Victorian Bodies and Disability’s Centrality to Victorian Scholarship

* The following is a guest post by Kylee-Anne Hingston, who recently defended her dissertation on disability and narrative form at the University of Victoria *

In a 2006 article in Victorian Literature and Culture, Julia Miele Rodas lamented that, at that time, “disability [was] still generally regarded as an isolated concern, of literary or cultural significance only insofar as it may serve as a convention or an icon of affect” (378). The article, “Mainstreaming Disability Studies?,” reviewed two seminal works in Victorian disability studies (Martha Stoddard Holmes’s Fictions of Affliction and David Wright’s Mental Disability in Victorian England) and provided an overview of disability studies in the humanities for the journal’s readers. More importantly, however, it encouraged scholars to acknowledge disability’s centrality to Victorian studies and the humanities.

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Wondering at Then-New Media

Phenakistoscope
Phenakistoscope
The countdown is on, the ball is dropping—I am almost ready to holler “Happy New (School) Year!” and head into the classroom. I am teaching a Reading Popular Culture course this semester, and, so between rounds of rubric and syllabus design have been wracking my brains to figure out how to get my students engaged not only with new media, but also with old media.

Alan’s most recent post got me wondering how to get my students to engage with Victorian and twentieth-century media in a way that helps them see a medium as new, cutting edge, the Google glasses of its time (or indeed, perhaps more exciting than Google glasses. The glasses seem, by and large, to be met with a world weariness: “Another gadget? They look so terribly uncool”). Alan, quite rightly, warns against being sucked in by nineteenth-century newspapers’ celebratory accounts of then-new media. That said, while I would Continue reading “Wondering at Then-New Media”

Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde

Last weekend I flew to DC to see the major exhibit, Pre-Raphaelities:  Victorian Art and Design. DC is the only North American city where the exhibit is showing (having started in London, it next moves on to Moscow and Tokyo) so I felt really lucky to have family nearby, which made it easier to go.

I’d seen some of the paintings before at the Tate, and at the Holman Hunt exhibit a few years ago, which came to Toronto.  But this exhibit was really marvelous in terms of the sheer number of paintings from many different galleries, some of which I may never have a chance to see again.  Working in disability studies, I was especially happy to see Millais’s The Blind Girl (1856), which is at Birmingham.

Image

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Writing the Disaster: Babbage and the Black Box

Photograph of the 1895 train wreck at the Montparnasse train station in Paris. Photo by Studio Lévy & fils.

I’m teaching a course in Victorian culture this summer, and planning to open the class with a chapter from Charles Babbage’s Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (on “Natural Theology”). His mathematical speculations in this text seem to me perfectly representative of the anxious and industrious Victorian desire to apprehend every incident and accident of the physical world. In his chapter  “On the Permanent Impression of our Words and Actions on the Globe we Inhabit,” Babbage theorizes that an exhaustive and precise archive of past events would give us an exact vision of our future (to the extent that the latter unfolds as the accumulated consequence of the former). Continue reading “Writing the Disaster: Babbage and the Black Box”

Victorians and the Art of Photocollage


Reprieve! I’ve been steeped in regret at not having posted a review of Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage when it was on at the AGO over the summer. My impressions have liquefied and dribbled off somewhere in the intervening months. Let me offer the Elizabeth Siegel’s curatorial lecture in their stead. In July I would have said that Victorian ephemera was ideal for the summer months, but now that patio season is over, I’m more inclined than ever to get out my pinking sheers in solidarity with Siegel’s subjects.

Form, Function, and Facial Fur

The "facespanner" from the Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century blogI’ve spent the last week mulling over how mark-up languages’ form and function encode knowledge into a text – but have been sidetracked by an amusing site devoted to nineteenth-century mustaches. Drawn from the University of Kentucky archives, these are almost exclusively American mustaches. I’ve been trying to divine each sitter’s nationality by reading his whiskers (John Wilkes Booth from the May 25th post features a distinctly Clemensesque soup strainer). Which makes me wonder, in keeping with my reading on mark-up languages, do Victorian mustaches have a function, symbolic or otherwise, or are they pure form?

I’m feeling relieved – I’ve reached my whimsy quota for the week, and it’s only Wednesday.

It’s not a Kindle

I recently made the plunge and bought an e-reader last month, and following Jen’s and Daniel’s excellent posts about the digitization of books, I wanted to add in my two cents.

I bought the e-reader before taking a trip to visit family and it was fabulous to travel with–the screen is almost easier to read than a book, and I was able to carry many “books” with me.  As a scholar who works on a lot of non-canonical novels, I’m grateful for easy to access to authors (like Dinah Mulock Craik and Charlotte Yonge) whose complete works aren’t so easy to find.  My copies of Craik’s or Yonge’s or even Charles Kingsley’s novels are often more than 100 years old, and needless to say they don’t travel well!

I wonder, in fact, how much of the reason for the canon is material rather than about “quality”–only so many Victorian novels are in print at any given time, which limits what we can read and think about to some extent.  I think that projects like Google books and devices like e-readers are doing a great thing in making these books more democratically available.  It can only add to the richness and diversity of scholarship in Victorian studies to have this kind of access.  I wonder if we will see a renaissance in work on lesser-known novels as this access increases.  Or, if more ordinary people will start reading more Victorian novels simply because they’re out of copyright and free on the web.

I’ve read a lot of (usually print) articles worried about the demise of the book with the advent of the Kindle.  I don’t see these two things as being in conflict.  I have both a shelf full of beautiful old books which certainly have an aesthetic and cultural value that the e-reader doesn’t, and an e-reader to take with me when I don’t want to damage those beautiful books.

Another benefit to the e-reader is environmental–I have yet to start reading articles on my e-reader, but it is pdf-compatible and I could see this really cutting down on my printing.  There’s even a disability studies angle to this book technology–the option of increasing the font-size makes the technology accessible to the visually impaired, and it’s easier for people with difficulty with fine motor skills to press a button than to turn a page.

The biggest detraction I’ve found so far in reading Google books on my e-reader is that the software they use to decode the fonts and convert it to e-pub format produces some junk characters.  This would be a problem if I was doing a close-reading of one of the novels or quoting from it, and for that I would switch to my print editions.  But for an initial reading of a novel it’s really not a problem.

Do any of you have a Kindle or other reading device?  What has your experience been?

p.s. I personally decided on a Sony because it has a touch screen that allows me to scribble notes on the text and is compatible with Google books, and it didn’t hurt that it was on sale for $150 and red!–but really this could all apply to any device on the market.