Rigaud and Louis Napoleon

October 29, 2008 at 10:00 am (Nineteenth-century novel) (, )

This will be my last post on Little Dorrit for a bit, I think (I must say I enjoyed the first episode of the BBC version last Sunday). But before I leave the topic: I mentioned in last week’s seminar that I’ve been doing a little work on representations of Napoleon III in the 1850s-70s.  Who he?  Napoleon Bonaparte‘s nephew, that’s who; an individual who took advantage of the political turmoil following the 1848 revolution to seize power in France by coup-d’état in 1851. He promised to restore ‘the family, the church and social order’, and a national plebiscite seemed to endorse his position (the name ‘Napoleon’ was politically a very useful one in France) and he ruled until 1870; but many were outraged by the violence of his rise to power.

Karl Marx wrote his The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852) about him, seeing the 1851 coup as a sympton of class struggle, and characterising it famously with the assertion: “all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice … the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” The tragic history of Napoleon Bonaparte was now being farcically aped by Napoleon III. Victor Hugo, perhaps the greatest French poet of the century, was particularly outraged by the way Louis Napoleon used the army to quell unrest in Paris, shooting and killing civilian men, women and children. He went into voluntary exile on the channel islands, vowing not to return to France until Napoleon III was dead or deposed (a vow he kept). He also wrote the first of his great epic masterpieces, a poem called Les Châtiments (1853) — the title means ‘The Chastisements’ or ‘The Punishments’. It’s an extraordinary piece, an immense satiric-epic of sustained vitriolic denunciation of Napoleon III and (presciently, I think) what Hugo considered he stood for: tyranny, military dictatorship, corruption, demagoguery, the scapegoating of vulnerable groups, propaganda. All lamentably familiar from dictatorships in the twentieth-century, of course; but I’d say Hugo was ahead of his time in identifying it as the political malaise of his age.

As I mentioned (I think) in the seminar, one of the things I’ve been doing — after being boggled to discover that Les Châtiments has never been fully translated into English — has been posting English versions of the poem in an on-going blog called Translating Hugo. Check it out, if you’re interested. I’m about a third of the way through, and hope to finish by next summer.

What has all this to do with Dickens? Well, because Napoleon III is buzzing around my head, I tend to see him everywhere; and there’s something very Napoleon-III-esque, I think, about Dickens’s descriptions of Rigaud:

His eyes, too close together, were not so nobly set in his head as those of the king of beasts are in his, and they were sharp rather than bright—pointed weapons with little surface to betray them. They had no depth or change; they glittered, and they opened and shut. So far, and waiving their use to himself, a clockmaker could have made a better pair. He had a hook nose, handsome after its kind, but too high between the eyes by probably just as much as his eyes were too near to one another. For the rest, he was large and tall in frame, had thin lips, where his thick moustache showed them at all, and a quantity of dry hair, of no definable colour, in its shaggy state, but shot with red. The hand with which he held the grating (seamed all over the back with ugly scratches newly healed), was unusually small and plump; would have been unusually white but for the prison grime. [LD I:i]

Here’s what the famously, and fastidiously, aristocratic mass-murderer (or, if you prefer, Saviour of Family, Church and Society) Louis Napoleon — a man who had spent a stretch of the 1840s in the prison of Ham, after an earlier coup attempt — looked like:

Contemporaries did comment on how narrow and close together Napoleon III’s eyes were (Hugo calls him ‘l’homme aux yeux étroits’). Here’s an official portrait, in all his bling:

Resemblance? What do you reckon? How does Rigaud describe himself (when going under the name Lagnier) in chapter 11? “I am sensitive and brave, and it is my character to govern.” Sinister fellow.


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BBC Little Dorrit Adaptation

October 25, 2008 at 4:07 pm (Nineteenth-century novel, Uncategorized) ()

The Andrew Davies version of Little Dorrit starts tomorrow (Sunday 26th October); it’ll be interesting to see how they do it. There’s boy-man Matthew Macfadyen, above, in the Arthur Clenham role (a little too young, maybe?): and L.D. herself is being played by Claire Foy, about whom I know nothing. Have a look at the whole Radio Times cast picture gallery, if you like: not a bad set of actors, although I’d say Anton Lesser is wrong for Merdle (who is described in the book more like a charisma-free blonder Boris Johnson); and I feel a bit sorry for Ruth Jones, whose audition must have gone something like: ‘yes, we need someone who used to be attractive when she was much younger, but now she’s all blowsy and ugly and absurd … hey, you’d be perfect!’ Perhaps acting is not the profession to go into if your feelings are easily hurt.

