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Bauman, John — Gateway to Vacationland
Gateway to Vacationland: The Making of Portland, Maine. By John F. Bauman. Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. Pp. xvii + 285. 29 black-and-white illustrations and 2 maps. $26.95 (paper).
Aesthetics rarely play a large role in the calculus of urban growth and development. Traditionally, city leaders viewed the various factors of growth solely through an economic lens. More recently, environmental issues have held increasing sway. But in Gateway to Vacationland, John F. Bauman chronicles the highs and lows of a city whose leaders consistently relied heavily on aesthetics to craft their visions of a thriving metropolis. He uses the theme of aesthetics to chart and link various patterns and highlights in Portland’s history. Major political, religious, business, and literary figures feature prominently and reveal how the events of one locality intertwined with the national narrative.
The book spans the entire chronology of the city’s existence, beginning with its founding in 1632 as a fur trading outpost. The first chapter succinctly covers almost two hundred years of Portland history. The author masterfully places the city firmly within the context of colonial, early national, and antebellum America, thus providing the background necessary to understand Portland’s later rise as a tourist destination. The rest of the book is devoted to this journey, Bauman continuing to tell the story of tourism with an eye on the rest of the country, thus showing the tensions in a city keenly aware of its place in America while persistently trying to compete in commerce and industry.
Originally called Falmouth, the town competed with other New England ports, setting it apart by supplying masts to the British navy. Renamed Portland in 1786, a bustling trans-Atlantic trade emerged, driving industrial growth and making the city a mid-sized regional hub during the antebellum era. It was closer to England than was Boston and, offering an ice-free harbor, proved an ideal place to store and ship Canadian winter grain. The need to transport grain provided the impetus for railroad construction, and ribbons of lines coming north from the rest of New England and south from Canada met in the “Forest City.”
Portland acquired that appellation for its “penchant for lining all its major streets with elms” (p. 29). Portland stood at the vanguard of the urban parks and beautification movement in America, hiring Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) to enhance the beauty of the city. Tourism constituted the core of Portland’s economy and identity. The railroads which undergirded the modest manufacturing segment could be used to transport a growing middle class to the mountains and beaches of Maine. The city and its environs could also house a bustling hospitality industry.
A willingness to employ natural and man-made beauty typified Portland’s vision. After 1866, when the town was destroyed by fire, residents rebuilt with renewed commitment to aesthetics, using the fashionable styles of the day in both the downtown and business districts. The concept of beauty added impetus to the wide array of Gilded Age and Progressive Era reform movements. At the same time, tourism became an increasingly important part of the economy, and the city started advertising itself as the “gateway to vacationland” (p. 68).
The first half of the twentieth century reinforced dependence on tourism. Despite the boom years associated with two world wars, which added shipbuilding and oil to the economy, the city still could not compete with more established manufacturing and industrial centers, as depression and then post-war economic reconversion took their tolls. But through war and depression, Maine in general and Portland in particular continued to attract vacationers. The 1960s and 1970s exerted their transformative influences on the city as much as anywhere in the country. But the vision of a sun-splashed city by the sea, immortalized by the city’s most famous son, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–82), held fast, and in fact, grew stronger. City planners worked closely with the federal government for two decades updating and revitalizing the city, gearing improvements toward retaining and recovering the beauty of the past. By the dawning of another new century, the “Gateway to Vacationland” stood as poised as ever to welcome visitors to the beaches, forests, and mountains of Maine.
In many ways, Bauman’s history of Portland functions as a microhistory. While perhaps not as narrow in scope as true microhistory, the book uses the application of aesthetics in Portland as an interpretive window to view the effects of broader trends in American society on a particular location. The use of aesthetics as an interpretive lens adds an element of cultural history as well. Urban residents drew upon their own traditions—Puritan, Yankee, and maritime—to forge an existential nucleus which proved both long-lasting and adaptable. Without losing sight of the whole, the author delves into the details of this core to show the relationship between culture, economics, and individuals.
The greatest strength of the book is the author’s use of aesthetics, which can be hard to quantify. But the author does not try to define beauty. Rather, he tells the story of how Portlanders conceived the concept, thus showing the complexity of the driving historical force in the city, as residents prospered from good stewardship of their surroundings. In the final chapter, however, attention shifts from aesthetics to environmentalism. It is a subtle shift, and, in the context of Portland, both are concerned with preservation. However, the author might profitably have gone into the differences between the two, perhaps exploring the different loci of significance—the environment being something external to humans, and aesthetics something internal.
At the same time, however, this transition from internal to external actually gets to the original purpose of the “Gateway to Vacationland”—to attract people to the scenic wonders of Maine. This insight could be more pronounced, but it is there. And this slight modulation at the end hardly detracts from the narrative. Bauman’s work stands as a significant addition to urban history and demonstrates the importance of smaller and lesser-known cities to the saga of America.
West Virginia University
Casalena, Maria — Sismondi Biographe
Sismondi Biographe: L’Histoire Italienne dans la Biographie Universelle et L’Encyclopédie des Gens du Monde. Edited by Maria Pia Casalena. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2012. Pp. 712. €112.00 (cloth).
With this edition of Sismondi’s biographies of historical Italian figures, Maria Pia Casalena adds significantly to the field of Italian political thought and history. Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi (1773–1842), Swiss historian, economist, and critic, was very well known in his time for his Histoire des Republiques Italiennes du Moyen Âge (History of the Italian Republics of the Middle Ages [1807–18]) and Histoire des Français (History of French [1821–44]). Little attention, however, was paid to his biographical work. In the early nineteenth century, Sismondi contributed to the brothers Michaud’s Biographie Universelle Ancienne et Moderne (Universal Biography, Ancient and Modern [1811–62, 2d ed. 1854–65]), supplying hundreds of biographical entries for major figures of Italian history, dating from the fall of the Roman Empire until the fall of Napoleon’s army.
Casalena provides a clear and informative introduction, printed in both Italian and French, each of approximately thirty pages. The introduction is divided into six sections. In the first, Casalena offers a brief but exhaustive account of Sismondi’s association with the brothers Michaud—Joseph-François (1767–1839), and Louis-Gabriel (1773–1858)—who, for both editions of their extensive Biographie Universelle, availed themselves of the collaboration of many scholars, most belonging to the so-called Groupe de Coppet. This was a group of intellectuals who gathered around Madame de Staël (1766–1871) at her chateau in Switzerland, between the French Revolution and the Restoration, and who were in opposition to Napoleon’s repressive policies. The first biographical entries by Sismondi, too concise and sketchy, did not please the French brothers who pushed him for more detailed and analytical information.
In the second section of her introduction, Casalena explains how Sismondi organized his entries, presenting an Italian history divided into centuries, a term understood not in the ordinary sense but as a period when a common mentality and values were shared by most of the Italian peninsula. Sismondi treats Italian history through his characters, organizing his entries by geographical groupings, from the north to the south of the peninsula, without favoring any particular period. Casalena notes that the entries dedicated to the Communal Age do not reflect the grandiosity of a period regarded as the birth of modern Italian freedom, offering instead a limited pool of characters and examples. Sismondi emphasized, however, the history of the various factions that determined bloody struggles and frequent institutional changes in the cities.
The third section shows how Sismondi not only changed the way he divided Italian history compared to his procedure in his previous work, Histoire des Républiques, but also explains how he changed his opinions about the value of his chosen individuals. In the Biographie, Sismondi pays attention to those characters who appeared to be the best examples of each epoch, regardless of their nationality, family, or party. Odoacer (433–493), for example, of German origin and first king of Italy, is commonly seen as the person ultimately responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire; Sismondi, however, points out that the king “was able to demonstrate the appropriate talent and value for the rank to which he had risen.”1 Sismondi focuses on the magnitude of the prince, who achieved power most often through usurpation—a method that should necessarily be considered negative. As an example, he cites Lionello, (1407–50), son of Nicola d’Este, who rose to power not by his own efforts primarily, but rather as a result of the many problems that affected his family. Although he neither conquered anything in particular, nor created any relevant political event, he was very much loved by his people for devoting himself to public service.
Casalena notes that Sismondi, with other biographers of the Groupe de Coppet, developed an alternative approach to biography, rediscovering and exalting many of the great, misunderstood monarchs or warriors of the past, and creating the typology of the tragic hero. He also utilizes the category of decadence, meant as material and moral degeneration. To this category belong the Germans, who had divided up the government of the decayed Roman Empire among themselves; the great feudal lords, who had split up the government of the central and northern territories without reaching a uniform solution; and the medieval municipalities, who perished because of the struggles that opposed the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Casalena explains that Sismondi identifies the symptoms of the decline in the history of the most influential and representative members of an era or family, predicting that those seeds would continue in a curse on their descendants. The final outcome of this political action was the fall, or the extinction, and the disappearance of Italians from positions of command for the benefit of European powers, until reaching the complete subjugation of the peninsula (see, e.g., the history of Italy in the eighteenth century, the Napoleonic domination, or the territorial redistribution resulting from the Congress of Vienna).
In section four of her introduction, Casalena mentions the two brief, but intense profiles that Sismondi dedicated to contemporary figures: the Swiss jurist and politician, Jean-Pierre Bérenger (1740–1807); and the poet and playwright, Carlo Tedaldi Fores (1793–1829). The latter wrote historical dramas that represented human passions, a technique that Sismondi followed in his biographies. This technique brings together literature and biography, combining both educational and popular functions.
In section five, Casalena writes about another work in which Sismondi participated, the Encyclopédie des Gens du Monde (1833). In this work, his articles, much more limited in number compared to those contained in the Biographie Universelle, were longer and more detailed, such as the article on the origin of the feud between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, a key for the interpretation of a long period of Italian history. While the voices treated in the Biographie Universelle were specific passions of some individual destined to go down in history, in the Encyclopédie the voices represent whole cities engaged in countless wars for territorial expansion and regional hegemony. In the Encyclopédie, Sismondi becomes more pessimistic, treating many medieval leaders as not so much heroes as a spectrum of decay after their glorious season.
In her conclusion (section six of the introduction), Casalena points out that Sismondi’s biographical entries constituted another book dedicated to Italian history beyond the Histoire des Républiques, one dictated particularly by feelings that matured around 1815, following the sad events that oppressed the peninsula. His pessimistic vision, however, was sometimes replaced by positive examples of great notables, heroes who contributed to capture the attention of the patriots who were fighting for Italian freedom. Casalena’s volume allows the reader to perceive Sismondi’s reflection on keywords of political history such as sovereignty, freedom, nation, decay, and rebirth. Superbly edited with notes for clarification when needed, this volume can be a precious compendium to anyone interested in Italian history.
Southeastern Louisiana University
1 Translations of the text are by the reviewer.
Cassedy, Steven — Connected
Connected: How Trains, Genes, Pineapples, Piano Keys, and a Few Disasters Transformed Americans at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century. By Steven Cassedy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014. Pp. xx + 319. ISBN: 978-0-8047-6372-1. $ 24.95 (cloth).
Organized along three thematic lines (“Body and Mind,” “The New Physical World,” and “The Secular, Ecumenical Collective”), Steven Cassedy’s latest book, Connected, examines a wide range of developments that, the writer argues, “network[ed] the network[s]” that were at the heart of unprecedented changes in the US society at the turn of the twentieth century (p. 26).
Cassedy’s core argument, in my reading, is that at the dawn of the twentieth century, Americans – individually and collectively – began to show awareness of their membership in various networks like never before and acknowledged these networks’ inexorable, unprecedentedly constructive presence: “Every time you saw a paper cup instead of a communal glass at a drinking fountain, every time you (a man) shaved, every time you (a woman) put on a skirt with a hemline above the ankle, you knew you were in the network (p. 270).”
The other main argument put forward by Cassedy is that these networks functioned at various scales, from individual to national to cosmic, and connected various aspects of life together from religiosity to municipality – and yet all worked at the expense of the individual citizens’ individuality (p. 272), oftentimes pitting the individual and the social mind against one another (p. 253). The result of this opposition, the book seems to imply, is that the average American individual, the person, the citizen yielded to the greater American social, the organization, the political.
Taking up the era’s fascination with, and its various readings of, evolutionary theory in relation to the making of the “social man” as one main driver of his discussions, Cassedy’s work points at and understands phenomena as networks which not many historians before him have discussed in terms of networks. In a sense, then, the book re-defines “network” as an accommodating metaphor that could help historians re-examine the ways that the binding threads of the US social fabric at the dawn of a new century orchestrated interconnections of individuals into systems based on, and at the service of, the social logic of progress.
The book’s second valuable contribution to scholars’ understanding of the relationship between the US path to modernity and the logic of networks is that networks – from efficient housekeeping models and diet squads to the popularity of wrist-watches and global jazz – could be categorized into five subsets: networks that Americans as living beings contained within themselves (such as the nervous system); networks that they as part of a collective consumer body were necessarily members of (such as the global market); networks that they could not step out of (such as time); networks that they were members of as part of national campaigns and political decisions (such as national hygiene movements); and finally, those whose membership was voluntary and/or temporary (such as the international human rights campaign).
At various points throughout the book, Cassedy’s arguments confirm that networks – whether individual or social – are about inclusion, albeit with a specific order and logic. But this is only partially true. Networks also exclude and block out. In fact, the book could have engaged more directly with the excluding nature of networks at work in the period it studies. While Connected does offer an incisive discussion of anti-Semitism in relation to the “New Negro Movement” and of the question of race in relation to transnational networks, it leaves unmentioned both the strict and exclusive eligibility criteria that limited membership of some networks to the elite or the economically privileged and the impossibility, for some individuals, of ever being able to enter certain networks.
In the same vein, Cassedy does not refer to utopianism – both as a wish and a practice – that functioned contrary to, even despite, networks. The heightened fascination of Americans at the turn of the twentieth century with opting out of conventional social bonds and creating utopias of various kinds could be understood as a revolt against, or refuge from, the relentless grip of political and consumerist networks – a counter-point that could add to the book’s critical engagement with networks through a study of the “disconnected.”
In sum, being a survey of the period it examines, Connected is a valuable read as it sheds light on examples less known but equally fascinating and telling about the larger dynamics of the US society at the turn of the twentieth century. Though primarily interested in printed material and official campaign records accessible mainly to the elite, Cassedy offers fresh insights into American social life about a century ago when race, health, and wealth were all part of personal, preventive, and/or proactive networks.
Colley, Anne — Victorians in the Mountains
Victorians in the Mountains: Sinking the Sublime. By Anne C. Colley. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013. Pp. vii + 228. 45 black-and-white illustrations. $104.95 (cloth).
In her work, literary critic Ann Colley examines a shift from the eighteenth-century “cult of sublimity” to a “perspective in the second half of the nineteenth century that often diminished, compromised, and either consciously ignored or reshaped the [sublime] experience” (p. 2).
Her book is organized into three parts. In part 1, “Tourists, Climbers, and the Sublime,” Colley explores how the traveling habits of middle- to upper-middle-class English men and women began to erode the more notable features necessary to confront the sublime—namely, the prerequisites of “silence and solitude” (p. 20). Using entries from personal diaries, satirical cartoons from newspapers, and archival materials from the Alpine Club, Colley shows how once formidable mountaintops eventually became familiar sites—perhaps too familiar. Thus, Mont Blanc, the symbolic locus of the European sublime, was no longer valued for a soul-paralyzing confrontation with something confusing, awful, and terrible, but instead as a place for recreation and sport.
Eventually, more able mountaineers—disdaining the easier, well-traveled routes that amateur tourists relied on to reach the summit of Mont Blanc—sought higher peaks to exemplify their mastery over vertical terrain. These higher peaks were more technically challenging and were not yet accessible by established routes. No longer were the mountains a place to confront the terrible and terrifying; they had become an Anglicized space where vain Englishmen could flex their Alpine muscles and show their dominance in situations that required “determination, intrepidity, and skill” (p. 51). Though Colley suggests that new technology, especially “cameras and film,” helped to reclaim some of the “mystery of the mountains” (p. 58), it seems that the telescope was unfortunately more powerful in leading to a further diminution of sublime sentiments. Tourists became myopic voyeurs, fetishistic sightseers, intent on tracing the ascent, descent—or worse, death—of the intrepid Alpinists. The sublime was not only sinking, Colley seems to suggest; it had already sunk.
In an interesting shift away from the all male Alpine Club and burgeoning mountain-viewing technologies, in chapter 3 of part 1 Colley writes about women mountaineers and their keenness to show their own physical aptitude, strength, and resilience at vertiginous heights, as is well documented. In fact, unlike other critics, Colley believes there is clear evidence that a “more than sufficient number of members in the Alpine Club, as well as the general public, encouraged, applauded, and respected the achievements of British women” (p. 127). Clearly, her many sources seem to support her assertion. What is unclear, though, is whether the achievements of these women Alpinists bolster or detract from the main premise of the book: the disappearance of the sublime. Overall, the chapter seems disconnected from the first two.
The section most difficult to reconcile with the “sinking sublime” is part 2. Throughout, Colley discusses individual writers—John Ruskin (1819–1900), Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889), and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894). Though the term sublime persists in each successive chapter, Colley’s inability to connect the writers’ disparate approaches to sublimity is problematic. In fact, introducing her chapter on Ruskin, Colley admits it “does not directly address the sinking of the sublime” (p. 145). The statement is portentous: before long, the reader would settle even for an indirect connection. Though an underlying theme is recognizable—each author’s subjective ideas of the sublime influenced his written, and, in the case of both Ruskin and Hopkins, artistic, responses to it—how these differing conceptions of sublimity contributed to its sinking is difficult to determine.
In her concluding section, “Coda: The Himalaya and the Persistence of the Sublime,” which is the sole chapter in part 3, Colley attempts to show how Victorians’ sense of the sublime was renewed by their “fixed attention on the unknown, the stern, desolate landscape, as well as on the melancholy of the endless snows” ever abundant in the Himalayas (p. 224). As a terminus, the chapter is lacking and seems, like its counterparts, to stand by itself. And though many Victorians, used to the comparative safety of established routes in the Alps, may have been in awe of mountains that were mysterious, powerful, and hypnotizing, how the old vestiges of the sublime were revivified by them is difficult to factor since those vestiges had been “sinking”—or perhaps sunk—in earlier chapters.
Colley’s work, viewed as a sort of triptych of disparate parts, is surely an interesting introduction to the early history of mountaineering and the changing nature of individual and collective interactions with, and expectations of, the sublime. Additionally, Colley expertly weaves an abundance of primary and scholarly sources into her own writing. Thus, readers will find the chapters helpful in examining particulars of Victorian culture and well-known writers of the time. What they will not find is a clear explication of how adventurous mountaineers, thrill-seeking tourists, idiosyncratic writers, and English cartographers inevitably caused the “sinking sublime.”
Gregg W. Heitschmidt
Surry Community College
Connors, Linda and MacDonald, Mary Lu — National Identity in Great Britain and British North America, 1815-1851
National Identity in Great Britain and British North America, 1815–1851: The Role of Nineteenth-Century Periodicals. By Linda E. Connors and Mary Lu MacDonald. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011. Pp. viii + 234. $99.95 (hardback).
Linda E. Connors and Mary Lu MacDonald explore the way British magazines, journals, and other types of periodicals shaped and defined conceptions of national identity among middle- and lower-class audiences between the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815) and the Great Exhibition (1851). They concede that popular conceptions of “Britishness”—what it conceivably meant to share certain historical, cultural, and even racial characteristics of a British people, would reach full bloom in the latter half of the nineteenth century, contemporaneous with the height of British industry and imperialism. The authors convincingly argue, however, that the period of international ascendency between 1815 and 1851 was foundational to this later nationalism. These years were marked by profound political and social changes brought about by, among other factors, urbanization, industrialization, and governmental reforms. Connors and MacDonald make a compelling case for the important role print played in establishing a sense of order and meaning amidst these changes by creating and perpetuating cultural norms, stereotypes, as well as narratives about a shared past and common values. This evoked a sense of national belonging among an ethnically, religiously, socially, and geographically diverse reading public at home and in the North American colonies (i.e., Canada).
Both Connors and MacDonald are seasoned scholars of British publication history and draw their sources from religious as well as secular periodicals produced throughout Britain and British North America. They examine not only well-known, long-running periodicals like The Church and The British Review, but also dozens of smaller magazines and journals that, in many cases, lasted less than a year. Their approach to the subjects of nationalism and identity is largely shaped by the work of Benedict Anderson and Linda Colley. Colley’s book, Britons: The Forging of a Nation, 1707–1837 (1992), argues that the idea of the “Other,” a stereotyped image of a person or people against which one defines oneself, was a principle factor in the formation of British national identity. Anderson’s book, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983), argues that national identity is a dynamic cultural product, constructed and perpetuated among people who imagine themselves participating in a larger community that shares mental, physical, and cultural characteristics. Mining the rich and diverse source material at their disposal, Connors and MacDonald portray national identity as a negotiation between notions of a shared past, a transcendent ideology, and the Other. They also reveal variations in this negotiation process contingent upon regional and ethnic loyalties. How does one navigate being both British and Scottish, for example, and how is this further complicated when one also sees oneself as Canadian?
The book is divided into seven chapters, with the body of the book (chaps. 2–6) exploring how this negotiation took place in various aspects of British life. Chapter 2 discusses the rhetoric surrounding political and economic reforms such as Catholic Emancipation and the repeal of the Corn Laws. Chapter three examines faith and religion, while chapter four explores conceptions of gender and the family. Scientific and material progress is the topic of chapter five and the interrelationship of different ethnic groups within the empire occupies chapter six. In each chapter, Connors and MacDonald tease out the three components they see behind national identity. National narratives in which a particular group and region participated in British history created a sense of continuity with the past. But different emphases were placed in narratives aimed at, for example, a Scottish or Welsh audience, as the tension between preserving a unique, more provincial identity within a larger national narrative played out. The Catholic Church and the French served as the Other, as Colley has argued, but Connors and MacDonald also show that different ethnic and racial groups both within the empire and beyond its borders became sources of oppositional identity. Since they were closer to the U.S., emigrants to Canada emphasized the value of monarchy over republicanism as well as their voluntarily role agents of civilization. The idea of progress served as the transcendent ideology shared by British people, but social progress was emphasized more in periodicals published in the urbanizing British Isles, while technological and material progress became the theme of self-conscious colonials eager to demonstrate their success at civilizing Canadian lands.
The periodicals Connors and MacDonald use are excellent windows into the discourse surrounding these aspects of British life. However, the extent to which they actively shaped public perception is questionable. The strongest case can be made for travel literature. Stories printed in magazines of missionaries and explorers and their encounters with indigenous peoples and cultures were filtered by editors and presented in a way that shed favorable light on British people. But even then, because an editor’s main concern was to sell their product (and thus insure its survival), the editorial process was shaped by the prevailing expectations of the audience. The case for the subjects of gender and religion is weaker. While periodicals were active in maintaining certain presumptions and biases, the biases and presumptions themselves had different and deeper origins. Denominational magazines, as the authors remind us, were parochial endeavors. The Banner, for example, might have provided a forum to discuss the superiority of Scottish Presbyterian polity over Anglicanism in Canada, but these convictions were already part of the identity-making discourse of Presbyterian communities.
National Identity in Great Britain and British North America, 1815–1851 is nevertheless an excellent contribution to the study of transatlantic British society. National identities existed, Connors and MacDonald observe, and the book’s organization allows them to explore this succinctly and clearly. While the precise role of periodicals in shaping nationalist discourse is less clear, the authors demonstrate that this source material, often underused by scholars, was valuable to the conversation. Their extensive knowledge and lucid analysis of British print culture (a helpful appendix of periodical information is included) will be a benefit to historians and literary scholars alike.
Daved Anthony Schmidt
Princeton Theological Seminary
Fyfe, Aileen — Steam-Powered Knowledge
Steam-Powered Knowledge: William Chambers and the Business of Publishing, 1820-1860. By Aileen Fyfe. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012. Pp. xvi + 313. 21 black-and-white illustrations. $50 (cloth).
Many scholars know that millions of readers emerged in the nineteenth century due to rather extraordinary improvements in education and literacy. Yet they might not know exactly who, or what, printed the billions of words those new readers consumed. In what promises to become a reference for future researchers, Aileen Fyfe’s Steam-Powered Knowledge offers scholars an original vantage on the subject. Fyfe recreates the commercial world of the publishing brothers Robert and William Chambers and their adoption of new print technologies in the early nineteenth century. She describes how William Chambers carefully managed those new technologies to create a successful business built on mass literacy and popular education. While their success influenced generations of English readers, their accomplishments have received little attention until now.
With spry prose and a keen sense of narrative, Fyfe pulls her readers back into the Chambers’ past through meticulous research from their company archive at the National Library of Scotland. Fyfe’s background in the history of science informs her sensitivity to her subject. With an interdisciplinary audience in mind, she elaborates on the relevant technical, cultural, and commercial factors involved in nineteenth-century print. She is particularly insightful on the challenges the Chambers overcame, including prohibitive taxes, political censorship, logistical mishaps, deadline pressures, and relentless competition. These challenges continually tested the business acumen of the Chambers brothers, who in turn tried innovations no one else had considered.
The Chambers’ story makes for great reading. William bought a second-hand press in 1820, and with perseverance began publishing cheap periodicals and books for moral and educational improvement. In the same year as the 1832 Reform Act, the brothers started their primary text Chambers’s Journal [sic], a four-page, four-column magazine sold for 1 ½ pennies a week. Within a few months they were selling 50,000 copies a week in both Edinburgh and London.
Although Part One of Steam-Powered Knowledge describes the details of paper production, type composition, plate stereotyping, and steam-powered machine printing, Fyfe skillfully propels the subjects by interpreting them through the Chambers’ urgent cost calculations. With the brothers’ business and livelihoods at stake, William utilized new stereotyping technology to expand the market for their high frequency publications. In an unusual decision for the time period, he chose to print simultaneous editions of the Journal in both Edinburgh and London rather than ship copies printed from Scotland. He did so using stereotype plates made in Edinburgh, which preserved the valuable time trapped in the type-setting process.
The Chambers passed such savings to readers. When demand proved strong, the Chambers commissioned a steam engine so they could print their publications and save still further. In turn, the engine encouraged them to print more texts to maximize their investment. The combination of stereotyping and steam power proved, in a word, “profitable” (p. 63). In fact, the Chambers even adopted steam power for book production. They controlled margins further by forgoing expensive copyrights and controlling paper costs, in part by employing small typeface, among other tactics.
Part Two of the book relates the implications of improving communication and transportation technology to the Chambers’ business, beginning with the arrival of the railways in the 1840s. Aside from allowing the Chambers to further consolidate their affairs in Edinburgh, railways expanded the market for their publications through the stalls where riders bought reading materials. Unfortunately for the Chambers, the stalls also offered opportunities to new entrepreneurs like George Routledge, who found success with cheap fiction.
Other competitors increasingly applied the Chambers’ technical innovations to the literature of shock, sensation, and entertainment; Fyfe writes that the “content of cheap print was starting to be determined by its audience’s demands, rather than its suppliers ideals” (p. 141). Along with formerly dominant religious printers, publishers like the Chambers wondered whether their initial success “might have been due to their uniquely low prices, rather than a widespread thirst for knowledge” (p. 149). Although the Chambers’ content did not always provide travellers with the distractions they craved, cheap texts like their Educational Course made popular school books throughout Britain and its colonies.
