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Victorian literature – The Salt-Box http://www.jbj.wordherders.net "A man needn't go far to find a subject, if he's ready with his salt-box."--Uncle Pumblechook Thu, 09 May 2013 17:06:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 Victorian parody: Bulwer http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/30/victorian-parody-bulwer/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/30/victorian-parody-bulwer/#respond Tue, 31 Mar 2009 02:57:51 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/30/victorian-parody-bulwer/ Continue reading ]]> I want to post more regularly about Victorian topics, and thought that the best way to kick it off was with this satirical take from Fraser’s Magazine in 1832 on Edward Bulwer’s Eugene Aram (the end is worth it–how often does a critic get to wish for an author to be hanged?):

 E.A. and E.B.

A Christmas Carol, to the Tune of “God save you, merry Gentlemen!”

“Impius ante Aram, atque auri caecus amore.”

E. Aram was a pedagogue

     So sullen and so sad;

 E. Bulwer was a gentleman

     Wot plied as Colburn‘s Cad:

And the deeds of both, I grieve to say,

     Were werry, werry bad.

E. Aram he whipped little boys

     With malice and with ire;

E. Bulwer wrote Whig articles,

     As Beelzebub did inspire:

And both of them they did these things

    All for the sake of hire.

E. Aram killed a man one day,

     Out of a devilish whim;

E. Bulwer did almost the same–

     A deed well nigh as grim:

For Aram he murder’d Daniel Clarke,

      And Bulwer he murder’d him.

E. Aram’s crime it was impell’d

     That cash he might purloin;

E. Bulwer did his wickedness

     For love of Colburn’s coin:

Alas! that money should debauch

     Two geniuses so fine!

E. Aram he was sent to jail,

     And hanged upon a tree;

E. Bulwer is in parliament,

     A shabby-genteel M.P.;

But if he writes such murdering books,

     What must his ending be?

Why, that in Fraser’s Magazine

     His gibbet we shall see.

I saw this last week on the VICTORIA listserv; the text is available on Google Books.

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Even art critics need fact checkers; or, how ahead of his time *was* Darwin? http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/15/even-art-critics-need-fact-checkers-or-how-ahead-of-his-time-was-darwin/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/15/even-art-critics-need-fact-checkers-or-how-ahead-of-his-time-was-darwin/#respond Mon, 16 Mar 2009 03:15:46 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/15/even-art-critics-need-fact-checkers-or-how-ahead-of-his-time-was-darwin/ Continue reading ]]> In this morning’s Times, at least in the CT editions, Benjamin Genocchio reviews Endless Forms: Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts, an exciting show at the Yale Center for British Art.  By way of setting the exhibit up, however, he wanders off the path:

Darwin is to biology as Einstein is to physics, a towering genius so far in advance of his time that people thought he was out of his mind. His theory of evolution, the foundation of modern biology, was largely rejected and ignored when it was first published in 1859. And for decades scientists were skeptical about natural selection, the process that Darwin proposed to account for evolutionary changes.

Of course Darwin deserves all manner of credit, and I’ve no real objection to the comparison to Einstein.

Having said that, almost everything else in this paragraph is wrong.  Alfred Russel Wallace, for instance, would be very much surprised to hear that Darwin was so very far ahead of his time, and the vigorous debate over the Origin of Species, and its several editions, suggests that the idea was not “ignored.”

As to whether it was rejected, Michael Ruse, in the “Prologue” to the second edition of The Darwinian Revolution, notes one circumstantial, but telling, detail:

But if we want to draw our boundaries more closely and consider the main question to be the theory of evolution–When and how did people get converted to the idea of evolution?–we can narrow our study to about a twenty-five year span.  Consider: In 1851, when Cambridge University first offered exams in science, one question was as follows.  “Reviewing the whole fossil evidence, shew that it does not lead to a theory of natural development through a natural transmutation of species” (Cambridge University 1851, p. 416).  By 1873, however, a question told students to assume “the truth of the hypothesis that that the existing species of plants and animals have been derived by generation from others widely different” and to get on with discussing the causes (Cambridge University 1875, qu. 162).  If one makes the reasonable assumption that by the time something gets into undergraduate examinations it is fairly noncontroversial, it follows that in no more than a quarter of a century the scientific establishment had made a complete about-face on the question of evolution. (xi-xii)

