Merry Christmas Victorianists!

December 19, 2008 at 9:38 pm (General Victoriana) ()

And what better way to celebrate the festive season than with a bit of Dickens? Over at The Valve Rohan Maitzen has set-up a reading group for The Chimes (1844): not as well known as God-bless-us-every-one A Christmas Carol (1843), but interesting nevertheless. Go Valvewards, why don’t you, and check it out; feel free to contibute to the ongoing discussion. (The Everyman edition of Dickens’s Christmas Books is even edited by our very own Professor Sally Ledger). And for an added bonus, check Rich Puchalsky’s account of going up a bell tower.

Merry Christmas to all, with a ho and a ho. And (why not?) another ho. [AR]

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Some Victorian Links

December 17, 2008 at 1:56 pm (General Victoriana)

A little pre-Christmas Victorian-y reading:

The Victorian Peeper has an interesting piece on George Frederic Watts‘ 1885 painting Hope (above), ‘The Victorian Painting That Inspired Barack Obama’.

Rohan Maitzen thinks Silas Marner is ‘every bit as good a secular fable for the holidays as A Christmas Carol–better, even.’

Adam Roberts writes about Zola’s 1892 novel The Debacle.

Miriam Burnstein considers Paz’s 2006 study Dickens and Barnaby Rudge, and in particular the differences between historians reading literature and literary critics doing it.

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Charles Dickens Action Figure

December 12, 2008 at 9:32 am (General Victoriana) ()

The coolest thing in the world, and the best Christmas present a boy could hope for. Wonderful!

Thank you, mysterious present-fairy, who may or may not work at the Dickens House. [AR]

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Victorian London: The City of Dreadful Night

December 10, 2008 at 11:48 am (Uncategorized)

Dear All,

In case any of you are hunting up a last-minute copy, the text is available online at Project Gutenberg at

I look forward to hearing your responses to the poem tomorrow!


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Aestheticism & Decadence: ‘Pygmalion and the Image’

December 10, 2008 at 11:45 am (Uncategorized)

Dear All,

Morris’s ‘Pygmalion and the Image’ is included in his The Earthly Paradise (1868-70), a multi-volume work: this tale is in Vol. II.

It can be easily accessed online. The Victorian Web has it online here, and, brilliantly, follows the ending of the poem with a series of links to Burne-Jones’s paintings on the poem’s subject, and a few critical articles that deal with key issues for both Morris’ and Burne-Jones’ approach to the topic.


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Secondary Criticism for Hard Times, Mary Barton and Middlemarch

December 7, 2008 at 4:13 pm (Uncategorized)

Herewith some suggested secondary readings for these texts. Low marks for scholarly presentation, for which, in haste, I apologise! I’ve also put up (see side bar) a lecture on Mary Barton and Hard Times that I gave at a conference last summer.

Rosemarie Bodenheimer, ‘Private Grief and Public Acts in Mary Barton,’ Dickens Studies Annual 9 (1981), 195-216.
Elaine Freedgood,
Catherine Gallagher, The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction (U. Chicago Press, 1995).
Elaine Freedgood, ‘Checked Curtains and Global Cotton Markets in Mary Barton’, in The Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel (Chicago Up, 2006).
Jonathan Grossman, ‘Mary Barton’s Tell-Tale Evidence’, in The Art of Alibi: English Lawcourts and the Novel (Johns Hopkins UP, 2002).
Jill Matus (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Gaskell (CUP, 2007).
Mary Poovey, Making a Social Body: British Cultural Formation, 1830-64 (Chicago UP, 1995)
Hilary Schor, Scheherazade in the Marketplace: Elizabeth Gaskell and the Victorian Novel (Oxf. UP, 1992).
Kathleen Tillotson, Novels of the Eighteen Forties (Clarendon Press, 1954)
Jenny Uglow, Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories (Faber and Faber, 1993) [biography]

Catherine Gallagher, The Industrial Reformation of English Fiction (U Chicago Press, 1995)
Anne Humpherys, ‘Louisa Gradgrind’s Secret: Marriage and Divorce in Hard Times’, Dickens Studies Annual 25 (1996), 177-95.
Robert E. Lougy, ‘Dickens’s Hard Times’, in Dickens Studies Annual 2 (1972), 237-54
Hilary Schor, ‘Hard Times and A Tale of Two Cities: The Social Inheritance of Adultery’, in Dickens and the Daughter of the House (Cambridge UP, 1999).
Hilary Schor, ‘Novels of the 1850s: Hard Times, Little Dorrit and A Tale of Two Cities’, in John O. Jordan (ed.) Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens (Cambridge UP, 2001), 64-77.
Sally Ledger, ‘From Flunkeyism to Toadyism in the Age of Machinery: From Bleak House to Little Dorrit’, in Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination (Cambridge UP, 2007)
Raymond Williams, Culture and Society 1780-1950 (chapter on the Industrial Novel)