Part Three of the book relates the Chambers difficult expansion into North America. Transatlantic steamboats now made shipping more reliable than sail, but punctual transport couldn’t overcome U.S. copyright law, which only recognized publications by American authors within U.S. borders. The Chambers struggled against an entrenched “culture of reprinting,” and lacked leverage without recognition of their intellectual property (p. 193). Nonetheless, they squeezed what value they could from the situation. By the 1850s, they found “moderate success” exporting discounted titles to partnered firms, particularly those with hard-to-reproduce illustrations (p. 222).
Unfortunately, this didn’t stop other firms from pirating their work and re-selling it. In this respect, new steam technology didn’t magically make nineteenth-century globalization more profitable, even for English capitalists. In fact, steam “worked against the interests of British publishers in the United States,” and even “provided a new transatlantic shipping option that was more affordable to unauthorized reprinters” (p. 250).
Paradoxically, the steam ships working against the Chambers’ interests in North America worked for them home in Scotland. They relied on steam transport for profits even though new railways were faster. Fyfe explains this apparent contradiction by writing that “the new transport technology offered a service – extreme speed – that Chambers needed only occasionally” (p. 258). On this point as with others, Fyfe succeeds in demonstrating that the evolution of nineteenth-century technology didn’t create the same causes and effects everywhere it emerged. Instead, individuals like William Chambers mixed and matched new and old technology to fit the changing demands of different markets.
Through her careful attention to such puzzles Fyfe ultimately succeeds in championing one of the constants throughout: William Chambers himself, who “managed to develop a successful business model for a product that was philanthropically motivated but also genuinely in demand from consumers” (p. 261). Indeed, with his profit motive ultimately rooted in enlightened paternalism, William’s liberalism embodies the best of nineteenth-century market champions.
It is perhaps for future scholarship, then, to explain the true value of all those carefully budgeted words. Was all that “general knowledge” really so important for readers to know? More crucially, too, to what extent did the Chambers’ sales depend on readers simply paying to feel educated for a penny or two?
LaGuardia Community College
Goings, Henry — Rambles of a Runaway
Rambles of a Runaway from Southern Slavery. By Henry Goings. Edited by Calvin Schermerhorn, Michael Plunkett, and Edward Gaynor. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012. Pp. xxxvi + 157. 4 black-and-white maps. $45 (cloth); $30 (paper).
The appearance in 2012 of a rediscovered slave narrative written by a certain Henry Goings was significant news for scholars of the genre and for those who teach nineteenth-century American history and literature. In 2006, a private book dealer sold the edition to the University of Virginia Library’s Special Collections; the editors traced it to a former slave by the name, not of Goings, but of Henry Gowens of Ontario, Canada, who had promised in 1855 to write the account of his life. In keeping with the Nineteenth Century Studies Association’s 2013 conference theme, Loco/Motion, the former slave, whose narrative we now have the privilege of reading, was peripatetic for much of his life, whether enslaved or free, a fact attested to by frequent changes in his name and his locale.
Born Elijah Turner, sometime around 1810, the young man took the name Henry Goings from that on the “free papers” he purchased to secure his freedom; as the editors note, “Goings was an appropriate name for the author…[He] was moved about the landscape…according to the designs of slaveholders and slave traders” (p. xiv), traveling hundreds of miles in total. As a “rambling” slave, he spent time in places such as Raleigh, North Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Florence, Alabama (named for the Tuscan city); and Milledgeville, Georgia, the state’s capital from 1804 to 1868; and he traveled by horse as well as by a steamboat, which made its maiden voyage on the Tennessee River with Goings aboard. Throughout the ensuing decades, his name appeared as “Gowens,” “Gouins,” “Goins,” and “Goings.”
The history of Henry Goings, and of the narrative itself, is admirably traced by the three editors of the volume, and is meticulously supported by verifiable data drawn from a wide variety of primary records and sources. The volume no doubt benefits from the fact that two of the three editors work or once worked in Special Collections at the University of Virginia. It includes a revelatory preface by Edward Gaynor and Michael Plunkett on the discovery of the narrative; an informative and insightful introduction by Calvin Schermerhorn regarding the importance of the work; a chronology; several appendices; very detailed notes; and a bibliography and index. In short, this is a superbly researched and highly important contribution to the field of nineteenth-century American studies.
Goings begins his story in the typical fashion of the genre, and is almost identical to the manner in which Frederick Douglass (1817–95) begins his, The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845), with the fact that he does not know his birth date. Unlike Douglass, however, Goings is sure of his parentage, though he does not mention their race. It is thus a little confusing when he later writes that, on one occasion during his escape, he was taken for a white man. The first three chapters chronicle his life in slavery, including the separation from family members and the denial of any education.
By the end of chapter one, Goings has decided to escape, a journey he details in the shorter second chapter. Still, these pages remain fascinating because they fill the lacunae left by other slave narratives. Goings reveals the step-by-step process he endures to attain freedom. In the third chapter, Goings arrives in Canada, where he is nearly victimized by being forced into slavery again, but returns to freedom and is married to his second wife (the first he was never able to rescue from slavery). According to the editors, Goings wrote these first three chapters around 1859 or 1860; he added the fourth and fifth chapters later, after he was settled, remarried, and had had children. The latter chapters are more general in tone, and comment on such issues as the Civil War; the state of the church for blacks; the Irish orator, Richard Lalor Sheil (1791–1851); and life in the Southern states in the era of Reconstruction. Thereafter, Goings also wrote a 41-page appendix, which amounts, like in the appendix of Douglass’s Narrative, to a lengthy political manifesto regarding freedom and citizenship for blacks. Here he seems to despair of black Americans ever becoming full citizens. He writes: “I would say then to my lately emancipated brethren, unite as one man in your resolve to emigrate to British Honduras. There you may, and can become a nation” (p. 81).
Goings was able to publish his narrative in 1869, and to do so without the usual sponsorship of abolitionists; also, unlike the typical escaped or freed slave, Goings did not become an abolitionist. For example, the editors note that three of Goings’s contemporaries—Henry Bibb (1815–54), William Wells Brown (1814–84), and Josiah Henson (1789–1883)—all lived or worked near where Goings did, but they established careers as abolitionist speakers or agents, and were connected to a broader network of activism. Goings, by contrast, “spoke as an independent observer and [as] someone who made his living from the quotidian activities of barbering, waiting [tables], stewarding, and selling, real estate and his own labor” (pp. xv–xvi). Also unlike Bibb, Brown, and Henson—and Frederick Douglass—Goings worked throughout his freed life in relative obscurity. While all five of these men published autobiographies in their lifetimes, Goings was unique in that his was pitched to African Americans like himself, who focused on raising their families and earning a living. (He had five children by his second wife, Martha Bentley.)
This becomes particularly clear in his fifth chapter when he offers advice on establishing oneself in the Southern states in the post–Civil War years. Invoking his “dear Brethren,” his “colored Brethren,” and the “Colored Sons of Africa,” Goings beseeches his fellow African Americans to keep alive Abraham Lincoln (1809–64) in their memories (p. 71); to “[a]ct as men” (p. 73); to work “with the cheerfulness that freedom always bestows” (p. 73); and to “put the means of mental elevation within your children’s reach” (p. 75).
In sum, the Rambles of Henry Goings reveals that slaves were not always bound to the plantation; rather, they could be found perpetually roaming the country’s roads as they followed a master from place to place. Epitomizing the transitory nature of life in the mid- and late-nineteenth century, Goings’s reflections offer important primary documents of African American life before, during, and after the Civil War. It is commendable indeed that the University of Virginia Press and the editors have brought to light such a well-researched and engaging volume.
Elif S. Armbruster
Jarvis, Robin — Romantic Readers and Transatlantic Travel
Romantic Readers and Transatlantic Travel: Expeditions and Tours in North America, 1760–1840. By Robin Jarvis. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2012. Pp. iii + 205. 10 black-and-white illustrations. $89.96 (hardcover).
As part of the Ashgate Series in Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Studies, Robin Jarvis’s Romantic Readers and Transatlantic Travel: Expeditions and Tours in North America, 1760–1840 explores transatlantic Romanticism by establishing a reception history of travel writing. Jarvis’s criticism works to fill the gap in scholarship on travel writing, a genre that scholars have only recently explored.
Rather than using feminist or postcolonial theory, as seen in other influential criticism of travel writing (for example, Mary Louise Pratt’s Imperial Eyes ), Jarvis is more interested in using the framework of book history to explore trends in travel writing readership. He expresses dissatisfaction with reader-response and reception theorists whose reader is not fully defined, over-theorized, or limited to genre, and he suggests book history to be the more applicable theoretical framework. Through the history of reading, critics can begin to understand and visualize the “real readers” of travel literature. This is not to say that Jarvis’s text lacks the appropriate historical contextualization, which he clearly and thoroughly details in the first half of chapter 1. But in Romantic Readers, the uniqueness of the source material and want of previous criticism on the subject inherently mark the study necessary. With careful attention to various source materials including autobiography entries, marginalia, letters, diaries, and periodical reviews, Jarvis defines the readers of travel writing, not as passive receptors, but as active responders. He demonstrates that readers of travel writing did not merely regurgitate the imperialist, sexist, and/or racist attitudes of the authors they read, but were, in fact, diverse, opinionated, and discerning. Consequently, Romantic Readers revises the characterization of Romantic-era readers of travel writing, and broadens transatlantic Romanticism to include new histories of reading.
Through the examination of British reader responses and periodical reviews written over an eighty-year span, Romantic Readers demonstrates how emerging national identities of the United States, Canada, and Arctic archipelago created a transatlantic dialogue. Here, British reader responses range from intellectually impartial to extremely nationalistic. Jarvis distinguishes between the politically motivated responses to travel narratives from the United States and Canada and the adventurous whirlwind of emotion elicited by Arctic explorations. Jarvis notes that in the United States and Canada both writers and readers of travel literature tended to lack impartiality when issues such as emigration colored moments in travel narratives. In comparison, Arctic travel narratives caused readers to “abandon their finer judgment and get swept up in a tidal surge of patriotic sentiment” (p. 182). Romantic Readers refutes the misconception that readers of travel writing embodied the same voices, ideas, and politics of the biased narratives they read, the study showing instead that readers created discerning, informed, and opinionated responses.
British Romantic readers, the author claims, were unanimously driven by curiosity to experience vicariously North American voyages and travels. Chapter 1 discusses miscellaneous reading experiences that range from those of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) whose marginalia describe “delicious” American travel writing (p. 32), to those of Alexander Somerville (1811–85) who read aloud to his fellow farmworkers so they may take “journeys…in the mind” (p. 37). In this chapter, both famous and average readers are linked by the low-stakes genres of marginalia and journal entries, and Jarvis notes how the transparent nature of these mediums moves critics closer to the “bone of the reading experience” (p. 45). Chapter 2 looks at the more public and political genre of periodical reviews. By specifically examining the British reviews of narratives about United States travels, Jarvis concludes that, while the most polarized and uncongenial opinions about the U.S. occur in these texts, the reviews also demonstrate the growing open-mindedness of ordinary readers and the accommodation made by reviewers who spoke to a more liberal audience.
Chapter 3 changes locations, examining the travel narratives from British North America, which includes Canada, the Arctic coastline, and archipelago. Containing episodes of adventure and exploration alongside descriptions of natural imagery, these narratives inspire not only pure curiosity but also patriotism from their reviewers and readers. Samuel Hearne’s (1745–92) A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson Bay, to the Northern Ocean (1795) serves as one of Jarvis’s strongest examples of a private reading experience. He analyzes an anonymous, annotated copy located in the National Library of Scotland, and claims that this ordinary reader is a “serious, thoughtful, unprejudiced individual who engages with travel works chiefly on an intellectual level” (p. 105). Jarvis’s example calls into question the characterizations of these ordinary readers as passive, remarking that these readers were perhaps much more engaged with travel writing texts than previous critics considered. In addition to extended close readings of Journey, a subsection of chapter 3 humorously titled “Interlude: Romancing the Beaver” examines cultural media to further define histories of reading. Here, Romantic-era discourse on beavers illustrates ecocritical and postcolonial issues related to the growth of Canadian trading industries. Additionally, beaver-related public exhibitions and museums created a transatlantic dialogue about industrial impact.
The last chapter in Romantic Readers cites Romantic poets and novelists who responded to American travel narratives. Noting further differences between these literary-minded writers and professional and recreational readers, Jarvis examines prose footnotes and literary cross-references in order to reconstruct the process of reading in the Romantic era. In his conclusion, Jarvis clearly and concisely enumerates eight main results of his reception study and ends with the hopes of inspiring respect for the Romantic era’s diverse and intelligent readers.
By focusing primarily on private reading experiences and contemporary periodical reviews, Romantic Readers characterizes Romantic-era readers as actively engaged with North American travel writings. Jarvis’s work excels by highlighting an area of criticism that necessitates further exploration. More importantly, scholars can expand on this study by widening its geographical scope or including other literary genres. In terms of his writing style, Jarvis smartly summarizes his main points, which could become overwhelming given the amount of unfamiliar source material. Ultimately, Romantic Readers demonstrates that in examining reader responses to travel literature, critics can begin to craft a transnational history of reading in the Romantic era.
Florida State University
Moore, Grace — Pirates and Mutineers
Grace Moore, ed. Pirates and Mutineers of the Nineteenth Century: Swashbucklers and Swindlers. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011. Pp. 314. 10 black-and-white illustrations. $124.95 (cloth).
This collection speaks to a welcome, renewed focus on maritime culture in recent years, one that has had the good fortune of building on the important work of such scholars as Marcus Rediker, Peter Linebaugh, Cesare Casarino, John Peck, and Margaret Cohen, whose award-winning The Novel and the Sea appeared in 2010.1
Grace Moore’s swashbuckling collection attests to the “voracious public appetite for pirate tales” (p. 1) that persists to this day, as the pirate is perpetually reimagined in what seem increasingly sanitized versions, especially those that are directed at the smallest among us — the mostly affable Captain Hook in Disney’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates (2011 – ; dir. Mickey Corcoran and Howy Parkins) is only the latest saccharine incarnation. Looking back to the “golden age of piracy” (p. 2), Moore casts a wide net, moving us from the Romantic era across the century to the likes of Pirates of Penzance (1879) by Gilbert (1836–1911) and Sullivan (1842–1911) in an essay by Burnham Bloom; The Mystery of the Sea (1902) by Bram Stoker (1847–1912) in an essay by Carol Senf, and the early work of Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) in an essay by Tamara Wagner. The contributors thus address a range of genres, from nautical melodrama to Victorian and modern fiction, and engage with an equally broad range of cultural and theoretical matters, from the aesthetics of literary piracy (Mel Campbell, Andrew Knighton, Kate Mattacks), to the construction of the female pirate in the context of an emergent America (Katharine Anderson). Collectively the essays show how the nineteenth century stands as a particularly productive period for the construction of the pirate which, at that time, “underwent a metamorphosis . . . in both British and American literature” (p. 1), becoming, it seems, all the more charismatic with age.
Yet despite its proclaimed focus on a particular strand of nautical identity and activity, this collection is in some ways as vast as the sea itself, and that breadth ultimately proves a challenge for the reader, even one with a particular interest in maritime and culture its representation. Given that the collection contains sixteen chapters, in addition to the editor’s introduction, it would have been useful had the essays been organized into sub categories, perhaps by genre or chronology.
The collection seems nonetheless to have its own internal logic in this regard, commencing in the first three chapters with discussions of the enduring influence of the construction of the Romantic era pirate, especially in Lord Byron’s (1788–1824) Corsair (1814). In this context, Mel Campbell explores literary piracy and the Regency political environment. Deborah Lutz takes up thematic explorations of the Romantic pirate through the figure of the pirate poet, while Joetta Harty examines Branwell Brontë’s pirate realms. In Chapter 4, Ting Man Tsao considers piracy and imperialism in 1830s China. We then move to the American context as Andrew Lyndon Knighton “examines the interplay between literary piracy and the nautical pirate” (p. 6). Deborah Morse’s chapter on Elizabeth Gaskell’s (1810–65) North and South (1855) likewise encourages us to consider the pirate’s inherent defiance of geographical, national, and even religious, boundaries.
Although Morse’s essay makes important claims on its own terms, rightly identifying Frederick Hale, the heroine’s brother, as “an echo of England’s bloody history of mutiny” (p. 122), it is in fact the only essay in the collection to deal at length with the question of mutiny. Garret Ziegler offers a discussion of the 1857 “Indian Mutiny,” but focuses not on the concept of “mutiny” per se, but in rather limited terms on Charles Dickens’s (1812–70) and Wilkie Collins’s (1824–89) rendering of piracy as a racialized response to that cultural violence. To position Frederick Hale as an “accidental pirate” (p. 6), as Moore suggests in her introduction, is simply a stretch. Here, though, the collection points to future avenues for consideration of nineteenth-century maritime literature and culture. Historians, for instance, have begun to undertake new work in this direction; a recent special supplement to the International Review of Social History: Mutiny and Maritime Radicalism in the Age of Revolution that appeared in December 2013 points to the potential for future interventions in this area.2
To return to Moore’s collection, a number of the essays illustrate the merit in considering of literary piracy alongside conceptions of the seafaring pirate. The broad perspective Kate Mattacks brings to her discussion of Douglas Jerrold’s (1803–67) Black-Ey’d Susan (1829) and the nineteenth-century stage raises provocative questions about textual and legal authority, creativity, and the control of history. Victor Emeljanow’s “Staging the Pirate” likewise moves us beyond the seemingly inexhaustible debate appearing elsewhere in the collection’s pages regarding the theoretical valences of the pirate (his “enthrallingly ambiguous figure” [p. 6], his contradictory powerful and marginal status, etc.) and into the realm of the cultural history of the pirate in nineteenth-century drama. While Emeljanow notes that the pirate would occupy “a lasting place on the popular stage” (p. 233), he is attentive to important shifts, including the way in which, by mid-century, the “pirate’s lair and the high seas had been replaced by the drawing room and the streets as the primary locations for exploration of ‘wayward passions’” (p. 232).
Those essays that consider the pirate in relation to nation and race, such as Tsao’s discussion of imperialism and China in the 1830s, are also generally among the most provocative in the collection. In a highly articulate essay, Sean Grass compellingly links the representation of piracy and “racial peril” in Charles Reade’s (1814–84) Hard Cash (1863) to the “gross rapacity” (p. 181) of the commercial realm in mid-Victorian England. Grass presents his thoughtful and incisive argument, I would add, in admirably fine prose. Attending to the Southeast Asian context, Tamara Wagner likewise offers a wide-ranging, informed, and informative examination of piracy and imperial commerce in her focus on the construction of the Malay pirate. Her essay makes a convincing case for the way that “narratives of piracy capitalize on exotic indeterminacies” (p. 268).
Finally, I must mention the strength of Alex Thomson’s essay, which revisits the well-known depths of Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850–94) Treasure Island (1883). While one might assume that there would be little left to say about what has become perhaps the ur-text of Victorian piracy, this essay offers a fine, compelling reading of law and illegality in Stevenson’s novel, concluding that it ultimately exposes the “void at the origin of law” (p. 222). Like Grass’s essay, it gestures toward one of the most interesting potential areas of future enquiry raised by the collection: the connection between piracy and cultural conceptions of madness.
Reminding us of the indebtedness of our conceptions of the pirate to the likes of Byron and Stevenson, this collection will no doubt have something to offer anyone interested in nineteenth-century renderings of the pirate, his villainy, and, perhaps especially, his subversive heroism. In some respects, then, readers of this collection will find their understanding of the pirate expanded; in many ways, however, the pirate may yet remain, as Wagner puts it, “fascinatingly,” and perhaps frustratingly, “indeterminate” (p. 255). On the whole, this collection urges us to continue to think critically about our own enduring fascination with this figure, to heed carefully Lutz’s assertion that, by and large, pirates were hardly romantic swashbucklers, but rather “obscure men – mostly drawn from the working class or lower middle class – who wanted to make money, even if it meant breaking the law, stealing, and murdering; in effect, they were violent criminals” (p. 28).
Saint Mary’s University
1 Margaret Cohen, The Novel and the Sea (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010).
2 Mutiny and Maritime Radicalism in the Age of Revolution. Special issue of The International Review of Social History 58.21 (December 2013). Web.
Rignall, John — George Eliot, European Novelist
George Eliot, European Novelist. By John Rignall. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011. Pp. 184. $94.95 (cloth).
In George Eliot, European Novelist, John Rignall makes a case for reading George Eliot (1819–80) as a European, rather than British, novelist. The ten chapters of this book approach the subject of Eliot’s Europeanness in two ways: first, chapters one through four examine Eliot’s personal and creative engagement with Europe; secondly, chapters five through ten situate her work in relation to that of multiple European writers: Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), Gustave Flaubert (1821–80), Gottfried Keller (1819–90), Theodore Fontane (1819–98), Marcel Proust (1871–1922), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900).
Rignall’s treatment is confined mostly to the connections of Eliot’s fiction with French and German novels—“the other two great literatures of the world apart from English in her view” (p. 3). Rignall explains in his introduction that comparisons with the Russian novel will not be pursued, and the ties between Romola (1862–63) and Italian literature will receive only slight attention. Furthermore, Rignall admits that he will not address Eliot’s poetry. His approach concerns itself with literary affinity more than with authorial influence—whether influence upon Eliot, or hers upon others. Rignall sees Eliot’s work as interacting with that of other authors in a dialectical sense and argues that reading Eliot as a European novelist has “the effect of enlarging the fiction and displacing Englishness from its assumed centrality” (p. 8). Thus, the aim of the study is to widen perspectives of Eliot’s fiction in much the same sense that Eliot sought to “widen the English vision a little” with her writing.1
Rignall’s exploration of Eliot’s European travels and writings brings to light her reflections on foreign cultures, her ambivalence about French and German culture, her response to aggressive nationalism in history, and her attitudes toward England. Rignall establishes the importance of Europe to Eliot’s ability to reflect critically on and understand other cultures as well as her own. In a chapter outlining her views on France and Germany, Rignall discusses the juxtaposition of the Rhône and the Rhine river landscapes in The Mill on the Floss (1860), showing how the contrast reveals her (and England’s) wavering views on the two cultures—one representing historical continuity and the other associated with modernity. Rignall argues that Eliot’s comparison between France and Germany implies two literary modes associated with the old and the new, neither of which she explicitly committed herself to. Rignall’s discussion of Eliot’s depictions of European land- and cityscapes reveals her views on history, violence, and suffering.
Travel, for Eliot, serves to liberate and to alienate. The tension between the cultured, metropolitan mind and the pastoral, rooted mind plays out in her writing from Scenes of Clerical Life (1857) to The Impressions of Theophrastus Such (1879). This travel motif reveals Eliot’s shifting views on cosmopolitanism and her perception of travel as divided along gender lines. Whereas travel for male protagonists in Eliot’s fiction serves to enlarge the self, travel for female protagonists dramatizes crises of selfhood. Privileged by gender, Will Ladislaw and Daniel Deronda travel to explore and broaden their lives; while doing so, they do not face crises or potentially fatal danger. By contrast, journeys undertaken by Maggie Tulliver, Romola, Gwendolen, and Dorothea are painful—sometimes dangerous—labors of self-scrutiny. On the whole, however, Rignall reveals that Eliot challenges the reader’s imagination by broadening geographical boundaries and introducing new cultural contexts.
Having established the centrality of Europe to Eliot’s ideas, Rignall devotes the second part of his book to connecting her with other Continental authors. A chapter on Balzac compares the two authors’ use of provincial life; Rignall traces patterns of difference and likeness to show that Eliot diverges from Balzac to promote sympathy for her characters. A comparison of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856) with Middlemarch (1874) reveals a similar theme of “diffusion,” which represents the instability of modernity (“Diffusion” found on p. 87 of Rignall). In a discussion of Eliot’s affinity with German contemporaries, Gottfried Keller and Theodore Fontane, Rignall links the elegiac strain of the authors’ novels and lives. Rignall devotes two chapters to Daniel Deronda (1876): he first reads the novel in the context of the Jewish Diaspora and as a representation of Jewish and European life; then he then places the work in a tradition of French novels that harkens back to the realism of Balzac and Flaubert and anticipates the modernity of Proust. Rignall’s final chapter fascinatingly places Eliot in conversation with one of her detractors, Nietzsche, bringing to light the writers’ similar mistrust of intellectual systems, use of language, and understanding of history and modernity.
In connecting Eliot with various European authors, Rignall places her in a larger discussion of European authorship. His accessible prose and thoughtful comparative readings make George Eliot, European Novelist a worthy and important contribution to the field of transnational literary studies.
John V. Roach Honors College
Schlick, Yaël — Feminism and the Politics of Travel
Feminism and the Politics of Travel: After the Enlightenment. By Yaël Schlick. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2012. Pp. vii + 23. $70.00 (Hardback).
Yaël Schlick offers a carefully researched volume which considers the intersections between fictional and nonfictional travel literature and gender post-Enlightenment. Schlick’s work examines both male and female contributions to the genre of travel writing over time, with special attention paid to the “educational, political and emancipatory potential of travel” in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (p. 7). In “gendering” travel the author attempts, with success, to demonstrate the nuanced experiences of the female traveler, suggesting that the historical realities of travel for women were often far afield from the broader social expectations for their sex.
Schlick opens with a well-crafted introduction that solidly places her work in the field of literary analysis of travel writing along with the likes of Patrick Holland and Graham Huggan, Debbie Lisle, and Mary Louise Pratt. From the outset the author presents her audience with an extensive range of literature, engaging the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78), Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97), Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis (1746–1830), Germaine de Staël (1766–1817), Flora Tristan (1803–44), Suzanne Voilquin (1801–77), George Sand (1804–76), Frances Burney (1752–1840), and others. In three parts, “Travel and Domesticity,” “Travel and New Communities,” and “Travel and History,” the author reveals the ways in which women met opposition to and gained varying degrees of social progress through their experiences of travel. For Mary Wollstonecraft in particular, this progress was realized in the female traveler who was able to transcend the merely sentimental, nearing what Rousseau defined as a strictly masculine tendency toward reason in his fictional treatise on education, Emile (1762).
In part 1, Schlick asserts that, while Rousseau approached travel through a normative gendered lens, Wollstonecraft’s narratives in Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796) and A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) view travel as an outlet for the expression of feminism. The author notes that, while both Rousseau and Wollstonecraft project (disparate) gendered ideals, it is de Staël’s fictive Corinne (1807) that most successfully produces a “mobile, liberated female” traveler (p. 14). From these initial comparisons, Schlick continues on in this section to a study of de Staël, de Genlis, and Burney. From the angle of these authors’ travel volumes, Schlick suggests that period conceptions of female freedom in travel were tightly bound to broader cultural implications for gendered behavior. In both de Genlis and de Staël the result is a female traveler who was “separate but equal,” worldly but modest, playing against the strong anti-progressivism of gendered freedoms that existed in post-Revolutionary France (p. 61).
