In 1880s London, Margaret Harkness and Olive Schreiner were both engaged in the socialist movement. An admirer of Schreiner, Harkness dedicated a socialist allegory to her in the late 1880s. However, in In Darkest London, Harkness uses allegorical forms less as propaganda tools and more, as Schreiner did, to evoke a sense of religious mystery. Mysterious, allegorical elements create a liminal space within Harkness’s otherwise realist novel, in which can exist the hope of a better future. This chapter sheds light on Harkness’s work through tracing her participation in the religious socialist aesthetic developed by Olive Schreiner. In situating Harkness in the context of 1880s and 1890s socialism and theology, the chapter argues that Harkness’s work was part of a literary discourse that contributed to the development of early twentieth- century Christianity and social work.
This chapter explores Harkness’s first novel in the context of socialist fiction and the future of the modern novel in the 1880s. A City Girl pivots on one of the staple formulae of earlier nineteenth-century domestic melodrama and its radical political possibilities: a cross-class romantic relationship in which a working-class girl is seduced and abandoned by a gentleman. Unpicking how this novel reworks the inherited forms of radical melodrama helps to shed new light on Friedrich Engels’s famous critique of the work’s relation to realism and the status of literary naturalism in 1880s Britain. The Princess Casamassima – Henry James’s self-consciously experimental foray into naturalism and the political activism of 1880s London – serves as a counterpoint to illustrate the pressure of representation in the modernity of late Victorian mass culture. The chapter ends by returning to Katharine Buildings, Whitechapel, and Harkness’s time spent there researching A City Girl. Drawing on the correspondence and record books of Ella Pycroft, the resident lady rent collector, and Harkness’s cousin Beatrice Potter Webb, this chapter presents a counter-narrative that suggests how the residents themselves tried to write back their own life stories against an interpretative community of social activists, philanthropists, novelists, and political agents.
Women and leisure time in A City Girl (1887) and In Darkest London (1891)
This chapter places the leisure pursuits of female characters in Harkness’s fiction in a broader context of gendered cultural anxieties about working-class leisure activities in the late nineteenth century. Focusing on two of Harkness’s novels, A City Girl and In Darkest London, it argues that, for working women in Harkness’s fiction, leisure may be difficult to access and often becomes another form of work. Comparing Harkness’s characters to women in other contemporary texts such as Liza of Lambeth, it shows how leisure pursuits often reflect and reproduce social dangers and structures of oppression for unmarried working-class women.
Margaret Harkness on conjectural history and utilitarian philosophy
Lisa C. Robertson
This chapter evaluates the writing Harkness produced during her time living in the countries that are now India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Placing Harkness’s work in a nineteenth-century tradition of British historiographical writing about India that begins with James Mill’s History of British India (1817), the chapter argues that her work during this period consciously eschews conventional historical methodology and offers an important counter-narrative to colonial history. It suggests that in her attention to the ways that social movements and political institutions shape people’s daily lives, which is set within a broad foundation of personal knowledge, Harkness’s writing engages more ardently with the conventions of cultural history than it does with those of travel writing.
Margaret Harkness, George Eastmont, Wanderer (1905), and the 1889 Dockworkers’ Strike
George Eastmont: Wanderer sealed Margaret Harkness’s disengagement from the socialist politics with which she had been actively involved since the 1880s. Its broad canvas also marked another key departure: the turn from late nineteenth-century slum fiction to the reinvigorated condition of England novel that characterised the Edwardian era. Unusually for Harkness, who wrote her books extremely quickly, George Eastmont: Wanderer underwent a long period of gestation. First mooted in the months following the 1889 Dockworkers’ Strike, the novel’s pivotal and deeply traumatic event, Harkness’s major work did not appear until some fifteen years later. This chapter attempts to decipher the painful history of this delay, situating it against the background of the author’s difficult reappraisal of her own political past and the critical interventions through which she distanced herself from the labour movement and the strike’s most significant achievement, the creation of the new unionism.
