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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.
The truth of the work, as determined by its origin in personal existence, is fully revealed and realized only through interpretation by other individuals reading it in relation to their own existence in the course of a history of reception. The Vita nuova can stand as emblematic of this process and as illustrative of its exceptionally fecund results in literary history. Often touted as the first book of Italian literary tradition, the Vita nuova is a seed of the very process of a literary tradition disseminating itself through ongoing production of works as responses such as Dante himself elicits in circulating the sonnet about his initiatory dream to fellow poets. Especially revealing of the history of effects of this text are its artistic appropriations at various periods in the iconographical tradition. The Pre-Raphaelite depictions, notably by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, illustrate how subjectively driven interpretation can become relevant to revealing the original, but temporally unbounded meaning of a text. Rossetti’s, like Dante’s, personal preoccupations prove instrumental for disclosing and illuminating what can be lived as perennial and perduring truths about human existence.
The essay argues that Bishop sees poems as a series of possibilities to be revisited gratefully, shrewdly, critically, neither agonistically as precursors to battle or displace, nor polemically in the spirit of a literary politics championing a school or movement. It canvasses her relation to a range of nineteenth-century poets, focusing first from the Romantic period on Blake, to whose visionary poetics she adds a skeptical element, and Wordsworth. The essay finds Wordsworthian elements in her use of the word “something,” her intuition that crucial moments combine negativity and revelation, and her central insistence on the provisionality of vision. It then suggests that Bishop was prompted creatively by two Victorian genres: first, the dramatic monologue, with speakers liberated from accuracy and articulate in their egotism; second, nonsense poetry, with its minor-key version of transcendent magic and its frequent link of the “awful but cheerful.” The other abiding Victorian influence was Hopkins, along with Wordsworth and Baudelaire an exemplar dynamically observing his own process of observation.
The introduction sets up the book’s theoretical terrain by providing a synoptic history of stylistic virtue from Aristotle to the present. It claims that stylistic virtues have typically encoded two ways of thinking about style: a referential one that regards style as an embodiment of underlying character and an autonomous one that sees style as conveying an independent character of its own. It explains that the book’s overarching purpose is to unfold the autonomous conception of style and defends its approach through the analysis of an extended Victorian example (“lightness” in Robert Louis Stevenson's work). It concludes by showing that stylistic virtue offers a fresh conceptual framework for understanding the aesthetic value of fiction in ways not captured by recent work in either ethical or formalist criticism.
What is style, and why does it matter? This book answers these questions by recovering the concept of 'stylistic virtue,' once foundational to rhetoric and aesthetics but largely forgotten today. Stylistic virtues like 'ease' and 'grace' are distinguishing properties that help realize a text's essential character. First described by Aristotle, they were integral to the development of formalist methods and modern literary criticism. The first half of the book excavates the theory of stylistic virtue during its period of greatest ascendance, in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when belletristic rhetoric shaped how the art of literary style and 'the aesthetic' were understood. The second half offers new readings of Thackeray, Trollope, and Meredith to show how stylistic virtue changes our understanding of style in the novel and challenges conventional approaches to interpreting the ethics of art.
John Jacob Thomas’s mid-nineteenth-century career exemplifies the contradictions of the post-abolition period. A schoolteacher who authored Theory and Practice of Creole Grammar (1869) and Froudacity: West Indian Fables Explained (1888), he parsed, literally and symbolically, the grammar of freedom. What did it mean to be free in a world in which non-whiteness was synonymous with servitude, and in which blackness and intellect were considered to be oxymoronic? Thomas’s efforts to vindicate 'freedom’s children' – the successors of the generation of enslavement – shed light on conceptions of mimicry, respectability, and literary and political authority that continue to shadow our postcolonial moment.
The conclusion to The Victorian Cult of Shakespeare addresses Victorian reading practices in light of various twenty-first-century hermeneutics of sympathy: Eve Sedgwick’s “reparative reading,” Michael Warner’s “uncritical reading,” Rita Felski’s “post-critical reading,” Emma Mason’s “pastoral reading,” Lori Branch’s “post-secular studies,” and so forth. It urges that professional literary studies might do well to view devotional Victorian responses to Shakespeare with greater sympathy than we have to this point, that such sympathy may be, after all, closer to the heart of our collective mission.
Chapter Three, “The Sonnets and the Messiah” shows how Victorian enthusiasts did with Shakespeare’s lyric expressions exactly as they had done with his plays. Charles Ellis’s astonishing collection, Shakespeare and the Bible: Fifty Sonnets, with their Scriptural Harmonies (1896) deliberately juxtaposes Shakespearean sonnets with passages from scripture so as to demonstrate their mutual accord. This chapter untangles the peculiar theological expectations implicit in Victorian reading to show how their conception of Shakespeare’s divinity served to ensure and to perpetuate unlikely interpretations of the sonnets.