Part 2 of Schlick’s volume, “Travel and New Communities,” deals with the issue of female travel in the face of post-Enlightenment feminist ideals in light of women’s continued domestic responsibilities. In this section, dedicated to the works of Tristan, Voilquin, and Saint-Simonian feminist writers such as Jeanne Deroin (1805–94), the author highlights the undercurrent of “revolutionary feminist-socialist activism” that resulted in answer to calls for retaining the domestication of women (p. 89). Schlick suggests that, for Tristan, this meant extensive writing on the topic of solo female travel and an inquiry into the questions that arise when such a subject is broached. For instance, what happens when a woman, someone who is supposed to remain in the domestic sphere, travels and is suddenly “out of place” (p. 94)? What are the social mechanisms that make it possible or difficult for women to travel? What challenges did Tristan’s liberated female traveler or the Saint-Simonians face in pursuit of a utopian feminist ideal?
In part 3 Schlick turns to the historical fiction of Gustave Flaubert (1821–80) and George Sand, who both wrote of eighteenth-century conceptions of female travel from a nineteenth-century perspective. In this final chapter, of which a version was first published in Nineteenth Century Studies, the author addresses the importance of education in the potential successes or setbacks that the female traveler might encounter. In a chapter in which female mobility is assumed rather than imagined, Schlick emphasizes the importance of what she calls “spatial literacy,” or the connection between place and “knowledge, liberty, and even citizenhood” (p. 161). Schlick notes that these nineteenth-century writers endeavored to create narratives in which the female traveler was either spatially literate (as in Sand) or spatially illiterate (as in Flaubert) in order to demonstrate the vital role of education for the informed female traveler. In this final chapter, one cannot help but notice that Schlick has neatly come full circle, connecting the success of the fictional, educated eighteenth-century female traveler in Sand to the educational model of Rousseau’s Emile examined earlier in the text.
Schlick’s epilogue carries her conversation forward to the present day, as she notes that contemporary female travel narratives often contain lamentations from their authors about the limitations that women face when traveling, especially when setting out alone. Fears about physical safety and domestic responsibility laid forth in the western travel literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are echoed in these pages, where Schlick suggests that sexism continues to thrive in a world where solo travel is still very much a masculine pursuit. The author asserts the importance of continued female voices in travel literature as a means through which feminist progress might be made with regard to the creation of future stories about travel without concern for gender.
In its depth, Schlick’s text serves as both a survey of post-Enlightenment travel literature and a detailed analysis of gender in that context. Feminism and the Politics of Travel After the Enlightenment is undoubtedly a valuable resource for the specialist in the field, particularly those with prior knowledge of the period texts with which Schlick so masterfully engages. One limitation of the text for the non-specialist is the author’s apparent presumption of familiarity with the extensive body of literature that she employs. A future edition may benefit from an extended reading list or brief summaries of the texts engaged with in the volume in order to orient the reader more effectively to the impressive scope of her analysis.
University of Pittsburgh
Schuyler, David — Sanctified Landscape
Sanctified Landscape: Writers, Artists, and the Hudson River Valley, 1820–1909. By David Schuyler. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012. Pp. xii + 206. 33 black-and-white illustrations and 14 color plates. $29.95 (cloth).
When Heraclitus said you can’t step in the same river twice, he wasn’t thinking of the Hudson, but his remark aptly describes the ever-changing historiography of this river valley. For two centuries, the Hudson has been an inexhaustible source of material about American culture. In Sanctified Landscape: Writers, Artists, and the Hudson River Valley, 1820-1909, David Schuyler, the Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and American Studies at Franklin & Marshall College, tells the river’s story through the eyes of an “educated elite”: the artists Thomas Cole (1801–48) and Jervis McEntee (1828–91), the writers Washington Irving (1783–1859) and Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–67), the landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing, the historian Benson John Lossing (1813–91), and the naturalist John Burroughs (1837–1921). According to Schuyler, the book’s title was inspired by the painter Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, who stated that the valley’s strategic importance during the Revolutionary War had “sanctified many a spot” (p. 1). Not to be confused with the sacred cult of wilderness that Cole promulgated, Schuyler’s “sanctified landscape” is a distinctly human habitat. The anthropocentric perspective is the distinguishing feature of his approach to the subject.
Schuyler develops three themes: first, the selected artists’ and writers’ evolving attitudes toward the landscape during a period of “tremendous economic, social, and environmental change”; second, “the importance of historical memory” (p. 2), specifically, the role of the Hudson Valley in the Revolutionary War and the movement to preserve its historic landmarks; and third, the “domestication of the Hudson Valley”; the building of private residences along the river that “civilized the landscape” and promoted an aesthetic that became a national model (p. 3).
Schuyler is an experienced guide to the region having previously published articles on tourism in the Hudson River Valley from 1820 to 1850, as well as a biography of Andrew Jackson Downing. He provides the reader with two maps of the focus area, a hundred-mile expanse of the lower Hudson punctuated by historic sites from Washington Irving’s home Sunnyside at Tarrytown in the south to Thomas Cole’s Cedar Grove at Catksill in the north. The journey begins in the 1820s with the arrival of the first tourists at the new hotels in the Catskills and proceeds chronologically to the Hudson-Fulton Celebration commemorating the discovery of the river and the first successful commercial steamship in 1909.
The book is organized primarily as a series of biographical sketches interspersed with chapters discussing the growth of tourism, urban and industrial development, and historic preservation. Separate chapters devoted to Cole, Irving and Willis, McEntee and Burroughs provide an intimate look into their personal lives and careers and take the reader on a house tour of their now historic properties, most of which were designed by Downing’s partner, Calvert Vaux (1824–95). The lives of Washington Irving and Nathaniel Parker are combined in a single chapter, “The Writers’ River,” because “the careers and dwellings of both became inseparable from the public perception of the river” (p. 47). Remembered chiefly for his delightful legends of New York’s early Dutch history, the immensely successful Washington Irving was one of the first writers to sing the praises of the Hudson Valley. But even a man with his cultural status and political capital could not prevent the railroad from running in front of his idyllic estate Sunnyside. The younger N. P. Willis, whose residence Idlewild was built overlooking the river at Cornwall, was once a popular journalist who introduced a generation to the beauty and historic significance of the Hudson Valley primarily through his text for the illustrated gift book American Scenery (1836). In a similar fashion, historian Benson J. Lossing’s Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (1850–52) generated patriotic appreciation of the Revolutionary War sites in the Hudson Valley. Restoring the important roles played by these now obscure writers in promoting preservation is one of the book’s contributions.
Another minor figure who receives attention is the Hudson River School landscape painter Jervis McEntee whose specialty was the late autumn woodland scene. McEntee’s house and studio, designed by Calvert Vaux circa 1854, is one of several Hudson Valley residences illustrated here with contemporary engravings and plans. Otherwise McEntee’s influence was slight, particularly when compared to his teacher, the internationally acclaimed landscape painter, Frederick Edwin Church (1826–1900). Why Schuyler does not discuss the career of Church, who was the living link between his teacher, Thomas Cole, and the second-generation Hudson River School painters, is perplexing. Church’s striking Persian-Moorish Revival mansion Olana built with Calvert Vaux in the town of Hudson is located on the book’s map, but it is not described in the text. None of Church’s numerous paintings of the Hudson Valley are mentioned, not even the panorama of Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls (1857) which became the iconic view, spread the fame of American scenery abroad, and influenced the decision of the state legislature to preserve the falls.
The issue of preservation gained ground during the second half of the nineteenth century, and Schuyler associates its rising importance with the disruption of the river communities by rapid industrialization, immigration and urbanization which he documents in detail. He analyses the competing aesthetic, economic and political interests that clashed over land use as signs of permanent damage to the natural environment created a sense of urgency in preservationists. Fortunately for them, their ideals were shared by Teddy Roosevelt (1858–1919), historian, nature-lover and governor of New York. Schuyler demonstrates that the convergence of the goals of historic preservation and scenic preservation towards the end of the century, represented by the organization of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society in 1895, was a force that could stand against the industrial lobby. His conclusion suggests that, by identifying the Hudson River Valley with the founding of the United States, preservation was raised from a regional concern to a national interest.
Patricia Likos Ricci
Westover, Paul — Necromanticism
Necromanticism: Travelling to Meet the Dead, 1750–1860. By Paul Westover. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Pp. v + 217. 7 black-and-white illustrations. $85.00 (cloth).
Paul Westover’s insightful analysis of literary tourism between 1750 and 1860 places pilgrimage to authors’ “homes, landscapes, and especially graves” (p. 3) at the center of a set of cultural processes that elided the ideal as represented by fiction with the real as experienced in everyday life. For Westover, the explosion of literary tourism during this period emerges from readers seeking to exhume the material reality of authors entombed by fiction’s rapid and epistemologically disorienting proliferation. Thus, the grave becomes the governing metaphor of necromanticism, which is Westover’s compelling neologism for period-defining “oscillations” between the stuff of life and the stuff of fiction (p. 5). Examples of these tense oscillations include tourism’s simultaneous charting of “geographical and imaginary terrains,” its blurring of the boundary between “implied authors and embodied ones,” as well as its enthusiastic collecting of dead authors’ “literary and physical relics” (p. 5). Filtering Lord Kames’s (1696–1782) concept of “ideal presence” through Derrida, Westover argues that graves functioned as “transcendental signified[s]” (pp. 24–25), by which he means that the period’s emerging investments in presence, authenticity, reputation, canonicity, and national literary heritage come together when one grasps the cultural principle that drove reader-travelers to blend fact with fiction while journeying to dead authors’ resting places.
By convincingly situating graves and their conceptual analogues at the center of the Romantic era’s signifying system, Westover enables himself to link disparate phenomena while also extending the cultural heritage of Romanticism into the Victorian period and across the Atlantic in compelling ways. In this respect, it is appropriate that his book highlights travel as its central dynamic, for the reader is invited to trace unconventional theoretical byways—for instance, from Enlightenment fictional theory to photographic “illustrations” commingling lived and literary terrains, or from the European grand tour to nineteenth-century American writers’ simulacral tours of Britain. These and other trajectories add up to a work that will appeal widely to scholars of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century anglophone literature and culture. In fact, Westover’s interventions into contemporary scholarship are provocative, as when he links the production of literary posterity to recent studies in literacy and print history by Andrew Piper and William St Clair, when he teases out the complex relationship of religious pilgrimage to literary pilgrimage, when he marshals socio-anthropological tools to frame monumentality as community formation, and when he ties necromanticism to suspiciously unreal photorealism. This list forms only an abbreviated accounting of the book’s theoretical stakes. It is also notable that Westover brings a rich breadth of philosophical references to the table, a dimension that is sometimes underemphasized in books as conceptually and temporally focused as this one.
Because Necromanticism offers a broad reconceptualization of a multifaceted literary period, the author could have formulated his materials in a number of ways. The organization he has chosen makes sense even though the topic’s girth means that there is ample space for rereading and rebutting what he has and has not included. The author opting to begin with theory, the book’s introduction contains a cogent definition of necromanticism, and the first chapter sketches the prehistory of necromanticism through the Scottish Enlightenment’s concern with “ideal presence” (p. 11). The second chapter provides a genealogy of literary tourism that interweaves sacred pilgrimage, eighteenth-century Continental tourism, domestic tourism during the French Revolution, as well as the creation of martial, national, and literary monuments within the domestic space during these latter revolutionary upheavals. Chapter three is what Westover himself calls a “core chapter” (p. 12). In it, he reads Godwin’s Essay on Sepulchres (1809)—a “necro-tourist manifesto” (p. 27)—alongside fascinating case studies documenting the satisfactions and surprises of tourists who set about tracking down jumbled reliquaries to the real lives and creative works of William Shakespeare (1564–1616), John Milton (1608–74), Robert Burns (1759–96), and others.
Chapter four focuses on the necromanticism of Felicia Hemans (1793–1835), and aside from a brief later section on Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–96), this chapter is the book’s most sustained engagement with authorship and gender. This dimension might have cropped up in other ways—for example, through a consideration of women’s writing and anonymity—but nonetheless Westover’s readings of Hemans’s “England’s Dead” (1822) and her graveside tribute poems are timely and insightful, especially insofar as they emphasize the necromantic dimensions of poetic journeys to monuments unseen. Chapter four is followed by a half-chapter interlude that is truly a pleasure. Here, Westover interrogates literary tourism’s effects on living authors and cleverly characterizes the peculiar position of being rendered immortal before one’s actual death—as in the case of William Wordsworth (1770–1850), about whom it was reported in the 1830s and 1840s that “literary tourists in the Lake District were often startled to find Wordsworth alive” (p. 94). The fifth chapter will interest scholars working on transatlantic exchange, for herein Westover addresses the ways that American visions of British writing shaped British national literary heritage in addition to the increasingly necromantic tourism industry. A surprising reading of literary tours through Britain by the abolitionist lecturer, William Wells Brown (1814–84), injects race and cultural inheritance into the equation, although given different parameters this treatment might have been more robust. Finally, Westover’s sixth chapter features an incisive, multimedia reading of the problem of the ideal versus the real vis-à-vis the legions of illustration books that fed touristic zeal for conceptual mappings of Walter Scott’s (1771–1832) real and created spaces.
One difficulty of this text is that the breadth of Westover’s vision and the briefness of the book collude to make certain assertions feel either tentative or offhanded. Toward the end, for example, the author suggests a provocative analogy that is never filled out: “Reflecting on the participatory nature of Web 2.0 tempts me retroactively to describe Romantic-era literary tourism as Reading 2.0” (p. 172). In truth, I found this fugitive moment tremendously insightful, as it made Westover’s theories of the nineteenth century seem inextricable from contemporary network and media theory; and despite the occasional cursory treatment, the book is well worth reading, if not for its lively treatment of the topic, then for the laudable way it models energetic and passionate scholarship alongside critical self-awareness.
George Washington University
Binnema, Ted — Enlightened Zeal
“Enlightened Zeal”: The Hudson’s Bay Company and Scientific Networks, 1670–1870. By Ted Binnema. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. Pp. 488. 32 black-and-white illustrations and 7 color plates. $37.95 (paper).
In “Enlightened Zeal,” Ted Binnema, professor of history at University of Northern British Columbia, examines the role of the British chartered commercial monopoly Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in supporting, cultivating, or obfuscating scientific knowledge of its territories over two centuries. His study joins a growing number of recent books in the history of science that examine the creation and support of epistemic and professional scientific networks in the British Atlantic world. Spanning the period between the assignation of the HBC Royal Charter in 1670 and its subsequent surrender in 1869–70, Binnema’s book is chronologically organized into two parts and argues that the HBC’s contributions to science and the exchange of knowledge was, in the beginning, largely executed by individuals operating outside of the company’s interests. However, “after an initial century of secrecy, the HBC’s contributions to public knowledge grew significantly between 1769 and 1870, by which time the company had a well-established reputation as a generous patron of science” (p. 7).
Part one, “The Hudson’s Bay Company and Science, 1670–1821,” highlights the 1769 Transit of Venus, when the planet became visible against the solar disk, as a turning point when “the HBC Committee explicitly encouraged its officers to contribute to scientific research in its territories and deliberately attempted to act as the conduit through which this research was transferred to learned men” (p. 83). Yet, while they supported global efforts to observe the transit, as a corporation the HBC sought first and foremost to make a profit and therefore maintained a complicated relationship with scientists and learned societies. As knowledge is power, initially this priority meant withholding information about the HBC’s territory and holdings from the public – and most important from its competitors, like the French Montreal-based North West Company – in order to protect its interests. Increasingly, however, as the validity of the chartered monopoly of the company came into question, the HBC moved to sponsor and publicize its support of scientific endeavors, including British, American, and French projects, in order to cultivate a reputation as a benefactor to science invested in the public interest and as an integral facet of British scientific and territorial hegemony.
Reliant on its chartered monopoly status for its success in the fur trading business, the HBC as a corporation negotiated its position as one based on power, secrecy, and, later, benevolence. Regarding HBC networks, Binnema argues in his carefully researched and densely written text, they “functioned because they were nurtured by myriad motives – corporate and individual – including wealth, influence, possessions, various forms of recognition including tribute, fame, and renown, and less tangible benefits: adventure, health, happiness, male companionship, self-improvement, or a sense of meaning” (p. 8). As this passage indicates, Binnema’s book sets out to delineate, not a clear story of influence, but a complex web of individuals working with mixed intentions. One aspect that complicates Binnema’s wide-ranging narrative is this fluidity. Indeed, the individual motives of those involved in the HBC varied and sometimes went directly against the company’s own corporate agendas and economic interests. One way that Binnema charts these complicated relationships between employees (at varying levels in the corporate hierarchy) and lay scientists is to identify and examine some of the key figures, writing: “scientific networks were maintained by the self-interest of the many that were involved in their intricate connections, but really flourished when sophisticated and empathetic scientists stirred the scientific enthusiasm of lay collectors” (p. 289). In part one, these include HBC ship captains, such as the amateur ornithologist Alexander Light, and HBC surveyors, such as Peter Fidler (1769–1822), who made significant contributions to mapping the interior of North America. Woven throughout are other figures, including George Vancouver, Captain James Cook, and Christopher Wren, thereby linking these “amateur” HBC scientists with their more famous counterparts.
As the professionalization of science developed during the Enlightenment era, alliances were forged between learned scientific societies and educated HBC officers. Part two, “The Hudson’s Bay Company and Science, 1821–1870,” follows an active and public period in the HBC’s sponsorship of scientific exploration, including the search for the Northwest Passage, geomagnetic research, and meteorological observations. By this period in the mid-nineteenth century, the HBC increasingly sought public praise of its sponsorship of scientific endeavors as one armament in a public relations campaign waged to combat vocal challenges to its monopoly. It wanted to establish itself as an important operator in British North America, contributing to the betterment of British citizens by facilitating important expeditions, studies, and collections. Therefore literary tributes and other visual means of acknowledgement, including the sponsorship of artistic endeavors, maps that revealed the cartographic exploits of the HBC, and specimen collecting, proved valuable in cultivating a vision of the HBC as benevolent, while also supporting its economic interests.
Controlling Prince Rupert’s Land, a vast amount of territory covering the Hudson Bay drainage basin in British North America, the HBC operated a network of fur trading posts, traded with aboriginal populations, benefited from indigenous knowledge, and contributed – directly, although perhaps unintentionally – to the expansion of Canadian territorial interests by the mid-nineteenth century. The role of aboriginal peoples in the furthering of the HBC’s commercial and scientific interests was enormous. As Binnema writes: “There is enough evidence to conclude that much of the natural history knowledge, and, in at least some contexts, most of the natural history specimens that officers and scientists acquired were purchased from aboriginal trading partners, friends, or spouses” (p. 31). He goes on to state, however, that firmly documenting their contributions is impossible due to a disappointing lack of evidence. His careful research into the HBC’s scientific networks opens the possibility that future studies can build upon his work and trace the indigenous contributions to these efforts.2
Art historians will be especially drawn to chapter seven, “Disinterested Kindness,” which examines the complicated relationship between Toronto-based artist Paul Kane (1810–71) and his patron George Simpson (1787–1860), governor-in-chief of the HBC (1820–60). Like his better-known American counterpart George Catlin (1769–1872), Kane assembled an impressive array of portraits of First Nations members and artifacts during a series of expeditions into HBC territories in the Northwest (conducted with the company’s assistance) and publicly exhibited them, shaping Torontonians’ ideas about the Northern territories and their occupants. Binnema compellingly links Kane’s exhibition both with the revival of the Canadian expansionist movement and a shift in the center of Canadian science from Montreal to Toronto via the activities of the Canadian Institute. Indeed, annexationists marshalled Kane’s works to convince Canadians that the HBC territories were not “distant, subarctic fur-trading territory,” but instead were “valuable for far more than its furs” (pp. 226–227). In this case, the HBC sponsorship of Kane’s expeditions proved to be their undoing in spectacular fashion.
Throughout, Binnema raises interesting questions about British North American relations with America when it came to mercantile interests and scientific exploration. Nationalist factions discouraged the cultivation of cross-interests, especially during periods of war, international tension, and strained diplomatic relations. This is, perhaps, most fully explored in chapter eight, “Knowing the Liberal Disposition,” which focuses on the relationship between the Smithsonian Institution and the HBC. Astonishingly, between 1858 and 1868 (during the Civil War period), the HBC submitted over 12,000 items to the Smithsonian, including specimens, journals, and artifacts, mostly through the exertions of Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823–87) and Joseph Henry (1797–1878). American naturalist Robert Kennicott’s (1835–66) 1859–60 expedition into HBC territory for the Smithsonian, facilitated by Governor Simpson, benefited “immensely from the HBC’s assistance.” (p. 256) Certainly, the institutional contributions of HBC sponsorship and facilitation are most clearly outlined in this chapter. For example, one HBC employee sent specimens to the Smithsonian, Industrial Museum of Scotland, British Museum, and Montreal Natural History Society, thereby indicating scientific networks across vast geographic territories, between HBC outposts, British North America, and Great Britain. That this burst in collaboration coincides with the rise of global scientific professionalization and disciplinary specialization seems evident. However, Binnema also conjectures that as vocal annexationists sought HBC territories, public accolades for the HBC and an influential institution in its favor in Washington, D.C., were calculated. Just a few years later, the British Parliament passed the British North America Act (1867), leading to the establishment of the Dominion of Canada and the ceding of HBC territories in 1870, officially ending a two-century monopoly.
With a study as broad and far reaching as Binnema’s, criticisms inevitably arise. Those interested in material culture would have appreciated descriptions of specimens and artifacts, as well as discussion of the specific ways in which they were collected and transmitted across great distances and under difficult conditions. In response to recent scholarly interest in the collection and circulation of specimens of natural history, fuller , attention to the reception and display of specimens would also have been welcome. Finally, as mentioned above, greater development of the specific role of indigenous peoples in the process of collecting and displaying artifacts would contribute to a broader definition of scientific networks. Perhaps this scholarship exists elsewhere. Indeed, one occasionally feels that Binnema has made some general assumptions about his readers’ knowledge base to avoided retreading territory that scholars have outlined in other publications on the HBC. These criticisms aside, Binnema lays significant groundwork in his thorough assessment of the HBC’s contributions to the formation of scientific knowledge and networks, especially between 1769 and 1860, establishing this text as essential reading for anyone interested in corporate contributions to the development of science in the British Atlantic world.
1. See for example, B. Bennett and J. Hodge, Science and Empire: Knowledge and Networks of Science across the British Empire, 1800–1970 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
2. Other foundational scholarship includes Arthur Ray, Indians in the Fur Trade: Their Roles as Trappers, Hunters, and Middlemen in the Lands Southwest of Hudson Bay, 1660–1870 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974); and Carol M. Judd, “‘Native Labour and Social Stratification in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Northern Department 1770–1870,” in The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 17, no. 1 (1980): Pp. 305–14.
Naomi H. Slipp
DeSpain, Jessica — Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Reprinting
Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Reprinting and the Embodied Book. By Jessica DeSpain. London: Ashgate Publishing, 2014.
Jessica DeSpain opens Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Reprinting and the Embodied Book with a “comical” image that Charles Dickens (1812–70) gives in a speech when visiting America: that of the author carrying Washington Irving (1738–1859) to bed. While certainly not to be taken literally, this opening pun undoubtedly sets up a vivid metaphor for thinking about the embodied text during the nineteenth-century – that of the conflation of book and author’s body (p. 1). That is, DeSpain argues that this guiding image of a reader’s relationship to the author – one of unfettered access, intimacy, and stability – emphasizes the form of the book as a material object. She follows this relationship from 1842, the year of Dickens’s visit to America, to 1891 with the passage of the Chace Act, which extended protection to foreign holders of copyright. In her well-researched and contextualized study on “Books, Bodies, and Citizenship” in transatlantic material culture, DeSpain thoroughly investigates a range of archival material and literary texts in order to perform a historiographic reading of the publishing industry, with particular attention given to copyright law, the (re-)printing industrial complex, and transatlantic readerships.
DeSpain places her attention on reprinting, authors’ rights, and the reading public as various avenues through which to talk about material culture. Her particular emphasis is on the embodied material nature of the book during the nineteenth century, which allowed for readers, writers, and publishers of that period to effect the “nation’s body politic.” These different roles, as well as the material texts that circulated, supported literacy, civilized the public, and upheld cultural norms. DeSpain contextualizes the work of Benedict Anderson and Michael Warner on print culture’s relationship to political movements, in addition to Leah Price’s inventive study, How to Do Things with Books in the Victorian Period (2012), to ultimately conclude that “studying the wide distribution and myriad versions of transatlantic reprints, in all of their minute details, reveals the book as an object of displaced human desire and definition” (p. 14). Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Reprinting and the Embodied Book remarkably contributes to our understanding of material culture and the book as a cultural object, particularly of note in our contemporary age where literary communities continue to divine the significance of print in an age of multimedia, multimodality, and multiple editions. DeSpain’s examination of nineteenth-century book culture both continues and extends the academic heritage of work that stands at the nexus of the history of the book, cultural studies, and literary analysis.
DeSpain examines a gamut of literary works, from American poetry to British essays, and her focus on the book as material object allows for her close, intimate criticism of international readerships and textual cultures alike. Indeed, the great range of texts – Charles Dickens’s American Notes for General Circulation (1842), Susan Warner’s (1819–85) The Wide, Wide World (1851), Fanny Kemble’s (1809–93) Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation (1863), and Walt Whitman’s (1819–92) Democratic Vistas (1888) – means that DeSpain’s close readings of these works contribute to a greater discussion of the transatlantic publishing zeitgeist, particularly how “reprints called attention to multiple versions of any one text” that consequently “informed the author/reader interactions that made up the imagined community of the nation state” (p. 50). This conclusion, taken from her discussion of Dickens’s American Notes, appeals to the larger conversation about material culture’s intersection with national/political cultures, as well as her readings in other chapters for the sharp attention to “reprints” engenders such vibrant discussions of the body, the book, and the nation.
Two case studies – those on Dickens’s American Notes and Kemble’s Journal – in DeSpain’s work interrogate, particularly, the nature of writing for mass appeal. DeSpain’s deepest concern in her reading remains the metonymic relationship between author’s identity and author’s text, as expressed in the deeper political implications that exist through reprinting. Whereas in her chapter on Kemble she invests most fully in how Kemble’s journal, along with pamphlets that source it, further the abolitionist cause, her discussion of Dickens’s text highlights his own appropriation of slavery and the tobacco trade as tropes to discuss the publishing industry. In America, reprints were seen as the lifeblood of the literary imagination; mass distribution was for the benefit of the populace and reprints became a vehicle for reader’s rights. DeSpain extends this argument through Dickens’s own anxieties about the fidelity of his words in the (re-)printing industrial complex as a writer “primarily worried about the loss of authorial authenticity through this indiscriminate distribution [through reprinting], reprinters argued [however] that their output was the lifeblood of a healthy nation” (p. 23). This concern is the highlight of DeSpain’s chapter, particularly as this concept becomes the very vehicle through which she articulates Dickens’s critique of American slavery: “Describing reading as a form of consumption always has negative connotations because it suggests that the reading being performed is of a lesser order and feeds the body rather than the mind. However, in Dickens’s case, Americans aren’t even fully consuming their reading; they are chewing it up, spitting it out, and staining the nation with the remains” (p. 36). This analysis of Dickens’s critical viewpoint on slavery pivots to a more explicit critique of slavery in Kemble’s subversion of the Gothic tradition, sentimentality, and abolitionist philanthropy. DeSpain’s chapter on the life, writings, and acting career of Fanny Kemble deals squarely with “embodiment” – the book’s ability to discuss bodies and consequently become figurative bodies – by linking the nature of the print text with body of slaves: “because pamphlets proliferated so widely, but were treated so badly, a common analogy linking the disposability of texts and slave bodies began to surface during the period” (p. 136). This analogy, which comes late in her analysis of Kemble’s journal, forwards DeSpain’s much deeper concerns with illustrating how the material culture of publishing impacted wider political and aesthetic discourses from abolitionism to copyright law to concerns about political representation.
