Crafting Communities: Rethinking Academic Engagement in Pandemic Times and Beyond

It is July 2020, the summer of Covid. Libraries are closed. Museums are closed. University courses and conferences have moved online. A small group of Victorianists gathers on Zoom to learn how to make hair art. Led by Vanessa Warne (U of Manitoba), the event is a test run for the upcoming semester, when Vanessa plans to make hair art with students in an online literature class. Twisting wire around hair, we reflect on the forms of presence and connection

Read more

The Tragic Poet: Whose Name was Writ in Water

There are those who consider the words of the sanguine poet scarcely worth the reading. A prescription formula for funerals, heartbreak and teenage angst, poetry has long been established as the literary tonic for the dilapidated human condition. In the name of authenticity, it naturally follows that the greater the suffering of a maudlin bard, the greater their work and legacy. Mythology has romanticised and popularised the tragic poet, a familiar archetype in celebrity literary culture. It is the reason

Read more

Kitty Lord’s Padded ‘Symmetricals’

This final post (see Parts One and Two) was inspired by a pair of pale pink knitted tights worn by the music hall singer Kitty Lord (1881-1972) in the early 1900s. Part of a collection of Lord’s costumes held at the Museum of London, these ‘symmetricals’ were carefully padded with wool to ensure that her thighs and calves looked suitably shapely and voluptuous [Figure 1]. As these padded symmetricals reveal, and this post will discuss, in late nineteenth century Burlesque

Read more

Hysteria and Victorian Women in Art

In ancient Greece there existed the medical concept of a woman’s “wandering womb”; that is, the womb could move about the body, obstruct breathing and press on other organs to cause various symptoms of illness. It was “an animal within an animal”, according to the celebrated ancient Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia. In the late nineteenth century, the notable French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot began his study of unusual physiological symptoms presenting in women, such as nervous anxiety, faintness, irritability, uncontrolled

Read more

William Seymour: ‘The Female Cab Driver of Liverpool’

On 10 February 1875, William Seymour, a cab driver, was remanded in custody and charged with stealing ‘22 lbs of beef’ and ‘5 lbs of veal’ from Mr Henry Moorby who owned a butcher’s on Leece Street in Liverpool.[1] Although William categorically maintained his innocence, he was charged with theft and the Liverpool Mercury commented that ‘upon the arm and breast of [his] coat were traces of suet which proved incontestably that he was guilty of the crime’.[2] Although this

Read more

The Brotherhood of Free Gardeners

In July 1844, a jovial, portly ship’s steward named Sharrock Dupen mounted a white horse in the Cornish town of Redruth and prepared to accompany 65 of his fellow Free Gardeners in procession to his home town of Hayle, a distance of some ten miles. He was preceded by a trumpeter on horseback, a Brother holding the banner of the Cornubian Lodge, the chaplain carrying a bible on a purple velvet cushion, and a triumphal arch of fruit and flowers

Read more

Black Performers in the Nineteenth-Century Circus

The circus has always been, and still is, inclusive by nature. The ‘modern’ circus, founded by Philip Astley over 250 years ago, was underpinned by a wealth of talented black performers. Some became famous in their own right, and were very much in the public eye; their names became household words. Some had just a single named reference in an advertisement, and others were just mentioned by their ethnicity. What has to be remembered, applauded, and celebrated is that in

Read more

The Tricycle and the Camera: New Technologies for Self-Determination

Starting in the late 1870s, the leisure opportunities of a growing body of affluent middle-class photographers were expanded by the development and mass production of new photography and transport technologies: the dry-plate camera and three- or four-wheeled self-propelled machines (tricycles or quadricycles). While the former had removed the need to attend to the glass-plate immediately before and after exposure, as was the case with the wet collodion process, the latter enabled a new experience of mobility as an alternative to

Read more

Picturing the Angel Outside the Home

When one pictures Victorian advertising, a fairly consistent image springs to mind: that of trade cards depicting corset-clad white women alongside their respectable husbands and cherubic children. These advertisements are intended to ensnare the morally sensible “angel of the house,” and persuade her that a particular brand of soap or soup or other household product is guaranteed to enrich her family’s wholesome lifestyle. But the Victorian era also gave rise to two earth-shaking consumer products that were intended to transport

Read more

Flora Shaw: The Times, imperial travels, and a woman in empire

Flora Shaw was a journalist and Colonial Editor of The Times, 1893-1900. She secured this position due to a widely praised series of ‘Letters’ from South Africa, penned during the first of a number of visits to South Africa, Australia, and Canada in the following decade. Shaw visited South Africa and Australia in 1892-3, Canada and the Klondike in 1898, and South Africa in 1900 and 1902. Shaw was an evangelising imperialist, as Dorothy O. Helly and Helen Callaway have

Read more