Gillian Beer, Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth Century Fiction (London: Routledge, 1983)
Robert M Young, Darwin’s Metaphor (1984)
David Amigoni ed. Charles Darwin’s Origins of Species: New Interdisciplinary Essays (Manchester University Press, 1995)
George Levine, Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (Harvard University Press, 1988)
Josephine McDonagh, George Eliot (Northcote House, 1997)
Sally Shuttleworth, George Eliot and Nineteenth Century Science: The Make-Believe of a Beginning (1984)
Bernard Semmel, George Eliot and the Politics of National Inheritance (Oxford University Press, 1994)
J Hillis Miller, ‘Narrative and History’ English Literary History 41 (1974) 455-73
Neil McCaw, George Eliot and Victorian Historiography: Imagining the National Past (2000)

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Chesterton on Scott and Dickens

December 6, 2008 at 3:26 pm (General Victoriana, Nineteenth-century novel)

My favourite passage from Chesterton’s (still) excellent 1906 monograph on Dickens is quoted, and very briefly discussed, here. [AR]

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Aestheticism & Decadence: D. G. Rossetti

December 4, 2008 at 10:19 am (Aestheticism) (, )

The Blessed Damozel (1871-81); Fogg painting 1871-77

The Blessed Damozel (1871-81); Fogg painting 1871-77

Lady Lilith (1868)

Lady Lilith (1868)

The Wine of Circe by Edward Burne-Jones

The Wine of Circe by Edward Burne-Jones

Hello All,

Here are the images we will be discussing around the poems for today’s class. I’ll bring copies with me.

All best,

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Victorian Deathbed Scenes

December 4, 2008 at 9:23 am (Uncategorized)

Dear C19th Novels,

I’m having technical issues getting those deathbed scenes on here for you all. For now, you can google-image the following — they’re not difficult to find on the Net  [4/12 2:30pm, posted them now! ed]:

George Cattermole, ‘Death of Little Nell’ (1841)


Henry Peach Robinson, ‘Fading Away’ (1858)


Luke Fildes, ‘The Doctor’ (1891) (although I reckon this child is recovering — dawn has broken).

I’m ‘collecting’ deathbed scenes in Victorian culture: we talked about the 7 or so such scenes in *Mary Barton* last week, and there are numerous in Dickens of course; any more suggestions gratefully received.


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Quarterly Review 1868: ‘Rather Hear the Flatulence of Camels than the Prayers of Fishes’

December 3, 2008 at 5:15 pm (General Victoriana)

If you find yourself on Charing Cross Road, on that stretch between Leicester Square Tube and Cambridge Circus, I urge you to check out Quinto’s second hand bookshop at 48a (on the corner of Charing Cross Road and Great Newport Street). Go downstairs, and turn hard right into a little room, and you’ll find a splendid range of old bound volumes of nineteenth-century periodicals on special offer: half price, no less.

A little while ago I impulse-bought a lovely single bound volume of the Quarterly Review from 1868, and it cost me a mere £3.50. I love picking up volumes like this; it’s a sort of lucky dip into various Victorian attitudes, opinions, facts and fancies. You never know what you’re going to find. And in this case I got a veritable cabinet of wonders, all for less than the price of most of the glossy magazines on sale at Smiths. [Some issues of the Quarterly are available in their entirety for even less (free) on Google books … this 1815 one, for instance … which makes for interesting browsing if you’ve a spare online moment. But most are snippet view only, alas.]

Here’s a taste of what the Quarterly 249 contains.

The first article is a lengthy review of The Life of David Garrick; from original Family papers (2 vols, London 1868) by Percy Fitzgerald M.A. F.S.A (‘Author of the ‘Life of Sterne’ &c.), of which the Q has a low opinion:

Like Johnson’s friend, Birch, Mr. Fitzgerald seems to be ‘a dead hand at life.’ Within two years or so he has grappled with Charles Lamb’s and Sterne’s, and now Garrick’s is before us in two volumes that number together nearly a thousand pages. Like all hasty literary work it is much too long. If lives are to be written on this scale, we must, as Sydney Smith said, get back to the days of Methusaleh, when men’s years were counted by hundreds and not by tens. [2]

Advice one or two modern biographers could usefully follow, don’t you think? The second article is called ‘Indian Railways’, ostensibly reviewing the Report to the Secretary of State for India in Council on Railways in India for the year 1867-68 (an official report composed by the excellently-named ‘Juland Danvers Esq., Government Director of the Indian Railways Companies’). Given that this is barely ten years after the Indian Mutiny, it makes very interesting reading by way of articulating the colonising power’s complex mix of attitudes about the subcontinent. It opens:

