Victoriana: Histories, Fictions, Criticism

Victoriana: Histories, Fictions, Criticism

Victoriana: Histories, Fictions, Criticism

Victoriana: Histories, Fictions, Criticism

Synopsis

A series of astute critical reflections on our enduring fascination with all things Victorian.In this book Cora Kaplan looks at the politics of Victorians from the 1970s to the present, a politics that emerges from the alternation between nostalgia and critique in fiction, film, biography andliterary studies. She asks how Jane Eyre can still evoke tears and rage, as well as inspiring imitation and high art, and why Henry James has become fiction's favourite late Victorian character in the new millennium?Victorians, the book argues, has developed a modern history of its own in which we can trace the shifting social and cultural concerns of the last few decades. Through the constant interrogation of history in such innovative works as John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman, A.S. Byatt's Possession, David Lodge's Nice Work, Peter Ackroyd's Dickens, Jane Campion's The Piano, Colm Toibin's The Master, Sarah Waters's Fingersmith, Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty and Julian Barnes's Arthur and George, 'Victoriana' maps out a very particular postmodern temporality.

Excerpt

In Brian Moore’s comic novel The Great Victorian Collection (1975), a young Canadian, Anthony Maloney, an assistant professor of British history whose subject is Victorian things, falls asleep in the Sea Winds motel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, and dreams that he is walking through an exhibit of Victorian objects, rivalling and sometimes reproducing those on display in Britain’s Great Exhibition of 1851. In a typical aberration of dream life, the collection, which takes up a modern city block, is located not in some virtual London, but, to Anthony’s amazement, in the Sea Winds parking lot. He wakes to find himself the custodian of just such an exhibition outside his motel room, whose contents not only perfectly replicate actually existing historical objects – from a glass fountain to a toy engine, to erotic playthings he has only read about – but has created others, many of which were not known to have survived the inevitable triage of history, or even to have ever existed in more than descriptive or imaginary form. Media attention to the collection brings Anthony, as its realiser and reluctant curator, a brief celebrity, but its mysterious origin in his psyche, and its curious dependence for its integrity on his presence at the site of its appearance, ultimately prove fatal to the dreamer and his dream; the story ends with Anthony’s macabre death, while the collection – subtly degraded, no longer newsworthy, but not destroyed – survives him.

A meditation on the modern obsession with things Victorian, The Great Victorian Collection explores the late twentieth-century desire to know and to ‘own’ the Victorian past through its remains: the physical and written forms that are its material history. Maloney’s academic interest in Victorian ‘collectibles’ – Victoriana in its earliest definition as material culture – provides the occasion for a surrealist exposure of the grotesque and even dangerous side of the historical imagination – the incommensurability of the Victorian past and its late capitalist legacy. California, in Moore’s evocation of the 1970s, represents the horizon of . . .

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