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Metaphor and Metonomy

October 24, 2008 at 8:36 am (Core Course) ()

A brief note after yesterday’s core course class, to recap on the distinction between metaphor and metonomy; because I’m not sure everybody was clear about it (or if you were all clear on that, then maybe people were unclear on its relevance to reading Dickens).  As Catherine said, metaphor and metonomy are both modes of saying something by saying something else; but metaphor is a mode of displacement (‘Achilles is a lion’), where a point of similarity (they’re both really brave and fierce) links what are otherwise quite different terms; and metonymy is a mode of association, or contiguity (‘the pen is mightier than the sword’; where the pen stands for ‘writing’ because it is a part of the larger whole). Synecdoche (‘two hundred head of cattle’; ‘a parish of a thousand souls’) is a kind of metonomy.

So, you might ask, what’s that to do with the reading of Dickens? OK: what we were discussing yesterday was Roman Jakobson‘s particular take on these two rhetorical terms: Richard Bradford’s Routledge introduction to Jakobson is a good place to start on this (you can start reading some of it [on metaphor and metonomy and ‘The Poetic Function’] at Google books).  For a briefer version here’s Columbia.edu’s summary:

The message construction is based on two simultaneous operations*:

  1. Combination (horizontal) – constructing syntactic links; contexture.
    Relation through contiguity, juxtaposition.
    METONYMY – implying time, cause and effect, a chain of successive events
  2. Selection (vertical) – choosing among equivalent options.
    Relation on basis of similarity, substitution, equivalence or contrast; synonym / antonym.
    METAPHOR – implying space, a-temporal connection, simultaneity.

In poetry – the projection of the principle of equivalence from the axis of selection (metaphor) is used as the major means of constructing a sequence (combination; metonym).

This projection, according to Jacobson, is the defining characteristic of poetry, and it expresses itself in rhyme, meter, symmetries, repetitions, motifs.

The dominant mode in the poetic is therefore that of metaphor. Whereas in Prose – the metonym prevails, the chain of events, the plot, successive actions, a sequence of occurrences**.

*The terms METONYMY and METAPHOR are not used as figures of speech but rather as pervasive forces organizing language.

**The opposition is not an absolute one, but rather a mark of a tendency.

This still might seem a little remote to your sense of readng and writing about Dickens; but what we were doing last night was taking the two keynote thematic images with which Bleak House opens — Fog and Mud — and exploring the ways they resonated through the novel.  We touched, you’ll remember, on the way they articulated the novel’s concerns with obstruction, secrecy, things buried and obscured; and also with filth, disease, contagion.  I talked about the two conflicting mid-century theories of illness; the germ theory (mud) and the miasma theory (fog).  But more than that, I was trying to suggest ways in which Dickens as a novelist (and especially in his later novels) works both novelistically and, in a manner of speaking, poetically: that he is doing more than simply recording the conditions of London in the 1850s in terms of documentary verisimilitude (although he is doing that); he’s also expressing his concerns poetically.  Bleak House is precisely a novel about the tension between contiguity (everybody being connected) and displacement or separation.  It spreads itself horizontally, across London, and England, like the fog rolling upriver and down, north and south; but it also compacts itself densely at the centre, crushing and fossiling — and in the case of Krook, apparently squeezing him until he literally explodes … and is transformed into mud and fog; or more precisely into slime (‘a little thick nauseous pool’; ‘a dark greasy coating on the walls and ceiling’) and smoke (‘a smouldering suffocating vapour in his room’).  The point is not to pick out particular examples of metaphor (say); but rather to think about the way Dickens’s novel is shaped by these two symbolising principles; and the way the tension between the two of them articulates the book’s main concerns.

I mentioned Steve Connor’s excellent introductory book on Dickens (Charles Dickens [1985]: it’s in the library, 827 DIC D/CON ) which takes Jakobson’s metaphor and metonomy and applied them illuminatingly to the reading of several Dickens novels (though not, if I remember correctly, Bleak House).  I also mentioned Freud, although mentioning Freud provoked expressions of dislike from some members of the group.  You know who you are.  Now, one of the reasons I brought him up is that Freud argued that dreaming happens by a dual process of on the one hand association (metonomy: we’ve all had experience of the peculiar ‘dream logic’ by which things or events succeed one another) and on the other transference or substitution (metaphor).  Freud was also eloquent about — as Dickens is, in this novel — not only the way we keep secrets from other people, but the way we keep secrets from ourselves; and the mechanisms of repression, and the way the repressed always returns (in dreams, or slips-of-the-tongue, or neurotic symptoms) seems to me figured in dozens of ways throughout Bleak House.  Of course, you don’t have to be a Freudian to read this novel, or (more importantly) to write critically about Dickens.  But it will be worth your while to think not only about specific symbols in his writing, but about the broader logic of symbolisation itself.  That’s what we were talking about yesterday.

