Insects & Undergrads: Neo-Victorian Novels in the Classroom

“There is something wonderful about naming a species. To bring a thing that is wild, and rare, and hitherto unobserved under the net of human observation and human language…” – William Adamson, “Morpho Eugenia”

still from Angels and Insects (dir. Philip Haas, 1995)
still from Angels and Insects (dir. Philip Haas, 1995)

In one of her first postings for the Floating Academy, Tara MacDonald discussed her experiences teaching Alasdair Gray’s neo-Victorian novel, Poor Things (1992), in an introductory-level literature class. This year I decided to teach Angels & Insects (published the same year as Gray’s) in an upper-year undergraduate class, bookending the term with Byatt’s pair of novellas. Our department’s program offers a couple of classes on the Victorian novel, and devotes another two to the study of poetry and prose from the period. In my experience, the latter courses require a much more careful hand in the selection and curation of materials. I felt Byatt’s novellas, composed as they are from fragments of Victorian texts and glimpses of historical perspectives, offered a creative example of the kind of collage we were undertaking as a class. Continue reading “Insects & Undergrads: Neo-Victorian Novels in the Classroom”

Young Adult Readers and Nineteenth-Century Fiction: Part Two

About two years ago, we had a conversation on this blog about how some publishers were attempting to capitalize on the popularity of books like Twilight in order to market nineteenth-century fiction to young adult readers. Various publishers were re-packaging books by, for instance, the Brontës’, with covers they thought might be more appealing to young adult readers.

See, for example, the cover of Penguin’s Illustrated Jane Eyre by Goth artist Dame Darcy:

Continue reading “Young Adult Readers and Nineteenth-Century Fiction: Part Two”

Steampunk in Victorian studies


I’ve been noticing a persistent, sustained interest in steampunk in the various mainstream outlets of geek culture (a phrase I use with affection) such as the Gawker blog io9. (For example: We could probably list dozens of examples of steampunkery in popular culture, from video games to movies to prog-rock concept albums and so on if we wanted to. I have a different question, though — one I’m asking as a fan and marginal practitioner of Victorian studies rather than someone trained and based in it. Has there been much substantial work on steampunk from within Victorian studies, as distinct from fields who study science fiction in the present? Is steampunk something that matters, or should matter, in Victorian studies these days, or has it run its course — and if so, what was that course? Continue reading “Steampunk in Victorian studies”

Holiday Reading

Byatt, from the Guardian

I’m embarrassed to say that I read about two non-Victorian novels a year, and that even those novels are often related to the Victorian novel stylistically or thematically.  A perennial favourite of mine is the contemporary realist novelist Margaret Drabble, especially The Peppered Moth (whose Darwinian themes are related to The Mill on the Floss).

This year it’s even worse–one of my favourite reads was A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book, which slipped by me when it was first published in the fall of 2009 but which I was happy to pick up in paperback when I needed a break in November.  Byatt’s neo-Victorian novel stretches from the 1880s to WW1, and centers around several sprawling families involved with the Arts and Crafts movement and the Fabian society, and is certainly engrossing as well as rather disturbing. Continue reading “Holiday Reading”

Dracula in Twilight and Goth Janes: Nineteenth-century Young Adult Fiction Today

Dame Darcy's cover for The Illustrated Jane Eyre

Over the past few years, I have come to learn a lot about children’s literature and the reading preferences of young urban children and youth. I am involved with a wonderful organization that provides books free to children in low-income neighborhoods. Books are donated to the organization, which then displays them in a beautiful location in a century home – complete with window seats and fireplaces – and then children browse the shelves and take home one free book every time they come for a visit. The organization serves hundreds of children a day and is a wonderful oasis in the middle of Toronto. Continue reading “Dracula in Twilight and Goth Janes: Nineteenth-century Young Adult Fiction Today”

Victorian Pop

I’ve been living in the U.S. for a few years now, and one Canadian holiday I really miss is Queen Victoria day. Or, “fireworks day,” as we used to call it when I was little. I think we were missing the point, though I bet Queen Victoria liked fireworks. Maybe.

In the U.S., we have Memorial Day instead. I’m not really sure what it’s about, but Victoria Day should be self-explanatory to any self-respecting Victorianist. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t fall on her real birthday almost ever in the interests of having a long weekend. Continue reading “Victorian Pop”

Neo-Victorian Experiments: A Humument

In April, I attended a seminar on Neo-Victorian Literature at King’s College London. The event allowed for a lively, informative discussion regarding the current state of neo-Victorian writing and scholarship. One of the main questions asked was, is there something distinct about neo-Victorian literature, as opposed to historical fiction more generally? I’m inclined to consider neo-Victorian fiction as a sub-category of historical fiction. That said, I think there are perhaps two categories of neo-Victorian fiction Continue reading “Neo-Victorian Experiments: A Humument”

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”

The Tensions of Neo-Victorianism

I recently taught Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things (1992) in an introductory-level English class. It is both a neo-Victorian novel and a postmodern rewriting of Frankenstein. There are many narrative strands, some of which refute one another, and it is a great example of what Linda Hutcheon calls “historiographic metafiction.” One of the narratives tells the story of Bella Baxter, a woman who is created by a love-deprived doctor named Godwin Baxter. Baxter finds a pregnant woman’s body after she has committed suicide by drowning and replaces her brain with that of her unborn fetus. She is now (creepily) the Victorian man’s dream: the body of a woman with the brain of a child. Continue reading “The Tensions of Neo-Victorianism”