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Rethinking reception in Victorian literary culture

Dante Beyond Influence provides the first systematic inquiry into the formation of the British critical and scholarly discourse on Dante in the late nineteenth century (1865–1921). Overcoming the primacy of literary influence and intertextuality, it instead historicises and conceptualises the hermeneutic turn in British reception history as the product of major transformations in Victorian intellectual, social and publishing history.

The volume unpacks the phenomenology of Victorian dantismo through the analysis of five case studies and the material examination of a newly discovered body of manuscript and print sources. Extending over a sixty-year long period, the book retraces the sophistication of the Victorian modes of readerly and writerly engagement with Dantean textuality. It charts its outward expression as a public criticism circulating in prominent nineteenth-century periodicals and elucidates its wider popularisation (and commodification) through Victorian mass-publishing. It ultimately brings forth the mechanism that led to the specialisation of the scholarly discourse and the academisation of Dante studies in traditional and extramural universities. Drawing on the new disciplines of book history and history of reading, the author provides unprecedented insight into the private intellectual life and public work of Christina Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, William E. Gladstone, and introduces a significant cohort of Dante critics, scholars and learned societies hitherto passed unnoticed.

As it recaptures a long-neglected moment in Dante’s reception history, this path-breaking book illuminates the wider socio-cultural and economic impact that the Victorian hermeneutic turn had in advancing women’s access to literary and scholarly professions, educational reform and discipline formation.

Charles Dickens and the politics of the dual alphabet
Author: Gavin Edwards

The Case of the Initial Letter analyses attempts by Dickens and other nineteenth-century writers to challenge established ways of using the distinction between upper and lower-case letters, and to do so in the interests of a wider radicalism. It discusses Dickens’s satire – on the power of ‘Shares’ in Our Mutual Friend, on Paul Dombey’s position as the ‘Son’ of Dombey and Son – alongside the proto-modernist typography of the suffragist poet Augusta Webster and the work of Samuel Moore, Karl Marx’s principle nineteenth-century translator who transformed German conventions of capitalisation into English conventions under the influence of Dickens and Thomas Carlyle. Placing these innovations within the history of the dual alphabet from its invention by Carolingian scribes in the eighth century to its rejection by modernist poets and the Bauhaus printers, the book tracks the dual alphabet through Dickens’s manuscripts and corrected proofs, as well as the ‘prompt copies’ for his public Readings. The dual alphabet, unlike other aspects of language, works metaphorically, on the basis of visual resemblance: elevated letters are for elevated things. The book follows the dual alphabet as it moves from author, to printer, to performer, changing as it moves from handwriting to print, and disappearing in the transition from visible to spoken language.

The Western canon and the incorporation of the Hispanic (c. 1850–75)
Author: Andrew Ginger

Instead of modernity revisits the key moment in the mid-nineteenth century when, it is said, ‘all that is solid melts into air’. Spanning the visual arts, literature, and thought, it reconsiders artists and writers linked to the foundations of modern culture: Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, Flaubert, Baudelaire, Whitman, Whistler and Courbet. In so doing, it offers an alternative to the obsession with notions of ‘modernity’ that underpin many influential theories of culture. It incorporates the Hispanic world (Spain and Spanish America) into the story of this time, disrupting and reconfiguring the narrative of ‘modernity’, challenging the belief the Hispanic had opened the doors to the ‘modern’ but was overtaken by cultures of the north-west Atlantic. While this points beyond the divide between a supposed core and periphery in culture, the book likewise undermines the patriarchal basis of canonical modernity, giving prominence to women from the painter Rosa Bonheur, and the photographers Jane Clifford and Julia Margaret Cameron, to the actress Matilde Díez. Instead of ‘modernity’, the book conjures visions of intimate connection between places and times, between representations and realities, between selves and others. It explores commonality and similarity. In its own prose, it envisages ways of conducting and writing comparative cultural study, beyond contextualisation and historicisation, drawing on the nineteenth-century imagination. In that spirit, the book finds its way across diverse fields and subject matter, tracing connections between them, from sexuality to optical technology, from brain slices to taxidermy. In so doing, it conjures four moods: meeting, departure, sacifice and repose.

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Theories of nature and nurture in Victorian sensation fiction
Author: Helena Ifill

This book explores the range of ways in which the two leading sensation authors of the 1860s, Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins, engaged with nineteenth-century ideas about how the personality is formed and the extent to which it can be influenced either by the subject or by others.

Innovative readings of Braddon’s and Collins’s sensation novels – some of them canonical, others less well-known – demonstrate how they reflect, employ, and challenge Victorian theories of heredity, degeneration, willpower, inherent constitution, education, insanity, upbringing and social circumstance. Far from presenting a reductive depiction of ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture’, Braddon and Collins show the creation of character to be a complex interplay of internal and external factors that are as much reliant on chance as on the efforts of the people who try to exert control over an individual’s development. Their works raise challenging questions about responsibility and self-determinism and, as the analyses of these texts reveals, demonstrate an acute awareness that the way in which character formation is understood fundamentally influences the way people (both in fiction and reality) are perceived, judged and treated.

Drawing on material from a variety of genres, including Victorian medical textbooks, scientific and sociological treatises, specialist and popular periodical literature, Creating character shows how sensation authors situated themselves at the intersections of established and developing, conservative and radical, learned and sensationalist thought about how identity could be made and modified.