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October 22, 2008 at 11:52 am (Core Course) ()

Prior to tomorrow’s core-course disussion of Bleak House, which will start by close-reading the opening chapter, I thought I’d post the link to this review in the most recent TLS by Richard Fortey of these two books: Ralph O’Connor The Earth on Show: Fossils and the poetics of popular science, 1802–1856 (University of Chicago Press 2008) and Martin J. S. Rudwick Worlds Before Adam: the reconstruction of geohistory in the age of reform (University of Chicago Press 2008). I’ve not read either one yet, but they do look interesting; and I know some students are thinking about possible essays on ‘deep time’ and the geological revolution in relation to the literature we’re looking at.

Actually, though, this is all a ruse; my real reason for posting this is to give me an excuse to put up these lovely John Martin images of dinosaurs (you’ll see the first paragraph of Fortey’s review talks about Martin).

Splendid, aren’t they? That last one (click for a closer look) is particularly striking, I think: the seadragons’ lamplike eyes, mimicking that slightly hazy but still panoptic full moon. There’s a sort of Gothic sublimity at work, and the weird writhing of saurian flesh is almost orgiastic. I’m not sure it had occurred to me before that the representation of dinosaurs in the nineteenth-century could mediate subconscious sexuality. (Perhaps that still doesn’t occur to you …)

Also of interest (if you’re interested in this) is Louis Figuier’s The World Before the Deluge (1872) which has some very nice steel engravings of megalosauri: the text and pictures are available online here.

Finally, what did the Victorian actually think a Megalosaurus looked like? Well, like this:

Dig that hump, and that rather winning smile. If you live near Crystal Palace, you’ll have seen this splendid fellow already:

“As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.” [AR]

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Bleak Dorrit

October 16, 2008 at 4:05 pm (Nineteenth-century novel) ()

This morning’s nineteenth-century novel class was on Bleak House Little Dorrit, and we covered some interesting ground: prisons, fathers and daughters, financial speculation, France (or foreignness) and the different sorts of houses in the book. We picked up from Hannah’s sense of anticlimax about the ending to explore ways in which the book is precisely about anticlimax, disappointment and falling away.

One niggle of mine (we talked about this) is that I ended up in effect suggesting an anachronistic reading of the text, by talking about it as if it were actually a Modernist novel published, by a freak of timetravel, fifty years early. Certainly the passages we looked at in more detail (the final paragraphs, and ‘The Evening of a Long Day’ chapter in which Merdle selects the tortoiseshell penknife with which to kill himself) do have a wonderfully desolated, downbeat tone, and use a sort of expressively fractured aesthetic of blankness, repetition and a flattened affect, to achieve their effects. That’s not entirely characteristic of the mid-Victorian novel.  Tom talked about how he thought of Kafka when he read the Circumlocution Office sections; I suggested that Merdle’s reply to Fanny’s banal questions, viz:

‘Oh! I am very well,’ replied Mr Merdle, after deliberating about it. ‘I am as well as I usually am. I am well enough. I am as well as I want to be.’ [Book II: chapter 24]

Put me in mind of Samuel Beckett; and the discussion of the deliberate hollowing out of interiority in the novels’ characterisation (the reification of external mannerisms and tics of speech into the whole sum of character in, for instance, Mr F.’s Aunt; the way Merdle doesn’t seem actually to exist inside his over-large coat), and in the larger sense Dickens’ critique of a society all facade and sham with nothing behind it, might make us think of this:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw.

(‘Between the desire and the spasm’ Eliot wrote ‘falls the shadow’: there’s lots of thematic play with light and with shadow in Little Dorrit …) There may of course be a danger of misrepresenting the novel by doing this; although I do think there’s a lot going on in Dorrit in terms precisely of trying to apprehend the alienation and objectification of subjectivity of modern urban life, something that also haunted a good deal of Modernism.  On the other hand Dorrit is also pretty much hilarious pretty much all the way through, where ‘The Hollow Men’ isn’t.

