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,

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

Italian Refractions of the Victorian Gothic: Matilde Serao’s Fragmented Human Subject

In a compelling exploration of interdisciplinarity, the Victorianist Kelly Hurley examines the influence of nineteenth-century science on contemporaneous literary developments. Hurley argues that radical developments in a range of fields dislodged a comfortable anthropocentrism, which in turn asked uneasy questions of humans’ self-assigned transcendency within the natural order: The new discoveries in the geological and biological sciences required a radical rethinking of humanity’s position relative to its environment: its intimate relation to lower species; the role of the mere individual

Read more

Sympathy in Public, Sympathy in Private: An Introduction to Novelist Edna Lyall in Two Parts (Part 1)

Sympathy sold well in the late-nineteenth-century literary marketplace. When the novel We Two (1884) by Edna Lyall (pseudonym of Ada Ellen Bayly, 1857–1903) became an overnight sensation, Lyall cut a figure that was ready-made to slip into the role of sympathy spokesperson. Her career became a sympathetic enterprise in more than one sense. Not only did she write sensitively to ease myriad anxieties crowding the minds and lives of lower-middle-class readers; she also aspired to instill in readers a habitual

Read more

The Radical Politics of Wuthering Heights 

In 1847, when Emily Brontë published Wuthering Heights under the male pseudonym Ellis Bell, reviewers didn’t quite know what to make of it. Many were dismissive and a handful recognized it as a work of genius, but all were baffled. “This is a strange book,” one succinctly remarked.[1] Charlotte Brontë tossed a further wrench in the literary market machine when she revealed herself and her sisters as women three years later. Emily, by the second printing of her novel in

Read more

Humans vs. Animals: Reimagining the Role of Martians in H.G. Wells’ ‘The War of the Worlds’

If you have ever read or heard of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898), then you will be familiar with its role in the literary world of science fiction fantasy and reality. With the recent launch of a new BBC three-part adaptation of Wells’ classic tale, there is no better time to discuss the novel in a new light, reimagine the role of Martians and provide new critical insight into the relationship between the human and the

Read more

Madness, disease and death: the trials and tribulations of a vagrant life in the nineteenth century

Vagrancy is complicated. When we talk about vagrants, we assume that they are (or were) homeless, destitute, criminals, or suffering from mental health issues – or, indeed, all of the above. Through this post I shall reflect on all of these attitudes, prejudices and assumptions through vagrant experiences described by the local British Press. I will talk about three cases, the first describing a ‘mad vagrant’ woman, her apprehension and punishment. The second case, an interaction between the workhouse, medical

Read more