It was the remark of Lord Dalhousie that nothing short of a great victory or a great reverse was sufficient to create in English society even a transient interest in the affairs of india. Since this truth was uttered, eighty-four millions of English capital have been invested in Indian railways, and forty-nine thousand English proprietors of stock and debentures have acquired a direct interest in the prosperity of our Indian administration and in the permanence of our rule. It may therefore appear redundant to offer any apology for devoting a few pages to a summary review of an undertaking which involves pecuniary considerations of so large an amount, and which is fraught with consequences of the greatest importance to our great empire inthe East, and to the hundred and fifty millions who compose it. [48]

I especially like the way that last number (which refers to people) is offered in exactly the same manner as the first number (which refers to pounds sterling); as if human beings and units of money are somehow interchangeable as far as this question is concerned. It’s a thoroughly interesting article, actually; too lengthy to be summarised here. A couple of points. One is that the writer takes it for granted that peasants, whether Indian or English, will resist newfangled technology like Stevenson’s railway engines (twenty years ago ‘the people of Woolwich [were as likely] to suffer themselves to be fired off on one of Congreve’s wonder rockets as trust themselves to the mercy of such a machine going at such a rate’, 49). Another is the level of anxiety about the effect building the railways might have upon the Western employees themselves:

The establishment of railways in India has led to the introduction of several thousand Europeans employed in various subordinate posts on the different lines. The temptations to which many of them are exposed, when separated from the salutary restraints under which they were accustomed to live at home, demand the constant attention of the Companies, who are, moreover, the greatest sufferers from the casualties and invaliding entailed by their irregularities … The Directors have spared no pains or expense to improve their position, and to counteract their proneness to those indulgences which lower the national character and dishonour the Christian name in the eyes of the natives. [69]

Isn’t that just fantastically tantalising? It almost compels you to wonder in what precisely these ‘indulgences which lower the national character’ consisted (I suppose we can imagine, broadly speaking …) But it’s interesting to realise the extent to which commercial companies felt that the moral pressure to corall their workers was part of their broader investment strategy.

Then there’s a review of The Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (‘edited by Derwent and Sara Coleridge, A New Edition. London 1854’ … which is to say, this book had to wait fourteen years for its review. I bet the publishers were happy about that). There’s a lengthy article on recent advances in Gunpowder technology; and an article just as long reviewing the History of Lace. By Mrs Bury Palliser. London, 1865 (‘Lace is one of the most marvellous products of human industry, and, on looking at these fairy tissues, produced by infinitesimal touches of labour … one is struck with admiration of the profoundest character at seeing the victory of human hands in minuteness of toil’). Does the Q like the book? It does: ‘This graceful ornament of civilisation has found a worthy historian in Mrs Palliser.’

The seventh article is a much duller account of Siluria, a History of the Oldest Rocks in the British Isles and other Countries. By Sir Roderick I. Murchison, Bart., K.C.B. But the eighth is the best of all: a review of nineteen separate collections of proverbs, from all around the world, that includes amongst the obvious candidates (‘more haste, less speed’, ‘counting chickens before they are hatched’) some of the most gloriously bewildering proverbial wisdom I have ever encountered. Make sense, if you choose, of the following:

He that hath swallowed the Devil may swallow his horns. [Italian proverb]
To steal a pig and give the pettitoes to God. [Spanish proverb]
The she-goat has not yet yeaned, yet the kid is playing before the house. [Zenobius]
A scalded cat dreads cold water [Spanish proverb]
He that travels alone tells lies. [Oji proverb]
Women and bairns lein what they kenna. [Scots proverb]
Better one’s house too little one day, than too large all the year. [English proverb]
Rather hear the flatulences of camels than the prayers of the fishes [Egyptian proverb]

There’s no accounting for tastes, I suppose. (The Quarterly, at least, offers an explanation of this last one: ‘it bespeaks the Egyptians dislike of a sea voyage, which made him prefer the tedious land pilgrimage to Mecca’; which makes sense, but surely limits the applicability of the proverb.)

The final piece is a rather depressing article entitled ‘Ireland once more’, reviewing ‘Journals, Conversations &c., relating to Ireland. By the late Nassau W. Senior‘, which begins: ‘No apology is needed for so soon recurring to the subject of Ireland. It is, and we fear must long continue, the question of the day; the question to which statesmanship and patriotism alike yearn to settle.’ The Q urges, by way of solution, the following: ‘let us do, and do boldly and thoroughly’ [276] without ever saying exactly what it is that the doing actually might entail. But history conclusively demonstrated that, in 1868, there was no immediate solution to that question forthcoming. [AR]

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