Rewriting the Victorians: Modes of Literary Engagement with the 19th Century

Rewriting the Victorians: Modes of Literary Engagement with the 19th Century
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I will be alive now until the end 77 Original emphasis. A writer like Emma Tennant has made a name for herself through this derivative literary practice, but many other writers from all walks of fictional creations, have on sundry occasions, yielded to the temptation.

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Clare Boylan, the late Irish author, is a good a case in point as she took up the challenge of completing the interrupted story of Emma Brown is what was then advertised as a co-authored book. The manuscript entitled Emma consisting of two chapters stayed forever as a real enticement to complete the story of the riddling eponymous girl. The girl is first pampered and doted upon by the ladies in charge of the private educational establishment till she is revealed to be a pauper.

The undertaking is perilous however and Clare Boylan fleshed out Matilda Fitzgibbon, whose real identity was subsequently revealed as Emma Brown, by doing extensive research on the London underworld. At one point, Matilda now known as Emma, befriends a homeless waif named Jenny Drew, who carries dead babies in lieu of dolls and who sells dog faeces. A scale could be propounded, ranging neo-Victorian characters from the most life-like historical personages to fictional crucibles mixing up features from a whole Victorian cast into a single neo-Victorian synthesis of a character.

Real life Victorian people occasionally feature in neo-Victorian fictions.

So, in these fictions two lesser known, albeit authentic, Victorian people — Captain Fitzroy and Syms Covington — are rescued from oblivion through the painstaking labour of two historical novelists and they steal the limelight from Darwin for once. Then, suddenly, the flame became a person — two, in fact, two flames lapping at each other but never joining to become a single flame though they shared the same stone hearth and were a party to the same storms. To paraphrase Marie Luise Kohlke they could be labelled as faux Victorian characters.

She is reminiscent of the image of the prostitute in Victorian literature, for example of Nancy in Oliver Twist , as her destiny too is decided upon by the vicious circle in which she is trapped from the moment of her birth. In her womanly dramatic monologue, Webster grants a fallen woman articulate thoughts, whose sincerity cannot be framed within the format of a conventional diary.

Such a technique of replication ties in neatly with the commodification of culture which, among other things, the novel documents. In making many copies of the reproduction, it substitutes for its unique incidence a multiplicity of incidences. In The Picture of Dorian Gray , the young man is so wrapped up in his reading of the yellow book that Henry Wotton has offered him that his identification with des Esseintes is total.

So, instead of having one character migrating from a sourcetext to its rewritten, updated version, the reader is confronted to a constellation of characters, both real and fictional, so that the chronological gap naturally granting precedence and authenticity to the forerunner over the latecomer is erased as the two Dorians, the old and the new, are similarly related to their common putative models and decadent lookalikes.

In a way, all the cards were already there in the hypotext but they have been shuffled differently in the hypertext. It is precisely at this ultimate moment that two Dorians fuse together thus abolishing whatever infinitesimal rift might have persisted between the imitation and the imitated. And secondly, in the last few lines the new Dorian realises that he cannot escape the fate which the previous Dorian had run away from unscathed. Standing in the piss-filled runnel of the urinal […] Dorian […] by now was also coming to terms with the fact that the beautiful new tie Ginger had just given him with his knife was a warm, sticky, fluid thing, and hardly likely to remain fashionable for very long at all.

With a typically Victorian flair for onomastics Self plays on the paronomasia between Dorian and durian to underscore the contiguous link between the gay icon and the HIV cell:. Dorian, this is durian; durian this is dorian. DI As a matter of fact, the specificity of the retrovirus lies in reverse transcriptase, the capacity to reverse transcribe the viral RNA into DNA to contaminate healthy host cells which, once infected, disseminate the lethal poison around them.

In a way, they are in a lot of cases predicated upon areas of critical studies such as post-structuralism and deconstruction, queer and LGBT studies and haunting and spectrality.