Chapter Two, “The Harmonies and Beauties of the Substitute Bible,” takes up mid-Victorian devotional guidebooks that reprint lines of Shakespeare alongside or in conjunction with parallel quotations from the Bible: works like Frederic B. Watson’s Religious and Moral Sentences Culled from the Works of Shakespeare, compared with Sacred Passages drawn from Holy Writ (1843), J. B. [“Selkirk”] Brown’s Bible Truths with Shakespearean Parallels (1862), James Rees’s Shakespeare and the Bible (1875), and G. Q. Colton’s Shakspeare and the Bible: Parallel Passages and Passages Suggested by the Bible with the Religious Sentiments of Shakspeare (1888). Such nineteenth-century texts offer signal evidence of how the Victorians read Shakespeare as a religious expression in his own right, and in such a manner that lines from the plays fall parallel to, or serve as equivalents for, lines of scripture. Many of these texts in their original context would seem to have nothing to do with religion, but here they become reframed as unexpected expressions of the divine.
In the Victorian era, William Shakespeare's work was often celebrated as a sacred text: a sort of secular English Bible. Even today, Shakespeare remains a uniquely important literary figure. Yet Victorian criticism took on religious dimensions that now seem outlandish in retrospect. Ministers wrote sermons based upon Shakespearean texts and delivered them from pulpits in Christian churches. Some scholars crafted devotional volumes to compare his texts directly with the Bible's. Still others created Shakespearean societies in the faith that his inspiration was not like that of other playwrights. Charles LaPorte uses such examples from the Victorian cult of Shakespeare to illustrate the complex relationship between religion, literature and secularization. His work helps to illuminate a curious but crucial chapter in the history of modern literary studies in the West, as well as its connections with Biblical scholarship and textual criticism.
In the nineteenth century, no assumption about female reading generated more ambivalence than the supposedly feminine facility for identifying with fictional characters. The belief that women were more impressionable than men inspired a continuous stream of anxious rhetoric about “female quixotes”: women who would imitate inappropriate characters or apply incongruous frames of reference from literature to their own lives. While the overt cultural discourse portrayed female literary identification as passive and delusional, Palacios Knox reveals increasing accounts of Victorian women wielding literary identification as a deliberate strategy. Wayward women readers challenged dominant assumptions about “feminine reading” and, by extension, femininity itself. Victorian Women and Wayward Reading contextualizes crises about female identification as reactions to decisive changes in the legal, political, educational, and professional status of women over the course of the nineteenth century: changes that wayward reading helped women first to imagine and then to enact.
Tracing the evolution of Brontëan Gothic into sensation fiction between the late 1840s and mid-1860s, this chapter explores the dialogue between Victorian Gothic novels with a domestic setting and contemporary debates about gender known as the Woman Question. Representing the home as the site of violence, infidelity and dysfunction rather than as the tranquil refuge envisioned by domestic ideology, the fiction examined here is informed by, and even explicitly alludes to, topical controversies regarding marriage and gender roles sparked by such events as Caroline Norton’s campaign to reform child custody law, the passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act and the establishment of the civil divorce court. Yet, while their representation of women’s domestic entrapment has feminist undertones, these ideologically conflicted works also echo anxieties about the breakdown of separate spheres reminiscent of the period’s conservative discourses. These anxieties are most evident in the portrayal of the sexually deviant woman, a highly controversial figure in Victorian culture, and one depicted in these examples of domestic Gothic with pronounced, and often aesthetically complex, ambivalence.
Beginning with the design competition for the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster in 1834, this chapter discusses the development of Gothic in architecture in the nineteenth century. It examines the work of three significant figures in the Gothic Revival: A.W. N. Pugin; John Ruskin; and William Morris, suggesting that, although each approached the issue in terms of their different religious and political convictions, all three were concerned with the relationship between architecture and society. Pugin’s contrasts of contemporary and fifteenth-century architecture illustrated the damaging social divisions of Victorian England and the need to return to medieval architectural forms and religious attitudes. Politically and religiously more ambiguous than Pugin, Ruskin proposed the special ‘Northern Gothic’ character of England where the artistic freedom of the artisan had expressed the coherence of its communities, now lost in industrial servitude. Morris, drawing from Ruskin, emphasised the freedom of labour and became convinced that Socialism was a crucial stage in the Gothic Revival.