Genocchio is right to state that the mechanism of Darwin’s theory was poorly understood until the 20thC, but it’s wrong to imply that the Victorians were just dismissive of evolutionary ideas.  Even Wikipedia gets this right:

The fact that evolution occurs became accepted by the scientific community and much of the general public in his lifetime, while his theory of natural selection came to be widely seen as the primary explanation of the process of evolution in the 1930s, and now forms the basis of modern evolutionary theory.

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Modernists think they’re so great http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/02/modernists-think-theyre-so-great/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/02/modernists-think-theyre-so-great/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2009 03:23:14 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/03/02/modernists-think-theyre-so-great/ Continue reading ]]> The 2nd-most irritating thing* about being a Victorianist is having to deal with our modernist colleagues who appear to believe that modernist claims about Victorian culture were simply true, and not at all artifacts of generational conflict or artistic brand-building.   I’m happy to admit that, say, James Joyce or Virginia Woolf could write a hell of a sentence, and that the kind of psychological realism they could achieve is incredibly valuable.

But that doesn’t make claims like this–found in The Cambridge Companion to the Modernist Novel–any truer:

For Portrait announces from its first page Joyce’s radical break with the conventions of the ninteenth-century realist novel.  There is no omniscient narrator here, who directs the reader’s response.  Instead the narrative focuses on a particular consciousness, and is articulated through the kind of language such a consciousness would use.  If we compare the passage with the opening lines of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861), another novel concerning a young man’s coming of age, the difference is striking.  Great Expectations begins: “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.”  The sentence immediately announces that this is not the voice of a child; the grammatical complexity of the opening clause, the use of the distinctively adult words “infant tongue” and “explicit,” tell us that the narrator is an older man looking back at his childhood, not a child telling his own story.  In contrast, Joyce’s use of simple words, baby-talk, and childish diction erases this overseeing, distancing narrative presence from the text, leaving us in intimate relation to Stephen’s consciousness alone.

Joyce was not the first writer to move from omniscient narration to a narrative style shaped by the interior life of his character . . . .  (102-03)

Is there any way of construing this paragraph that doesn’t imply, first, that Great Expectations is a realist novel, and second, that it has an omniscient narrator?  And does anyone who actually teaches this novel agree with either implication?

Of course it’s true that the opening page of Portrait seems more like a child’s perspective than Great Expectations‘s does. (Although is that a Dante allusion I see near the end of that page? My five year old’s read the Iliad and the Odyssey, both more than once, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him quote them.)

But it simply cannot be true that the point of the adult narrator’s recollection in this novel is oversight and distance, any more than it is in, say, Jane Eyre or Villette . . . or even David Copperfield.  Victorian literary culture was capable of playing complex games with self-presentation, as the dramatic monologue ought to make clear, and these and other first-person novels probably deserve to be read with some care.  In *none* of these novels does the narrator act like an omniscient one–instead, fictional autobiographies tend formally to point up the limits of one’s insight into one’s own life.

Great Expectations is a novel of adulthood, written from someone who is trying to make sense of his life, and trying desperately to convince us that things will work out for the best.  He returns to his past, neither because he is distanced from it nor to demonstrate his mastery of it, but precisely because he is not distanced at all, not a master at all.  That’s the rush of the book–and it’s a rush that most fictional auobiographies deliver in spades.

*The most irritating thing is having, every single semester, to explain, “Yes, we’re going to read the whole book.  I know it’s 1000 pages.”

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Stanley Fish is irritating, and not in a good way http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/16/stanley-fish-is-irritating-and-not-in-a-good-way/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/16/stanley-fish-is-irritating-and-not-in-a-good-way/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2009 12:59:07 +0000 http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2009/02/16/stanley-fish-is-irritating-and-not-in-a-good-way/ Continue reading ]]> Today’s Stanley Fish column about academic freedom & fantasies of academic exceptionalism offers a good example of his strengths and his considerable weaknesses as a columnist.