A couple of suggestions for further reading. If you’re interested in the trope of the financial bubble and bankruptcy in the novel, a good study is Barabara Weiss’s The Hell of the English: Bankruptcy and the English Novel (1986), which usefully is available for a ‘limited’ but actually fairly full viewing here on google books. Good on ‘detachment’ is Chapter Two of Amanda Anderson’s The Powers of Distance: Cosmopolitanism and the Cultivation of Detachment (2001): you can start reading that here. It’s hard, but rewarding.

Next week:  Little House.  That doesn’t sound so desolate, now, does it?  [AR]

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19thc collections at the British Library – postgraduate introductory day

October 13, 2008 at 12:52 pm (Uncategorized)

Dear All,

I have just come across an interesting event at the British Library on the 20th Oct. One day of (free) talks to introduce new postgraduates to their 19th century collections. Probably more intended for PhD students, but I thought I’d draw it to your attention. I’ve posted the full information on the Victorian MA noticeboard.

Best wishes,


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October 10, 2008 at 7:34 am (Nineteenth-century novel) ()

People don’t seem, yet, to have gotten into the habit of commenting on this blog. It’s just a question of getting over your initial reticence. Now’s your chance; this is a post that specifically requests your comments. Don’t be shy!

So: yesterday’s Nineteenth-century novel class on David Copperfield and the ‘Autobiographical Fragment‘ (reprinted by Forster in his posthumous Life of Dickens) threw up some contentious readings of the novel. I’ll run through one of the areas of our discussion, and you–whether you’re taking this particular option or not–can click on ‘comments’ to contribute your ha’pennorth to the debate.

We talked about various things linking Dickens’s autobiographical fragment and his fictionalised version of the same material in David Copperfield, including food, externalisation, his mother and other stuff. But we also discussed the MOOR EEFFOC:

The coffee shops to which I most resorted were, one in Maiden Lane; one in a court (non-existent now) close to Hungerford Market; and one in St Martin’s Lane, of which I only recollect that it stood near the church, and that in the door there was an oval glass plate with ‘COFFEE ROOM’ painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is an inscription on glass, and read it backwards on the wrong side, MOOR EEFFOC (as I often used to do then in a dismal reverie), a shock goes through my blood. [Forster, Life of Dickens, I:ii, ‘Hard Experiences in Boyhood 1822-4‘]

We talked about the ‘principle of inversion’ that Dickens often uses in converting life to art; the life of CD becoming the life of DC; pleasant helpful young Bob Fagin from the Blacking Factory becoming the evil elderly Fagin in Oliver Twist, the great number of children who are compelled to act as adults in Dickens’s novels, and the equally large number of adults who, in various ways, are nothing more than superannuated children. Then we talked about the way some women, like Betsey Trotwood, act as men, and the way some male characters–David himself, say–are feminised (Betsey acting out upon him her fantasy of having a girl child by renaming him, for instance). This is where the group became less minded to follow my suggested reading: which is to say, a queer reading of the novel as, in a buried, secret way, being the love story of David and Steerforth, or perhaps even more counter-intuitively the love of David and Uriah Heep: the weirdly unsettling and strangely (repulsively) sensual quality of Heep— that wriggle he has. We discussed the not-so-buried violence against women that sees the major female characters in the novel either killed-off or packed away to Australia. I tried to link this in with a reading of the notions of ‘secrecy’ and ‘shame’ in the novel, specifically the hyperbolic rather unaccountable shame that CD felt about the blacking factory incident and that prompted him to keep it secret throughout his life from everybody except Forster. Why was he so ashamed? Was it a (social, class-based) shame? Or was it a more complicated, buried or repressed guilt? If so, of what? What is it, precisely, that sends the ‘shock’ through the blood of the adult man? I then, tentatively, floated the idea that Moor-eeffoc, in addition to being a rebus of reversal and inversion, connects in CD’s punning method with a repressed homosexual yearning for ‘more he-fuck’. The group as a whole was, shall we say, unconvinced of this reading. Does it go too far? Is there a buried narrative in which eros and thanatos are intertwined running through the novel? Or does it import a post-Freudian, 21st-century perspective to read the novel in these terms? What do you think?  [AR]

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And talking of Queen Victoria visiting Manchester in 1857 …

October 4, 2008 at 10:49 am (Core Course) ()

…Sarah sends a link to this recent account of that very visit.  Interesting stuff (‘Blockbuster event’, no less).  Many thanks to her.

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The Glasgow Poisoning Case, July 1857

October 3, 2008 at 8:21 am (Core Course) ()

[A couple of people in Thursdays’s core-course seminar were curious as to what happened to the accused in the Glasgow Poisoning trial, reported in the 2nd July 1857 edition of the Illustrated London News we read in class.  Intrigued myself, I dug out the 11th July edition of the ILN.  I’ve photocopied the full account and stuck it to the PG noticeboard, along with some rather nice pictures of Her Majesty enjoying herself in Manchester; but below are some excerpts, and the all important verdicts.]

