Anna Maria Jones is Associate Professor of English at the University of Central Florida, where she also directs What’s Next, a university-wide initiative that focuses on integrative learning to prepare undergraduates to meet their professional, civic, and educational goals. In the Department of English she teaches Victorian and neo-Victorian literature, literary theory, history of the novel, and Japanese anime and manga. She is the author of Problem Novels: Victorian Fiction Theorizes the Sensational Self (Ohio State, 2007) and co-editor, with Rebecca N. Mitchell, of the forthcoming essay collection, Drawing on the Victorians: The Palimpsest of Victorian and Neo-Victorian Graphic Texts (Ohio). Her articles on nineteenth-century topics have appeared in journals such as Novel, LIT: Literature, Interpretation, and Theory, Victorian Literature & Culture, and, most recently, BRANCH. Recent articles on neo-Victorian manga have also appeared in Criticism and Neo-Victorian Studies. Her current monograph project explores transnational and transmedial engagements with and appropriations of the Victorians. She is also working on articles on transnational neo-Victorianism and on the Victorian art of novel writing.
If you had the ability to tour the nineteenth century for one hour and you could visit as many places / events as you could, regardless of distance, how would you build your itinerary? I think I would want to eavesdrop on all those moments when important aesthetic ideas were coming into being. I would want to hear the conversation when Rossetti and friends decided to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, or when George Eliot talked through Chapter 17 of Adam Bede with Lewes (as I imagine she did). I would listen in on Pater’s conversations as he was formulating his ideas for the essays that would become The Renaissance and on Henry James’s thoughts on the “Art of Fiction” before he wrote the essay. I would retrace moments that mattered in the cultural exchanges between England and Japan: see the exhibitions in England and France where Japanese art was first introduced to the public; I would attend Lafcadio Hearn’s lectures on English literature at Tokyo Imperial University and then be there when Beardsley first saw Whistler’s Peacock Room.
What is the movie, TV show, or book set in the nineteenth century that has most resonated with you? Those who heard me describe my dissatisfaction with the novel in a recent conference presentation at VISAWUS will be surprised to learn this, but probably A. S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book. There is something about the way it displays a faith in our ability to touch the living, breathing past through material objects (e.g., all the hundreds of things that Byatt describes in great detail from Liberty gowns to Minton china)—while also constantly undercutting or critiquing that faith—that really captures my own relationship (and, I suspect other scholars’ relationships) to the nineteenth century. Of course, one knows better than to fetishize Victorian objects and, through them, the Victorians. One has critical distance enough not to romanticize the nineteenth century and not to forget the grim economic inequities and imperial rapacity that enabled the collecting and making of all those beautiful things, and yet, and yet…all those beautiful things! I think the novel is really smart in the ways that it maintains that tension between critical distance from and uncritical yearning toward the past.
What is your favorite mode of nineteenth-century transportation? Trains! They are still the best mode of transportation as far as I am concerned.
What nineteenth-century sound would you love to hear? I remember hearing an old recording from a wax cylinder of Tennyson reading “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” which was so moving even though you can barely make out what he is saying. I would love to hear the sound of authors reading or reciting their work. Swinburne’s poetry is gorgeous just to read silently, even better to read aloud, so how amazing would it be to hear him read it himself? (This might actually be a terrible idea. I think, for example, that Ruskin was an impressive orator, but what if he actually had a squeaky, mousey voice? What if Christina Rossetti said “um” at every caesura? Better not to know.)