Revealing the web of mutual influences between nineteenth-century scientific and cultural discourses of appearance, Mimicry and Display in Victorian Literary Culture argues that Victorian science and culture biologized appearance, reimagining imitation, concealment and self-presentation as evolutionary adaptations. Exploring how studies of animal crypsis and visibility drew on artistic theory and techniques to reconceptualise nature as a realm of signs and interpretation, Abberley shows that in turn, this science complicated religious views of nature as a text of divine meanings, inspiring literary authors to rethink human appearances and perceptions through a Darwinian lens. Providing fresh insights into writers from Alfred Russel Wallace and Thomas Hardy to Oscar Wilde and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Abberley reveals how the biology of appearance generated new understandings of deception, identity and creativity; reacted upon narrative forms such as crime fiction and the pastoral; and infused the rhetoric of cultural criticism and political activism.
Viewed, as it often still is, from a neo-Romantic perspective, chivalry becomes a force for order and hedge against violence, but this represents decidedly post-medieval conceptions. European medieval chivalry actually constituted the ideals and practices of the warrior elite, elaborating views on licit violence, lived piety, valorized status, gendered relationships, and the distribution of wealth. This chapter takes chivalric violence as its focus, carefully distinguishing when medieval sources are describing reality and when they present idealistic plans for reforming knighthood. The search is for authentic knightly frames of mind and courses of action. Clearly, they needed some framework to guide their demanding lives and as elite warriors obviously essential in their world, they could choose and shape working codes that met their needs and simply ignore or modify troublesomely restrictive conceptions thrust at them. Of the many sources close to practicing knights used in the chapter, two receive special emphasis, the History of William Marshal (the biography of the manor cross-Channel knight of late 12th and early 13thC) and the Book of Chivalry (written by the leading French knight of mid 14thC). Both show the powerful role of this warrior code emphasizing the role of prowess in the search for honour, sustained by religious piety showing divine blessing on knighthood as one sustaining society.
chapter considers a set of photographs by Martin Laroche made in connection to performances of Richard II in the 1850s. I examine the context for these photographs within the history of photography, as commercial, staged photographs, produced shortly after a high-profile lawsuit had highlighted the tension between scientific and theatrical uses of the medium. I also approach them within their context in the history of Shakespeare performance, suggesting that photography played a key role in the development of ‘antiquarian’ approaches to the history plays in the Victorian period, especially in the work of Charles Kean.
The book begins by outlining the representational problem of aging. Across the realist novel, the duration of aging falls out of the attempt to represent it, greatly accelerating the process of aging or writing the passage of years on the body all at once. By doing so, the novel map bodily development and decline onto the temporalities of nineteenth-century British modernity. Subsequent chapters chart this representational problem through a historical narrative that begins from the New Poor Law in 1834 to the 1860s. The pervasive optimism of these years was made possible, in part, by excluding old age from the plots novelists used to represent era. The second part turns to the growing pessimism at the end of the Victorian period, which arises not from marginalizing old age, but from using it as a figure for an exhausted century. While this has the effect of making old age central to fin-de-siècle narratives, senescence also gains new, negative connotations. Through this argument, Aging, Duration, and the English Novel aims to reorient the field age studies away from the implicit stasis of a term like “age” toward the temporal dynamism of “aging studies.”
The rapid onset of dementia after an illness, the development of gray hair after a traumatic loss, the sudden appearance of a wrinkle in the brow of a spurned lover. The realist novel uses these conventions to accelerate the process of aging into a descriptive moment, writing the passage of years on the body all at once. Aging, Duration, and the English Novel argues that the formal disappearance of aging from the novel parallels the ideological pressure to identify as being young by repressing the process of growing old. The construction of aging as a shameful event that should be hidden - to improve one's chances on the job market or secure a successful marriage - corresponds to the rise of the long novel, which draws upon the temporality of the body to map progress and decline onto the plots of nineteenth-century British modernity.
The conclusion examines the legacy of physical-psychical scientists. By the 1940s even the most sympathetic physical-psychical scientists were ambivalent at best about the ‘psychical’ achievements of Crookes, Lodge and other veteran physical-psychical scientists. From the 1940s until the 1960s very few of the connections between physics and psychics involved the modern physics of relativity and quantum theories; the 1970s, however, saw a rejuvenation of interest in these possibilities, which became a major focus of the new field of ‘paraphysics’ whose theories and practices continue to cause controversy. I argue that the protagonists of this book would have recognised many of the problems faced by practitioners of paraphysics but repudiated these practitioners’ perceptions that Victorian physics was materialistic, rigid and closed to psychical significance.