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This does not entail as a matter of principle that each and every neo-Victorian fiction is high-brow or intellectually demanding — some would probably contend that the exact opposite is actually the case — but as they belong to second degree literature, there is invariably a form of literary self-consciousness about their creative process that is fed on theory.

Hence neo characterization in the neo Victorian novel escapes any straightforward mimetism to produce hybrid personages blending reality effect and some critical commitment. Byatt, David Lodge or Graham Swift was by and large an extension of the campus novel. In a sense, it is perfectly legitimate that this issue should be raised in the wake of Victorianism remembered, among other things, for having set out clearly defined gender norms.

This link between academia and fiction-writing is perceptible with a novelist like Sarah Waters who before publishing her lesbian trio Tipping the Velvet , Affinity and Fingersmith had written a Ph. The former is based on an authentic nineteenth century military surgeon, who on his death in drew public attention when newspapers ran stories that he had in fact been a woman.

With both Barry and Rose any essentialist bond between biological sex and gender identification is of course as simplistic and arbitrary.

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I fact, the matter is even more complex. Stace suggests that Lord Rose, aka Miss Fortune, is caught up in a web of contradictory ideologies. The reader knows from the outset that Rose is a male child whom his father doted on like the darling beloved sister he had lost.

The Victorian Way of Death

Her own representation of her identity was clearly leaning towards femininity; hence the womanly persona which is crucial to her mental build-up. She labours under the illusion that combining male sexuality with female socialization will result in the inception of the perfect human being, combining the best of both sexes and genders, failing to realize that such an experiment will render Rose unable to cope in the world outside the sheltered haven of the family estate.

It also resists any shallow idealization of Barry as a romantic figure of emancipation challenging head-on the constraints of heteronormativity in a patriarchal society. Of course, the Victorian age was felt as being a transitory period even in its own time, an era deeply committed to reviving many pasts: classical, medieval and renaissance. This propensity to look back was evidence of the uncertainties facing the future.

Rewriting the Victorians: Modes of Literary Engagement with the 19th Century

The occult indeed pervades Victorian literature through revenants, doubles and an overall sense of the uncanny informing the way characters could be imagined. Original emphasis. Some neo Victorian novelists call up the illusion of resurrecting and entering into a private exchange with the Dead through a poetics which Hilary M. Schor, referring to A. Byatt, and subsequently on other neo Victorian writers is plain enough.

The ghostly and the spectral have shaped the neo-Victorian fiction in different manners and exerted a decisive influence on characterization, and the way readers respond to characters, narrator and implied author. However such ludic intrusions in well-made plots, which may occasionally shed some light on their hypotexts, are in no way representative of neo characterization in the neo-Victorian novel.

The latter functions as a memory trigger for a synthetized reading experience, hovering between the mimetic — through the replication of a form of historical faithfulness — and the spectral, by being poised between life and death, presence and absence. As an interface between the present and the past the neo-character is caught up in a temporal chiasmus; either as a contemporary figure imbued with a sense of irretrievable loss, or as a recreation of the past actuating long forgotten or putative creatures. In both cases he testifies to temporal disjoining.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, English Music. London: Penguin Books, The Great Fire of London , New York: Pantheon Books, Aurora Leigh. London: Penguin, Emma Brown. London: Little Brown, Language and Narrative from Cervantes to Calvino. Houndmills: Macmillan, Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. London: Penguin Classics, London: Hamish Hamilton, Manchester: Carcanet, Possession , A Romance.

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London: Vintage, Angels and Insects. Jack Maggs. London: Faber and Faber, Middlesex: The Echo Library, Structuralist Poetics. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Our Mutual Friend. Great Expectations. Little Dorrit. The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge. Specters of Marx.

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British Fictions of the Sixties. These cookies help us understand user behavior within our services. Mitchell served on the board from Learn about new offers and get more deals by joining our newsletter. As part of the larger ideological framework of post-Victorian fiction, chapter 2 focuses on the study of the literary scene post-Victorian fiction enacts. Neo-Victorian Studies

New York and London: Routledge, James Miranda Barry. ECO Umberto. Martin McLaughlin.

