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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.

Jonathan Rayner

trapped men. In contrast to the sense of national commitment and war duty which motivates the cornered crew in We Dive at Dawn, the men led by Commander Armstrong (John Mills) assume a saintly acceptance of their fate. Again, within the submarine environment and under the pressure TNWC02 16/11/06 11:27 AM Page 56 56 Post-war British naval films and the service comedy of adversity, distinctions of class and rank are broken down. Continuities in casting (John Mills appearing again as the submarine commander, as he would for a third time in Above Us the Waves,6 and

in The naval war film
Silvia Granata

stunningly beautiful submarine environments, often represented for Gosse the beauty and peaceful coexistence that characterised Eden, at times even suggesting the kind of harmony that the world would experience after the Second Coming. 89 Of course, not all authors or illustrators were so keen to depict the underwater world as a miniature Paradise, but their representational choices were often deeply influenced by the desire to present the tank (and its contents) as beautiful and ornamental and by the widespread assumption that their miniature world should reflect the

in The Victorian aquarium
Silvia Granata

even to delve in it, travelling (at least with the imagination) to places otherwise inaccessible. Looking at their tanks, Victorian authors began to imagine the underwater world and depict it (through both words and images) more vividly than ever before. On the one hand, they described exciting trips to the sea floor that incorporated and popularised recent theories about the submarine environment; on the other hand, since the ocean was increasingly regarded as the source of all life on earth, they often combined these imaginative visions with speculations on deep

in The Victorian aquarium