While the two chapters referenced above are concerned most with the politics, printing, and publishing discourses of the nineteenth century, DeSpain moves from these close, critical readings of Dickens and Kemble to describe how Warner’s domestic novel about “women’s moral agency both within and beyond the domestic sphere” gets translated through the textual devices of the engraving and frontispiece and how Whitman’s poetry sought to recover the “loss of agency” in reprinting (pp. 54, 144). I link these two chapters of her study because of their marked interested in the more aesthetic concerns of the publishing industry: how the book looks and the spirit of the book through its printing. DeSpain’s monograph reproduces the work of Henry George Bohn (1796–1884), William Harvey (1796-1866), and others to articulate how the engravings within The Wide, Wide World operate as “the reader’s textual threshold” in that they often “emphasize the distinction between Ellen and Nancy” – the novel’s main characters (p. 71). While Warner’s The Wide, Wide World ultimately becomes for DeSpain an “allegory of the fate of British books and British people in an American landscape,” her chapter emphasizes the significance of the book’s paratextuality, by which she demonstrates the importance of page space, and in the case of Warner’s novel, illustrations. The emphasis on how the creation of multiple editions and reprints engenders the intimate and embodied book moves from one about engravings and art in Warner’s novel to concerns about layout, representation, and authenticity in Whitman’s poetry (p. 83). As a bookend to the discussion of Dickens earlier, DeSpain integrates a reading of Whitman’s Democratic Vistas into her study as a means of illustrating the negative connotations reprinting developed towards century’s end. For Whitman, who saw printing much like democracy – the binding agent of the nation – reprinting ultimately began to lead to a poorer quality of texts as well as reinforcing a stodgy British literature. Democratic Vistas and his later-life philosophy both “experiment in formulating a mass-produced, industrial object that could retain an individualistic body and soul that physically engaged his readership” (p. 143). Much like her reading of Warner, DeSpain’s analysis articulates how Whitman’s deeply poetic and philosophical concerns for “the appearance and makeup of the book” fueled late nineteenth-century concerns about material culture, mass industrialization, and capitalism (p. 158).
DeSpain concludes her study with a contextualized reading of the Chace Act and the emergence of the Arts and Crafts movement – two key historical moments in the late-nineteenth century in regards to the publishing and creative industries. This bookend to her study, which perfectly situates the emergence of the individualized reader and text in conjunction with the emergence of more overt concern over aesthetics, leads to her conclusion that by century’s end “it is hand-craftsmanship that creates the alchemy of embodiment,” according to William Morris, because it is now “the bookmaker’s textual presence [that] was crucial for discourses of citizenship, belonging, and community” (p. 176). DeSpain’s Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Reprinting and the Embodied Book will surely be a touchstone of future scholarship on textual studies, cultural materialism, and nineteenth-century literary culture. Her close, critical reading of texts – paired with her archival research and reproduced artwork – articulate a deep historical concern about modality and materiality that persists today, and her monograph contributes to an ever-expanding field of study where DeSpain’s voice is sure to find its audience.
Michael James Griffin II
Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow
Georgia Institute of Technology
Goldhill, Simon — The Buried Life of Things
The Buried Life of Things. By Simon Goldhill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. ix + 259, 34 black-and-white illustrations and 8 color illustrations. $57.00 (hardback).
Plucking objects from obscurity and contextualizing their hidden lives, Simon Goldhill’s The Buried Life of Things offers a series of Victorian object lessons, giving new life to some controversial but now forgotten objects of the nineteenth century. It’s easy to see how Goldhill’s newest book has been informed by his previous publications, specifically Jerusalem, City of Longing (2008) and Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity (2011), and his recent work on “The Bible and Antiquity in 19th-Century Culture,” a five-year project funded by the European Research Council and housed at The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH) at Cambridge University.
An interdisciplinary, material culture work, The Buried Life of Things contextualizes a series of objects within sharply focused moments of history to determine “how the nineteenth-century pursuit of historical truth seeks to find a grounding in physical reality” (p. 6). Goldhill, however, forewarns readers against anticipating a compendium: “I have not set out here on the crazed adventure of trying to write a history of things . . . . Nor have I turned even to the restricted but culturally expressive genre . . . . Nor have I set out to trace the construction of historical sites . . . . Nor is there any extended analysis of how one author or one novel makes things a dynamic signifying system” (p. 2). Instead, Goldhill insists, this work is “interested in the multiform practices whereby things become invested with historical meaning, are made to tell history, take on political, religious or intellectual significance” (p. 3). Through an interdisciplinary examination of literature, history, biography, material culture, art, and architecture, this work seeks to “uncover this shifting life of things, as they flare into significance (and become forgotten)” (p. 3). In part, this kind of material culture work is recovery – the recovery of lost objects and the stories that accompany them – but Goldhill’s work is also about restoration – the restoration of objects to lost moments in time. For the Victorians, such restoration is successful when the objects create “historical truth.” (p. 6).
Goldhill skillfully weaves chapters and ideas into one another, moving the reader along as he cultivates each layer to his larger thesis. He presents material objects, beginning with the display case of skulls in Edward Bulwer Lytton’s (1803–73) home, building his argument from those things that lay buried to how physical structures that represent the past are redesigned to envision an ideal, cultivated past. His argument moves from archeological objects (the Pompeiian skulls), to manufactured objects (chasubles and photos, carefully designed to relate specific narratives), ending with the restored objects (objects rebuilt and redesigned). There is a physical progression, from the ground upward, and from excavation to restoration.
Chapter one, “A Writer’s Things: Edward Bulwer Lytton and the Archeological Gaze,” tells the story surrounding a pair of skulls on display in Bulwer Lytton’s home (now museum) at Knebworth. Excavated at Pompeii, the skulls were sent to the author as a gift; their display case identifies them as characters from his novel The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). Goldhill argues that the skulls (and their continued display in Knebworth house museum) “articulat[e] the contested boundary between history and fiction,” viewing the two “as competing authoritative discourses” (p. 3). The skulls offer commentary not only on the genre of Victorian historical fiction, with its imperialist agendas, but also on the spectacle of the body as other. The skulls become material representations of Roman, pre-Christian otherness, and a Victorian audience familiar with Bulwer’s work would have identified them as such, but a modern audience does not. In a way, suggests Goldhill, the skulls have been “re-buried in obscurity” (p. 30).
Turning from human remains, the reminders of a pre-Christian age, to sacred Christian objects in chapter two, Goldhill looks to three moments of intense religious debate embodied in three objects: a Roman mosaic, a stone altar in the Cambridge Round Church, and a ritual robe known as the Bodley chasuble. On their own, these objects might seem rather innocuous, but each object has a buried past that Goldhill digs up and restores for our consideration. Discovered in the late eighteenth century in Dorset, the Roman mosaic had Christian symbols embedded in its design, instigating a debate that Christianity began in England rather than Rome. The Cambridge Camden Society, formed in 1839, installed a stone altar in the Cambridge Round Church during their restoration, of the church to its medieval glory. Mid-nineteenth-century Christians, however, viewed the installation of a medieval stone altar as a move backward to pre-Reformation papacy, and the vicar took the case to the ecclesiastical courts, ultimately winning in his efforts to have the stone altar removed. Lastly, the Bodley chasuble depicts Biblical imagery in a woven tapestry designed in the sumptuous style of William Morris (1834–96). For Victorian Christians, the garment sexualized the priest’s body, something that would be religiously and morally unacceptable. This collection of objects, the garment, altar, and mosaic, raises concerns about the difficult relationship between religion and materiality, or between the material and the immaterial.
Goldhill continues with the exploration of religion and material culture in chapters three and four with new focus on Victorian reconstructions of foreign pasts in foreign lands. In chapter three, “Imperial Landscapes, the Biblical Gaze, and Techniques of the Photo Album: Capturing the Real in Jerusalem and the Holy Land,” Goldhill examines the construction of the nineteenth-century traveler’s gaze through photograph albums, which were mass-produced by the Ottoman court for Western tourists and featured many of the treasured sights and antiquities of the Holy Land and Jerusalem. Goldhill argues these albums were attempts to counteract “western Orientalist construction of the East as backward and old-fashioned. . . . to rewrite western history of the East by producing [its] own version of a resolutely modern empire” (p. 5). In chapter four, “Building History: A Mandate Coda,” Goldhill assesses the redesign and restoration of key architectural icons in Jerusalem, most notably the Suk, and the passing of architectural policies such as a ban on corrugated iron and civic advisor Charles Robert Ashbee’s (1863–1942) insistence on using only Jerusalem stone “as an expression of historical continuity in architectural materiality” (p. 119). Goldhill points out the extent of influence the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement had on Ashbee’s designs, noting that Ashbee altered the city vista to match an Arts and Crafts ideal of medieval. Ashbee’s vision was an amalgamation of seventeenth-century Jerusalem and nineteenth-century aesthetics; it enacted nineteenth-century desires for idealized historical pasts, which never existed, under the guise of restoration.
The dialectic Goldhill identifies between Victorian concepts of reconstruction and restoration is compelling, offering an unexplored anxiety that permeates not only the whole work but also much of the current research in material culture studies. Restoration, he argues, “requires human agency and intent to move through the present to an idealized model of the past; reconstruction requires the rebuilding of a fragmentary or ruined present” (p. 5). Restoration projects an idealized past, whereas reconstruction manifests the past through contemporary things. Goldhill uses restoration as a guiding principle for his work, building to his final chapter where he argues, restoration “becomes the culturally dominant language for articulating how the physical, material world and the idea of the past are dynamically interactive in the politics of progress that mark the Victorian present” (p. 145). The Buried Life of Things narrates Victorian progress through objects, from its pre-Christian origins through the mid-nineteenth century religious crisis and ending with the Victorian imperialist ambitions.
The Buried Life of Things will surprise readers interested in art, history, architecture, material culture, and literature with its elucidations of the complex lives of Victorian objects. The historical layers from which Goldhill recovers these objects should remind readers that, although we’re past the height of thing theory mania, there are still many unexplored avenues in material culture studies which could prove rich in original research for those who would spend the time in excavation and restoration.
Nicole Lobdell, PhD
Luck, Chad — Body of Property
The Body of Property: Antebellum American Fiction and the Phenomenology of Possession. By Chad Luck. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014.
In 1802, on Long Island Beach, a man named Jesse Pierson killed a fox that was being pursued by a group of mounted hunters. Pierson and Lodowick Post, the leader of the hunters, nearly came to blows over whom the fox belonged to. Did it belong to Pierson, who had killed it? Or had the hunters laid claim to the fox by pursuing it? How, in other words, did one come to own something? These questions made their way all the way up to the Supreme Court of New York, where the court’s ruling would become a cornerstone of American property law.
Inasmuch as Pierson v. Post sought to address and clarify these questions in law, however, it was unusual. For the most part, antebellum legal scholars avoided the thornier issues surrounding the character of property and how it comes into being. But as Chad Luck argues in The Body of Property, this did not mean that Americans failed to grapple with such questions. From land disputes along the frontier to debates about slavery in the halls of Congress, these questions were too pressing to be ignored. So while legislators and jurists equivocated, American writers eagerly explored the nature of property in antebellum fiction. Luck contends that this wide-ranging effort by fiction writers to examine property and ownership provides fertile ground to study antebellum Americans’ understandings of and anxieties about property.
By focusing on antebellum fiction, Luck is able to investigate dimensions of property and ownership not easily accessible through legal discourse. As his title suggests, he is particularly interested in the relationship between property and embodied experience – from physically taking possession of property, to incorporating property into one’s sense of self, to the social and emotional dimensions of ownership. In novels, American writers were able to explore property not merely as a legal abstraction, but as a lived experience grounded in particular times and places. By paying close attention to these experiences, Luck attempts to construct a more comprehensive phenomenology of possession than legal discourse alone could provide.
The body of Luck’s book is composed of four chapters. Each focuses on a different geographical and social space in which antebellum authors explored the problematical nature of property. The first chapter looks at the acquisition of property and the frontier through Charles Brockden Brown’s (1771–1810) Edgar Huntly (1799). The second examines the relationship between possession and the domestic sphere in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s (1804–64) House of Seven Gables (1851) and Elizabeth Stoddard’s (1826–1902) The Morgesons (1862). The third chapter puts the genres of plantation romance and slave narrative in conversation with one another in order to explore ideas about slavery and indebtedness in antebellum America. The final chapter discusses property loss in the city-mystery novel, focusing on George Lippard’s (1822–54) The Quaker City, Or the Monks of Monk Hall (1854).
In this series of case studies, Luck is able to complicate the traditional narrative of how Americans’ legal and cultural understandings of property were evolving during the nineteenth century. According to this narrative, the transition from an agrarian to a market society brought with it a more commercial and abstract understanding of property. Luck steers clear of debates about the relationship between slavery and capitalism and avoids arguments about when, where, and whether a “market revolution” took place in America, but he does seek to historicize Americans’ struggles with philosophical questions about property. In his chapter on property and domesticity, for instance, he grounds Hawthorne’s and Stoddard’s discussions of property in the context of the dietary reform movements of the late antebellum period, and he roots his chapter about the trope of theft in the city-mystery novel in contemporary debates about labor and capitalism.
Though Luck’s contextualization tends toward a more nebulous social and cultural focus than a rigorous chronological one, his case studies demonstrate the rich potential of his interdisciplinary approach. If literary scholars sometimes neglect historical context in their close analysis of sources, and if some historians tend to overlook fiction or examine it cursorily, Luck’s analysis reaps the benefits of both close reading and historicization. In his chapter on plantation romances and slave narratives, for example, Luck uses these sources to draw out the relationship between slavery and indebtedness in Southern culture. He compellingly argues that marketplace exchange and debt infused concerns about indebtedness and ideas of entitlement into the master-slave relationship. At the same time, the master-slave relationship charged the debt culture in the South with additional anxiety. Luck’s use of fiction to illustrate these concerns, and his attentiveness to their emotional dimensions in particular, add a useful layer to our understanding of the increasingly volatile issues of slavery and property in the antebellum South.
One hopes that other scholars will continue the work that Luck begins in this book. The Body of Property is a good example of the kinds of insights that an interdisciplinary approach to intellectual, social, and cultural history can yield.
University of Virginia
Lutz, Deborah — Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture
Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture. By Deborah Lutz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xii + 244, $90.00 (cloth).
The third book of The Forsyte Saga (1906–21) opens with Soames Forsyte roaming the family house on the Bayswater Road and recalling his own childhood visits. As he gazes at his aunts’ miniatures, the cabinet full of “family relics” and the stuffed humming birds that “look not a day older,” Soames is overcome with a sudden desire to preserve the house and its entire contents. ‘“Specimen of mid-Victorian abode-entrance, one shilling, with catalogue.”’1 Deborah Lutz’s study of materiality and death in Victorian England is an impressive catalogue in itself and a thought-provoking examination of what we keep and why we keep it.
Chapter 1 sweeps the reader from late antiquity to the mid-Victorian period. The chief power of the religious relic in medieval and early modern times was their perceived ability to reconstitute the departed saint and to physically hold them to a particular place. This reanimatory power of relics was demonstrated most palpably when vials of saints’ blood would liquefy when brought into proximity with their body (p. 19). The English Reformation transformed many religious reliquaries from flesh and blood into dust and ash primarily by removing them from their place-specific context. But Lutz shows that relic culture did not dry up; it was simply rerouted.
While royalty provided a transition between saint and celebrity, it was literary men and, to a much lesser extent, women who became the most prominent secular saints (p. 24). Lutz shows how the poetry of the Romantics, particularly that of John Keats (1795–1821), became relics in their own right. Readers, Lutz argues, “figuratively stream blood back into the deanimated author” (p. 42). One particular body of readers provided a very vital transfusion to Keats. Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–82) and the pre-Raphaelites took this Romantic synthesis of word and flesh one step further, creating a distinctly Victorian approach to death iconography where the object connects the dead and the living while it simultaneously “fossilizes the impossibility” of a return (p. 48).
Chapter 2 considers the power of secondary relics. Objects from Emily Brontë’s (1818–48) life and work form the focal point, including Cathy’s bed and the author’s sofa (also Brontë’s deathbed). Lutz argues that it is the death of a person that paradoxically breathes life into their everyday objects (p. 54). She quotes Nelly in Wuthering Heights (1847) observing that “‘any relic of the dead is precious, if they were valued living’” (p. 67). The value of the object is then proportionate to the regard felt by those still living.
Lutz champions these “death mementos,” including the death masks she examines in Chapter 3, as ideal subjects for “‘thing theory’” (p. 57). Focusing on Charles Dickens (1812–70), Lutz presents masks in their many guises. Her tour takes us from the condemned at Newgate to the deathbed vigils of the great and the good. Assisted by the “predeath” relics that populate Great Expectations (1861) (p. 81), Lutz traces the lineage between displayed plaster casts of executed criminals, to the smoothed, almost saintly, faces of the just departed, to the masks of expression assumed in life.
“Shrines begot shines,” Lutz asserts in Chapter 4 (p. 107). Using Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s (1809–92) In Memoriam A.H.H. (1850) as her focal point, Lutz retraces some of the same essential history as in her first chapter. The expansion of shrine culture, along with its associated pilgrimages from the religious to the secular, began in post-Reformation England and reached its apogee in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The sites as well as the subjects of shrines expanded to homes and woodland paths. Finally, shrines proliferated through souvenir taking. The desire for portable shrines is, Lutz argues, part of the appeal of the pocket-sized elegy (p. 114). But the driving force for Tennyson is “to keep loss palpable” (p. 125). The portability, not to mention workability, of hair made it the top choice for wearable relics. In Chapter 5, Lutz focuses on hair jewelry and its potential to become mourning jewelry regardless of whether the clipping was originally taken from a living or dead subject (p. 134). Hair jewelry was the apogee for Victorian relic culture –but also the beginning of the end. Using Thomas Hardy’s (1840–1928) Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), Lutz argues that the same secular tendencies that transformed the material remains of loved ones into relics paradoxically worked to destroy faith in these fragile remains (p. 153).
The carefully guarded relics of Victorian writers are a chief fascination of this study, but their exemption from the ravages of modernism raises questions about the historical value of celebrity relics. Lutz dedicates her study to the “average rites of remembrance” (p. 11), and she often observes how her chosen authors’ beliefs and actions were like their contemporaries (pp. 61, 74, 108, 118). Such comparisons would have more meaning with a fuller consideration of the ways in which Keats, Brontë, Dickens, and Tennyson were unlike the men and women they passed in the street. As Lutz herself theorizes, perhaps her chosen authors became “especially favorite shrine subjects … because of their own interest in areas and objects sanctified by the dead” (p. 108). The issue of celebrity is crucial to a second key question: what is the relationship between relics and souvenirs? Whether we are looking at the flowers from Keats’s grave pressed in a tourist’s travel guide (p. 14) or or a printed confession from a condemned man purchased at Newgate (p. 92), we must ask: were they collected to testify that “he was here,” or to prove that “I was there?”
It would be fascinating to hear more about the manufacture and consumption of mourning materials and how, by this account, they appear to blur boundaries of class and gender. The makers of Victorian relics ranged from the gentlemanly scientist or artist taking plaster casts, to the artisan reproducing original relics by the thousands, to the legions of women of all classes whose home handicraft was essential for preserving relic authenticity. Or, as the book champions “thing theory,” let the objects tell their own stories of shifting class and gender. Follow the middle-class album to the second-hand market; trace the unidentified, un-sexed locks of hair.
Personal identity and identification remain so essential to Victorian relics. Emily Brontë’s sofa would change hands for a small fortune at Christies – though the sale would have many turning in their grave. By contrast, the Victorian furniture and knickknacks of the country’s Forsytes are sold for paltry sums. In the novel, Soames makes an impulse buy of his aunt’s sofa to prevent it from suffering the indignity of being auctioned for thirty shillings. The “relics of no marketable value” are freely offered to family members as mementos. The stuffed humming birds do not make it to the sale, having “fallen like autumn leaves when taken from where they had not hummed for sixty years.”2 As Lutz herself observes, a relic that has lost its narrative becomes a “dead letter of the object world” (p. 28).
1. John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Sage: The Man of Property, In Chancery and To Let (Ware, Herefordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 2001), 550–551.
2. Ibid, 719
University of Bristol
Lynch, Deidre Shauna — Loving Literature
Loving Literature: A Cultural History. By Deidre Shauna Lynch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. Pp. 352. 13 black-and-white illustrations. $40.00 (cloth).
INTRODUCTION: A FORUM ON LOVING LITERATURE BY DEIDRE SHAUNA LYNCH
Literature demands love. So writes Deidre Shauna Lynch in Loving Literature, in which she traces the roots of literary love back to the eighteenth century. As Lynch argues, literary love developed from the intimate, private act of reading, of getting to know an author. Through this affectionate connection, literature became “a gift that genius bestows on posterity” that requires gratitude and an ethical imperative to sustain that genius for future generations (p. 24). At the same moment when English emerged as a distinct field of study – via the formation of the English canon, definitions of “literariness,” historical literary study, and the rise of the literary critic – love emerged as the essential affective element for proper literary appreciation. As Lynch writes, between 1750–1850 the private act of reading literature converged with the public sphere through the emergence of modern literary studies; this is “how it has come to be that those of us for whom English is a line of work are also called upon to love literature and to ensure that others do so too” (p. 1). Do we love literature? If so, how and why do we love literature? Can we pass this love on to our students and to the general public? What problems arise from this blurring of our private and public lives?
Lynch explores these questions through six successive chapters on four specific kinds of literary love: grateful, possessive, habitual, and elegiac. With discussion ranging from Samuel Johnson to Gothic novels to Victorian photographic illustrations of poems, Lynch offers a masterful cultural history that provides scholars with much for further academic study and reflection on the profession. This forum responds to key points in Lynch’s book by six scholars specializing in various areas of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century studies.
LOVING LITERATURE AND RECOVERING EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY LITERARY INSTRUMENTALISM
For Lynch, the common notion that we should love literature intimately, even as literary professionals, is neither natural nor inevitable; it has been learned and transmitted through Anglo-American culture and shared institutional practice. Lynch dates the beginning of this notion of literary appreciation to the mid-eighteenth century, when idealization of literary “genius” licensed approaches to authors as objects of affection and English canon building was simultaneously emerging as a marketing strategy and a cloistered academic pursuit. Samuel Johnson (1709–84) and Thomas Warton (1728–90) appear as twin Januses at the origins of our modern notion of literary love. The grumpy-but-public-minded Johnson “throw[s] cold water on other readers’ ardors” while his Lives invites a newfound appreciation of authorial personalities (p. 46); the bookish Warton, losing himself in Spenserian romance in the Bodleian Library, loves literature a little too much, becoming so emotionally invested in the intricacies of his work that he is unable to transmit knowledge to others. Johnson, with his equivocal critical biographies, and Warton, with his Popean critiques and his notion of “true poetry,” demarcate an important historical transition between a bygone, utilitarian view of literature that “presupposes its implementation in a domain of practice beyond reading’s paper world” and a new, modern idea of literature as a “love object” (p. 27).
At the same time, Loving Literature provides an impetus for regarding with new attention literature that may seem “wrongheaded” in light of our modern expectations of loving literature (p. 25). One of the avenues for reflection opened up by Lynch’s broad historical argument is the recognition that wistfully loving literature is not necessarily the only appropriate affective response to reading a work of imaginative fiction or poetry. There were, of course, historically important and sometimes sophisticated precursors to Lynch’s history of literary love in the ubiquitous instrumentalist notion, articulated most famously by Horace, that literature “pleases” and “instructs,” or instructs by pleasing. For example, Dryden theorized satirical poetry as a genre that could reform vice and folly pleasurably; for Addison, the georgic communicated “truths” pleasurably. Lynch’s study opens the door to investigating these instrumentalist notions of poetry on their own terms, and to recognizing that they can incorporate both sophisticated ideas about readerly experience and sophisticated notions of the ways that readerly affect facilitates complex forms of instruction, meditation, and prolonged connection to texts (if not authorial personalities). By recognizing our own aesthetic expectations as such, we can provisionally set them aside to imagine alternative ways of loving literature and understanding the social obligations that it enables.
LOVING LITERATURE AND HISTORICIST CRITICAL PRACTICE
John C. Havard
Lynch provocatively opens her book by highlighting a double bind confronting scholars of literature: “those of us for whom English is a line of work are also called upon to love literature and to ensure that others do so too” (p. 1). For Lynch, this double bind in part explains the current crisis over whether literary scholars truly love literature. Detractors of literary studies argue that in the zeal scholars have adopted for the public, scholarly legitimacy offered by sophisticated theoretical methodologies, such scholars have not fulfilled their responsibility to profess love of literature. Defenders of theory respond that publicly professing love represents a contradiction in terms; as professionals, scholars need not just the rigor but also the distance and objectivity offered by the theoretical isms. Arguing that such debates result from an overdetermining cultural history, Lynch dismisses attacks on scholarly affection. However, the renewal of literary love has been necessitated by new historicist hegemony.
Lynch’s purpose is not to argue for or against whether literary scholars sufficiently love literature, but rather to tell the story of how we arrived at the current impasses. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, new historicism inspired critics who demonstrated ideological connections to literature, and their canon revisions corrected crucial blind spots. Yet their suspicion toward traditionally canonical writing exhibits a lack of literary affection that undermines their historicist aspirations. As Lynch suggests, however, literary love is not opposed to scholarly objectivity or even to a broadly instrumental view of literature. The loving reader can recognize that authors have approached ideology with what Robert Levine describes as “unknowingness.” Their “wise bafflement” suggests struggle to understand conflicts that only seem clear in hindsight.1 Inhabiting this bafflement results in better accounts of literature’s imbrications in historical milieux. Affectionate respect for literary “unknowingness” offers not just historicist insight but also greater confidence in our ability to improve our present. Literature teaches us that writers have seen possibility in challenging circumstances. Lynch shows that we can recognize this inspiring fact via a historicist practice based on loving literature.
