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What was special about 1845 and why does it deserve particular scrutiny? In his much-anticipated new book, one of the leading authorities on the Victorian age argues that this was the critical year in a decade which witnessed revolution on continental Europe, the threat of mass insurrection at home and radical developments in railway transport, communications, religion, literature and the arts. The effects of the new poor law now became visible in the workhouses; a potato blight started in Ireland, heralding the Great Famine; and the Church of England was rocked to its foundations by John Henry Newman's conversion to Roman Catholicism. What Victorian England became was moulded, says Michael Wheeler, in the crucible of 1845. Exploring pivotal correspondence, together with pamphlets, articles and cartoons, the author tells the riveting story of a seismic epoch through the lives, loves and letters of leading contemporaneous figures.
The introduction considers the appeal Decadence and the work of Oscar Wilde held for queer, cosmopolitan subjects in the early-twentieth century who wished to reimagine structures of kinship. Decadence’s association with sexual dissidence and curiosity along with Wilde’s reputation as a sexual martyr informed the thinking of authors and artists in the twentieth century who worked to generate alternatives to heteronormative practices of affiliation. These figures operated alongside but saw themselves as distinct from high modernist networks, turning to the fin de siècle past to express their sense of distinction from the aesthetic modes in fashion at the time. While Wilde’s capacity for reimagining new modes of kinship informed more liberatory strains of twentieth-century Decadence, his interest in age-differentiated eroticism and the more general tendency to Orientalism within the Decadent Movement also inflected the practices marked by his influence during this period. The introduction thus stresses that the kinship experiments of twentieth-century Decadents carried forward the many political valences of their source material and that their work should be approached through the framework of what Kadji Amin has called “deidealization,” a mode of queer historical practice that acknowledges that queer alternatives are not always just alternatives.
Queer Kinship after Wilde investigates the afterlife of the Decadent Movement's ideas about kinship, desire, and the family during the modernist period within a global context. Drawing on archival materials, including diaries, correspondence, unpublished manuscripts, and photograph albums, it tells the story of individuals with ties to late-Victorian Decadence and Oscar Wilde who turned to the fin-de-siècle past for inspiration as they attempted to operate outside the heteronormative boundaries restricting the practice of marriage and the family. These post-Victorian Decadents and Decadent modernists engaged in translation, travel, and transnational collaboration in pursuit of different models of connection that might facilitate their disentanglement from conventional sexual and gender ideals. Queer Kinship after Wilde attends to the successes and failures that resulted from these experiments, the new approaches to affiliation inflected by a cosmopolitan or global perspective that occurred within these networks as well as the practices marked by Decadence's troubling patterns of Orientalism and racial fetishism.
Shedding new light on the alternative, emancipatory Germany discovered and written about by progressive women writers during the long nineteenth century, this illuminating study uncovers a country that offered a degree of freedom and intellectual agency unheard of in England. Opening with the striking account of Anna Jameson and her friendship with Ottilie von Goethe, Linda K. Hughes shows how cultural differences spurred ten writers' advocacy of progressive ideas and provided fresh materials for publishing careers. Alongside well-known writers – Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Michael Field, Elizabeth von Arnim, and Vernon Lee – this study sheds light on the lesser-known writers Mary and Anna Mary Howitt, Jessie Fothergill, and the important Anglo-Jewish lesbian writer Amy Levy. Armed with their knowledge of the German language, each of these women championed an extraordinarily productive openness to cultural exchange and, by approaching Germany through a female lens, imported an alternative, 'other' Germany into English letters.
