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This book uncovers how British writers and artists engaged with archaeological discourse—its artefacts, landscapes, bodies, and methods—uncovering the materials of the past to envision radical possibilities for the present and future. The project traces how a range of canonical and less familiar figures turned to archaeology to shape major late-Victorian and modern discussions: informing debates over shifting gender roles; facilitating the development of queer iconography and the recovery of silenced or neglected histories; inspiring artefactual forgery and transforming modern conceptions of authenticity; and helping writers and artists historicise the traumas of the First World War. Ultimately unearthing archaeology at the centre of these major discourses through which writers and artists conceived of modernity, this book simultaneously positions literary and artistic engagements with the archaeological imagination as forms of archaeological knowledge in themselves, providing a valuable study for scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with a range of interdisciplinary interests in literature, art history, and cultural studies.

Victorian reclamations of a biblical temptress
Angie Blumberg

This chapter examines the ways in which nineteenth-century writers and artists remembered the biblical tale of the wife of Potiphar, who attempted to seduce her husband’s enslaved advisor, Joseph. Potiphar’s wife was recalled throughout Western history as a prototype for immoral, aggressive female sexuality. Her profuse reappearances in Victorian writing and art, though, encouraged by the development of Egyptology and the rise of archaeological fantasy, complicate her character and her narrative. This chapter details the resurgence of Potiphar’s wife across a range of early and mid-Victorian texts, including Charles Wells’s verse drama Joseph and his Brethren (1823), the discussions surrounding Wells’s work by Pre-Raphaelites and Algernon Charles Swinburne in the 1870s and an edited poetry collection by Louisa Stuart Costello (1845). These writers and artists move beyond the biblical temptress to discuss the idea of a complex, sexually aware female character and to theorise the connections between the sexualised body and experimental aesthetic form. Mrs Potiphar’s mid-Victorian revival, this chapter demonstrates, propels the move towards considering ancient Egyptian femininity for models of modern female subjectivity and experimental art that would become more fully realised at the end of the century.

in Victorian literary culture and ancient Egypt
Great War archaeology
Angie Blumberg

This chapter positions Great War artist Paul Nash alongside the modernist writer Mary Butts, and traces these artists’ prolonged engagement with archaeological discourse, exploring how across several genres (life-writing, essays, visual art, and the novel) they turn to the prehistoric landscapes of Great Britain to mediate the catastrophic incursions of modernity on the natural world and the human psyche. Nash’s prose and images during wartime also conjure scenes of uncanny archaeological ruin reminiscent of images of Pompeii—an association which is corroborated by other first-hand witnesses of No Man’s Land. The middle section of this chapter delves into this comparison, demonstrating how writers including Louise Mack (an Australian journalist), H.D. [Hilda Doolittle], and various soldiers reshape Victorian narratives of the volcanic destruction and archaeological discovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum (by writers like Edward Bulwer Lytton) to historicise the war’s destruction. The chapter concludes with a look at contemporary excavations of First World War battlefields in France, revealing how contemporary writers and archaeologists are borrowing these same tropes as we uncover the First World warscape. Ultimately, these discussions reveal how archaeological imagery and narratives of ruin and rebirth helped writers and artists craft unofficial and dissonant historiographies of the First World War.

in British literature and archaeology, 1880– 1930
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Angie Blumberg

Engaging with recent developments in queer archaeology and queer temporality, this chapter reaches back to the archaeological encounters that drive works by Vernon Lee, Oscar Wilde, Charles Ricketts, and E.M. Forster, demonstrating how these artists queered archaeology long before either term had come into wide use or stable definition. Examining Lee’s ‘Amour Dure’ (1887) and ‘Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady’ (1896), Wilde’s The Sphinx (1894) and The Portrait of Mr. W.H. (1889, rev. 1921), and Forster’s Maurice (1971) and Pharos and Pharillon (1923), along with designs for The Sphinx by Ricketts, Chapter 1 reveals writers and artists turning to the ancient past as a rich repository of materials for expressing queer identity. This chapter also demonstrates that in the process of excavating and reconstituting the past to generate non-normative possibility, these artists necessitate a secondary excavation—that done by their audience. To unearth what is encoded in the layers of a text or image, readers and viewers must adopt unique digging practices. Thus queerness, in the works addressed in Chapter 1, operates as an epistemological frame of mind into which these artists lead their audience through what we might call a queer archaeological epistemology.

in British literature and archaeology, 1880– 1930
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‘Our real life in tombs’
Angie Blumberg