LOVING LITERATURE AND SURFACE READING
In 1983, Jerome McGann wrote that the study of Romanticism had a history of uncritically reproducing the beliefs and values of the period’s writers, tending to reify “Romantic ideology” and its central belief in literary genius. More recently, Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus have called for “surface reading” in order to challenge a history of critical practice based on a “symptomatic reading” that plumbed the depths of texts in order to reveal hidden meanings.2 Lynch’s Loving Literature demonstrates how the surface reading of a vast archive can restructure our understanding of the Romantic period beyond the confines of ideology. Her survey of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literature – which includes Samuel Johnson, Thomas Warton, Anna Seward (1742–1809), Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), Thomas Percy (1723–1811), Lee Hunt (1784–1859), Charles Lamb (1775–1834), Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776–1847), Mary Watson’s “Scrap Book”, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), Jane Austen (1775–1817), Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823), and anonymous gothic chapbooks, among many others – reveals a growing preoccupation at the end of the eighteenth century with the affective nature of reading and with the new expectation that readers not simply read books but love them. Loving Literature reveals that modern reading habits are strange. The expectation that readers “love” reading and mourn dead authors may not be an organic response to the relationship established between reader and author through reading. Instead, Lynch posits that it is the outgrowth of new expectations that modern readers venerate their national literary heritage. This history helps to explain contemporary anxieties about the value of the labor of literary studies and the status of a profession in which the private pleasures of the book – the expectation that scholars must love literature – seem to blend seamlessly into the professional work of disinterested study.
In her chapter on habitual love, Lynch focuses on the everyday relationship with literature characterized by affectionate rereading. This kind of “habit-forming” reading – that is, repeatedly turning to the same texts and authors on a weekly or even daily basis – figures the literary work as a constant companion, but it also has the potential to result in a jaded reader. Lynch’s thoughts in this chapter encapsulate the graduate student’s first experiences in extended research – a place where students might forget their love of literature. Lynch reminds us “that a ‘visible friend and hourly companion’ might be taken for granted, as the object of that kind of intimacy that gets absorbed . . . into the continuum of daily life” (p. 175). Reading the same texts or related texts every day can enter into the realm of tedium, but why do so many students not then lose interest? Lynch’s answer is that despite this tendency to take literature for granted, prolonged exposure can create a “kind of school for healthy habits” (p. 175). Constant attention to a specific work or favorite author recommits the student to his or her chosen pursuit. In Lynch’s words, the reader and the author “go steady” (p. 176). Furthermore, Lynch posits that poetry “balances a commitment to the excitements that sets readers’ pulses racing with a commitment to low-intensity, long-lasting affects” (p. 175). In other words, the love of literature has to mature as if it were a romantic relationship. For true love to exist, we must remain committed to our chosen texts or authors long after the excitement of new love has run its course.
UNLUCKY IN LOVE
G. K. Chesterton said that “in everybody there is a certain thing that loves babies, that fears death, that likes sunlight: that thing enjoys Dickens.” But maybe not. Love unites and divides, and reading through Lynch’s record of the “edginess and complexities” (p. 14) that have attended literary love over three centuries – Seward’s criticism of Johnson’s ingratitude (p. 53), Scott’s concern over Warton’s closeness to his antiquities (p. 72), the bibliomaniac’s private library that allowed him to opt out of “fellowship with other members of the reading nation” (p. 105) – I see something a little tawdry in my own love.
It’s hard to predict how someone else will feel about the books that we like, and it’s at the times we most expect to find fellow feeling that we’re disappointed. I wish that Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) hadn’t written that, “while I would cheerfully become Shakespeare’s cat, Scott’s pig, or Keats’s canary . . . I would not cross the road . . . to dine with Wordsworth, Byron, or Dickens.”3 But there it is: Woolf, whom I love, does not love Dickens, whom I love. Lynch shows that the search for affective community travels along perilous paths, and I see the peril in my own classroom as I ritually (and privately) profess to be shocked – shocked! – that some of my students don’t love the things that I do. What is at stake in my desire that another should be moved by what moves me? And what if – motivated by what Lynch calls “possessive love” – I really don’t want them to like it? These are the frightening questions that Lynch emboldens us to ask.
LOVING LITERATURE AND THE HUMANITIES CRISIS
Cheryl Blake Price
In her introduction, Lynch notes that she was driven to write the book “in part by . . . [her] worries over the future of English studies” (p. 13). After reading this book, I keep meditating on what the lessons of Loving Literature might have to offer the “crisis” in the humanities; in other words, how could a renewed mindfulness of the connection between love and literary studies help us talk about what we do and why we do it? After all, a love for literature saturates the working life of the professoriate, even if individuals are jaded and have fallen out of love with their profession. Why else would the students we teach brave a wave of prognosticated joblessness to major in English? How else did we get through the dissertation, if we weren’t passionate about our topic, primary texts, and time periods? One of my takeaways from reading the book is that a cultivation of love in literary studies might be invigorating to our profession – and indeed may be one of its problems. Unfortunately, Lynch does not address these issues. From the introduction, it certainly seems like investigating how love influences the work of twenty-first century literature scholars is one of her goals, hence lines like: “I aim to suggest why self-reflection on our ways of knowing will not suffice when we seek to assess English professors’ characteristic mode of practicing humanist study” (p. 1). However, she lets the reader do the heavy lifting of applying her history to the work we do. Indeed, she doesn’t even come close to 2015, as her analysis only reaches the mid-nineteenth century. Regardless, Lynch has convinced me that we must be attentive to the ways love impacts our scholarly and pedagogical work, though I was disappointed that she does not turn the powerful lens of her criticism upon these issues today.
1 Robert S. Levine, Dislocating Race and Nation: Episodes in Nineteenth–Century American Literary Nationalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 2.
2 See Jerome McGann, The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); and Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus, “Surface Reading: An Introduction,” Representations 101, no. 1 (2009): 1–21, 1.
3 Virginia Woolf, The Moment and Other Essays (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1974), 80.
Noble, Mark — American Poetic Materialism
American Poetic Materialism from Whitman to Stevens. By Mark Noble. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xii + 229. $93.00 (hardback).
In American Poetic Materialism, Mark Noble offers an impressive reading of the materialist imaginations of Walt Whitman (1819–92), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82), George Santayana (1863–1952), Wallace Stevens (1879–1955), and other poets, philosophers, and scientists. Drawing from Lucretius and Adorno, Noble explores the ways in which American poets encounter and wrestle with classical and emerging atomic physics. For each poet, engagement with atomist materialism offers new approaches to understanding human experience: Whitman constructs “material models of intersubjectivity”; Emerson produces “visions of universal power”; Santayana establishes “a new ground for ethical and aesthetic value”: and Stevens calls for “greater confidence in the role of the creative mind in the world” (p. 6). Ultimately, for Noble, these poets are concerned with the questions of unity versus multiplicity, universality versus particularity, and stability versus plasticity.
Noble’s study follows a recent explosion in critical investigations of our material selves in the past two decades. Noble situates his work in response to Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011) and Michel Serres’s The Birth of Physics (2000). According to Noble, Greenblatt’s recovery of Lucretius relies on a stable-subject position, while Serres’s work dissolves the subject. Noble’s account, then, attempts to fill the gap between Greenblatt’s and Serres’s extremes by examining heterogeneous materialist accounts that wrestle with, hope to understand, and attempt to construct the material subject.
In his first chapter, Noble introduces his “aporetic materialism” and traces the historical moments and texts that exemplify this paradigm. William James’s The Will to Believe offers a bifurcated starting point for Noble to theorize his aporetic materialism as a paradoxical conception that shares what James sees as the “impulse to universalize and the impulse to particularize” (p. 15). In this manner, American Poetic Materialism represents a survey of several poets’ attempts to understand and negotiate the atomized subject.
Noble’s second chapter situates Whitman’s materialist poetics as a project that grows out of and in relation to mid-nineteenth-century science, including the works of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), Michael Faraday (1791–1867), Robert Chambers (1802–71), and Justus von Liebig (1803–73). After following the development of Whitman’s thought and engagement with science, Noble describes a paradox that he sees at the heart of Whitman’s post-1860 thought, one that manages “a tension between the final insolubility of the material and radical solubility of the personal” (p. 11). That is, Nobel suggests, Whitman’s poetic project attempts to bind two features of material experience: “a materialism that sees no death, on the one hand, and the exquisite pain of a materialism that succumbs to death, on the other” (p. 78). Whitman’s post-1860 thought recognizes the difficulties that come with his materialist project and even questions the practicality of his aporetic materialism. Next, Noble reads Emerson’s posthumous Natural History of Intellect in conversation with Faraday’s classical field theory, “which binds matter to a network of immaterial energies” (p. 83). Faraday’s theory provides Emerson with a way to envision an atomized subject whose individuality is destabilized but who has access to “fathomless powers” (p. 84). For Noble, Emerson’s materiality largely fails to address and resolve the particular accounts of human suffering found in his poetry, giving way to gaps that are both “compelling for their rhetorical nuance and disturbing where they go unacknowledged” (p.84).
From Emerson’s materialism, Noble moves to Santayana’s naturalist poetics. By analyzing Santayana’s essays on Lucretius and Emerson, Noble proposes that Santayana’s materialism hinges on a radical uncertainty that attempts to “secure some measure of human value from the atom without, in the terms of his critique of Emerson, becoming mystical” (p. 116). In Noble’s readings, Santayana’s Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923) captures a desire for stability, in terms of human experience, and the essay “The Function and Uses of Poetry” similarly proposes that “the fluidity of…poetry” offers the viability of an ethical relation to the material world – despite the possibility of an ethics in Santayana’s speculative system (p. 140). Throughout his career, then, Noble argues, Santayana wrestles with the impossibility of an ethical atomism and the desire for a language that captures the experience of the material subject.
Chapter five continues with Stevens’s poetry and lectures. Like the previous poets Noble includes, Stevens draws from contemporaneous and earlier scientists, including Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), and Max Planck (1858–1947), to trace the “gradual loss of certainty about the stability of our relation to the physical world,” (p. 146) an uncertainty that grew out of the “quantum theoretical developments of 1926 and 1927” (p. 168). Stevens’s “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” (1950) and other poems refuse to give readers a stable model of the material human in the material world; instead, his quantum poetics relies on complimentary guesses and a provisional understanding of the material world.
Finally, American Poetic Materialism closes with a brief engagement with recent critical materialist theorists, specifically those of Gilles Deleuze (1925–95) and Alan Badiou (b. 1937), and asks whether American poetics can contribute to and offer new ways of reading emerging materialist projects. For Noble, the poetic tradition “anticipates features of those models [those of Deleuze and Badiou] and helps make sense of disputes between them” (p. 185). Thus, Noble’s project offers a way to frame emerging material alternatives as part of a continued tradition – poetic, scientific, and otherwise – that “shuttle[s] experience between its multiplicity and its singularity” (p. 193).
Noble’s work represents a serious engagement and wrestling with materialist philosophies and American poetics. Instead of putting forth a materialist account that solely favors the stable subject, or one that just favors the dissolved subject, Noble presents a history of complex and fluid materialisms. Noble traces a complex subject, but he presents his argument with clarity – often previewing and re-summarizing his claims, and with humor, especially in lines like “it sounds like the sort of job that might compel one to drink” (p. 109). I recommend American Poetic Materialism to a range of scholars – from those interested in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American poetry to historians of physics and modern science to anyone engaged in the emerging critical conversations about materialism.
James M. Cochran
Oerlemans, Onno — Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature
Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature. By Onno Oerlemans. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. Pp. 253. $35.21 (paperback).
If Romanticism is the most famous mode in which artistic and philosophical thought engages with nature, it is nevertheless, as Onno Oerlemans points out in Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature, one among many. This study is at once a recontextualization of Romantic thought and a revisiting of its premises in light of a host of subsequent approaches to the natural world, in particular environmentalism and ecocriticism in their various forms.
The concept that opens the discussion is that of the “material sublime,” which, in Oerlemans’s definition, “occurs when consciousness recognizes that it cannot fully represent the material order (which is truly ‘other’), but that it is the ground for being” (pp. 4–5). Already in this definition a great deal of synthetic work is being done. Such a melancholy aporia is immediately recognizable in Romantic poetry, but Oerlemans’s task is to resituate this Romantic humility in the face of the natural world among other strains of thought concerned with what is “truly ‘other,’” and with the inaccessibility of what more recent philosophy would call the ground for being. The most important resituation is with ecocriticism, especially with ecofeminism, whose “strength lies in its ability to use the powerful sense of being ‘other’ that women have endured in order to restructure and to make relative all centres of meaning and being in western culture – both to speak for, and to make meaningful, the otherness that the natural world has been invested with in patriarchal culture” (p. 8). This is a strong example of Oerlemans’s method: in one sentence he neatly summarizes the power of one theoretical frame to both elevate and criticize a central trope of Romanticism, in this case, the feminization of nature.
Intertwining these threads, Oerlemans frequently returns to the interaction between the universal and the particular, which he formulates as a central preoccupation of Romanticism, and for that matter of any attempt to conceptualize nature. In other words, the interaction between the individual act of perception and the totality of the natural world beyond human experience becomes a dynamic tension for Oerlemans’s analyses. The largely theoretical introduction concludes by citing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “transparent eyeball” (p. 28) and Wallace Stevens’ “mind of winter” (p. 27) as emblematic instances of the poetry of universality and specificity, respectively; the tension between these two poles is a quiet guide to much of what comes next.
Against this backdrop, Oerlemans seeks the material sublime in the canonical threads of Romantic thought. (By Romanticism, it should be observed, he means almost exclusively English Romanticism, with a few forays into American letters.) The five chapters comprise discrete examinations of single themes whose connection to one another is not immediately apparent: (1) William Wordsworth’s encounters with “the impenetrable reality of surfaces and appearances;” (p. 24); (2) the anthropomorphizing of animals as a means of variegating the otherness of nature; (3) Percy Shelley’s vegetarianism; (4) taxonomical principles as the projection of order onto nature; and (5) a plea for the complexity of travel writing as an engagement with the landscape.
The common thread holding these together is Oerlemans’s desire “to suggest the value of resisting abstraction” (p. 200). To find the materiality of nature in Romanticism is to find its celebration of the particular and of the individual – the perception itself, and not the faculty of perception. Consistently, Oerlemans comes back to this point as the “strain of romantic thought” (p. 201) that finds its power in honoring the particular over the universal, and by extension the material over the abstract. It “remains fixated on the material, the concrete particularity of the natural world that exists purely and simply apart from our conscious interest in and active alteration of it” (p. 201). This has not proven a simple task for either environmentalism or ecocriticism.
One of Oerlemans’s tentative conclusions particularly lingers in the mind. He links much of the Romantics’ interest in specific materialities (Wordsworth’s “Tree, of many, one, / A single Field which I have looked upon”) to the burgeoning explanatory power of science, which gave rise to an ironic helplessness in the face of nature. “As more is known about [nature’s] specific systems, cycles of generation and decay, orders of beings and things, the more it seems unknowable, fundamentally different from consciousness. The natural world is thus less capable of being an abstraction” (pp. 202–3). If this reasoning is true, the more the rhetoric of scientism expands its range, and the more potential emerges for immediate and authentic engagement with the materiality of the natural world. This is surely an optimistic conclusion at a time not unlike the end of the eighteenth century, when the claims of scientific empiricism are expanding into ever finer nooks of the perceived world
College of the Holy Cross
Richard, François G. and Kevin C. MacDonald — Ethnic Ambiguity and the African Past
Ethnic Ambiguity and the African Past: Materiality, History, and the Shaping of Cultural Identities. Edited by François G. Richard and Kevin C. MacDonald. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, 2015. Pp. 296. 48 illustrations. $89.00 (cloth).
This publication is another welcome addition to the growing literature on the social archaeology of Africa, a theoretically-informed perspective that has in the last few decades displaced the cultural history concerns that had previously dominated archaeological scholarship in the region. The volume consists of eight original essays, including studies by each of the co-editors, plus an introductory chapter by the editors and a summary by Stephen Shennan, along with a foreword by Christopher DeCorse, whose comments nicely situate the volume in the history of regional archaeology.
Ethnicity has been an organizing principle of ethnographic and archaeological research from Africa’s Colonial era even when not directly the topic of such research. Yet problems with assumptions of ethnic continuity and the varied material expressions of identity lead some researchers to shy away from the topic. DeCorse welcomes a return to ethnicity as a central focus of research that recognizes the ambiguities of group identities and their material expressions, noting that ethnicity is in many ways central to anthropology although it remains a “challenging, relevant, and, at times, contentious areas of archaeological study” (p. 15).
Rather than offer summaries of the papers that follow, the editors’ essay explores the evolution of the idea of ethnicity as it was developed and applied in Africa and of various critiques of the concept, including its invention as a means of social control during the Colonial era, its tendency to attempt to fix in time and space that which were, in fact and continue to be, fluid identities, and the tendency to conflate ethnic and political identities, resulting in notions of “tribalism” that are often blamed for conflict that has its roots in long-standing social and economic inequities. They go on to not only recognize the ambiguity of the concept but to celebrate it and apply that quality to consider commonalities and contradictions in its application in the volume’s papers.
Ethnicity is seen as relevant and real by all of these scholars, and it is recognized as historically constructed, consisting of inwardly focused feelings of connection to the past that can take material form in various ways, and can be, but is not always, consciously articulated. That the chapter authors variously privilege differing aspects of ethnicity is seen as a strength rather than a weakness, with ambiguity used as a focus through which to understand how such identities are construed over time and space. Nonetheless, all the authors recognize the importance of distinguishing the different processes of identification entailed in ethnic identities, all recognize that such identities are fluid over time, all recognize a central connection between ethnicity and materiality, and all recognize that examinations of ethnicity take place in a broader political context with categories of identity not exclusively fashioned within groups, but constrained, molded, and sometimes created by others: neighboring groups, regional polities and movements, Colonial powers, and global conditions.
The volume’s eight case studies are concerned with ethnic expressions in such things as ceramics, burial practices, agricultural traditions, settlement systems, and landscapes, and they span the continent, with five studies situated in West Africa, two in Eastern Africa, and one in Central Africa. They span through time, as well, from prehistory to the Colonial era. Cameron Gokee focuses on pottery-making techniques, especially the gestures used in vessel rim formation, in Senegambia from the early eighteenth century through to the mid-twentieth century. Co-editor François G. Richard examines ethnicity as a historical product among the Seereer, which he argues needs to be understood as only one among “many shifting constituents of individual and collective subjectivity” that need to be viewed in relation to other social structures and processes (p. 110). Co-editor Kevin C. MacDonald discusses the origins of the term Bambara and its vague use in reference to “pagan” populations to a more specific identity under Colonialism. Importantly, he reveals that culturally transmitted traditions have time depth than can be measured, and that even when ethnic ascriptions and political entities have the same names at different times, they do not necessarily have the same content or meaning. Roger Blench considers indigenous ethnography as well as archaeology to examine ethnicity in Nigeria as something more than “just” Colonial-era constructs. He found long-term continuity in certain ethnolinguistic groups, such as the Yoruba and Edo. Scott MacEachern considers the Wandala “state” as an ethnically-based political entity of small size and little local importance, but whose elites created a cultural of “stateliness” linked to neighboring elites that gave them the appearance of significance and power to the outside world. Pierre de Maret and Alexandre Livingstone Smith inquire into identity of the Luba, tracing distinct pottery traditions and ceremonial and ritually symbolic material culture back over a thousand years. John Giblin considers the political implications of precolonial Twa, Tutsi, and Hutu identities in Rwanda. He examines the ways that these categories have come to be constructed over time and applies the results of faunal analysis to deconstruct them. Paul J. Lane then provides a ceramic-based overview of identity in East African archaeology. He supports the fluid nature of identity in his consideration of the Bondel of northeast Tanzania, for whom that identity seems to have been important in the early nineteenth century but became less so as clan affiliations became more significant in the face of slave raiding and migration, only to have Bondel identity reemerge later under the influence of missionaries. His other cases emphasize the importance of reconstructing traditions relating to different patterns of daily activity without assuming that these are related to “ethnic groups.”
In the closing paper, Stephen Shennan offers a cultural evolutionary perspective on the preceding papers that to this reviewer reads like the old cultural history approach with a rather Whiggish set of new clothes. He argues that the practices and representations that constitute “ethnicity” generally have historical foundations that must be understood through cultural histories. Further, he asserts that a cultural evolutionary perspective is concerned with the transmission of culture through time in which change can be seen to act. The term “evolution,” however, suggests that such changes have a trajectory of inevitable progression over time that the reality of cultural complexity does not, in fact, follow. That said, his concluding points are markedly on-point:. We do “still need more understanding of why ‘ethnic difference’ as a folk taxonomic construct seems to be such a powerful and persistent way of making them-us distinctions” given “the ongoing political significance of ethnicity in the contemporary world” (p. 284). We do need archaeological and anthropological research that deconstructs “the assumptions behind ethnic categories,” (p. 284) as the chapters in this volume strive to do.
John P. McCarthy, RPA
Delaware State Parks
Russell, Ben. — Making the World Anew
James Watt: Making the World Anew. By Ben Russell. London: Reaktion, published in association with the Science Museum, London, 2014. Pp. 280. 69 illustration. $29.95 (cloth).
This work provides a narrative, popular history of the early British Industrial Revolution through the lens of James Watt (1736–1819), the engineer most associated with the steam engine. Placing Watt within the social context of the Industrial Revolution, Russell argues that the steam engine was as much a “cultural machine as a scientific one,” because it reflected the changing intellectual values and economic needs of “the period roughly from 1760 until 1820” (p. 9). Russell offers a biographical overview of Watt’s life, providing a chronological account of how his career as an entrepreneurial engineer eventually led to his status as a national hero and scientific symbol. At a broader level, Russell examines Watt’s professional life within the context of the social, economic, and cultural conditions of industrial Britain. Russell concludes that Watt’s research on engines was shaped by new social and economic factors, including consumerism, industrialization, and global trade. At an abstract level, Russell explores how engineers were “turning ephemeral ideas into tangible products” (p. 15). From Watt’s childhood fascination with steam kettles to his eventual design and standardization of the steam engine, Russell attempts to trace the conceptual development of the engine through Watt’s life. Russell promises more than a biography of Watt or a history of the steam engine; at its broadest level, Russell promises “a book about making things during Britain’s Industrial Revolution” (p. 9).
Chapters are organized chronologically to correspond with significant stages of Watt’s professional life, though each reflects broader social conditions of the period under examination. Chapter one explores Watt’s early life, arguing that his apprenticeship in London provided invaluable training and professional connections. Eighteenth-century London is presented as a center for commerce, technical innovation, and social change. It was within this changing society that Watt was introduced to the professional networks, technical innovations, business experience, and social interactions that led to his eventual steam research. Chapter two describes Watt’s early career in Glasgow. Russell emphasizes the impact that the Scottish Enlightenment on Watt: it created an intellectual climate of scientific inquiry, which in turn created a market for the scientific equipment designed and sold by Watt (pp. 47–49). Russell also stresses the impact of Adam Smith’s (1723–90) economic theories on society as a whole and on Watt’s business practices in particular (p. 65). In both chapters, Russell notes that Watt did not specialize in a single field. Instead, he produced a variety of small tools, scientific and trade equipment, and even musical instruments. Watt was “a jack of all trades but a master of none” (p. 52).
Chapter three addresses the conceptual underpinnings of the work, particularly the extent to which social forces and economic need shaped Watt’s research. Placing Watt within the wider context of Glasgow, Russell examines how “burgeoning scientific culture” (p. 80) and industrial needs combined “philosophical chemistry and its industrial applications” (p. 84). Glasgow, a major industrial center, needed scientific innovation, particularly with regard to furnace design and heat control. This drove Watt’s research toward furnaces, heat, and ultimately the steam engine (pp. 97–99). In addition to a personal interest in the topic, economic need pushed Watt toward examining steam technology. Chapter four adds nuance by arguing that new technologies did not mean an immediate break with the past. Russell argues that the engine relied upon existing technologies, since its individual parts were still built using old methods (p. 110). The construction of engines remained dependent upon older craft trades, such as blacksmiths and millwrights (pp. 163–165). While the engine “captured people’s imagination,” (p. 142) it did not fundamentally change industry immediately. This theme continues in chapter five, which examines Watt’s efforts to sell engines in Manchester. While Watt successfully established an industrial standard with his engines, there was resistance to change. Some potential customers were “very timid in their approach to [mechanical] power,” and many mills continued using water wheels, which were seen as a more reliable technology (p. 154).
The final chapters of the work examine the cultural impact of Watt’s engine. Chapter six explores the engine as a cultural, even artistic, expression of the early nineteenth century. The engine symbolized “order and harmony” (p. 185), and machinery was incorporated into new aesthetics and decorations (p. 197). Engines were designed with classical, Gothic, and Egyptian motifs (p. 194), and the finely polished machines became a style in itself. Machines produced by engineers were presented as a form of “beauty” (p. 200). Finally, chapter seven examines how Watt’s laboratory becomes an “industrial shrine” after his death (p. 224), explaining how Watt was added to the “national pantheon” of heroes (p. 221). Watt, a pragmatic engineer through his career, became a philosophical, symbolic figure at the end of his life. Russell concludes that this is no contradiction, as “Watt the philosopher and Watt the practical chemist were one and the same person” (p. 233).
Russell makes good use of materials from the Science Museum, London, where he serves as Curator of Mechanical Engineering. He relies heavily upon existing literature, but his use of Watt’s letters adds to the work. Images from Watt’s laboratory, now housed in the Science Museum, are a significant feature in the book. Russell’s use of Watt as a lens for exploring Industrial Revolution Britain is effective, providing an interesting personal perspective on the larger themes of the period. A weakness of this broad and abstract approach is that the work offers less detail than an outright biography; readers will, for example, want more detail regarding the accusations that Watt may have produced counterfeit “Parisian” flutes (pp. 68–69). Similarly, readers will want more information about the incident in which Watt is seen “carrying off a child’s head” for anatomical study (p. 29). Russell’s overview of the Industrial Revolution is similarly broad, though he does not claim otherwise. Indeed, Russell’s emphasis on the impact that craftsmen had in shaping industrial developments is an interesting addition. As a whole, the work will be welcome by readers interested in Watt or popular scientific histories. The work would be an effective companion text for a course on Industrial Revolution Britain, as it provides a personal perspective on the wider topic. Ultimately, it illustrates how scientific research is directed by personal experience and larger social influences.
Richard M. Mikulski
Shears, Jonathon and Jen Harrison — Literary Bric-à-Brac and the Victorians
Literary Bric-à-Brac and the Victorians: From Commodities to Oddities. Edited by Jonathan Shears and Jen Harrison. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013. Pp. 226. Illus. $149.95 (cloth). $54.95 (paper).
Like the category of objects that it discusses, Jonathon Shears and Jen Harrison’s edited volume resists simple analysis. The book offers a rich series of essays, each of which turn their attention to the problematic genre of objects known as bric-à-brac. It is ironic that while the term evokes exactly the kind of object we think of when discussing Victorian material culture, bric-à-brac has lacked sustained critical attention in the secondary literature on “things.” Yet this relative neglect is indicative of the difficulties of dealing with such material, which sits uncomfortably between high and low forms of culture, the decorative and the fine arts, and states of ubiquity and worthlessness. Indeed, whilst it is often acknowledged that, to quote one of the volume’s authors, “things matter,” not all things have been deemed to matter equally. Accordingly, the volume opens with the provocative question “do all the objects of Victorian literature ‘mean’ equally, or should distinctions be drawn – and on whose terms?” (p. 1). Providing an answer to this question through an unprecedented study of bric-à-brac, the book situates the genre in relation to Victorian literature, and in so doing, demonstrates its importance as a semantically rich category of material culture.