Victorian nature writing vacillated between escapist pastoral idealism and hands-on georgic realism. Its narrators were at once labourers and idlers, scientists and aesthetes. The genre’s hybridity allowed it to mediate between mechanistic paradigms of nature and religious beliefs and experiences. Natural environments were constructed as realms of both Darwinian struggle and spiritual revelation. Imagining nature appreciation as a form of self-culture sometimes encouraged a nascent ecological and humanitarian sensibility. However, Victorian nature writing remained generally anthropocentric, centring the human mind. Yet, some authors, particularly later in the period, also framed wild environments and organisms as radically alien and unknowable. These different tendencies were often expressed through rhetoric of strangeness and estrangement, which dovetailed with ambivalences about identity, place and belonging. While authors classified objects, creatures and plants as alternately native or foreign, these categories frequently became blurred or uncertain. Authors also equivocated on where to locate ‘nature’, tracing it through rural, coastal and urban areas, in the great outdoors and human homes. Authors discussed include John Ruskin, Charles Kingsley, Philip Henry Gosse, Margaret Gatty, Hugh Miller, Eliza Brightwen, Richard Jefferies and W. H. Hudson.
The introductory chapter provides geographical contexts and briefly outlines both the history of the search for the Northwest Passage and the Franklin expedition. It gives an overview of the searches that ensued for the missing expedition over twelve years and emphasises the centrality of visuality and the importance of skills like drawing to shipboard life, as well as highlighting the gaps in the literature that this book will fill, in particular the neglect of rich primary-source visual material (such as on-the-spot sketches and watercolours) as a key source of information and evidence. It notes, too, the sparseness of scholarly work addressing this period of Arctic exploration history and the absence of detailed visual analyses of documentary art from the Arctic. This chapter introduces the key debates in the study of exploration literature, Victorian visuality, and historical geography. These include the gendered space of polar exploration, the imperial gaze, and theories of space and place. It looks too at how visual evidence can be seen as layers of representation, with each response departing further from the original sketch.
In the mid-nineteenth century, thirty-six expeditions set out for the Northwest Passage in search of Sir John Franklin's missing expedition. The array of visual and textual material produced on these voyages was to have a profound impact on the idea of the Arctic in the Victorian imaginary. Eavan O'Dochartaigh closely examines neglected archival sources to show how pictures created in the Arctic fed into a metropolitan view transmitted through engravings, lithographs, and panoramas. Although the metropolitan Arctic revolved around a fulcrum of heroism, terror and the sublime, the visual culture of the ship reveals a more complicated narrative that included cross-dressing, theatricals, dressmaking, and dances with local communities. O'Dochartaigh's investigation into the nature of the on-board visual culture of the nineteenth-century Arctic presents a compelling challenge to the 'man-versus-nature' trope that still reverberates in polar imaginaries today. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
Florence Nightingale was the indisputable heroine of the Crimean War during the conflict and after. Though she treated the cholera, her greatest success came in the realm of public opinion. The press bathed Nightingale, an unusually capable and energetic professional, in sentiment. Vaulted to celebrity, the Lady with the Lamp found her place in poems and on porcelain. Postwar labors in public health, nursing, and statistics across her long life had farther reaching effects. Yet, the image of the young Nightingale endured. She was the subject of statues, pageants, and radio shows; she became the emblem of the nursing profession. Complex and malleable, Nightingale was an icon of Englishness and a global heroine. She was an embodiment of Victorianism and a modernizing force. She inspired loyal proponents and fierce detractors. Nightingale bedeviled the army’s medical men in her lifetime; she attracted ire from modernist critics after her death. The greatest rebuke came from the British nursing profession; it discarded Nightingale as its emblem in favor of more current role models in 1989. This most enduring Victorian heroine was ultimately out of step with contemporary Britain.
Chapter one defines and historically situates the intersections among decadence, ecology, and the pagan revival in literature and art. Noting ecological, scientific, classist, nationalist, and imperialist aspects of decadence in its earliest articulations, focus is given to the shifting formulations of modern decadence in particular by such influential writers as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Bourget, and Max Nordau, the chapter offers close analyses of works by Algernon Swinburne such as his poem ‘The Leper’ (1866) and the Pre-Raphaelite artist Frederick Sandys such as his painting Medea (1868) that demonstrate the complex interplay across these concepts.
