features more American cousins rather than British ones. I had touched earlier in this blog on the invention of the vertical file. I’d like to pick up where I left off with a few remarks about the company the marketed the vertical file, the Library Bureau and the Bureau’s founder, that great promoter of “library economy,” Melvil Dewey (Classification 5). I’ve been dipping of late into Dewey’s “Librarianship as a Profession for College-Bred Women”, published by the Library Bureau, while Dewey was Columbia University’s chief librarian. Continue reading “Notes on the Economics of Library Economy”

The Challenge of Writing About George Eliot’s Writing

As Tedra Osell has noted at Crooked Timber, Ta-Nehisi Coates has been posting sporadically about his experience reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch for the first time. (Osell also helpfully provides links to Coates’s posts on Middlemarch).

I have enjoyed reading Coates’s attempts to wrestle with what it is about Eliot’s prose that makes it so, well, wonderful, I suppose. For instance, in his post “Greedy of Clutch,” Coates explains that he believes it is his lack of grammatical knowledge that renders him only able to appreciate “the beauty of this sort of writing on a rather unspeakable emotional and spiritual level.” Continue reading “The Challenge of Writing About George Eliot’s Writing”

“Foundress of Nothing?”: Report from the annual Victorian Studies Association of Ontario Conference

Rubens, Teresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove, c.1614

Many of us from The Floating Academy attended the annual Victorian Studies Association of Ontario conference this weekend. The conference’s theme — “Manipulation: Victorian Variations on Hands, Handling, and Underhanded Behaviour” — was taken up in various illuminating ways by the day’s speakers (including our own Gregory Brophy) but one key thread that emerged through all the papers was a critical identification of hands with agency. In addressing this concept of agency, or, in some cases, control (as in the case of Thackeray’s puppetmaster, which Peter Capuano discussed in his interesting analysis of the relationship between text and image in Vanity Fair), the day’s speakers often highlighted the ambiguity inherent in the concept of agency.

I found James Eli Adams’s talk, “The Dead Hand: George Eliot and the Uses of Inheritance” particularly compelling in this regard because he added a new layer to my understanding of the image of Dorothea Brooke as a “foundress of nothing” in Middlemarch:

“Here and there is born a Saint Theresa, foundress of nothing, whose loving heart-beats and sobs after an unattained goodness tremble off and are dispersed among hindrances, instead of centering on some long-recognizable deed” (4). Continue reading ““Foundress of Nothing?”: Report from the annual Victorian Studies Association of Ontario Conference”

George Eliot and Spinoza; or, Felix Holt, the Marrano.

Lauren Goodlad’s paper at the latest NAVSA conference in Montreal, “The Mad Men in the Attic: Seriality and Crypto-Identity in Narratives of Capitalist Globalization,” got me thinking once more about the importance of detachment, unbelonging, and cosmopolitanism within Victorian thought. More specifically, Goodlad’s presentation inspired me to reconsider George Eliot’s novel Felix Holt, the Radical (1866).

In The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence (Chatto & Windus, 1970) Raymond Williams called Felix Holt a turning point not just in Eliot’s work, but in the history of the novel for its sustained engagement with what Williams named “the crisis of the knowable community.” In the eponymous protagonist, Williams argues, Eliot represents the tension between individual and communal identity “as a problem of relationship: of how the separated individual, with a divided consciousness of belonging and not-belonging, makes his own moral history” (84). Continue reading “George Eliot and Spinoza; or, Felix Holt, the Marrano.”

Just a little late for Eliot month…

I’ve been reading too much Wilkie Collins lately, and not even the good stuff such as The Woman in White and The Moonstone, but also the lesser-known works from the 1850s through to his last published novel in the late 1880s. I’ve now read, I think, every Collins novel, in addition to much of his shorter works of fiction and journalism. I’m exhausted and overloaded. Reading excessive amounts of popular Victorian fiction skews your sense of the world. Continue reading “Just a little late for Eliot month…”

Reflections on Adam Bede. Part II.

As English lecturers, we often have to remind our students to move from emotional to critical readings of texts. I once had a student who had trouble discussing Dickens’s Great Expectations in our tutorials because she hated Pip so much. Despite working to develop a critical voice over the years, I certainly have emotional reading experiences and am pleased that after reading countless Victorian novels, they still make me laugh out loud or cry. The moment in Adam Bede that I find most affective is when Dinah comes to see Hetty in her prison cell and Hetty, after showing no emotion or real awareness of her circumstances, breaks down and embraces Dinah: Continue reading “Reflections on Adam Bede. Part II.”