The earliest chapters of the book attempt to define, categorise, and critique the genre. Victoria Mills explores how accounts of bric-à-brac have been characterized by a concentration on its “badness” and “sadness,” taking advantage of its disruptive nature in order to figure bric-à-brac in terms of its queer potentiality. Anna Barton and Catherine Bates’s contribution, “‘Beautiful Things’: Nonsense and the Museum,” also highlights the disorderly nature of bric-à-brac, situating the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear (1812–88) in relation to the Victorian cultures of taxonomy and museum display. These chapters elaborate upon and elegantly deconstruct the incongruous nature of bric-à-brac, with Barton and Bates describing it as ‘“things out of place’,” ‘“not working within any system of function, commodity or exhibition’” (p. 57). Conceptualised in this way, bric-à-brac proffers a powerful model for critiquing the structures in which objects were organised, viewed, and experienced throughout the nineteenth century, an emphasis which several of the volume’s chapters profitably explore.
A number of the chapters also highlight the collapsibility between subject and object, identifying this as a relationship at the very heart of bric-à-brac’s manifestations within Victorian literature. Echoing bric-à-brac’s own disjointed form, several chapters align it with bodies in conversion: fragmented, disordered, and even posthumous. Mills, for example, highlights the diseased body as an object of desire for the bric-à-brac collector, whilst Barton and Bates utilise Bill Brown’s “thing theory” as a framework through which to explore disruptive interventions of objects within the self, interactions which stress the body’s position as a “thing among things” (p. 41).
Alongside these more general considerations of bric-à-brac as a genre or category of objects, other chapters pay attention to specific objects, including mezzotints, whistles, nails, books, and even the philosopher’s stone. Jennifer McDonell’s essay, “Browning’s Curiosities: The Ring and the Book and the ‘Democracy of Things’,” for example, explores the poet Robert Browning’s (1812–89) fascination with odd, obscure things, specifically his collection of legal documents from an Italian murder trial of 1698, and an etching of Perseus and Andromeda, after a painting by Caravaggio. These examples, unpacked at length and in detail by McDonell, collapse the figure of poet with that of the collector, highlighting the deeply personal nature of Browning’s writing and the crucial role played by material objects within it. Tellingly, the etching provides one of only a few of the volume’s illustrations, a lack which speaks to a missed opportunity in the volume’s compilation: namely, that more of its chapters could deal in greater depth with surviving examples of bric-à-brac objects, an angle that would emphasise the interdisciplinarity of the volume, particularly its resonances with the approaches advanced within complementary disciplines such as material culture studies and art history. Indeed, the kind of serious examination of Victorian bric-à-brac found in the volume has important implications for the art history of the period, which historically has tended to place objects within exactly the kind of aesthetic hierarchies that bric-à-brac disrupts. McDonell’s chapter signals this potential eloquently, noting that Browning’s writings demonstrate the “porousness of the boundaries between categories such as art, commodities, oddities, and rejects,” highlighting the utility of bric-à-brac to highlight and collapse aesthetic hierarchies (p. 67).
Difference – as it relates to gender, class, and sexuality – is another key theme of the volume. For instance, David Trotter’s essay, “On the Nail,” explores the conflation between the metaphorical construction of difference at the heart of the nail’s function – that is, its holding together of two different objects or materials – with its capacity to evoke social difference, or otherness, within the narratives in which it appears. Mills’s chapter similarly illustrates the importance of bric-à-brac to Victorian discourses on gender, focusing on its relation to non-normative masculine identities, whilst both Deborah Wynne’s and Sara Clayson’s chapters elucidate the role of bric-à-brac in the construction of two very different kinds of literary femininity. Just as bric-à-brac can be seen to epitomise the fluidity and instability of objects themselves, these chapters show its utility in discussing equally unstable categorisations, such as gender roles, which as Mills writes, in turn become “disorderly things that refuse to be categorised” (p. 35).
As confirmed by each of the volume’s chapters, bric-à-brac was not defined as a specific set or type of objects, but a state which objects could (but did not always) embody. Indeed, bric-à-brac is characterised by its very instability, its indefinableness, where it denotes worthless, anachronistic, incongruous, specious, or disordered objects. As such, it offers a potent vehicle for representing other unstable concepts, be it gender, race, or class; divisions between subject and object; or even language itself. Each of the volume’s contributions powerfully demonstrate how attention to the intricacies of bric-à-brac can reveal and allow for the interpretation of these instabilities. Further to this, the volume has implications beyond the period and the kinds of bric-à-brac upon which it focuses: similar interventions need to be made in the history of the trinket, the bauble, the trifle, and the knick-knack, each of which have a complex and highly loaded history of their own, with Shears and Harrison’s volume offering a model for how do to so. In its considered analysis of bric-à-brac, the volume ultimately offers a response to Edward Muir’s question of “how can historians concerned with trifles avoid producing trivial history?” In their methodologically rigorous and tightly argued considerations of each of the texts discussed, the volume’s contributors offer a resounding answer to this question: bric-a-brac matters, and the matter of bric-à-brac is worthy of sustained attention and enquiry.
Freya Gowrley II
University of Edinburgh
Härmänmaa, Marja and Christopher Nissen — Decadence, Degeneration, and the End
Decadence, Degeneration, and the End: Studies in the European Fin de Siècle. Edited by Marja Härmänmaa and Christopher Nissen. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
Anyone who studies European fin de siècle culture knows that the concept of century’s end as a social and cultural phenomenon is one of shifting perspectives. One can view the fin de siècle as an era of rapid social change, reflected in such cultural movements as Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, Decadence, and Art Nouveau. Fin de siècle can also be defined as a mood, usually described through negatives: a pessimistic outlook on scientific and technological progress, a rejection of bourgeois morality, a fear of the demands of modern life, a fascination with themes of death and disease, and a retreat into the world of the imagination. At the same time, fin-de-siècle culture celebrates the lures of ambiguity, enigma, mystery, and the occult; the imagery of dreams, visions, and hallucinations; and the heady scent of rebellion in the forms of socialism, anarchism, and millenarianism. Given this mélange of themes, relatively little is straightforward about fin-de-siècle discourse and imagery. The themes of decadence and degeneration provide points of entry, melding the soft, silken tones of a Des Esseintes with the grating rasp of a Max Nordau. Whether envisioning the end of civilization or the finality of mortal existence, the poets, painters, playwrights, and authors of the fin de siècle provoked insights into the rich stew of social mores and human behavior.
Decadence, Degeneration, and the End: Studies in the European Fin de Siècle, a compact book of scholarly essays edited by Marja Härmänmaa and Christopher Nissen, offers some new perspectives on the poetry, literature, art, and science of the fin-de-siècle era. This slender collection packs a great deal of information under four sub-headings: “The Twilight World”; “The Seduction of Sickness”; “Decadence and the Feminine”; and “Two Studies of Death.” The individual subjects include the familiar (Aubrey Beardsley‘s (1872–98) illustrations to Oscar Wilde’s (1854–1900) Salomé (1893), the poetry of Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938)), the less familiar (the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy (1863–1933) and Stefan George (1868–1933), Wilde’s fairy tales), and the unfamiliar (the artists Mariia Iakunchikova (1870-1902) and Charles Cottet (1863–1925), Latin American modernismo). The grand ambitions of this essay collection are announced at the very beginning with Mason Tatersall’s “Thermal Degeneration: Thermodynamics and the Heat Death of the Universe in Victorian Science, Philosophy, and Culture,” in which the introduction of the physics of the end of the universe initiates a spirited debate amongst the Victorian intelligentsia. In contrast, the final essay, Marja Härmänmaa’s “The Seduction of Thanatos: Gabriel D’Annunzio and the Decadent Death,” focuses on one Italian poet and provides an appraisal of his inventive imagery of death, eros, and the soul, giving shape to quintessential fin-de-siècle concepts: mourir en beauté and Liebestod. The progression of topics thus starts with the end of the universe and culminates in a personal obsession with death.
Of course, any study of decadence and degeneration must consider the numerous portrayals of Salome. Gülru Çakmak, in “‘For the Strong-Minded Alone’: Evolution, Female Atavism, and Degeneration in Aubrey Beardsley’s Salomé,” analyzes the malevolent effects that the British artist achieves through the emphasis on grotesque deformations of Salome’s body, reflecting then-current theories about transgressive androgyny and criminal behavior. As Johannes Hendrikus Burgers makes clear in his essay, “The Spectral Salome: Salomania and Fin-de-Siècle Sexology and Racial Theory,” this popular depiction of the femme-fatale should be read as more than a bugbear of powerful femininity. Burgers expands his investigation of the cultural construction of Salome as an antithesis of the Christian image of proper womanhood, an orientalist and anti-Semitic fantasy that depicts a monstrous otherness, and a censorious commentary on the physical realities of the female body. Kyle Mox rounds out this sequence with “Decadence, Melancholia, and the Making of Modernism in the Salome Fairy Tales of Strindberg, Wilde, and Ibsen.” He cleverly embeds decadent culture within the nascent throes of modernism, suggesting that the decay so celebrated in fin de siècle aesthetics creates fertile ground for modernist experimentation. He suggests that the Salome story possesses a compelling motif of “the dancing daughter,” found not only in Wilde’s play but also in August Strindberg’s (1849–1912) Miss Julie (1888) and Henrik Ibsen’s (1828–1906) Hedda Gabler (1890), both of the latter considered pioneering icons of modern theater.
Some of the more interesting essays approach the familiar conventions of decadence from innovative angles that subvert those very conventions. Magali Fleurot considers the socialist implications of Wilde’s fairy tale collections in “Decadence and Regeneration: Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales as a Tool for Social Change.” The author of “The Soul of Man under Socialism” was also caricatured in late Victorian society as the epitome of dandyism. His fairy tales proffer moral themes, occasionally punctuated by sobering conclusions, wrapped in the lapidary prose of the decadent aesthete. Fleurot contends that Wilde meant to upend the traditional elements of the fairy tale in order to encourage bold social change in the larger culture. In comparison the commercial culture of Art Nouveau posters receives an intriguing refashioning in Abigail Susik’s “Consuming and Consumed: Woman as Habituée in Eugène Grasset’s Morphinomaniac.” Grasset’s color lithograph of a morphine addict (with its pendant La Vitrioleuse) seems out of step with his success as one of the most elegant of Art Nouveau graphic designers. Yet, Susik identifies the work as a fundamental critique, a satire in fact, of the habituée, an amalgam of the New Woman and the femme-fatale, reflecting in a skewed mirror the image of the female consumer found in so many contemporary advertisements.
This essay collection is a reminder that the fin de siècle still provides rewarding exploration for cultural historians. The message follows that decadence does not immediately signal a coda to vital experiences and degeneration might be fertile ground for further experimentation. One of the more pleasurable features of this multi-faceted study lies in the placement of modernism as just one backdrop to the panorama of the nineteenth-century’s end, one of many rich possibilities for the future history of European culture.
Richard A. Schindler, Ph.D
Professor of Art
Karschay, Stephan — Degeneration, Normativity and the Gothic at the Fin de Siècle
Degeneration, Normativity and the Gothic at the Fin de Siècle. By Stephan Karschay. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. Pp. ix +295. $110.00 (cloth).
Adapted from a dissertation that received awards from the German Association for the Study of British culture, Stephen Karschay’s book examines six Gothic texts through the lens of nineteenth-century degeneration discourse, which he analyzes in the Foucauldian tradition as “a certain systematicity of ideas, concepts, and opinions about a given subject in a particular historical context” (pp. 14–15). In this well-researched study, Karschay argues that degeneration discourse provided tools to detect degeneracy in literary characters, supported the relegation of the strange to the Other, and ultimately expanded to such a scope as to subsume the Victorian self within its catalogues of deviance.
In the introductory chapter, Karschay traces the etymology of “degeneration” from spiritual connotations and botanical usage to its employment by the psychologist Bénédict Augustin Morel (1809–73) in Traité des dégénérescences physiques, intellectuelles et morales de l’espèce humaine (1857), which defined human degeneration as “‘a pathological deviation from an original type’” (p. 12). In chapter two, “Degeneration and the Victorian Sciences,” Karschay continues a careful survey of writings by Morel, Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919), Henry Maudsley (1835–1918), Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909), Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902), and Max Nordau (1849-1923). Following in the path of Edward Chamberlain and Sander Gilman’s Degeneration: The Dark Side of Progress (1985), Daniel Pick’s Faces of Degeneration (1989), and William Greenslade’s Degeneration, Culture, and the Novel: 1880–1940 (1994), Karschay examines degeneration discourse as developing in psychopathology, sexology, criminology, and cultural criticism and, as the focus of his study, intersecting with literary works.
Chapter three, “Detecting the Degenerate: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan,” undertakes a comparative analysis of modes and means of detecting degeneracy. Concerning The Strange Case, Karschay cautions that, “Throughout the narrative, Stevenson uses his hints most sparingly and only insinuates Hyde’s degeneracy, without ever openly naming it” (p. 93). Stevenson’s descriptions of Hyde as simian and hairy suggest the atavism Lombroso identified as indicative of criminality, as Stephen Arata has observed in Fictions of Loss in the Victorian Fin de Siècle (1996). Karschay boldly pursues the influence of degeneration discourse further, construing the lawyer Utterson’s remark that Hyde’s would be a visage “‘worth seeing’” as indicating that “the gentlemen in Stevenson’s novel tacitly assume that it will conform to their preconceived ideas about deviance’s inevitable legibility. After all, criminal anthropology offered its disciples elaborate taxonomic catalogues of stigmatic markers under which the deviant Hyde’s features should be subsumable” (p. 89). The cautious literary critic may be skeptical that the tacit assumptions of these fictional characters can be discovered, however, and the novella offers scant support that the gentlemen are “disciples” of criminal anthropology. Turning to The Great God Pan, Karschay calls for alertness to a different set of degenerationist cues, as the femme fatale Helen Vaughn does not bear physical stigmata despite her unspeakable repugnance comingled with intoxicating allure. Rather, the origin of her lethal powers aligns with degenerationist’s concerns regarding inherited predisposition to sexual deviance and criminality, as she is the offspring of an unfortunate orphan girl subjected to a neurological experiment to allow here to see the pagan Pan, who impregnates her. Karschay concludes that, “where Edward Hyde betrays his degenerate nature through his unnamable deformity, The Great God Pan’s villainess confounds the few who actually get a glimpse of her by her extraordinary beauty and an ambivalent and elusive sense of Otherness” (pp. 98–99), drawing attention to a self/Other binary that is heavily engaged throughout the study.
Chapter four, “Othering the Degenerate: Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Richard Marsh’s The Beetle,” analyzes the eponymous monsters as Othered temporally (to modernity), as species (exhibiting animalism), racially (from Transylvania and somewhere “‘oriental to the finger-tips’” (p. 143)), and through sexual deviance (the vampiric bite’s eroticism and the beetle-creature’s mesmerism). The heroine Mina Harker appeals explicitly to degeneration discourse, asserting that Dracula is “‘a criminal and of criminal type. Nordau and Lombroso would so classify him” (p. 53). Moreover, as previous scholars have noted, some of the most tangible physiognomic links to degeneration discourse in Gothic fiction are found within Dracula and The Beetle. Karschay concludes the chapter by focusing on the manners in which the Victorian self is implicated as susceptible to the forces and impulses that have been Othered in Gothic fiction. “A reading that foregrounds the destabilization which the novels’ monsters cause in the self’s binary conceptualization of normativity and deviance,” Karschay argues, “can reveal how the late-Victorian Gothic frequently projects a culture’s internal transgressive elements onto an alien Other to maintain the illusion of a stable normative self” (p. 125).
Chapter five, “Normalising the Degenerate: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Marie Corelli’s The Sorrows of Satan,” examines the threat of degeneration within the Victorian breast, focusing upon characters who are physiognomically unblemished but are vile and selfish by normative Victorian standards. Like Dorian Gray, the devil in the guise of Lucio and the protagonist’s vilified wife Sibyl possess handsome appearances, and both novels deny the belief voiced by Basil Hallward, the painter of Dorian’s portrait, that “‘[s]in is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face’” (p. 175). Karschay argues that this remark, “betrays Basil to be a true Lombrosian, convinced as he is that acts of deviance will inscribe themselves stigmatically on an individual’s face” (p. 176). The careful reader, however, might recall Lombroso’s commitment to the inborn rather than symptomatic nature of stigmatic markers of degeneracy and also query whether the notion of sin Basil suggests is that of the father visited upon the hapless heir or rather the consequence of individual free will and indulgence in vice.
Throughout the study Karschay argues that degeneration discourse was inherently destabilized by failing to ground its own norms. As a titular concern, Karschay’s study dwells frequently upon the relationship of degeneration to normativity, and attends to the distinction between normality (born of 19th-century statisticians) and normativity (socially and legally imposed codes). Karschay acknowledges that the creeping degeneration discourse of the 19th century was at best a pseudoscience, often freighted with moralizing religious beliefs and disposed to draw as heavily from the preexisting theories of phrenology and physiognomy as from the field of evolutionary biology. Unsurprisingly, by the fin de siècle “degeneration” had mushroomed to encompass “[c]riminals, the insane, prostitutes, sexual perverts, men of genius, hooligans, anarchists, colonized races, the physically disabled, homosexuals, New Women, the urban poor as well as effete aristocrats” (p. 18). As Karschay demonstrates, this expansive degeneration discourse contributed to fin-de-siècle Gothic literary conventions, yet it also constitutes a multifaceted lens best applied to literary criticism with caution, as it is liable to produce the evidence it seeks.
Kentucky College of Art + Design at Spalding University
Lundblad, Kristina — Bound to be Modern
Bound to be Modern: Publishers’ Cloth Bindings and the Material Culture of the Book, 1840–1914. By Kristina Lundblad, translated by Alan Crozier. New Castle: Oak Knoll, 2015. Pp. 336. 150 color illustrations and 50 tables. $95.00 (cloth).
Bound to be Modern, originally published in Swedish in 2010, traces the many changes which affected processes and practices of book-binding in Sweden during the rapidly mutating 1840–1914 period. The study especially focuses on publishers’ industrial cloth bindings (as opposed to artisanal, privately-commissioned bindings) which, by the 1870s, were becoming firmly embedded into Swedish publishing milieus. An extended corpus of primary and secondary sources (bindings but also publishers’ inventories, statistics, accounts, and so on) allows the author to draw a rich and nuanced analysis, bringing together the fields of bibliography, visual and material culture studies and cultural history. The force and appeal of this specialist study is that technical and structural changes (such as the transition from a semi-private, small-scale craft production to an industrial and systematic organisation of book-binding under the impulse of publishing houses, or the introduction of the controversial binding case around 1830) are examined in relation to shifts in the social fabric (with a special emphasis on the rise of urban consumers’ society).
Despite its clearly delineated geographical focus, the study also establishes appropriate connections with European and American book cultures at a time of growing international exchanges; thus offering a good complement to Allen’s Victorian Bookbindings: A Pictorial Survey (1976) or Morris and Levin’s The Art of Publishers’ Bookbindings 1815–1915 (2000).
Lundblad’s argument unfolds across two contrasting, quasi-autonomous parts, respectively entitled “Book Culture in Transformation” and “Modernity and Material Culture.” The first part, descriptive in tone as well as content, provides a dense, detailed and chronological narrative of book-binding in Sweden (the first account of its kind in English). Sections focus on binding, publishing and marketing practices over the period under study; the most crucial changes in technology; and trends in publishers’ bindings. The numerous colour plates, beyond their aesthetic function and appeal, play a central part in the discussion: bindings, but also engravings of machines, paintings, photographs of printers’ and editions’ binderies or interiors lend life to the author’s discourse. Numerous additional tables and diagrams offer further evidences. For instance, the author has compiled minutious diagrams showing the repartition of types of bindings depending on genres across the years, supporting the fast popularisation of publishers’ bindings and binding cases. The dry, technical language, which may discourage a novice reader, is fully explained and typologies of important terms are punctually given (in boxes beside the main text). The concern with definitions and clarity make Bound to be Modern a practical and ever-relevant handbook for the student of books. The quality and density of the information provided restore the complex and multi-layered life of books across the nineteenth century.
However, it is the second (and shorter) part which proves to be the most intellectually stimulating and valuable. Where the first part rigorously – yet perhaps a bit perfunctorily – reconstructs the history of Swedish book-binding, the second part evocatively embraces its socio-cultural meaning. Lundblad situates books within the profuse and lively Victorian “culture of things” (so depicted in the writings of Kenneth L. Ames, Lizabeth A. Cohen or Asa Briggs). There, posters, ornamented matchstick boxes, tobacco boxes, soapboxes, and perfume bottles share space with print matter. The section on “book as furniture” is especially captivating, paralleling with the nearly-simultaneous emergence of “music as furniture” in bourgeois interiors (as defined by Kyle S. Barnett).1 Lundblad moves from the book as a discrete object to a book as a physical milieu or system, which organises the architecture of living. One is reminded of the “bibliomania” of the nineteenth century, vividly described by Gustave Flaubert (1821–80) in his 1836 short story of the same name.
Lundblad thereby uncovers how the book became a site of desire, consumption and “distinction” (in Bourdieu’s terms); she argues that decorative publishers’ bindings (characterised by their illustration, typography, ornament) came to reflect (as well as inform) readers’ aesthetic and literary – but perhaps also socio-political – sensibilities at the turn of the twentieth century. A similar point was also made by Stewart Plein (2009) in his skilful study of Appalachian stereotypes in publishers’ bindings from 1850 to 1915.2 Lundblad suggests that aesthetics and binding played a crucial part in readers’ physical and psychological experience of the book, arguing for a materiality of reading, which “has scarcely been explored at all” (p. 76). This emphasis on sensual and sensorial – the author also describes them as “haptic” – encounters with books is perhaps the most original contribution which Bound to be modern makes to book-binding studies. In what could be described as a “phenomenology of reading,” she reminds us that “the tactile character of the world of objects is a prominent feature of the late nineteenth century” (p. 226). She confidently describes how chromolithography and colour-blocking of cloth bindings infused book covers with expressive powers. Another interesting discussion focuses on the presence of authors’ names on book covers in the 1870s, though the author does not give a fully satisfactory explanation for it. It may have been fruitful to reflect upon the emergence of authors as subjectivities and, increasingly so, as commodifiable “brands.” The author also reflects on the book as an object of mass-culture, and of mass individualism (described as “the phenomenon of people performing similar acts and buying the same mass-produced things in order to create and manifest an individuality” (p. 27)). The study resonates with Bayly’s notion of modernity as a “process of emulation and borrowing.”3 As a cultural object, the book reciprocally allowed for conformity and individualisation; it mediated both a common, homogeneous culture and a privately curated one.
What the author suggests, throughout, is the persisting entwinement of form, content and socio-cultural mediation. Books prompt specific forms of sociability, and reciprocally indicate wider structures of sharing, learning, and passing on culture. It follows that the place given to books in society reveals deeper traits of this society’s relationship to knowledge-making. Lundblad locally engages with contemporary book and print cultures, sketching a discussion on the cultural implications of e-books (p. 25), critically measuring the electronic present against the grain of the analogue past.Notes
1. See Kyle S. Barnett. “Furniture Music: The Phonograph as Furniture, 1900–1930,” Journal of Popular Music Studies 18, no. 3 (December 2006): 301–24.
2. See Stewart Plein, “Portraits of Appalachia: The Identification of Stereotype in Publishers’ Bookbindings, 1850–1915,” Journal of Appalachian Studies 15, nos. 1/2 (Spring–Fall 2009): 99–115.
3. See Christopher A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780–1914 (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 10.
Elodie A. Roy
University of Glasgow and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Mahoney, Kristin — Literature and the Politics
Literature and the Politics of Post-Victorian Decadence. By Kristin Mahoney. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xi + 261. 21 black-and-white illustrations: $103.00 (hardback).
Kristin Mahoney’s Literature and the Politics of Post-Victorian Decadence presents a series of case studies of artists and writers who anachronistically employed “Decadent” aesthetics and strategies even after the Decadent Movement’s fin-de-siècle popularity had waned.
Mahoney calls for and contributes to a “reperiodization of the Decadent Movement” and seeks to continue the work of pushing against the limitations of periodization in historical writing (p. 15). She also corrects previous notions that aesthetes were apolitical, arguing that Decadent approaches of detachment, aloofness, camp, and humor were political strategies, employed against wartime jingoism – the cosmopolitan coolness of dandyism confronted the militaristic patriotism in early twentieth-century England. In the post-Victorian era, Decadence was an “outmoded” aesthetic employed by those who sought to critique from the margins of mainstream culture. Mahoney draws attention to the peculiarity of this revivalist movement being not as temporally removed from its origins as most other stylistic revivals (e.g., neo-Gothic, neo-Classical), making early twentieth-century Decadence appear almost as a continuation of the yellow ‘90s. Literature and the Politics of Post-Victorian Decadence contributes to a larger body of scholarship pursuing a more nuanced understanding of the Victorian/Modern divide, and Mahoney broadens interpretations of this shift by examining artists and authors whose lives and work linger from one era into the other.
Though Mahoney clearly positions herself amongst contemporary scholars on Decadence, drawing on the work of Regenia Gagnier, Richard Dellamora, Dennis Denisoff, Joseph Bristow, and Warwick Gould (amongst others), it is the author’s original readings and use of primary sources that stand out. In research for this project, Mahoney has examined an impressive array of materials: novels, periodicals, radio broadcasts, caricatures, illustrations, exhibitions, plays, letters, marginalia, essays, speeches, biographies, poems, short stories, minutes from society meetings, menus, photographs, and unpublished manuscripts. Her engagement with this range of sources consistently serves the main thrust of her argument;, however, Mahoney is slightly more adept with textual sources than visual material, and examinations of the latter are where she tends to lean more on the scholarship of others.
In the introduction, Mahoney situates her own use of the term “Decadent,” declaring her aim to broaden and “diversify” how this term is understood and applied. With clarity and confidence Mahoney summarizes that in the 1890s, Decadent artists used satire, wit, camp, irony, erotics, and detachment for social and political critique. She builds from this to argue that in the early twentieth century, “Practicing Decadence at a historical distance,” after the apex of its popularity, “compounded its detachment and its capacity for critique” (p. 3). The author creatively and effectively compares post-Victorian and postmodern aesthetics, arguing that both rely on pastiche, playfulness, and a sense of irony while referencing the past.