Casting fresh light on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British art, literature, ecological science and paganism, Decadent Ecology reveals the pervasive influence of decadence and paganism on modern understandings of nature and the environment, queer and feminist politics, national identities, and changing social hierarchies. Combining scholarship in the environmental humanities with aesthetic and literary theory, this interdisciplinary study digs into works by Simeon Solomon, Algernon Swinburne, Walter Pater, Robert Louis Stevenson, Vernon Lee, Michael Field, Arthur Machen and others to address trans-temporal, trans-species intimacy; the vagabondage of place; the erotics of decomposition; occult ecology; decadent feminism; and neo-paganism. Decadent Ecology reveals the mutually influential relationship of art and science during the formulation of modern ecological, environmental, evolutionary and trans-national discourses, while also highlighting the dissident dynamism of new and recuperative pagan spiritualities - primarily Celtic, Nordic-Germanic, Greco-Roman and Egyptian - in the framing of personal, social and national identities.
Chapter 2 follows the rise of Anthony Comstock from being a dry goods clerk and vigilante against all things he deemed immoral, to becoming the nation’s most prominent and powerful censor. He was responsible for enacting federal legislation banning obscene materials from the US Mail and served as a special agent for the Post Office, enforcing the law. He founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an anti-vice organization that was emulated in numerous other states. From this position, he waged a lifelong crusade against contraceptives, free love, free thought, literature, art, and everything that offended his Puritan sensibilities. The chapter describes the key events in his long career, including his rise to prominence, his prosecution of Victoria Woodhull for revealing Reverend Henry Ward Beecher’s affair with a parishioner, his various campaigns against free thought, art, and literature, and his prosecution of birth control advocates.
Chapter 4 sets forth the “Comstock Playbook,” the techniques used by the anti-vice crusader to attack his adversaries, which have been emulated by censors ever since. His strategies include exhibiting moral certainty, equating opposition to your cause with the love of vice, denouncing and discrediting adversaries, promoting xenophobia, poisoning the debate with invective, touting pseudo science, seeking publicity, exaggerating the threat to be overcome, hyping all accomplishments, and playing the martyr.
Vagrant ‘loafers’ were a preoccupation of novelists and social reformers who saw them as emblematic of social and racial decline during the 1880s and 1890s. This chapter first examines the articles and book-length reports that sought to define and solve the problems of unemployment, inefficiency and vagrancy. These were underwritten by theories of degeneration, social Darwinism and eugenics, ideas that ensured that the vagrant poor were increasingly characterised in ‘scientific’ terms as a biological threat to society and the white ‘imperial’ race. The second half of the chapter examines how this anxiety was expressed in the slum fiction of Arthur Morrison and Margaret Harkness, and in particular how the portrayal of loafers in slum novels and social investigations shaped H. G. Wells’s first dystopia, The Time Machine (1895). Although the influence of social investigation has been noted, Wells’s engagement with the slum novel, and what he perceived to be its failings, has hitherto been overlooked.
How were vagrants represented in the Victorian period? This chapter argues that the Victorians inherited many strategies of representation from the early modern period, including the moral concept of the deserving and undeserving poor, and stereotypes about the lawlessness, deceptiveness and rebelliousness of wanderers and itinerants. But they were also influenced by new epistemologies and ways of knowing. In particular, Victorian representations of vagrancy were influenced by emerging racial theories, such as extinction theory, degeneration theory, social Darwinism and eugenics. This chapter provides an overview of how these theories interlocked with older prejudices and moral frameworks, and in the process introduces the key vagrant archetypes addressed by this study: Gypsies, hawkers, poachers, casual paupers, loafers, pauper immigrants, American Indians, American vagabonds and beachcombers. Together, these figures comprise the taxonomy through which commentators understood, imagined and interpreted vagrancy in the Victorian age.
