‘[T]he Dickensesque run mad’: Continuities and Ruptures in the History of the ‘Dickensian’

This blog post reflects on Dickens’s legacy as captured in the term ‘Dickensian’, from early uses of the term to what the events of 2020 might mean for study of his afterlife. It also introduces a new open access edited collection, Dickens After Dickens (White Rose UP, 2020), which explores some of the forms in which Dickens’s influence has manifested from the nineteenth century to the present, from his influence on writers including Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, William Faulkner and Donna Tartt

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 “Going Off” in Fat Victorian Novels

I recently picked up a long Victorian novel that has long been on my list, Margaret Oliphant’s 1866 Miss Marjoribanks. It features a protagonist who recalls Jane Austen’s Emma, the spoiled, clever, and maddening Lucilla Marjoribanks (pronounced “Marchbanks”), who is determined to have her way in everything as she navigates through a marriage plot in a sleepy provincial mid-Victorian English town. Miss Marjoribanks is a good pandemic read for the comfortable satisfactions it offers as a sprawling realist novel that

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A Tale of Two Whitechapels: Jack the Ripper and the Canonical Five in Contemporary True Crime

It wasn’t the best of times, and it wasn’t the worst of times. For Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elisabeth Stride, Cate Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly, Whitechapel, London in 1888 was the end of times. Known as “the canonical five” of Jack the Ripper’s victims, these women—largely invisible to London culture during their lives—can’t rest in their deaths. For 130 years writers, criminologists, armchair detectives, filmmakers, and artists have studied and reproduced all of the blood-soaked details of their murders

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Lady Clementina Hawarden: photographic pioneer

Next to a window with shafts of light providing shadowy illumination into a sparsely furnished room stands an adolescent girl. There is a look of casual awkwardness about her, yet she has an enigmatic stare towards the camera, showing a degree of trust shared between herself, the model and the photographer.  Beyond the window is a blurred view of the city, lost in the power of the intimacy of the dramatic pose struck by this girl, the subject of the

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How Victorian Cookbooks are Helping Us Cope with Covid

It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least by the Internet, that one way to cope with Covid is to bake banana bread. From social media to Stanley Tucci’s recent diary of quarantine cooking in The Atlantic to the New York Times’ “At Home” section, Americans are hearing at least one persistent and unified message about Covid-19: we should all be cooking. Or baking. Preferably bread. At first glance, the reasons behind the uptick in home cooking seem obvious. Shopping

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Costumes in the Limelight

Costumes are powerful objects, which carry multiple meanings and memories in their fibres. Through three connected blog posts, I will highlight the importance of costume for performance: revealing the insights costumes offer into the lives of the people who designed, made, wore and saw them. Commencing with Ellen Terry’s ‘Beetlewing Dress’, moving on to Edwin Moxon’s embroidered ‘shorts’, and concluding with Kitty Lord’s carefully padded ‘Symmetricals’, I will showcase the information which these unique garments offer about the performer, performance,

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An Introduction to Novelist Edna Lyall in Two Parts (Part 2)

Edna Lyall’s persona in the literary marketplace – as a compassionate author of novels rooted in sympathy – was satirized in 1891 by Punch. Her popular work Donovan was parodied as Sonogun by ‘Miss Redna Trial, Author of “Wee Jew;” “A Lardy Horseman;” “Spun by Prating,” &c., &c., &c.’.[1] A short note from ‘the fair Author’ caricatured Lyall further, giving readers her foolproof recipe for ‘pleas[ing] the publishers and captur[ing] the public’: The philosophic infidel must be battered into belief

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Racial Adventure Stories for Victorian and Edwardian Children

As the British empire encroached ever farther into new territories inhabited by thousands of ethnic groups, Victorians debated the most likely reasons for their own imperialist success. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) inspired those seeking a scientific explanation, who composed cranial and facial measurement charts positioning distinct “races” in descending order; below the European appeared the Asian, Native American, African, and, lastly, the Australian Aborigine. In my research on Victorian attitudes to race and empire, I find

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BBC’s 2020 Dracula and its Others

Remakes of Victorian novels abound in the twenty-first century. While Dracula seems to be a particular favourite for re-writes, we seem consistently drawn back to the Victorian era for our gothic monsters: The Limehouse Golem, Penny Dreadful, Jekyll + Hyde, Sweeney Todd, and many more.[1] Beth Palmer describes these almost Freudian re-imaginings as ‘dramas which are often […] seeking to re-stage, in different ways, the neo-Victorian double-act of surprise and recognition: the Victorians were so strange; the Victorians were strange

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The Case of the Extraordinary Sidekick

“I am not retained by the police to supply their deficiencies” [1] Sherlock Holmes to Dr John Watson, ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’ Policing remains, today, a highly contested activity of the state.[2] It has professionalised—and bureaucratised—a great deal since its nineteenth-century inception, but it remains plagued by a fundamental anxiety that the police, not Lady Justice, are blind. This post explores the underlying mistrust of the professional police that flows from Conan Doyle’s Sherlock stories through to the

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