Across her varied chapters, Mahoney shows different ways in which Decadence was put to use: from buoying conservative English aristocracy to empowering and recovering promises of female sexual liberation and alternative gender identity, all under the cosmopolitan influence of international encounters in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Each of the five chapters focuses on a central figure beginning with an introduction to the artist/writer, their expatriate experiences and the Decadent predecessors that most influenced them, followed by an examination of how they applied these anachronistic aesthetics to modern political issues and how their work was received. From chapters one to four, the characters’ twentieth-century ends become increasingly tragic: Max Beerbohm’s (1872–1956) dandyish wit was adored by a nostalgic nation; Vernon Lee’s (1856–1935) wartime pacifism was condemned; Baron Corvo (1860–1913) lived in miserable poverty, and his works were later misappropriated by conservative aristocracy; and Althea Gyles (1868–1949) was rejected and ostracized as a self-conceived martyr dying in squalor. The fifth chapter, “Crusading Decadent,” presents a younger, more vibrant expat, Beresford Egan (1905–84), whose evolving work Mahoney sketches as an outworking of the progression of his ideas of feminine sexuality, largely influenced by his wife Caterina Bower Alcock. Chapters one, two, four, and five trace stylistic antecedents: Beerbohm’s caricatures as a pastiche of D.G. Rossetti’s (1828–82) work; Lee’s use of Walter Pater’s (1839–1894) terminology; Gyles’ inherited ideology from Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) and W.B. Yeats (1865–1939); and Egan’s appropriation of Aubrey Beardsley’s (1872–98) style. With a slightly different structure, chapter three follows the misinterpretations of Corvo’s work by English aristocratic clubs, specifically the Corvine Society. Mahoney’s brief call for further scholarship on Corvo at the end of this chapter is particularly rousing, as she asserts that these willful mishandlings of Corvo’s texts have rendered the political undercurrent of his writings as the insignificant ramblings of an eccentric instead of the nuanced and sometimes contradictory perspectives of a tragic figure who yearned for the stability of social hierarchy.
In the afterword following these five chapters, Mahoney chronologically jumps to Alan Hollinghurst’s 1988 novel, The Swimming-Pool Library, to show how Decadent strategies persisted. Mahoney traces this work, and queer theory itself, back to roots in late nineteenth- century Decadence and Wilde in particular. Some of the figures from previous chapters reappear here in the afterword, but there is not an effort to bring them all together in a neat conclusion. Instead, Mahoney’s aim is to show how far the afterlife of 1890s Decadence extends. Her earlier chapters locate its influence throughout the world wars, but this afterward leaps forward to argue that twentieth- -century discourses on gender and sexuality are still not only informed by the work of earlier Decadents, but also that these discourses still utilize the same strategies of camp, playfulness, irony, and aloofness to critically engage from the margins of society.
The afterward serves to connect the legacy of Decadence, often thought of as existing primarily in the 1890s, to the late twentieth century where, as a strategic aesthetic, it extends beyond temporal boundaries. This is the driving force behind Mahoney’s project and its place in scholarship on Decadence: to broaden the understanding of the term “Decadence,” which has often been interpreted as an apolitical movement bound to late nineteenth-century western Europe. Mahoney’s straightforward, rigorous historicism, based on copious material evidence and insightful textual examination, furthers this larger effort to understand the long-ranging influence of the Decadent 1890s.
Wendy Ligon Smith
Sherry, Vincent — Reinvention of Decadence
Modernism and the Reinvention of Decadence. By Vincent Sherry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. Pp. xi + 287. $45.99 (hardback).
Vincent Sherry’s Modernism and the Reinvention of Decadence is a deft and meticulous investigation of the forgotten role that decadence plays in the literary history of modernism. Sherry’s analysis of late nineteenth- to early twentieth-century British and Anglo-American poetry, which focuses largely on authors such as T.S. Eliot (1888–1965) and Ezra Pound (1885–1972), challenges the purposeful omission of decadence from a historical thread that privileges newness and originality. This restrictive view limits our understanding of the complex origins of modernity in favor of a unified, though overly simplistic narrative. Sherry redresses this wrong and asserts that to elide decadence from this history is to negate a vital part of the formation of modernism.
Decadence for Sherry describes an awareness that we are living in a period of decline, and embodies “all the qualities that mark the end of great periods… an intense self-consciousness… an over-subtilizing refinement upon refinement, a spiritual and moral perversity” (p. 4). Tensions with decadence arise due to the heavily favored notion that modernity should be fresh and new, and thus unmarred by the apocalyptic tropes of the decadent.
Further reasons for the omission of decadence from the history of modernist poetry are manifold. Arthur Symons’s (1865–1945) book The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899; 1919) – which is considered the emblematic volume on modernist poetics – was originally entitled The Decadent Movement in Literature. The change in nomenclature was not a mere whim; it was an ideologically motivated, intentional rewriting of modernist history. Because the symbolist poets were devoted to the notion of beginnings and innovation that so characterized modernism itself, it was symbolism, not decadence, which was thought to tell “the right story of origins” for modernism (p. 11).
Why were decadence and symbolism thought to be such opposing forces, however, and why were figures such as Symons so intent on polarizing their differences? To them, symbolism was a “theory” that “encodes a sense of creative possibility for a new literature,” whereas decadence was simply a “mood,” capturing “a sense of endings rather than beginnings” (p. 7). The work of Pound and W.B. Yeats further toppled the reign of decadence in favor of the perceived originality of the symbolist movement. Yeats’s interest in Irish nationalism, along with his heavy involvement with the creative doctrines of symbolism, and Symons’s desire to position Yeats as a major figure of the modernist movement, set the stage for this move away from decadence as a frame of reference for understanding “the long turn of the twentieth century” (p. ix). Decadence was perceived as a threat to the established understanding of modernity.
Sherry seeks to reclaim the word decadence because it is synonymous with “some of the most disturbing and tradition-shaking qualities in modernism, which ‘symbolism’ has muted” (pp. 20–21). He does so through an engaging, but critically sophisticated analysis that utilizes a diverse cache of theoretical perspectives. One of Sherry’s major strengths, and what makes the book so readable even for scholars outside of his specific field, is his multifaceted approach. He evokes wide-ranging British and American authors such as Baudelaire, Poe, and D.H. Lawrence, and interweaves them seamlessly with critical theory by such heavyweights as Derrida, Jameson, Marx, Adorno, Nietzche and even Freud (Sherry’s analysis of the link between the death drive and decadence is particularly adroit). His strong interest in modernist and postmodernist theory is not cursory, but deeply engaging and expansive, adding an unusually complex level to his already excellent analysis and richly sophisticated writing.
One of the book’s most fascinating expositions is Sherry’s comparison of queerness with the ideologies of decadence, which he addresses primarily in his introduction but further in his chapter on T.S. Eliot. Sherry explains that queerness, which was also a defining quality of the decadents, was threatening in the same way as decadence because it challenged the “modern ideology of progressive time in general; it defie[d] most particularly the underlying values of futurity; it denie[d] the Child, as image and emblem of the Future, with the non-reproductive condition of homosexuality” (p. 25). The trope of modernity is to always look to the future, whereas both decadence and queerness transgressively refuse the future in favor of the “imaginative circumstance of aftermath” (p. 26). Thus queerness, like decadence, has long been suppressed as a defining historical force. Sherry’s analysis of this suppression could have long ranging interest for scholars in queer theory and other related fields.
Another particularly compelling aspect of Sherry’s book is his critical and theoretical analysis of the concept of time. His distinction between the modern and the contemporary draws upon Frederic Jameson and a variety of photographic theory. Jameson defines the modern as “just now,” versus the contemporary, which means “now,” with a time lag always separating the two. Since the contemporary is always completely present, modernity is about being put in “productive estrangement from any feeling of a consecutive present,” tying it to “the root sense of décadence…, to fall away” (p. 33–34). In this vein, Sherry evokes the photographic concept of the afterimage, which describes the lapse between sensorial and conceptual recognition. He suggests that “[w]hat was apparently present was actually a memory”: there was always a lost original and thus a feeling of “foregoneness as the condition of artistic representation” (p. 62). This “poetics of afterward” is contrary to notions of originality, and subsequently reinforces Sherry’s thesis that decadence was an important foundational concept to the historical narrative of this period (p. 63).
Sherry’s writing is sophisticated and highly engaging, and his deep understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of this period is staggering. While some academic fields outside of the English tradition have at least nominally acknowledged the foundational role decadence plays in the formations of modernism, Sherry’s book is a notable and important contribution to this larger body of work and will likely change scholars’ thinking about the accepted definitions of modernist British poetry in significant ways.
Ball State University
Thomson, Ellen Mazur — Aesthetic Tracts
Aesthetic Tracts: Innovation in Late-Nineteenth-Century Book Design. By Ellen Mazur Thomson. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2015. Pp. v + 177. 77 illustrations: 16 plates and 51 figures. $55.00 (hardcover with dust jacket).
In Aesthetic Tracts: Innovation in Late-Nineteenth-Century Book Design, Ellen Mazur Thomson looks at books as objects that were designed intentionally as “aesthetic manifestoes”: beautiful objects designed to reflect their creators’ artistic sensibilities. Focusing on the period between 1875 and 1900 in France, England, and the United States, Thomson shows how a community of book designers – including binders, poets, and artists – decided to create not just beautiful books but also books that expressed their individual artistry. In doing so, they were following the model proposed by Boston book cover designer Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842–1904) in 1894 that books should become an “aesthetic tract.”
Thomson positions her argument in contrast to those of art historians who have tended to view material texts as being “inadvertent reflections of ideologies or historical conditions” (p. x). What Thomson shows instead is that book design during this period was anything but inadvertent; that, instead, late nineteenth-century books were designed to express aesthetic ideals. In addition, she seeks to explain why book designers became so interested in producing designs that reflected their ideas and which strategies they used to ensure the books would indeed be a physical manifestation of these ideas. Last, Thomson shows how book designers used the changes in printing technology of the late nineteenth century to their own advantage: namely, how transformations in lithography and wood engraving, as well as the discovery of Japanese prints, enabled book designers to create new and meaningful designs.
Chapter 1 deals with how the transformation and evolution of print technology led to an evolution of the book trade. As books were made more cheaply and in greater quantity, and as production had to meet a higher demand, the relationship to these objects changed. For some people, these technological changes – as well as contemporary art movements like Japonisme –allowed book designers to create innovative book designs, which were then put on display in world’s fairs and international exhibitions. In these settings, book-cover designs served as a powerful display of nationalism, with each country showcasing their achievements, while also being a form of art that allowed visitors to discover other cultures.
But while there were common aesthetic goals shared by this community of book designers, there were also disputes regarding the physical appearance of the book: should it merely be a marketing tool or did it have a higher artistic purpose? Chapter 2 focuses on this question. On the one hand, Thomson demonstrates, book designers wanted to create designs that were not merely decorative but that were also meaningful. That was the case of the French Henri-François Marius Michel (1846–1925) who thought the overall mood and meaning of a book should be reflected in its decoration. On the other hand, publishers saw cover design as a great advertising tool that could increase book sales and instead favored pictorial illustrations of the most dramatic individual scenes from a given text.
Chapter 3 is dedicated to the American book cover designer Sarah Wyman Whitman, a wealthy woman who produced close to three hundred covers and whose designs were influenced by Japanese art. Interestingly, while she embraced the idea that books could be beautiful objects, she mostly worked on books produced for the mass market. Rarely were her book covers intended for deluxe editions.
Chapter 4, meanwhile, deals with one particular book, Histoire des quatre fils Aymon, illustrated by Eugène Grasset (1845–1917), annotated by Charles Marcilly, and printed by Charles Gillot (1853–1904), to show how an ancient text was reinvigorated thanks to a novel visual format. While much has been written about this book, the author focuses instead on the visual tactics used by its creators – the most important of which was gillotage – to make the text more appealing to a contemporary readership.
The emergence in the 1890’s of the livre d’artiste is the focus of chapter 5. As illustrations were becoming more widespread in the late nineteenth century, the illustrator’s status changed and so did his or her relationship to the writer. While some feared illustrations would distract from the written word and mislead the readers, others looked to have their books illustrated by artists, thus reinforcing the vision of the book as an objet d’art.
Chapter 6 is devoted to three writers involved in the design of their own books. Using the examples of James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–98), and Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), Thomson shows that these men believed the book’s materiality was as important as their words and used all the tools at their disposal to achieve their vision.
Chapter 7, on the other hand, looks at three printer-publishers, Edouard Pelletan (1854–1912), Walter Biggar Blaikie (1847–1928), and Theodore Low De Vinne (1828–1914), whose philosophy was to produce beautiful books that enhanced the meaning of the text. For them, the book should not merely be an ornament; it should also provide readers immediate access to the writer’s words.
Finally, chapter 8 serves as the book’s conclusion. Here, Thomson uses international exhibitions and book exhibits to summarize various themes of the book. These events exemplified changing conceptions of book design in Europe and America. They revealed how books became objects whose aesthetics changed with the technological revolution in printing. They reflected disputes over book design and art. They highlighted the influence of Japonisme. And they showcased the elevation of the material text to a fine art.
This book is best suited to scholars with an interest in book design, graphic design, and the history of print culture. One of Ellen Mazur Thomson’s strong suits lies in her descriptions of the books and their designs. Not only are they incredibly detailed, but they also manage to make the illustrations come alive. I only wish there had been a discussion of the role of women in book design. While Thomson dedicates a chapter to Sarah Wyman Whitman, there is nothing about other women working in this male-dominated field. I believe that looking into how women in particular used book design to express their aesthetic sensibilities would have reinforced the author’s argument.
University of Florida
Campbell, Mary — Charles Ellis Johnson and the Erotic Mormon Image
Charles Ellis Johnson and the Erotic Mormon Image. By Mary Campbell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. Pp. vii-211.
In her book Charles Ellis Johnson and the Erotic Mormon Image, Mary Campbell argues that photographer Charles Ellis Johnson (1857-1926) recreates the Mormon image, one that was generally understood only in relationship to polygamist controversy in the nineteenth century. Looking at his body of work as a whole—both as an official photographer for the church, and as a producer of “spicy pictures” (p. 59) —she offers a rich discussion on the centrality of pictures in creating both the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (known also as LDS or Mormons) and the modern American nation (p. 15). To Campbell, the exploitative overtones of Johnson’s image-making, however, were indefinitely tied to the detriment of female bodies, particularly those of the first few generations of LDS women who endured a culture “riddled with silence, concealment, and gender inequality” (p. 144). By understanding the LDS faith as one reliant not only on pictures, but on a technology, Campbell opens a path for reframing the religion in terms of media specificity.
Early in the book, Campbell examines political cartoons to establish the strategies deployed to construct an image of LDS “other” alongside a longstanding political and legal battle over polygamy. By discussing the deeply racial implications of Orientalizing the Mormons, Campbell’s study broadens the conversation, making it not merely about discrimination towards the religion, but also about various instances of racial and religious experience. Campbell looks to Johnson’s travel books and other media as counter-image-making attempts by the LDS Church to assert an LDS gentility and fit masculinity, to “preach” the message that “‘Mormons are intelligent, artistic and refined’” (p. 23). Photography, in particular, functions as a medium for male salvation meant to counter the more harmful propaganda surrounding polygamy. For Campbell, Johnson’s photographic method and production of image was a symbolic reassertion of LDS origin and theology, the subject matter a testimony to a moment of complicated transition from a polygamous to a monogamous lifestyle. As she provocatively characterizes the LDS church as “Stereoscopic Saints” (p. 145), Campbell argues that Johnson’s church-sanctioned work demonstrates the power of images and their mass circulation in constructing an acceptable reputation.
On the other hand, the second half of the book considers Johnson’s erotic images. These exquisite photographs were not only an incredible archival find, but, to Campbell, deepen the gendered implications of LDS image-making. In her fourth chapter on “Mormon Harems,” Campbell compares Johnson’s mail-order erotica to artists and works like Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres’ (1780-1867) and Eugene Delacroix’s (1798-1863) Odalisque paintings, which not only reiterate the colonialist attitudes and “deep taste for all things Eastern” in America (p. 98), but, as Campbell explains, “corporealize…implicit acts of visual domination” that also proliferated LDS doctrine (p. 103-104). While contextualizing them in vaudeville and turn-of-the century entertainment, Johnson’s “spicy pictures” are also read as “eroticized . . . panic” (p. 101) or an “elemental Mormon urge” to still achieve “godhood” at a moment of symbolic “impotence” in the LDS submission to the American government (p. 114, 107). To her, they offered a “synesthetic body” (p. 158) in place of the void left by the abolishment of polygamy while also serving as a haunting visual reminder of the loss itself.
In her last chapter, Campbell compares a photograph titled The Stereograph as Educator (1901) with an anonymous image of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith (1805-44), translating the Golden Plates, a process that resulted in the foundational text the Book of Mormon. This comparison draws out the similarities of the conditions of possibility—including accessing knowledge—that these forms of mediation provide. Through its ability to transport and even “reincarnate” the viewer (p. 158), she sees Johnson’s stereoscopic imaging as an alternative to the reality of the LDS condition—a saving grace—in both the conception of the religion and in its evolution, perhaps even a logical conduit to alternate realities and kingdoms embedded in its doctrine. While Campbell sees Johnson’s photographs as both index and icon, she also pays close attention to how vision and theologies are framed by technologies like the stereoscope.
Though clearly a contribution to both artistic histories of Mormonism and American art, it is difficult to deny the inevitable provocation in Campbell’s characterization of the LDS as predominantly occularcentric, where vision lies at the heart of not only its doctrine, but also becomes its very culture. Such classification does not seem to include the deeply sonic and haptic parts of the religion that creep up alongside much of her narrative. Yet there still exists a blatant insistence on the centrality of vision, a pitfall that can have its own hierarchical dogma (see Martin Jay or Jonathan Sterne, for example). At times, Campbell alludes to the aural, mentioning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s efforts to build image (through sound!), discussing the “voice” of both pictures and the women at the time, and even referring to a photograph as a “pictorial psalm” (p. 151). In a way, these seem like missed opportunities to further unpack the multi-sensorial mediation of salvation and doctrine within Mormonism.
Nevertheless, Campbell’s work serves as an example of how to deepen the conversation—of telling the history while also unfolding the embedded stakes of mediation. Through compelling juxtapositions of Mormon objects to artists and works of the time, she brings LDS art into more mainstream threads in the art historical canon and further expands it to take seriously work that has for so long existed on the margins. Rather than seeing works of art by an LDS artist sanctioned by the Mormon church as a reflection of the religion, she applies theoretical and contextual analysis to make Johnson’s images speak of a moment in American and global history. While Campbell’s work on Johnson opens avenues for discussing LDS subculture and helps bolster art history within Mormon studies, it also offers a methodology for approaching Mormon art that bridges disciplines. In the ever-growing tendency towards the multidisciplinary within academia, Campbell serves as an effective model for considering (or rather reconsidering) the role media have played in creating an image.
Flint, Kate—Flash! Photography, Writing, and Surprising Illumination
Flash! Photography, Writing, and Surprising Illumination. By Kate Flint. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xviii + 391. 145 black-and-white illustrations. $35.00 (cloth).
Kate Flint’s Flash!: Photography, Writing, and Surprising Illumination traces a history of flash photography, focusing not on a singular photographer or artistic movement but rather exploring flash as “a particular type of illumination, as a strategy, as an event” (p. 2). The book draws thoughtful connections between the nineteenth century and the present day, providing readers familiar with nineteenth-century visuality with new insight into the representative practices of the early twentieth century and beyond, while still stressing the continued legacy of Victorian visual culture. Flash! clearly differentiates itself from the wide collection of scholarship that explores the rise of photography, in that the book exposes those new, fruitful interpretative avenues that emerge when we focus not on photography in general, but on the bright light at its center.
While highlighting the spectacle of flash in the early years following its invention, Flint’s text also explores the increasingly negative views of flash that emerged as, over time, the technology grew more familiar and transformed from a shocking novelty into a largely trivial experience. Flint also reminds her readers of the diverse ways in which this technology has seeped into our cultural and linguistic registers, reflecting on links between photography and other familiar uses of the term flash, from flashback and flashbulb memory to flash drive.
Flint’s first two chapters discuss the tendency to connect flash with concepts such as revelation, truth, insight, or the sublime. Flint exposes the contradictory nature of flash photography and its shifting cultural manifestations, demonstrating how it both illuminated the darkness and enacted perceptible changes to the scene before its lens. Flint stresses flash’s tendency to disorient and impair, as the light often reflected in nearby mirrors or bleached-out sections of the image. It also triggered distinctly somatic effects when photographic subjects recoiled or shut their eyes in reaction to the light (p. 17). By “display[ing] itself and its eruption in the darkness,” flash shatters any illusion of photography as a “transparent recording device,” thereby emphasizing its own artificiality (p. 50).
In her third and fourth chapters, Flint discusses how the instantaneous, surprising qualities of flash became enmeshed in understandings of memory and temporality. Chapter four includes a series of images that recorded previously imperceptible sights, from speeding bullets to the splashes caused by falling water droplets. Flint uses these experiments to make sense of “flash as a temporal phenomenon” (p. 88) which allows viewers to discover “the beauty of an everyday occurrence” (p. 96) while “fool[ing] us into thinking that time’s passing can, indeed, be halted” (p. 92).
Much of the remainder of the book focuses on the relationship between flash and power, as Flint exposes how flash informed the changing representation of categories such as gender, race, privacy, celebrity, and poverty. Through its ability to illuminate the “underemphasized, undervalued, and under-noticed,” flash at times proves a democratizing force through its ability to shed light on people and spaces that had been previously banished to the margins (p. 113). Jacob Riis (1849–1914) famously saw his flash photography, which illustrated the harsh realities of poverty through representations of tenement housing, as casting both literal and figurative light into the darkness (p. 102). This engaging question of the ethical power of flash emerges with particular strength in Flint’s investigation of the US Farm Security Administration’s photographs of migrant farm communities in chapter five.
But Flint also demonstrates how the technology functioned as a potentially invasive or violating force, once again emphasizing its inconsistent, slippery nature. Mid-century photographers such as Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) and Ben Shahn (1898–1969) were troubled by the medium, noting “how it broke down the privacy and self-respect of those whom they photographed” (p. 122). In chapter six, Flint examines this conflict between flash as a democratizing medium and flash as couched in problematic rhetoric “that often assumed an equation between light and revelation, and between darkness – blackness – and dirt, poverty, the abject” through analysis of representations of race in mid-twentieth century America (p. 143). Connections between gender and flash emerge in chapter seven when Flint shows how news photographers often depicted their profession, and its inherent struggle to master the dangers of flash, through emphasis on “masculine bravado” (p. 178). Flint then explores the uneven power dynamics inherent in flash’s ability to expose celebrities to the public gaze in chapter eight. But if flash proves a violating medium in the hands of these professional newsmen, in chapter nine Flint emphasizes its playful potential for amateur photographers, calling attention to “the licence . . . that photography in general, as a social pursuit, gave to dressing up and posing in staged comic set pieces, deliberately ridiculous, evidence of elaborate fun, and often involving cross-dressing and various forms of clowning for the camera” (p. 241).
As she moves into the late twentieth century, Flint highlights a growing cultural disdain for flash, along with an increasing conviction that the technology was not only “unnatural” because of its use of artificial light, but “that it also destroyed a photographer’s sense of continuity and immersion – even contemplative immersion – with their world” through its brightness, shock, and suddenness (p. 238). The atomic bomb is one particularly powerful example of flash’s connection with destructive forces. But despite an increasing distaste for the vulgar brightness and intrusiveness of flash, Flint’s final chapter reminds readers of its aesthetic power through discussion of contemporary visual art, including Hiroshi Sugimoto’s (b. 1948) Lightning Fields 128 (2009), which Flint argues taps into the “original wonder” that flash inspired in early viewers (p. 303).
Flint’s richly detailed book will provide a valuable source for future study of flash among visual culture and literary scholars. Just as the text extends at times beyond its “northern transatlantic context,” to discuss regions such as Japan and South Africa, Flash! opens up space for globalized investigations of the technology, reminding us that “photography’s history is a global history” (pp. 4, 5). Overall, the text succeeds in providing not only a lively history of flash but also allowing its readers to access a little piece of the surprise and wonder that nineteenth-century viewers experienced when they first glimpsed this shocking burst of light.
Hornstein, Katie — Picturing War in France, 1792-1856
Picturing War in France, 1792–1856. By Katie Hornstein. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017. Pp. ix + 197, 46 black-and-white and 100 color illustrations. $70.00 (cloth).
A “double preoccupation” (p. 3) guides Katie Hornstein’s exploration of war imagery in nineteenth-century France. Her book seeks, at one level, to uncover the meanings war imagery produced about political ideologies, French military power, and nascent ideas of nationhood. In a distinct but related vein, the book also traces the evolving relationships between the multiple media that circulated these images. Hornstein draws on several theorists, notably Jacques Rancière, to buttress her argument that war imagery enabled a non-elite viewership to “forge a relationship to matters of state without necessarily having to commit themselves to official or revolutionary forms of political participation” (p. 5). In treating long-overlooked artworks as responsive to the historical circumstances of modernity, Picturing War in France joins a broader effort to recover the complexities of nineteenth-century visual culture.
Hornstein organizes the book around the regimes that governed France between the Revolutionary Wars and the Crimean War. That structure proves useful: it ties together a group of artists likely unfamiliar even to specialists, from the better-known Horace Vernet (1789–1863) and Charles Nègre (1820–80) to such obscure painters as Jean-Charles Langlois (1789–1870), Louis-François Lejeune (1775–1848), and Jean-Baptiste Henri Durand-Brager (1814–79). These once-famous artists all forged a visual language that viewers understood as “instrumental” and “antisubjective” (p. 12), closer to reportage than to art. In so doing, these artists faced frequent rebuke from critics, first from the likes of Antoine Quatremère de Quincy (1755–1849), known for his dogmatic commitment to classicism, and later from Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) and Théophile Gautier (1811–72), both of whom scorned the growing links between art and newspapers.
These “technologies of witnessing” (p. 23), as Hornstein calls the visual materials under discussion, developed in response to rapidly changing political contexts. From the ancien régime on, the topographical tradition of battle painting cobbled together various discourses to construct a veneer of truthfulness: the scientific authority of maps, the expertise conveyed by military credentials, and the special status accorded to eyewitness accounts. As militarized notions of citizenship emerged after the Revolution, the facticity of battle painting offered vicarious experiences to viewers who had few outlets to engage in warfare. But the interests of artists, critics, and particular regimes never aligned perfectly. By allegorizing concepts of political consent espoused in conservative liberalism, for example, Vernet’s The Crossing of the Arcole Bridge (1796) not only registered opposition to the Bourbon Restoration; it actively shaped it. And critics, we learn, turned to art criticism to voice their displeasure with Louis-Philippe’s embrace of bourgeois values and his propagandistic use of war imagery.
If this analysis of artistic commentary during the July Monarchy strains to unearth political subtext, one suspects it is because Hornstein’s real interest lies elsewhere. She devotes considerably more attention in the book’s second half to untangling the relations between battle paintings and new media. By the 1830s, both artists and critics considered panoramas a vehicle to transcend the stagnant genre of battle painting. Appealing to a mass audience, Langlois, for one, constructed multilayered representations of battles, combining in spectacular fashion panoramas, physical debris, and veterans-turned-guides (or “living debris” [p. 108], as one critic wrote). That competition, of course, spurred innovations among painters, as well: Vernet went so far as to adopt a triptych format in his Siege of Constantine (1837) to simulate a panoramic scope.
The concerns that led critics to dismiss battle paintings constitute a common thread in all these debates. As Hornstein persuasively demonstrates, critics were sensitive to the tension between part and whole, an analogy that could refer equally to visual details and the overall composition that organizes them or to small skirmishes and the larger conflict in which they occurred. On the one hand, a reliance on minor incidents and a lack of narrative unity contravened the longstanding academic dictum that compelled history painting to elevate viewers beyond the quotidian. Battle painting instead functioned as history painting’s opposite, at once contemporary, narratively ambiguous, and ostensibly documentary. On the other, critics were responding to the ever-increasing visual accompaniments in journals, epitomized by the launch of L’Illustration in 1843, which strove to record the totality of war that so eluded paintings and panoramas. Overly ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful, proponents of photography vaunted its power to capture events like the Crimean War through the “fantasy” of a comprehensive photographic archive (p. 137). Equally significant, if not fully answered, are questions about media specificity and the adaptability of discourse that lurk just beneath this discussion’s surface.