For example, I think this is both true and too-infrequently said:

But this is what many (not all) academics believe, and if pressed they will support their belief by invoking a form of academic exceptionalism, the idea that while colleges and universities may bear some of the marks of places of employment — work-days, promotions, salaries, vacations, meetings, etc. — they are really places in which something much more rarified than a mere job goes on.

As Fish implies, this seems nuts.  I think we can all agree that educational moments are special ones–the delight of seeing someone grasp hold of something in a difficult poem is a precious thing, for instance.  But there’s nothing “special” about the conversion of those moments into credit hours (for the students) and biweekly paychecks with benefits (for the lucky few, the tenure-track faculty).  It doesn’t sully the former to note the latter.

So far, so good.  But then he starts trolling indiscriminately through the case law to disprove the academic exceptionalism thesis, and he does so utterly without reference to the question of the decisions’ validity or merit.  I mean, he cites approvingly  Urofsky v. Gilmore, a 2000 case from Virginia, in which a the court upheld–as applying to professors–“a law requiring state employers to gain permission from a supervisor before accessing sexually explicit materials on state-owned computers.”

The point here is surely not that professors should be allowed randomly to surf porn sites.  The point is that the VA law was bad law: Overbroad and vague in its definitions, it puts up stupid impediments in the way of professorial work, and the work of other state employees, as well:

Virginia Code ¤2.1-804-806 (the Act) bans state employees’ use of state computers to access any “sexually explicit content,” broadly defined to include descriptions or depictions of “sexual excitement” or “sexual conduct” of virtually any sort. There is no requirement that the banned communications lack serious value, be “patently offensive,” or appeal to prurient inte-rests. The Act affects approximately 101,000 state employees, including thousands of professors, librarians, and other researchers at 39 institutions of higher education. It also affects museum curators, physicians and their staffs at the Commonwealth’s two medical colleges and their associated hospitals and clinics, and social service and health workers researching, investigating, and communicating with colleagues and the public about child abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual dysfunction, and sexual crimes. 

In other words, in this case the professors did *not* claim academic exceptionalism–they merely pointed out that the law is an ass.  (Full disclosure: I’m pleased to have been, years ago, the student of one of the professors involved in that case–Terry Meyers–whose interest in Swinburne would lead him, as we’ll see below, continuously afoul of such a law.)

In general, I sort of agree with Fish that academic freedom is a good thing, and we should argue for extending it to all, not ritualistically defend it for ourselves only.  But his argument ends up confusing two pretty different points: the idea that professors should exercise academic freedom with regard to the interests of their institution (a more defensible claim) and that, at least at public universities, they should exercise academic freedom with regard to the interests of the state.  That’s a less defensible claim because, as the Urofsky case suggests, frequently the state and the institution will be at loggerheads. Public higher education is a curious thing–we love it (said the professor at a public university) for providing access, but the expectation that faculty will do research and will teach according to disciplinary norms frequently leads to difficulties. It’s good for William & Mary to have a prominent Swinburne scholar on the faculty, and it’s counterproductive to that interest to make him beg for approval to call up Pre-Raphaelite material on his computer.

Professor Meyers has an entertaining/maddening column on his experiences with the case here.  It’s really unbelievable that Fish cites it:

The law leads to some curious situations. For example, as a state employee, I cannot (without permission) use a public-access computer in the university library to read Swinburne’s “The Leper” (which deals with necrophilia), although it is available from the University of Virginia by way of the Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA). But without having to seek permission, I can go to the stacks and read the poem in a book owned by the state. And the law does not apply to students, unless they work for a faculty member as state-paid research assistants. Nor does the law apply to members of the public who might want to read Swinburne—or even view virtual child pornography—on the library’s computers.

The whole thing’s worth reading.

(Posted, of course, from my home computer.)

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NAVSA spring 2007 newsletter http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/25/navsa-spring-2007-newsletter/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/25/navsa-spring-2007-newsletter/#respond Wed, 25 Jul 2007 19:02:29 +0000 navsavictorianvictorian literature http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/25/navsa-spring-2007-newsletter/ The North American Victorian Studies Association spring 2007 newsletter, which includes the big list of member books, is now up.

