Martini Maccomo, the African Lion King

Of all the different circus disciplines, the one that appears to have been seen as the most ‘exotic’ was that of the lion-tamer. This was man triumphing over nature, and travelling menageries, in which these lion-tamers initially worked, were an embodiment of British imperialism, showing how Britain had dominion over its empire and all that was in it. Big cat shows were also intended to thrill and excite, as the lion-tamer faced nature red in tooth and claw. It fed

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Victorian #PlantParenthood: Houseplants, Love, and Domestic Rearrangements

Houseplants are a big deal now. As the COVID-19 pandemic has altered how we engage with the world, plants have stepped in as companions in easing stress and boosting mental health.  Moreover, plant corners of social media have bloomed into virtual global networks of plant collectors through shared hashtags, aesthetics, and even plant swaps. This botanic boom is far from novel. During the nineteenth century, horticulture and botany positively bloomed. A distinctly modern branch was indoor gardening (also called “window

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Jumbo the Elephant: a very Victorian institution

When I was a toddler, like many other children I hauled around a stuffed toy with me wherever I went. While many had the ubiquitous Teddy Bear, and some had a rabbit, I had a battered and well-worn stuffed elephant. It was grey and threadbare and its name was … Jumbo. Now, I never questioned why it was so called. I just assumed that all elephants were known as Jumbo. But Jumbo the Elephant was a particularly Victorian creation. Jumbo

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Sir Thomas Muir (1844–1934): Victorian Educationist and Mathematician

The purpose of this blog is to introduce the reader to the Victorian mathematician and educationist Thomas Muir, and to provide an entrée to his diaries, in which he wrote of his adventurous tours in the remote interior of the Cape Colony.[i] Muir’s origins and his teaching years in Scotland Muir was a Scottish ‘lad O’Pairts’: Victorian Scotland prided itself on giving opportunities to a talented child from a modest background. Muir’s rise from rural Scottish boy in Lanarkshire to

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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

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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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‘Many kindred topics’: exploring the potential of the Victorian underground

In 1873, American writer and explorer Thomas Wallace Knox published Underground: Or, Life Below the Surface. Weighing in at a hefty 953 pages and drawing on the author’s own personal experience as well as ‘numerous books of travel’, ‘literary gentlemen’, and fictional and scientific sources, it offered an apparently exhaustive examination of every underground space at that point known to mankind: mines, riverbeds, vaults, caves, and many more.[1] Indeed, its subtitle was almost as long as the winding, subterranean labyrinths

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Transnational dialogues: Antoinette Burton and the rewritings of British imperial history

Empire in Question: Reading, Writing and Teaching British imperialism by Antoinette Burton, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2011, 392 pp., £67.00 (hardback) ISBN: 978-0822348801; £16.99 (paperback) ISBN: 978-0822349020 For nearly twenty years Antoinette Burton has practiced and proselytised the ‘new imperial history’. Few interested readers will be unaware of Burton’s contribution to the field of British studies even if, as many of the essays reproduced here make clear, a fundamental objective of Burton’s work has been ‘displacing the nation

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Book Reviews (15.3)

Helen Brookman on Gail Marshall’s Shakespeare and Victorian Women (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2009) and Clare Broome Saunders’sWomen Writers and Nineteenth-Century Medievalism (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). To read the full review, visit http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&issn=1355%2d5502&volume=15&issue=3&spage=402. Gavin Budge on Mary Poovey’s Genres of the Credit Economy: Mediating Value in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 2008). To read the full review, visit http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&issn=1355%2d5502&volume=15&issue=3&spage=406. Grace Moore on Radhika Mohanram’s Imperial White: Race, Diaspora and the British Empire (Minneapolis, MN: University

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Phyllis Weliver, ‘Oscar Wilde, Music, and the “Opium-Tainted Cigarette”: Disinterested Dandies and Critical Play’

In her recent article in JVC 15.3, Phyllis Weliver reveals how the dandy’s languorous posture, aesthetic writing style, opium smoking, and musical repertoire interact in Oscar Wilde’s literature and criticism. Examining The Picture of Dorian Gray as well as ‘The Critic as Artist’ and The Importance of Being Earnest draws into focus how each of Wilde’s works is organized to create complicated relationships among this grouping, all of which belong to dandyish characters. The essay begins with a discussion of

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