This study, which examines a range of canonical and less-well-known writers, is a reassessment of late Victorian literature in its relation to visionary Romanticism. It examines six late Victorian writers – Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Walter Pater, Vernon Lee, Eugene Lee-Hamilton, Theodore Watts-Dunton and Thomas Hardy – to reveal their commitment to a Romantic visionary tradition that surfaces towards the end of the nineteenth century in response to the threat of a growing materialism. Offering detailed readings of both poetry and prose, the book shows the different ways in which late Victorian writers move beyond materiality, though without losing a commitment to it, to explore the mysterious relation between the seen and the unseen. It is a re-evaluation of the post-Romantic visionary imagination, with implications for our understanding of literary modernism.
This chapter examines and reassesses some accounts from early modern Scotland referring to a constellation of diverse supernatural abilities, primarily relating to premonition and clairvoyance, often described in English as SecondSight, and in Scottish Gaelic as an dà shealladh or taibhsearachd . It is indebted to the scholarship of numerous historians of early modern thought, religion and popular belief, in particular the work of Michael Hunter, whose annotated sourcebook The Occult Laboratory offers an essential and accessible introduction to the
/ Stare of the mind’ (‘In Front of the Landscape’; Hardy 1976, 304) in which they are further ‘exalted’ – that ‘intenser stare’ being synonymous with Ruskin’s ‘spiritual or secondsight’ which ‘exalts’ visible objects (Ruskin 1903–4, 5.355).
As preliminary illustration of this process, my discussion of Hardy opens with an examination of three poems. I choose the first, ‘The Lodging-House Fuchsias’, a poem from his last and posthumously published collection Winter Words (1928), partly because it is a poem singled out by Hynes for criticism as
SecondSight , the title of this monograph, rather than implying a focus on esoteric practices such as spiritualism and clairvoyance in the late Victorian period, denotes the visionary imagination and the way that it either, as Shelley puts it, sees ‘the manifestation of something beyond the present & tangible object’ (Shelley 1964, 2.47) or imaginatively transfigures that object, as Ruskin puts it, when he states that ‘the power of the imagination in exalting any visible object … [is], as it were, a spiritual or secondsight’ (Ruskin
This chapter begins with an analysis of Rossetti's conformation in his last years to a type familiar from Bearing Blindness: that of the hypersensitive, stricken or wounded male poet, and its analogue, the mournful maiden, who manifests herself in his poetry as Proserpine, a grieving prisoner in the Underworld. However, these narcissistic types become charged with an allure or magnetism, something commonly attributed to the poet himself, his poetry and his images of women, a number of which were identified by Kermode as the origin of the Modernist ‘Romantic Image’. Although Rossetti was thought by most of the critics of his own day to be a spiritual, symbolic or mystical poet, modern critics have ignored this side of his work in favour of a concentration on ‘fleshly’ or material concerns. The second part of the chapter revisits the issue of Rossetti's spirituality by examining the symbolic image of the inspiring female, beloved in the love poetry of The House of Life (1870, 1881) as a magnetic or mesmeric figure, informed predominantly by Romantic sources. This visionary figure achieves the fusion of the spiritual and material qualities Pater saw in Rossetti's poetry by initiating and enabling spiritual communication and knowledge through the body and physical contact.
This chapter examines how, in Pater, a writer heavily associated with sensory relations, there is a strong pull to the visionary or unseen. It explores his obsession with the strange visionary phantasm or trace he calls character, which appears as a refined essence in all perfected form, this process of refinement drawing on Romantic descriptions of literary alchemy. Death and the process of sculptural subtraction present alternative versions of this refinement as, for Pater, this essence is most potently legible in the sculptural body and the beautiful corpse that preserves the marks of life in death. Although most evidently present in comely young men, it is none the less theorised by him as a principle epitomised in Persephone, the young woman snatched away at the height of her youth and beauty to dwell as life-in-death in the Underworld. Such images, again progenitors of the Romantic Image, illuminate the process whereby all aesthetic images stage the uncanny life-in-death and death-in-life of the objects they represent.