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Weird things that are sort of Victorian http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/24/weird-things-that-are-sort-of-victorian/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/24/weird-things-that-are-sort-of-victorian/#comments Wed, 25 Jul 2007 03:14:14 +0000 booksculturedickensgalvanisminternetliteraturerandomslappingVictorian http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/24/weird-things-that-are-sort-of-victorian/ Continue reading ]]> These three things are all related to Victorian literature and culture, and are very, very strange.

Finally, this has nothing to do with Victorian literature, but: I forgot to post a link to last week’s post at Bookslut.

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Collex http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/10/collex/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/10/collex/#respond Tue, 10 Jul 2007 21:27:44 +0000 academic commonscollexhumanities computingresearch toolsVictorian literature http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/10/collex/ Continue reading ]]> At the Academic Commons today, I have a post introducing Collex, a search- and tagging- tool that allows researchers to move seamlessly among most of the major 19th-century digital collections.  Collex is one of the coolest early fruits of Jerome McGann’s NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship) group.

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Klaver’s _The Apostle of the Flesh: A Critical Life of Charles Kingsley http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/02/klavers-_the-apostle-of-the-flesh-a-critical-life-of-charles-kingsley/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/02/klavers-_the-apostle-of-the-flesh-a-critical-life-of-charles-kingsley/#comments Mon, 02 Jul 2007 18:57:46 +0000 authorbiographycharles kingsleyelsewheremuscular ChristianityreviewVictorian http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/07/02/klavers-_the-apostle-of-the-flesh-a-critical-life-of-charles-kingsley/ Continue reading ]]> The new Victorian Studies (Winter 2007), and included in it is my review of J. M. I. Klaver’s The Apostle of the Flesh: A Critical Life of Charles Kingsley (Brill, 2006).  Here’s the first graf:

In 1872, Vanity Fair remarked that “Time and opinions move so fast that it is difficult to recall the period, though it is really so recent, when the Rev. Charles Kingsley, sometime author of ‘Alton Locke’ and now Chaplain to the Queen [ . . . ] was one of the most daring and advanced revolutionists of his cloth” (qtd. in Klaver 472; Klaver’s ellipsis).  Vanity Fair omits many reasons why Kingsley might fascinate modern Victorianists: his complex emphasis on manliness, masculinity, and the body; his immersion in scientific projects (sanitation reform) and debates; his jingoism and sense of national mission, even when these sanctioned brutal or near-genocidal violence; the conflict with John Henry Newman; his children’s books, especially The Water Babies (1863); and his interest in sexual satisfaction within marriage as an almost sacramental blessing.  And yet all too frequently, knowledge of Kingsley can devolve into the following series: muscular Christian; self-destructive combatant with Newman; author of Alton Locke (1850) and The Water Babies, plus a few other works.  J. M. I. Klaver’s The Apostle of the Flesh seeks to restore Kingsley to a more central place in the Victorian period.

Interested parties without access to Victorian Studies can e-mail me for the review.  My edition of Kingsley’s Alton Locke is due to Broadview in a mere six weeks!

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Dickens on executive privilege http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/06/20/dickens-on-executive-privilege/ http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/06/20/dickens-on-executive-privilege/#respond Wed, 20 Jun 2007 12:47:07 +0000 Dickensexecutive privilegesatire http://www.jbj.wordherders.net/2007/06/20/dickens-on-executive-privilege/ Continue reading ]]> Good to see some things never change.  This from Dickens’s short sketch, “The Election for the Beadle.”  The captain and the overseer lead opposing factions in the local parish; the overseer represents the vested interests, the captain instinctively opposes them:

Then the captain . . . boldly expressed his total want of confidence in the existing authorities, and moved for ‘a copy of the recipe by which the paupers’  soup was prepared, together with any documents relating thereto. ‘  This the overseer steadily resisted; he fortified himself by precedent, appealed to the established usage, and declined to produce the papers, on the ground of the injury that would be done to the public service, if documents of a strictly private nature, passing between the master of the workhouse and the cook, were to be thus dragged to light on the motion of any individual member of the vestry.

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