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Legacies and afterlives

This book charts the vast cultural impact of Charlotte Bronte since the appearance of her first published work, Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. It highlights the richness and diversity of the author's legacy, her afterlife and the continuation of her plots and characters in new forms. The most well known and well regarded of the three sisters during the Victorian period, Charlotte Bronte bequeathed a legacy which is more extensive and more complex than the legacies of Emily Bronte and Anne Bronte. The book shows how Bronte's cultural afterlife has also been marked by a broad geographical range in her consideration of Bronte-related literary tourism in Brussels. It is framed by the accounts of two writers, Elizabeth Gaskell and Virginia Woolf, both of whom travelled to Yorkshire to find evidence of Charlotte Bronte's life and to assess her legacy as an author. The book focuses upon Bronte's topical fascination with labour migration for single, middle-class women in the light of the friendship and correspondence with Mary Taylor. Recent works of fiction have connected the Brontes with the supernatural. The book explores Bronte biodrama as a critically reflexive art: a notable example of popular culture in dialogue with scholarship, heritage and tourism. The Professor and Jane Eyre house the ghost of an original verse composition, whose inclusion allows both novels to participate together in a conversation about the novel's capacity to embody and sustain a lyric afterlife. A survey of the critical fortunes of Villette is also included.

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Writing social engagement 1880–1921

This volume is the first to bring together research on the life and work of the author, activist, and traveller Margaret Harkness, who wrote under the pseudonym ‘John Law’. The collection contextualises Harkness’s political project of observing and recording the lives and priorities of the working classes and urban poor alongside the broader efforts of philanthropists, political campaigners, journalists, and novelists who sought to bring the plight of marginalised communities to light at the end of the nineteenth century. It argues for a recognition of Harkness’s importance in providing testimony to the social and political crises that led to the emergence of British socialism and labour politics during this period. This collection includes considerations of Harkness’s work in London’s East End at the end of the nineteenth century, but moves into the twentieth century and beyond Britain’s borders to examine the significance of her global travel for the purpose of investigating international political trends. This collection gives substance to women’s social engagement and political involvement in a period prior to their formal enfranchisement, and offers insight into the ways this effected shifts in literary style and subject. In offering a detailed picture of Harkness’s own life and illuminating the lives and work of her contemporaries, this volume enriches critical understanding of the complex and dynamic world of the long nineteenth century.

Literary discussions on nature, culture and science
Author: Silvia Granata

This book explores the vogue for home aquaria that spread through Great Britain around the middle of the nineteenth century. The marine tank, perfected and commercialised in the early 1850s, was advertised as a marvel of modernity, a source of endless entertainment and a tool providing useful and edifying knowledge; it was meant to surprise, bringing a profoundly unfamiliar experience right to the heart of the home and providing a vista on the submarine world, at the time still largely unknown. Thanks to an interdisciplinary approach, this book offers an example of how the study of a specific object can be used to address a broad spectrum of issues: the Victorian home tank became in fact a site of intersection between scientific, technological, and cultural trends; it engaged with issues of class, gender, nationality and inter-species relations, drawing together home décor and ideals of domesticity, travel and tourism, exciting discoveries in marine biology, and emerging tensions between competing views of science; due to the close connection between tank keeping and seaside studies, it also marked an important moment in the development of a burgeoning environmental awareness. Through the analysis of a wide range of sources, including aquarium manuals, articles in the periodical press and fictional works, The Victorian aquarium unearths the historical significance of a resonant object, arguing that, for Victorians, the home tank was both a mirror and a window: it opened views on the underwater world, while reflecting the knowledge, assumptions, and preoccupations of its owners.

This collection of essays seeks to question the security of our assumptions about the fin de siècle by exploring the fiction of Richard Marsh, an important but neglected professional author. Richard Bernard Heldmann (1857–1915) began his literary career as a writer of boys’ fiction, but, following a prison sentence for fraud, reinvented himself as ‘Richard Marsh’ in 1888. Marsh was a prolific and popular author of middlebrow genre fiction including Gothic, crime, humour, romance and adventure, whose bestselling Gothic novel The Beetle: A Mystery (1897) outsold Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Building on a burgeoning interest in Marsh’s writing, this collection of essays examines a broad array of Marsh’s genre fictions through the lens of cutting-edge critical theory, including print culture, New Historicism, disability studies, genre theory, New Economic Criticism, gender theory, postcolonial studies, thing theory, psychoanalysis, object relations theory and art history, producing innovative readings not only of Marsh but of the fin-de-siècle period. Marsh emerges here as a versatile contributor to the literary and journalistic culture of his time whose stories of shape-shifting monsters, daring but morally dubious heroes, lip-reading female detectives and objects that come to life helped to shape the genres of fiction with which we are familiar today. Marsh’s fictions reflect contemporary themes and anxieties while often offering unexpected, subversive and even counter-hegemonic takes on dominant narratives of gender, criminality, race and class, unsettling our perceptions of the fin de siècle.

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The uncanny forms of novelistic characterization
Author: Alexander Bove

Through an extensive study of Dickens’s “new art form,” the illustrated novel, Spectral Dickens sets out to transform certain fundamental assumptions about realism, literary forms, and imitation of personhood that have long defined the discourse of novel criticism and character studies. This book redefines and expands the critical discourse on fictional character by bringing a wider range of modern critical theory to the study of Dickens’s characterization, using in particular the three “hauntological” concepts of the Freudian uncanny, Derridean spectrality, and the Lacanian Real to give new ontological dimensions to the basic question: “What is a character?” By taking into account visual forms of representation and emphasizing the importance of form in rethinking the strict opposition between real person and fictional character, Spectral Dickens shifts the focus of character studies from long-entrenched values like “realism,” “depth,” and “lifelikeness,” to nonmimetic critical concepts like effigy, anamorphosis, visuality, and distortion. Ultimately, the “spectral” forms and concepts developed here in relation to Dickens’s unique and innovative characters—characters that have, in fact, always challenged implicit assumptions about the line between fictional character and real person—should have broader applications beyond Dickens’s novels and the Victorian era. The aim here is to provide a richer and more nuanced framework though which to understand fictional characters not as imitations of reality, but as specters of the real.