Unspeakability in Vernon Lee‘s Supernatural Stories
Vernon Lees supernatural fiction provides an interesting test case for speculations about the function of spectrality for women writers on the cusp of the modern era. This article argues that spectrality, in line with Julian Wolfreys’ theories about the ‘hauntological disturbance’ in Victorian Gothic (2002), is both disruptive and desirable, informing the narratives we construct of modernity. It traces the links between the ‘unspeakable’ spectral encounter and contemporary attitudes to gender and sexuality in stories in Vernon Lees collection Hauntings (1890), as well as her Yellow Book story ‘Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady’ (1897). The ghostly encounter is erotic and welcomed as well as fearful, used to comment on the shortcomings of heterosexual marriage and bourgeois life, though this often results in the troubling spectacle of the ravished, mutilated or bloody female corpse. Lees negotiation of unspeakability and the desire for the ghostly is compared to the more graphic depictions of the dead female in stories from E. Nesbits Grim Tales (1893). Representations of the female revenant are considered in relation to the psychoanalytic readings of the otherness of the female corpse put forward by Elisabeth Bronfen (1992).
Children’s encounters with ancient Egypt in the long nineteenth century
of the Amulet (1906), E. Nesbit sends her child protagonists back in time to ancient Egypt, populating antiquity with modern-day children and their belongings; later, an Egyptian priest abandons his rightful time and place to take up permanent residence in twentieth-century London. In each instance, the text brings ancient Egypt into the present, into Britain and, often, into the home. In so doing, Britain (even its children) is shown conquering and domesticating the past.
‘A sealed book’? exhibiting Egypt at the British Museum
fringe movements in the arts of the period, this family story is laden with
details at once lucid and lucent of such characteristic events and developments
as experimentation in puppetry, sculpture and nudism, the 1900 Grande
Exposition Universelle de Paris, the first staging of Peter Pan in 1904, and,
most importantly, the efflorescence of children’s writing, here channelled
through the character of Olive Wellwood, closely modelled on E. Nesbit.
Empire, however, never more expansive and confident than at this time
in British history, never more implicated in the warp
The Children’s Book, The Biographer’s Tale and Angels and Insects
Alexa Alfer and Amy J. Edwards de Campos
). The novel makes reference to several of these
children’s classics, including Andrew Lang’s fairy books,
which introduced new readers to the pleasures of traditional folklore,
and the newly minted fantasy worlds of Rudyard Kipling’s Puck
of Pook’s Hill , Kenneth Graham’s The Golden
Age, E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children and J. M.
Barrie’s Peter Pan .
they develop the notion fostered by Victorian writers such as E. Nesbit of
childhood as a special world; the difference was that by 1953, the working
class could play. A Fabian sympathiser like Nesbit would have approved.
Sheila Ferguson and Hilde Fitzgerald, Studies in
the Social Services , History of the Second World War: United Kingdom
], Oscar Browning
See, especially, Julia Briggs, A Woman of
Passion: The Life of E. Nesbit 1858–1924 (London:
“To give birth to a desire, to feed it,
to develop it, to grow it, to satisfy it, is a whole poem.”
E. Nesbit, The Incomplete Amorist (London: Archibald
“A letter from Richard R[eynolds]
yesterday pleases me. I am interested that he is writing his
occupational language.14 Thus, while excluding outsiders,
this argot linked the British professional and amateur railway life-worlds. Themselves entertaining a personal enthusiasm for railways, some workers indulged
spotters. Others did not. As in E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children (1906), any
successful train spotter needed to sort friends from enemies among railway
staff. This information went straight into local culture. Thus spotters shared
information not only about which locomotives from distant places had been
seen locally but also about the amiability of station staff
The Crystal Palace monsters in children’s literature, 1854–2001
, ‘A Little Christmas Dream’, Punch, 55 (1868), 272.
36 Ezekiel 37:7–8, 10.
37 J. Mill, The Fossil Spirit: A Boy’s Dream of Geology (London: Darton & Harvey,
dinosaurs don’t die 177
38 T. Cosslett, Talking Animals in British Children’s Fiction (Aldershot: Ashgate,
39 E. Nesbit, The Enchanted Castle (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1907). Mention of
the Crystal Palace display is made in M. I. West, A Children’s Literature Tour
of Great Britain (Oxford: Scarecrow Press, 2003), pp. 86–8, in the section on
40 Nesbit, Enchanted Castle, p. 312.
Reeves’, History Workshop Journal
37 (1994), 76–83; Wells, Experiment in Autobiography, pp. 394–409.
50 Lewis, ‘Intimate relations between men and women’, 84–6; J. Briggs, A Woman of Passion:
The Life of E. Nesbit, 1858–1924 (London: Penguin Books, 1989), p. 306.
51 Hammond, H. G. Wells and Rebecca West, both quotes from p. 75; E. M. Watson, ‘Wellsian
prototypes of freewomen’, Freewoman 1 (1912), 397–8.
52 Lewis, ‘Intimate relations between men and women’, 94.
53 E. Lanchester, Elsa Lanchester Herself (London: Michael Joseph, 1983), pp. 1–3;
Rubenstein, Before the