Margaret Harkness’s London is a city of mobility, both local and global. In her fiction, she utilises a familiar trope in late nineteenth-century urban writing, the figure of the peripatetic protagonist, in order to produce a complex urban panorama. This chapter considers perspectives on the city in Out of Work and In Darkest London from the viewpoints of two kinds of urban walkers: the slum saviour and the unemployed man. It explores the formal conventions wrought by this exploration of viewpoints, most notably, a shift from progressive to episodic narrative development.
Andrew Marvell is becoming increasingly recognized as a poet who demonstrates a profound connection with the full range of visual arts. However, little attention has been paid to how the remarkable visual quality of Marvell’s work engages with traditional or contemporary debates about ekphrasis. This may seem surprising, as poems like ‘The Gallery’ tempt us into the sort of paragonal opposition between text and image that has become a central characteristic of ekphrastic critical orthodoxy. But Marvell’s work is well suited to revisionist debates that look beyond these binary divisions. Two barely known Latin poems that accompany an unusual portrait of Oliver Cromwell to the Queen of Sweden demonstrate ekphrasis as prosopopoeia, exposing boundaries of language and culture in both visual and verbal modes. When Marvell’s fascination with how lives are represented combines with glass and reflection, we embark upon his ekphrastic encounter: of specific visual and temporal moments that define human mortality.
This chapter identifies seven types of ekphrasis in the writings of the artist Stanley Spencer. Selections of these writings have been published, and the chapter explores this particular type of ekphrastic encounter when such ‘an artist of the bizarre’ develops his own search for form, while expressing his philosophy of life at the same time as he is busy writing a ‘defence and illustration’ (to borrow one of Du Bellay’s titles) of his own works. Writing for art takes on a very particular interest for the reader when it means having access to the origins of creation; that is, when an artist is engaged in developing his reflections upon and theories of art. The chapter then argues that Spencer’s writings are hybrid texts much in the same way as novels that mingle narration and description. But here the artist mingles self-reflection (in the diaries and notebooks) together with an epistolary style of address (there is always a receiver at the other end), more or less ‘theoretical’ developments (in the essays), and personal reflection on his own motivations.
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Laocoön essay of 1766 has long been understood as a pivotal moment in the demarcation of the spatializing properties of the plastic arts versus the temporal or narrative properties of literature. This chapter examines the long afterlife of this essay as it reappears as a discursive ‘foreign body’ (akin to and implicating ekphrasis) within a number of novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Going beyond strong critical readings of ekphrases as hostile stand-offs between text and image, however, my analysis of works such as Wilhelm Heinse’s Ardinghello (1787) and Adalbert Stifter’s Der Nachsommer (Indian Summer, 1857), will show how, in case of Heinse, the ventriloquizing of Lessing leads to a dynamic novel that is nevertheless saturated with ekphrastic description. Stifter’s novel allows ekphrasis to spread out from its centre, creating an experimentally sclerotic narrative. These hauntings by Lessing reveal not only the entanglement of the modern novel with theories and histories of representation but also its observational stance on its own and the reader’s mediation.
Hamo Thornycroft’s The Mower and Matthew Arnold’s ‘Thyrsis’
This chapter applies the idea of a non-hierarchical, creative exchange of meaning to Hamo Thornycroft’s 1884 sculpture of The Mower, and its accompanying epigraph from Matthew Arnold’s 1866 elegy for the poet Arthur Hugh Clough: ‘Thyrsis’. The chapter argues that sculpture and epigraph, taken together, constitute a third intermedial artwork in which the compromised relationship between the aesthetic act and the desire to apprehend the ‘real’ is manifested through a complex series of textual and, more importantly, genre citations – including classicism, naturalism, realism, pastoral elegy and Romantic lyric. These coalesce and interrogate each other in this most ‘realistic’ and ‘democratic’ of Thornycroft’s sculptures to date, establishing a competitive and a co-relational dialogue that is enacted on and by the body of the artwork. Placed in the context of social, industrial and political developments in the later decades of the nineteenth century, sculpture and epigraph combine to reveal ethical, ideological, and moral dimensions that might otherwise remain hidden in what Stephen Cheeke has described as ‘the sensuous field of the visual’ and the logocentric pretensions of the verbal.