The trial of Miss Madeleine Smith, of Glasgow, for the murder of Pierre Emile L’Angelier, commenced before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh on Tuesday week.  Every day of the trial the court has been crowded, hundreds remaining outside unable to get admission.  The youth and sex of the accused–the nature of the charge against her, and of the motives which could alone have prompted her to the alleged murder–the extraordinary nerve with which she had borne up through the terrible ordeal,–all have roused to a high pitch the feelings not only theimmediate auditors of the trial, but of the vast audience which, through the press, has been from day to day present at the scene.

The indictment charged the administration of arsenic by the prisoner to L’Angelier on three separate occasions–namely on the 19th or 20th February last; on the 22nd or 23rd of the same month; and on teh 22nd or 23rd of March.  On the last-named date he died, having been ill soon after each supposed administration. … An account of the first three days of the trial appeared in this Journal last week–consisting of evidence of the violent illness and sudden death of L’Angelier; of the finding of arsenic in his body on a post-mortem examination, of the prisoner’s declaration in which she admitted having purchased arsenic but stated that she used it in washing, as a cosmetic; of the evidence of druggists to the fact of her having purchased arsenic for the alleged purpose of killing rats (which purchases however were made quite openly, the accused signing the register without hesitation); of the examination of Mr Minnoch–to the effect that he had made proposals of marriage to Miss Smith, which she accepted on the 12th if March; and that their marriage had been fixed for the 18th June last; and of other minor matters.

The remainder of this day [Saturday] was occupied in reading a number of letters, mostly from Miss Smith to L’Angelier–of the style and nature of which the brief epistle we gave last week is a fair specimen.  On March 13 she wrote to L’Angelier thus: “I am longing to see you, sweet love of my heart, my own sweet love–MINNIE.”  On the 16th of the same month she wrote to Mr Minnoch (to whom she was engaged to be married the following June) whom she addresses as “My dearest William,” says that his departure has made her dull and sad, and reminds him of the “sweet walk” they had had at Dunblane–“a walk that fixed the date of the day when we began our new and happy life.”  Four days later she wrote the over-fond note to L’Angelier which was found after his death in his vest pocket, and whch we gave last week.

On Monday … thirty-one witnesses were examined for the defence.  Several of these deposed to fits of violence on the part of the deceased.  He was easily depressed and as easily uplifted.  On one occasion he threatened to throw himself out of a window, and at another he spoke of jumping off the pier.  On hearing of the marriage of a lady he had been in love with he took up a large knife and threatened to stab himself.  He several times spoke of self-destruction by several means.  He stated that whilst in France he had given arsenic to horses, to give them wind for their journey; and that he had taken it himself to relieve pain.

[The paper goes on to give a detailed account of the summings up by prosecution, defence and the Lord Justice.  And the verdict? ]

The jury then retired to their room, and in a short time afterwards reappeared in court, when the foreman said, “We find the prisoner NOT GUILTY on the first count, and NOT PROVEN on the second and third counts.”

[Each of the alleged incidents of poisoning was treated by the court as a separate count.  ‘Not proven‘ is a verdict unique to Scottish courts, and unavailable to jurors in England and Wales: it is a verdict of acquittal existing between guilty and not guilty, and not as emphatic as the latter.]

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Launch Event for the London C19th Studies Seminar

October 1, 2008 at 1:48 pm (General Victoriana) (, )

University of London Institute of English Studies



London Nineteenth Century Studies Seminar


Autumn Term 2008


The Nineteenth Century on the Move:

 Mobility, Migration, Networks, Exchanges



Launch Event Saturday 4th October 11am -1pm

Room NG15 Senate House



‘Thinking Through Mobility’: a Roundtable



Prof. Tim Cresswell

Dr David Lambert

Prof. Josephine McDonagh



Our first meeting of the year brings together three eminent scholars from the disciplines of cultural and historical geography, cultural history and literature to discuss how they have worked with and conceptualised different forms of mobility in the nineteenth century.


Check the IES website for further material preparatory to this event.


Our subsequent meetings will feature research papers from a range of scholars working with the subject from different angles and will take place on the 8th and 29th November 11am -1pm. Separate publicity will be circulated prior to each event.





Strand Organisers, Autumn Term 2008:


Dr Mark Turner (Kings)


Dr Ruth Livesey (Royal Holloway)


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