The introduction begins with a passage from Howard Carter’s narrative of the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Analysing Carter’s famous description of ‘wonderful things’, this section introduces many of the prominent qualities of the archaeological encounter explored throughout the book—including temporality, experimental form, aesthetic wonder, and transgression. The introduction then examines a passage from Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Mr. W.H. (1889, rev. 1921), in which the narrator asks whether we are ‘to look in tombs for our real life’, introducing the concept of archaeological discourse as a tool for examining modern subjectivity and ways of knowing the self and the world. The next section, ‘Other archaeologies’, explains how the book’s key figures and texts turn to archaeology to challenge normative historiographies and suggest more radical sensibilities, as well as to expose and undermine archaeology’s colonialist legacy. The next section turns to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘The Burden of Nineveh’ (rev. 1870) to introduce the civilisations and collections that infused the fin-de-siècle archaeological imagination. After a section devoted to chapter summaries, the introduction concludes by claiming that the literary and artistic engagements with archaeological discourse the book explores offer valuable archaeological epistemologies, forms of archaeological knowledge in themselves.

in British literature and archaeology, 1880– 1930
Angie Blumberg

Chapter 3 tracks a powerful and pervasive connection between archaeology, desire, and wider discourses of authenticity at the fin de siècle. This chapter considers such spurious objects as the Tiara of Saitaphernes, the Neolithic implements of Flint Jack, the medieval ecclesiastical ornaments of Louis Marcy, Victorian Tanagra figurines, the dubious Neolithic discoveries at Dumbuck, Scotland, and the forged artefacts possibly pedalled by Howard Carter, and the stories that circulated around them. Delving into archaeological handbooks and articles in the popular press by a range of archaeologists, anthropologists, art collectors, and critics (such as Scottish archaeologist Robert Munro, English archaeologist John Evans, and fantasy writer Andrew Lang), and reading these discussions alongside aesthetic debates about realism and aestheticism, this chapter ultimately reveals how the fragmentariness of the material record and the subjective experience of archaeological encounter helped rewrite conceptions of intellectual hierarchy, legitimacy, the sanctioned historical narrative, and who gets to write the stories of the past. The chapter concludes by examining Damien Hirst’s controversial exhibit and documentary film, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable (2017), offering a new way to read this provocative project through the lens of the Victorian archaeological imagination and the fin-de-siècle discourses of authenticity that it shaped.

in British literature and archaeology, 1880– 1930
Angie Blumberg

This chapter takes up the innovative ways of reading and knowing the past introduced in Chapter 1, and shows that aesthetic innovators at the fin de siècle found archaeology-inspired ways of reading portraits, crafting portraits out of prose, and creating a Decadent prose style shaped by the sensual experience of archaeological discovery. Examining Walter Pater’s collection Imaginary Portraits (1885–1887) alongside Lee’s ‘Oke of Okehurst’ (1890) and Louis Norbert (1914), as well as Lee’s essay ‘Faustus and Helena’ (1880, 1881) and some of her travel writing (e.g., Genius Loci, 1899), this chapter argues that Pater and Lee create an archaeological epistemology of portraiture—one that is both inspired by archaeological excavation and also embedded in their prose styles. Additionally, readings of Lee reveal how she draws from Decadent aesthetics in her transhistorical tales of ghosts and archival mysteries to craft an experimental Decadent prose which also gestures to the iconoclasm and severed perspectives of modernism. Exploring additional works by Pater, including Appreciations (1889), as well as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928), this chapter simultaneously unearths the influence of seventeenth-century polymath Thomas Browne’s archaeological tract Urn Burial (1658) on these Decadent stylists. In its examination of the formal styles of prose portraits and archaeological meditations, this chapter teases out the archaeological methods and encounters woven into the fabric of experimental Decadent prose at the fin de siècle.

in British literature and archaeology, 1880– 1930
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Archaeology from a distance
Angie Blumberg

This brief coda considers how archaeological methods have changed since the mid twentieth century with the rise of aerial archaeology and remote sensing, and queries how representations of the archaeological encounter may likewise change to reflect the particular conditions of our own modernity. The coda connects Paul Nash’s use of aerial photographs of archaeological sites in his mid-twentieth-century paintings to recent re-valuations in both archaeology and literary scholarship of critical distance. Addressing how archaeologists during the Covid-19 pandemic have turned to remote data-collecting techniques, discussing the rise of distant reading practices, and considering the concept of ‘shadow sites’—shapes and structures made visible only at a distance and in certain light—this coda ponders how the shift from intimate, proximate excavation techniques to more distanced approaches might provide new ways of knowing and representing the past.

in British literature and archaeology, 1880– 1930