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]