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Literary magazine culture of the 1880s created a rich environment for interrogating the relationship between masculinity, fiction and seriousness. Increasing diversity and eclecticism in periodicals promoted the conditions for experiment and the development of styles of self-conscious performativity, exaggeration, and irony that we might describe as ‘camp’. Reading Oscar Wilde’s essays and dialogues alongside work by Robert Louis Stevenson, James Payn, H.H. Johnston, and Andrew Lang, this chapter explores the interest of 1880s journalism in theatricality, artifice, gender inversion, and an aesthetic of pleasurably ‘failed seriousness’. It argues that the literary magazine, where – as one contemporary critic noted – ‘the style is the essay’, offers a platform for developing notions of identity as fluid performance and all literary forms as inevitable modes of pastiche. Lang’s He, a neglected parody of H. Rider Haggard’s adventure novel She, is revealed as a text that is both fascinated by contemporary debate regarding female higher education and enjoys unpicking the self-ironising and knowingly comic aspects of Haggard’s imperial quest narrative. Like so many other works of the 1880s, it uses anthropological and literary self-awareness to bring terms once associated with masculine authority into liberating play.
Tracing the movement of print and literary forms in the later nineteenth century uncovers a complex transnatonality and intersectionality embedded in what might otherwise seem the most esoteric and confined of literary movements: the fixed-form verse revival of the late 1870s and 1880s. Reaching across national and temporal borders, the male coterie of Edmund Gosse, Austin Dobson, and Andrew Lang extolled villanelles, ballades, sestinas, rondeaux, and triolets as means to discipline contemporary English verse and delight connoisseurs. However, the movement did stay confined within elite class or gendered formations but infiltrated popular print in humorous penny weekly papers or political poems and also beckoned to women poets from A. Mary F. Robinson to Amy Levy to participate. Ultimately the fixed-form verse revival was a byproduct of a transatlantic literary market, so that the revival rested upon dynamic movements across bodies of water as well as across ostensible divides of nation, gender, and high versus popular culture.
This essay uses the case of Andrew Lang to assess the critical trope of the network and assess its value for contemporary historicist method. After introducing Lang’s dizzyingly productive career as media impresario, author, popularizer, and translator, it surveys the network sociologies of Pierre Bourdieu and Bruno Latour and evaluates, against these, Lang’s own networking practice. This relationship-making or mediating work is evident in Lang’s translations of Homer, his collaboratively authored novels, his popularizing sensibility, and his promiscuous approach to intellectual property. It is materialized, too, in the complicated authorial dynamics that gave rise to his Fairy Book projects. Borrowed, adapted, repackaged, and multiply mediated, these hybrid works show how attending to assemblages rather than individuals, relationships rather than instances, and edges rather than nodes, might expand conventional models of creative agency in literary studies and enable new configurations of literary-historical time. Specifically, Lang’s work on the nonlinear temporality of anthropological ‘survivals’ suggests that renewed attention to collaborative, networked causality will call into question the autonomous standing of period-concepts as such - including the decade.
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