Neo-Victorianfiction participates in this on-going cultural recycling,
not just in terms of adaptations of individual period works, but of the nineteenth century
more generally, which constitutes the focus of this essay. Hence, rather than
‘adaptation’ or ‘adaptive practice’, terms more suitable for
re-visionings of specific source-texts, I will employ ‘adaptive reuse’, 2 borrowing my term from urban planning,
conservation and redevelopment. ‘Adaptive reuse’ refers to the reutilisation of
This book addresses a number of concerns that have emerged in recent scholarship on the nineteenth century. It contributes to existing dialogues that consider how the nineteenth century can be thought about and critically rethought through literature and other kinds of textual production. The book offers a theoretical consideration of the concept of the nineteenth century by considering Walter Benjamin's famous work The Arcades Project, focusing on Arnold Bennett's entitled 'The Rising Storm of Life'. It outlines how recent developments in Gothic studies have provided new ways of critically reflecting upon the nineteenth century. The book draws attention to the global scope of Victorian literature, and explores the exchanges which took place between Indian and British cultures. It argues that attending to the fashioning of American texts by British publishers enables people to rethink the emergence of American literature as a material as well as an imaginative phenomenon. The relationship between literature and the European anatomical culture is carried out by exploring nineteenth-century narratives from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in the first decades of the nineteenth-century to Charles Dickens's fiction in the 1860s. Historical fiction writers' persistent fascination with the long nineteenth century enacts a simultaneous drawing near to and distancing from the period, the lives of its inhabitants and its cultural icons, aesthetic discourses and canonical works. Adaptive practice in the neo-Victorian novel, applied both to Victorian literary precursors and the period more generally, may be better described as adaptive reuse or, perhaps appropriative reuse.
Frankenstein, neo-Victorian fiction, and the palimpsestuous literary past
before, this universe bears a resemblance to that created by Shelley, yet it remains unfamiliar to many scholars of nineteenth-century British literature. It is, however, well known to aficionados of neo-Victorianfiction, a genre of popular literature that includes steampunk stories like Chiang’s.
Like steampunk itself, which Colbey Emmerson Reid describes as a ‘theoretical reorientation of history’ (138), neo-Victorianfiction has its roots in late-twentieth-century retrofuturistic literature. A loose and somewhat ersatz genre that
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of the most popular novels in western literature. It has been adapted and re-assembled in countless forms, from Hammer Horror films to young-adult books and bandes dessinées. Beginning with the idea of the ‘Frankenstein Complex’, this edited collection provides a series of creative readings that explore the elaborate intertextual networks that make up the novel’s remarkable afterlife. It broadens the scope of research on Frankenstein while deepening our understanding of a text that, 200 years after its original publication, continues to intrigue and terrify us in new and unexpected ways.
Also see the tellingly titled Haunting and Spectrality in
Neo-VictorianFiction: Possessing the Past , eds Patricia
Pulham and Rosario Arias (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009).
See the work of Sarah Walters in that respect,
especially her neo-Victorian Tipping the Velvet (New York
Charting the path from the ‘silent country’ to the séance
Adams, Francis William Lauderdale (1887) ‘To Emily Brontë’, Poetical Works of
Francis W. L. Adams, London: Farran & Co.
Allot, Miriam (1961) ‘Mrs. Gaskell’s “The Old Nurse’s Story”: a link between
“Wuthering Heights” and “The Turn of the Screw”’, Notes and Queries, 8.3,
Anon. (1897) ‘Art III: The Brontë Letters’, London Quarterly Review, 28.1, 27–34.
Arias, Rosario, and Patricia Pulham (ed.) (2010) Haunting and Spectrality in Neo-
VictorianFiction: Possessing the Past, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Arnold, Matthew (1855) ‘Haworth Churchyard
such connections different from
‘prosthetic memories’ or ‘cultural memories’?
There are, in fact, significant differences between the two forms,
which reaffirm the importance of the one of the two original conditions of postmemory; the deep personal connection and the lack of
personal experience of that period. The personal connection – or
the desire for it – distinguishes the affective community of contemporary lesbian women’s relationship with a reconstructed historical
past from, say, other forms of neo-Victorianfiction where the ties
between reader, or author
Victorians. How these texts also reconfigure
late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century anxieties into Victorian narratives also
indicates that to rewrite is a political as well as an aesthetic process.
The online Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies has been published since
2008 and is edited by Marie-Luise Kohlke who with Christian Gutleben edits the neo-Victorian
book series for Rodopi. 6 Her chapter on
‘Adaptive/appropriate reuse in neo-Victorianfiction: having one’s cake and
eating it too’ opens this section and
contributors consider the radical
transformation of the parsonage at Haworth from the incumbent’s home
to a literary museum and major tourist attraction, while the creation of
a Brontë heritage site in Brussels, the model for the city of Villette, is
also explored. Other contributors consider how Brontë’s life and work
have been adapted across different media: theatre, film, radio, television
and internet sources, emphasising how valuable her life and work have
been to many cultural industries. Some contributors demonstrate how
the emerging genre of neo-Victorianfiction
Emma Tennant’s Thornfield Hall, Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair and Gail Jones’s Sixty Lights
-subjective worlds of hybrid
communities’ (2006: 21), and in a sense Sixty Lights is concerned with
uniting past and present in one common substance, or ‘memory text’
( Jones, 2005a), the fabric of which speaks of an emphasis on connection.
This echoes wider movements in neo-Victorianfiction. As Jay Clayton
observes, while ‘the twentieth-century response’ obsessed over difference, the twenty-first century ‘outpouring’ of creative reimaginings has
brought a ‘new’ focus on ‘relation’, even ‘within the context of great, sometimes overwhelming historical change’: ‘the pleasure is