Beachcombers lived in the Pacific Islands and were the vagrants of the South Seas. Historically, they were most prominent in the early nineteenth century and belonged to the medial phase between the Pacific Islanders’ first contact with Europeans and the formal colonisation that followed. By the 1880s and 1890s they had been thoroughly displaced by white missionaries and merchants; however, despite this, the beachcomber became an increasingly prominent figure in British culture during this period. This chapter examines the importance of the beachcomber in the imperial imagination. It explores how the beachcomber was presented in popular novels and the periodical press as both an imperial pathfinder and as a degraded ‘white savage’ destined for extinction; and how these alternative representations were key to the public’s understanding of the Pacific Islands. This analysis provides the context for a close reading of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Ebb-Tide (1894), a novella in which the beachcomber serves as an essential figure in Stevenson’s critique of empire.
Vagrants abound in the writings of British travellers who visited antebellum America. This chapter focuses on the representation of three of these vagrant figures. First, the pauper immigrant, a figure whose mobility was vigorously contested by British and American commentators. For the British these immigrants belong to the deserving poor – their rootlessness was temporary and incidental; for the Americans they were often perceived as undeserving vagrants and a potential financial burden. Second, the American Indian, a figure who was frequently compared to the English Gypsy, and whose nomadism was often repositioned as vagrancy and a sign of their impending extinction. And third, the American vagabond, a vagrant and anarchic figure who was represented as a lawless reprobate living on the frontiers. These three figures were interpreted using a range of representational strategies that were current in Britain, and together they demonstrate the flexibility of vagrant discourses – their ability to circulate globally as well as locally. Among other writers, this chapter examines the works of Frances Trollope, Harriet Martineau and Charles Dickens.
The Gypsy is one of the most prominent vagrant figures in nineteenth-century literature and culture, and has received a considerable amount of critical attention. This chapter situates the Gypsy alongside other rural itinerants, such as hawkers and handicraft tramps, in order to address how racial and aesthetic assumptions conditioned the representation of Gypsies in British print culture. Focusing on the period 1830–60, this chapter first examines how a legacy of picturesque representation combined with more recent theories of extinction, and how these were combined in periodical articles that depicted the Gypsies as a ‘vanishing race’. This is followed by an in-depth analysis of George Borrow’s autobiography Lavengro (1851) and its sequel The Romany Rye (1857). Here I argue that while Borrow reiterated racial interpretations of English Gypsies, he actively critiqued the picturesque tradition that sought to idealise them and other rural itinerants in Britain. Alongside Borrow, this chapter examines works by George Eliot and Mary Russell Mitford.
Vagrants were everywhere in Victorian culture. They wandered through novels and newspapers, photographs, poems and periodicals, oil paintings and illustrations. They appeared in a variety of forms in a variety of places: Gypsies and hawkers tramped the country, casual paupers and loafers lingered in the city, and vagabonds and beachcombers roved the colonial frontiers. Uncovering the rich Victorian taxonomy of nineteenth-century vagrancy for the first time, this interdisciplinary study examines how assumptions about class, gender, race and environment shaped a series of distinct vagrant types. At the same time it broaches new ground by demonstrating that rural and urban conceptions of vagrancy were repurposed in colonial contexts. Representational strategies circulated globally as well as locally, and were used to articulate shifting fantasies and anxieties about mobility, poverty and homelessness. These are traced through an extensive corpus of canonical, ephemeral and popular texts as well as a variety of visual forms.
London was a centre of vagrancy in the Victorian period. Its refuges, lodging-houses and workhouses ensured that large numbers of vagrants travelled to the capital, especially during the winter months when travelling on the open road could be difficult and dangerous. The first half of this chapter examines how these forms of relief structured the vagrants’ movement and resulted in what I call ‘metropolitan vagrancy’. This was a constrained form of movement, typically limited to the winter months, that was contoured by the resources that the vagrant poor were able to access and the mounting restrictions that were placed on them by the Poor Law. The second half examines an understudied depiction of homelessness that was, in part, a product of these restrictions: the queue outside the ‘casual’ or vagrant ward of the workhouse. This became an image that articulated anxieties about the difficult distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor, and also conveyed fears about the illiberality of the Poor Law and the potentially revolutionary response that it might provoke. This chapter examines works by Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley and the painter Luke Fildes.