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New York: Harcourt, London: Bloomsbury, The Crimson Petal and the White. Edinburgh: Canongate, Faulks on Fiction. A Story of the Novel in 28 Characters. Human Traces.

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London: Vintage Books, The Eyre Affair. London: Hodder and Stoughton, London: Jonathan Cape, The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, Against the Grain. New York: Dover Publication, In Modern Criticism and Theory. A Reader. David Lodge with Nigel Wood eds. New York: Pearson Education, Post-Victorian fiction from the past 30 years aims at seeing how various narratives of identity have evolved in a climate of changing political rhetoric.

The cultural subtexts characterizing the 19th century Crystal Palace are shown and are paralleled to contemporary ones, eg. As another group of examples, the author studies island fiction where dislocation and travel function as tools in the reconceptualization of postcolonial and post-imperial identities. As far as the literary scene is concerned, concepts of originality, authenticity, and plagiarism surface in the adaptations and in their criticism as well. As far as identity constructions are concerned, questions of self and home are central in all three texts.

Chapter 5 surveys how Victorian source texts are written into adaptive maps and how contemporary rewritings of 19th century fiction embrace the sequelization and serialization of novelistic texts. The popular Victorian novel sequel meant a series of plots by the same author, with the same characters, sometimes even the same setting, more or less in chronological order.

This disrupts the chronology and concepts of originality and authorship, too, and has a subversive potential. The reworking shows theoretical awareness of issues related to authorship, adaptation, originality, and it also concerns itself with postcolonial, postimperial and post feminist identities.

The plot is centered on the fate of literary texts in both the phase of their reception and production. The book changes its status from a silent cultural memento to one that actively engages in influencing present day events by utilizing its potential as a present day historical narrative. Dickens represents the Victorian era in cultural memory, so there is an ongoing critical engagement with his work. The two postcolonial refashionings of Great Expectations combine the concept of the author with British colonial and imperial legacies, and provide literary and cultural responses to the process of exporting and re-importing Dickens.

The book and the project it maps out represent a very learned, very ambitious and also challenging enterprise for its general academic audience. The topic is broad, the body of texts is ever growing, the theoretical field is just emerging, all of which makes discussion urgent. The study uses about 30 primary texts as points of reference, more than one would expect in a monograph, and a wide array of multidisciplinary methodologies are applied as well postcolonial criticism, feminism, cultural studies, cultural memory studies, trauma studies, media studies , again more than usually expected.

The overarching aim of the book is to offer a multidisciplinary theoretical framework for the study of post- Victorian fiction to a general academic audience, so there is a lot at stake. Apart from the scope and ambition of the book, another major challenge posed by this project is the metacritical potential of the enterprise. The general framework offered challenges not only scholars of post-Victorian literature in particular but pursuers of literary study in general when the social potential of literary activity is problematized. Critical activity is conceptualized as a space of creative activity note the abundance of new terms in itself, and conversely, post-Victorian literature is pushed towards criticism in that these texts are shown to be self-reflexive and critically conscious rewritings prone to functioning as literary critical sources.

Rewriting as such becomes inherently theoretical.

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The 19th century has become especially relevant for the present--as one can see from, for example, large-scale adaptations of written works, as well as the. The 19th century has become especially relevant for the present—as one can see from, for example, large-scale adaptations of written works.

Shires in So theory is eclectic and somewhat makeshift but functional in this book. It is a bit like the practice of biofiction shown in chapter 2, where fiction, theory and criticism coexist at one interpretive site. It is possible to rearticulate the cultural work this book does from the perspective of literary historiography. This theme becomes visible in English literary production by the s only. When that critical myth fell, English literature died and literatures in English were born — with questions and multiple answers about models of subjectivity, the status of language, the legacy and criticism of modernism.

So the conceptual space post-Victorian fiction represents is one area in which that multiplicity is played out, and a book on post-Victorian fiction is an account of the rewriting of the myth of the English tradition of the novel. Shires M. London: Routledge, Related Papers. By Sneha Kar Chaudhuri.