Vernon Lee, Eugene Lee-Hamilton, and ‘the spell of the fragment’
This chapter starts by meditating on the Romantic theme of the recovered sculptural relic and the theme of the god in exile derived by Vernon Lee and Eugene Lee-Hamilton from Pater, who had in turn absorbed it from the German Romantic poet Heinrich Heine. It ponders the siblings' joint investment in the figure of the goddess Venus and statues of her, examining their related treatment of a mutilated or fragmentary portion of such a statue in conjunction with Peter Fuller's Kleinian reading of the Venus de Milo. The chapter analyses how Lee's belief in the suggestive power of the fragment allows a late Romantic imaginative sublime to flood through her exploration of supernatural forces in her shorter fiction, and how her brother's similar belief enables the therapeutic compression and release of power in the dramatic soliloquies of his Imaginary Sonnets (1888).
This chapter introduces and reconsiders the achievement of Theodore Watts-Dunton, poet, critic and novelist, before focusing on his best-selling but now neglected novel Aylwin. A meditation on the lost woman, the novel offers as part of its end-of-century rearticulation of Romantic values a particularly arresting treatment of woman-as-aesthetic image reduplicated through portraiture and mesmeric therapy, and reinstates the often missing ‘pathological’ element of the Romantic Image. The chapter traces the uncanny structures of corporeal doubling, repetition and transference which Watts-Dunton allies with Coleridge's ‘Christabel’ to consider the novel's strategic defence of the Romantic imagination, and shows how it reveals the lines of a Romantic genealogy that extends from Coleridge through Rossetti to writers such as Yeats.
The Lost Book Review of Norman
Macrae‘s Highland Second-Sight (1909)
Paul S. McAlduff and John Edgar Browning
Bram Stoker was no stranger during his lifetime to spiritualistic endeavors or esoteric
fancies. The proof of this claim lies unquestionably across his fictions, which are
cratered with Gothicisms from the supernatural and mesmerism to dark atmospherics and
ambiances, as well as, or especially, second sight, which is to say visions of the future
or the present seen from afar. This occultic power comprises the topic of a newly
discovered book review by Stoker reproduced within this article and entitled The Second
Sight. This book review is significant in a few crucial ways, most especially because it
is so far the only book review Stoker is known to have published, adding a new
bibliographical chapter to his already diverse writing career. Of equal import, however,
is the circumstance of his reviewing a work of esoterica like Norman Macrae‘s Highland
Second-Sight, making this discovery in many ways a valorization of the scholarly work of
Catherine Wynne and others who have treated of Stoker‘s predilection in his writings for
Supernatural beliefs have been vital to Scottish cultural development. In the early modern period, the Kirk played an all-important role in parish life, schooling the Scots on how to interpret the invisible world. Theologians and philosophers mused about the nature of God’s providence and the wiles of the Devil. Folk tradition peopled the landscape with fairies and nature spirits. The witch trials displayed the very real consequences of belief systems that would later be reframed as fantastical. This book analyses the Scottish supernatural between about 1500 and 1800. Drawing together an international range of scholars with expertise in history, ethnology and literary studies, it explores the diverse ways in which Scots understood and experienced magical beings and extraordinary events. There are chapters on trance experiences, spirit-guides, angels, preaching on the supernatural, political prophecies, providence, astrology, Second Sight and the Enlightenment’s encounter with the paganism of classical antiquity. The book’s historical material is framed by two literary chapters: one on the ‘elrich’ supernatural in the poetry of the early sixteenth century, and one on the political supernatural in the poetry of the eighteenth century. Overall, the book examines the cultural function of supernatural beliefs, and assesses how these beliefs evolved amid the upheaval of the Reformation, political and religious revolution, the emergence of the Enlightenment and the beginnings of romanticism.