Beyond its argumentation, the book makes a good case for the methodology it employs. Hornstein revels in often intricate, always illuminating visual analyses of remarkably varied materials. Insights from Roland Barthes’s “reality effect,” moreover, elucidate the significance of otherwise minor pictorial details. Hornstein supplements these observations with a broad knowledge of military history, meticulous research on art criticism, and a strong command of the artistic, political, and institutional contexts in which war imagery operated. These strengths support a larger brief: that art history is enriched when it examines critically the materials jettisoned by modernism. If Jane Thompkins arrived at a similar point many years ago, it bears repeating in the context of art history, where the modernist narrative remains stubbornly resistant to change.
Yet the parts of Picturing War in France never cohere into the whole Hornstein promises. Her argument that pictures reconfigured politics morphs and then disappears in the third chapter only to resurface in the conclusion. This failure to deliver on the book’s central thesis coincides with a number of related problems. Though generally acute, Hornstein’s vision of politics at times flattens differences between distinct forms of opposition, and it leaves little room for the cultural politics of gender that clearly impinge on her subject. Notwithstanding occasional references to women at the Salon and veterans at print shops, the publics that negotiated these politics, as Hornstein admits, exist only as abstractions. And while she can hardly be faulted for what remains a vexing issue in reception theory, the impulse to conflate popularity with political salience, as when she asserts that The Crossing of the Arcole Bridge “resonated with audiences because of the alluring model of the agency of the collective it depicted” (p. 74), misses the mark. These criticisms aside, Hornstein makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of art, war, and media in the nineteenth century, one that confronts the unsettling place of war imagery in modern life.
Joshua M. Smith
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Morgan, Benjamin — The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature
The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature. By Benjamin Morgan. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017. Pp.Vi + 368, 30 halftones. $35.00 (paperback).
Benjamin Morgan’s The Outward Mind: Materialist Aesthetics in Victorian Science and Literature employs a wide range of disciplines, such as “poetic theory, evolutionary biology, philosophical materialism, quantitative analysis, physiology, associationist psychology, and socialist aesthetics” (p. 13), to explain the complicated relationship between art and science in the nineteenth century. The book is divided into two parts, with five chapters that progress chronologically from the mid-nineteenth century to New Criticism of the twentieth century before concluding with an epilogue. In his introduction, Morgan deploys five vectors of aesthetic thought and practice, including form, response, materiality, practice, and empathy, to map the “intersection of scientific and artistic materialisms” (p. 13) across divergent disciplines.
Chapter one considers nineteenth-century Britain’s efforts to cultivate an “empirical science of beauty” (p. 29). Morgan characterizes how Victorians eschewed “their gray reputation of sober rationalism, to reappearing as a culture that at once celebrated and anxiously deplored the vibrant intensities of the senses” (p. 12). He considers the ways in which British industrialism inspired new theoretical approaches to art and the “role it could play in an emerging technological and scientific modernity” (p. 32). In contrast with John Ruskin’s (1819–1900) concept of theoria, which suggested that perceptions of beauty were relative to one’s moral and religious nature, emerging nineteenth-century scientists and writers asserted that “aesthetic experience was not . . . a moment of spiritual elevation,” but rather a moment in which “the body of the viewer and the matter of the artwork come into contact” (p. 12). Morgan analyzes the theories of sound and color proposed by George Field (1777–1854) and David Ramsay Hay (1798–1866) and traces their lineage to various members of the Edinburgh Aesthetics Club, which included John Addington Symonds, Sr. (1807–1871), Thomas Laycock (1812–1876), and E.S. Dallas (1828–1879), who measured human bodies to determine a mathematical pattern for beauty. For these theorists, “superstructures such as culture or society were understood as secondary determinants of aesthetic judgement” (p. 29). Morgan evidences the sharp antagonisms between mathematical rationalism and sensual perception, particularly at an historical juncture in which everchanging conceptions of the natural world might lead to a “definitive explanation of the human experience of beauty” (p. 33). He also offers a brief but evocative critique of Hay’s mathematical aesthetic and its relation to “scientized aesthetic theories” that inculcated “value-laden hierarchies of race and gender” (p. 65).
In chapter two, Morgan considers how literary and scientific writers, such as Alexander Bain (1818–1903), Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), Walter Pater (1839–1894), Thomas Hardy (1840–1928), and Grant Allen (1848–1899), influenced aesthetic science by rescaling and physicalizing the “primary units of analysis of aesthetic thought, turning from the human faculties to the nervous system and from the artwork to its material elements” (p. 88). These intellectuals crafted a materialized aesthetic theory that became either a “touchstone” or “flashpoint” for subsequent efforts to develop a science of beauty (p. 90). Their aesthetic visions breached the boundaries of individuated subjectivity by destabilizing the “distinctions between interior and exterior” (p. 98), human and nonhuman, past and present.
Chapter three begins Part II of the book, which focuses on “enmindedness” (p. 173) or Morgan’s “outward” turn. For psychologist James Sully (1842–1923), much like Pater, aesthetic experience enabled a new relationship between the mind and perceptual objects wherein “physical things can become objects of sympathy and love” (p. 134). Through Pater and Sully, Morgan exemplifies Victorian awareness of a “processual model of the mind” that regarded “higher-order thought [as] the product of an interaction between an organism and an environment” (p. 136). Pater characterizes this interaction as a “‘process of brain-building by which we are, each one of us, what we are’” (qtd. p. 152). Morgan suggests that Pater advanced a new configuration of the “social” that encompassed “[both] things and persons alike” (p. 172).
Morgan begins chapter four by posing a question: “what happens when somatic aesthetic experience is situated within particular social contexts?” (p. 214). In responding to this question, Morgan considers the work of Victorian designer William Morris (1834–1896), whose art was “a sort of automatic output from the embodied mind” (p. 203). Morris emphasized the “ways in which thought happens not as a disembodied mental activity but as concrete interactions between bodies and things” (p. 175). Many contemporary scholars, including Morgan, regard Morris’s conception of the “materiality of language and of art as an aspect of his socialist politics” (p. 175). Morris applied physiological aesthetics to his critique of the selfish individualism and division caused by the free market and its supporting ideological and institutional structures. Morgan aligns himself theoretically though not fully with Morris who envisioned an aesthetic mind unencumbered by individualism and “instead turned ‘outward’ into physical processes” (qtd. on p. 177). For Morris, boundaries were an effect of language rather than a limiting characteristic of the physical world and the “networks that contain and connect persons, things, bodies, and experiences” (p. 190).
Critic Vernon Lee’s (1856–1935) theory of physiological empathy is discussed in Morgan’s final chapter. Morgan explains how empathy “configures the relationship between mind and body . . . depicting bodily changes as taking place before . . . [or] directly causing aesthetic feelings” (p. 231). In difference to other physiological aesthetics that “disaggregated complex artworks into lines, curves, and angles,” Lee focused on how the “body synthesizes formal qualities as feeling” (p. 242). By unconsciously connecting with art, spectators might trigger similar memories of embodied aesthetic reactions. This empathic critical response “works across and between the arts,” but it does not erase the differences between them (p. 242). Although Lee’s aesthetics was denounced by New Critics like I. A. Richards (1893–1979), Lee and Richards each aspired to construct a “systematic, autonomous method” (p. 244) of literary criticism despite their contrasting views on the relation between reader, writer, and text. Lee was unable to reconcile the contradiction between “inhabiting a text from within” and “analyzing its structure or its place within a structured field from without” (p. 252). As Morgan notes, Lee’s approach became an alternative to more conventional forms of close reading.
Morgan’s study concludes with an epilogue in which he describes Oscar Wilde’s (1854–1900) The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) as the “period’s most renowned aesthetic object” (p. 255). Morgan offers insightful commentary on nineteenth-century aesthetic theory, and he seldom misses an opportunity to expound on his theory of “outwardness.” The Outward Mind is a well-delineated historical and theoretical map for navigating the study of Victorian aesthetics.
John C. Murray
Naeem, Asma —Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now
Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now. By Asma Naeem, with contributions by Penley Knipe, Alexander Nemerov, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, and Anne Verplanck. Washington, DC: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, in association with Princeton University Press, 2018. ix + 192 pp. 98 color illustrations. $45.00 (cloth).
For silhouette enthusiasts, a wide-ranging and scholarly book dedicated specifically to the delicate medium whose heyday stretched over the Early National period is finally available. But even for the casual nineteenth-century historian, Black Out: Silhouettes Then and Now offers a thought-provoking and relevant study of traditional portraiture’s under-appreciated blackened counterpart. The volume was published to accompany the National Portrait Gallery’s 2018–2019 exhibition of the same name, which will travel to the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson (27 April – 25 August 2019) and then to the Birmingham Museum of Art (28 September 2019 – 12 January 2020).
The book along with its accompanying exhibition primarily focuses on the nineteenth-century history and development of the silhouette medium. The curator and main author, Asma Naeem, now chief curator of the Baltimore Art Museum, compellingly uses the project to elevate the traditional status of silhouettes from mere “craftwork and quaint hobby,” to consideration as a “powerful aesthetic form” (p. 4). Naeem complicates the traditional narrative by carefully considering the many paradoxes contained within the silhouette medium. The “contradiction of mobility and fixity [silhouettes were often hung in homes but created by itinerate cutters] is but one of the many paradoxes,” which, she notes, also include “black against white, severing and totality, flatness and embodiment, opaqueness and transparency, void and likeness” (p. 3). Even though this is not a project overtly about race, as an inherently black medium that often depicted white people, a strong current of the role of silhouettes within that context emerges. Naeem probes “how . . . an art form that rendered everyone pitch black flourish[ed], particularly at a time when the very concept of ‘blackness’ was being contested as an alleged marker of inferiority or property” (p. viii). The study also describes the wide range of sitters for whom silhouette portraits were available, a much expanded demographic compared to the traditional oil portrait usually available only to elites. Naeem credits silhouettes with “democratiz[ing] portraiture well before the advent of photography in 1839” (p. viii). By rendering every sitter in similar form, the silhouette medium also democratized the populace. Ordinary citizens could obtain portraits that mirrored those of dignitaries.
The book opens with an inspiring foreword by the National Portrait Gallery’s intrepid director, Kim Sajet, who brings readers’ attention to the oppositional nature of the project, including both artists and sitters who have been “blacked out” of the art historical canon. Naeem’s introductory essay (pp. 2–43), truly the centerpiece of the book, introduces the wide-reaching implications of silhouettes. She argues that silhouettes “point to the historical complexities of the diverse fabric of our country and pry open the previously shuttered lives of early American citizens” (p. ix). The project highlights several individual silhouette makers, especially Moses Williams (1777–ca. 1825) and Martha Ann Honeywell (1786–1856). Respectively, a manumitted “mulatto,” and a woman born without arms and only three toes on one foot, they were able to garner unlikely wealth and power in their acts of cutting, and defy nineteenth-century conventions, their “instabilities temporarily subsided” (p. 14). The book also features the work of one of the most talented and prolific nineteenth-century silhouettists, Auguste Edouart (1796–1861), who spent ten years (1839–49) traveling throughout the United States, during which time, by Naeem’s count, seven of his remarkable 3,800 sitters were designated slaves.
Among sitters, two silhouetted heroes of the book and exhibition depict enslaved individuals, Flora and Sancho, who, Naeem notes, were “being presented” rather than having chosen to sit for their silhouettes, as white Americans did (p. 28). The remarkable, life-sized, and mysterious image of Flora, an enslaved woman (ca. 1796), was found in the basement of her former owner’s home in Connecticut and is now owned by Stratford Historical Society. In a much different form of silhouette, Sancho’s rare likeness appeared alongside a detailed runaway notice seeking his return, which was taken out by his owner in the Columbian Centinel newspaper (Mississippi) in 1807. The inclusion of these two silhouettes reveals the medium’s range and allows us to acknowledge two nearly forgotten individuals. Another remarkable inclusion represents the double silhouette of Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant who formed an unconventional, same-sex partnership, living and working together for forty-four years in Weybridge, Vermont (ca. 1805–1815, Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History). Naeem suggests that, “but for the silhouette form, their commingled identity as a couple could not have been visually articulated because of social codes, artistic practices, and prevailing period attitudes toward same-sex couples” (p. 33). Thus, in addition to re-writing the art historical script to include the silhouette, Naeem has worked to celebrate the wide range of artists and sitters associated with this delicate medium.
The “Now” section brings the silhouette medium into the twenty-first century. This discussion includes the work of four contemporary female artists, Kumi Yamashita, Kristi Malakoff, Camille Utterback, and Kara Walker. Yamashita uses inanimate objects to create the shadows of humans. Malakoff’s room-sized installation, Maibaum (2009), includes twenty life-sized children cut out of black paper and foam core, who dance with ribbons around a maypole as birds fly overhead. In Utterback’s work External Measures (2001–8), she “digitally tracks the bird’s-eye-view silhouette of the viewer on a vertically mounted screen” (p. 39). Of the four contemporary artists, Kara Walker’s work has the most clearly applicable place in this study. Her work “enlarges and manipulates historical aspects of silhouettes to disturbing effect” (p. 40), and her room-sized installations were a highlight of the show.
In addition to Naeem’s lengthy and overarching title essay, three short essays follow, each covering a specific aspect of the nineteenth-century medium. “Without a Trace: The Art and Life of Martha Ann Honeywell” (pp. 46–57), a brief chapter by Alexander Nemerov, highlights Honeywell’s remarkable career. Nemerov’s metaphysical consideration opens new avenues for considering Honeywell’s work, and makes intriguing connections, including between Honeywell and the character Hetty in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer (1841). Nemerov owes much of his factual evidence to scholarship by Laurel Daen (which he acknowledges), and the essay is intended as a thought-provoking meditation on Honeywell.
In clear, readable prose, Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw’s “‘Interesting Characters by the Lines of Their Faces’: Moses Williams’s Profile Portrait Silhouettes of Native Americans” considers the efforts of both Moses Williams and Charles Saint-Mémin (1770–1852) “to capture and codify racial difference” during the Early Republic (p. 61) by using the mechanical tracing device known as the physiognotrace to create silhouette portraits of Native Americans even as their land was being usurped by the United States. She describes how Williams “had to negotiate complex networks of racial bias that were brought to the museum [of Charles Wilson Peale [1747–1827]) by its many visitors,” and how his memory continues to be contested by past scholars who have been hesitant to attribute silhouettes to his hand (p. 64). She ultimately concludes that, like African Americans, including Williams, “Native Americans of the period had little control over the way they were imaged or explained in the white man’s historical record” (p. 73).
In the final essay, “Shades of Black and White: American Portrait Silhouettes” (pp. 76–89), Penley Knipe documents the factual history of silhouettes in great detail, calling them “humble yet remarkable, democratic objects” (p. 89). She clarifies etymology and describes several artists’ modes of working, detailing information about materials, including handmade paper and embroidery scissors, as well as the physiognotrace. This is a fact-based essay that people with a general interest will find intriguing, and scholars will find useful.
The book’s catalogue entries (pp. 90–153) allow the viewer to experience the exhibition in book form. Material culture scholar and silhouette specialist Anne Verplanck wrote many of the clearly described entries. The catalogue images, all beautifully reproduced in color, highlight extraordinary and well-known Americans both black and white, including Absalom Jones (1746–1818) and John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), and others, such as “Mr. Shaw’s Blackman,” whose names have been lost to history but whose silhouette likenesses remain to claim their individuality. Although the ordering of the plates was most likely planned to parallel those in the exhibition, the result is that some of the information seems presented out of order. The biography of the silhouettist Auguste Edouart, for example, is buried after many other examples of his work. There is also (by necessity of the nature of the exhibition) a sudden leap from Edouart to Kara Walker. And information about Walker’s background is not included in the first entry on her work, but in the second. Necessarily, some of the information in the entries repeats that found in the catalogue essays.
Overall, Black Out is beautifully and originally designed. Unusually deep paragraph indentations are the only unwanted distraction. Like the exhibition – which seemed like two separate shows, or perhaps two shows in one – the book struggles to commingle the historical section with the contemporary, although Naeem has worked hard to make clever connections. Additionally, the catalogue entries, like the exhibition itself, are dominated by the National Portrait Gallery’s expansive collection of silhouettes by Auguste Edouart to the point of appearing like an Edouart project. Apart from these imbalances, the highlights of the book include Naeem’s clear and brilliant introduction, supported by a formidable assemblage of contributing authors. Each article stands as readable on its own and, like the volume as a whole, presents welcome knowledge and analysis of an under-appreciated medium. For her deep and thoughtful consideration of the silhouette, Naeem is to be highly commended.
University of Alabama
Coughlin — Coastal Cultures
Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century. Edited by Matthew Ingleby and Matthew P. M. Kerr. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018. Pp. xii + 276. $110.00.
Editors of collected conference papers have the daunting task of uniting many critical voices and forging strong enough connections between the texts that their collection may cohere. In 2014, “Coastal Cultures of the Long Nineteenth Century” was a two-day conference of the North American Victorian Studies Association, held at Oxford (UK). A few years later, this rich volume of interdisciplinary essays was published in the series Edinburgh Critical Studies in Victorian Culture. Editors Matthew Ingleby and Matthew P. M. Kerr have written an introduction that integrates current literature on the nineteenth-century coastal imaginary with a narrative that joins the thirteen chapters to follow.
Ingleby and Kerr’s introduction surveys studies of Victorian and European coastlines in literary and visual texts. Alain Corbin’s foundational study Lure of the Sea: The Discovery of the Seaside in the Western World, 1750–1840 looms large on this list for its analysis of a late eighteenth-century shift – from wasteland to the sublime – in literary and visual perceptions of seacoasts.1 As they mention (p. 4), Tricia Cusack’s collection, Art and Identity at the Water’s Edge has also explored the symbolic resonance of coastlines in visual art.2 Enabled by train travel and the democratization of vacation time, seashore tourism during the long nineteenth century became widespread, and “the British cultural imagination turned to coasts” that “began to function as zones of cultural and commercial interchange” and as “common ground for manifold, often contrasting styles of thought and practice” (p. 1).
Unnamed in the introduction are two important texts published in 1990 that broke ground in theorizing the commodification of rural spectacle for nineteenth-century tourists. The British seaside resort is a case study of modern tourist desire at the heart of sociologist John Urry’s book The Tourist Gaze.3 Likewise, art historian Nicholas Green’s The Spectacle of Nature positioned “the urban experience of nature” (p. 93) centrally in both modern French tourism and landscape representation.4 Urry’s and Green’s Foucauldian arguments have been a baseline for many later scholars in the humanities working with representations of tourism as a hallmark of modernity.
Coastal Cultures joins a more recent turn to the sea in work by such prominent writers as ecofeminist and literary critic Stacy Alaimo and ecocritic and Shakespeare scholar Steve Mentz, which is informed by new materialisms and the environmental or “blue” humanities.5 As in the updated third edition of Urry’s Tourist Gaze (2011), blue humanities scholars have moved beyond the optical focus of Urry’s first edition and have worked to incorporate participatory and embodied experience into their studies of tourism.6 Green’s Spectacle of Nature focused on the construction of nature for a purely urban gaze; ecocritics, historians, folklore scholars, and postcolonial scholars have more recently endeavored to recover the ecologies, rural voices, and representations of those who dwelt on the coasts and experienced modern tourism differently from seasonal visitors.
Although most of the authors in Coastal Cultures focus on the Victorian coasts of the “archipelagic kingdom with Great Britain at its helm” (p. 2) forged by the Acts of Union of 1707, some of the shores considered are as far afield as France, Newfoundland, and Zanzibar. The editors note that their volume differs from recent studies of coastlines as it “attends to the heterogeneity of coastal experiences by tracing an extended but nuanced historical arc, and by adopting a range of disciplinary perspectives … drawn from literary criticism, but also art history, museum studies and geography” (p. 5). The first half of the volume, “In the Shadows of War,” is conceived by the editors as a group of essays that examines “the ways in which the coast acted as a kind of conduit for defensive, reactionary violence, representing also an imaginative bulwark against the manifold forms of breakdown (moral, stylistic, geographical) threatened by modernity” (pp. 16–17). They chart “[r]ising and falling anxiety about incursion [which] led to a recurrent apprehension that Britain’s coastline might be pierced or permeated” (p. 3); as both an edge and a jumping-off point, the coastline’s indeterminacy was an ever-breached boundary.
Across the long “Victorian” period, what authors, artists, and visitors found in the seacoast was “a metaphor, and an occasion, for liminality” (p. 3) that could be experienced variously through debauchery, decadence, frivolous consumption, sublime immersion in nature, or as a state of exile. They found multiple metaphors and benefits in the seaside. For painter John Constable (1776–1837), it offered many levels of visual symbolism, national meanings, and health benefits for the visitor (Christiana Payne, p. 51). Other essays in this section include a mapping of historical and contemporary geographies of drinking and temperance movements in coastal resorts, and attendant class conflict (James Kneale), colonialist collecting of Swahili art in East Africa (Sarah Longair), Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850–94) fiction and bloody historical memories on far northern Scottish shores (David Sergeant), a poststructuralist reading of sublime responses in Alfred Tennyson’s (1809–92) sea cave poetry (Roger Ebbatson), a British politician’s role in making Cannes a tourist town (Rosemary Ashton), and post-revolutionary provincial exile and Frances Burney’s (1752–1840) coastal imagination of Brighton prior to its identity as a spa town (Leya Landau).
The second section, “Marginal Progress,” is thematized by the “progressive possibilities the coast offered writers, visual artists and working-class holidaymakers, among others” (p. 17). As a site of modern experience it was fraught with ambivalence about new technologies such as telegraphy and the undersea cable that ran between the colonial Celtic coasts of Ireland to Newfoundland (Brian H. Murray), the technologies and veristic limitations of nineteenth-century landscape photography (Matthew P. M. Kerr), and the mass marketing of tintype photos to meet tourists’ desire for seaside collecting of souvenirs (Karen Shepherdson). Marine science examined both the bizarre undersea world (Margaret Cohen) and the vogue spurred by Philip Henry Gosse’s (1810–88) A Year at the Shore (1865) for collecting aquarium specimens that emptied life from the tidal pools; this view of the shore was utterly in contrast to Matthew Arnold’s (1822–88) bleak strand in his poetry (Valentine Cunningham). Other poets were inspired to decadent poetry on the margins of land (Nick Freeman).
Most nineteenth-century scholars will find this collection of interest, as its approaches to seacoasts engage with diverse methodologies and yet it offers no one-size-fits-all theoretical approach – which is mostly a good thing. The majority of the essays foreground literary portrayals of the coast, yet the handful that discuss geography and visual culture are strong and well-integrated. Never far from view in all of these essays is the horizon of our current coastal concerns such as rising seas, the commodification of coastal land, Brexit and border crossings, and the struggle to decolonize the museum. Many of these interconnections are brought home in Philip Hoare’s epilogue that weaves together coasts past and present.Notes
1.Alain Corbin, Lure of the Sea: The Discovery of the Seaside in the Western World, 1750–1840 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
2.Tricia Cusack (ed.), Art and Identity at the Water’s Edge (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012).
3.John Urry, The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies. (London: Sage Publications, 1990).
4.Nicholas Green, The Spectacle of Nature: Landscape and bourgeois culture in nineteenth-century France, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990).
5.Steve Mentz, At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean. (London: Continuum, 2009); Stacy Alaimo, “States of Suspension: Trans-corporeality at Sea” Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 19.3 (Summer 2012) 476– Stacy Alaimo, Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 2016).
6.John Urry and Jonas Larsen, The Tourist Gaze 3.0 (London: Sage Publications, 2011).
Shubert — Imperial Boredom
Imperial Boredom: Monotony and the British Empire. By Jeffrey A. Auerbach. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp xiii + 289. 50 black-and-white illustrations. $50.00 (cloth).
In Imperial Boredom: Monotony and the British Empire, Jeffrey A. Auerbach argues that the experiences of boredom, monotony, and tedium were characteristic of nineteenth-century British Empire. Focusing primarily on India, South Africa, and Australia, Auerbach analyzes the written records of sailors, traders, immigrants, settlers, administrators, and soldiers and offers a compelling revision to the dominant historical narrative of empire as a project built on adventure and excitement. Imperial Boredom also contributes to the historical study of emotions and affects. Auerbach characterizes boredom as a modern construct that emerges in the mid-eighteenth century, in relation to Enlightenment concepts of individual rights and happiness and the “heightened expectations for variety and diversion” engendered by capitalist industrial expansion (p. 5). The boredom of empire – of traveling across ocean and land, of disappointing views, and of menial labor – is thus a case study in boredom as an exemplary experience and established discourse in western modernity. Ultimately, Imperial Boredom advances a vision of British Empire in which ordinary men and women performed tedious jobs while struggling “to make sense of – that is, to find meaning in – the empire in which they were participating” (p. 189), revealing “a widespread disenchantment that lay just beneath the surface of the nineteenth-century British imperium” (p. 144).
The book is organized into five thematic chapters that survey the experiences of travel, administration, defense, and settlement of empire through the lens of boredom. Chapter 1, “Voyages,” shows how the normalization and standardization of imperial travel in the first half of the nineteenth century transformed it from an adventure to a “cheerless interlude” (p. 13). Seventeenth-century ocean voyages were fraught with danger and uncertainty, with high incidence of shipwreck and kidnapping, and eighteenth-century journeys produced thrilling discoveries. However, by the late eighteenth century, travelers began to describe trips across the ocean as tedious. The rise of commercial travel during this period, the increased literacy of travelers on board ships, and the fashion for writing diaries during such voyages led to such frequent expressions of boredom that “writers began to complain about how monotonous expressions of monotony had become” (p. 24). Chapter 2, “Landscapes,” focuses on sight-seeing in India and Australia. Auerbach argues that the aesthetic of the picturesque in imperial landscape painting was designed to advertise the scenic beauty of empire but also led to disappointed travelers. Worn down by the hardships of travel, travelers were struck by the misalignment between representation and reality. “[E]ven as it made India interesting,” Auerbach writes of the picturesque, it “could also make it boring wherever travelers could not find scenery that fit its aesthetic requirements” (p. 53).
The following three chapters take up genres of imperial work. Chapter 3, “Governors,” profiles the work of imperial officials during the bureaucratization of empire. Colonial governors, such as William Denison (1804–71) in Madras in the 1860s and Lord Lytton (1831–91), the Governor-General of India in the 1870s, complained of “mundane” and “trivial” work, exhausting public receptions, and social isolation. In Chapter 4, “Soldiers,” Auerbach turns to British troops stationed in India and South Africa in the second half of the nineteenth century. Soldiers during this period were primarily tasked with the administrative duties required to sustain a vast imperial network. Military conflicts were rare and involved more marching and drilling than gunfire, with wide swaths of unscheduled time. Auerbach argues that soldiers, many of whom enlisted to escape difficulties at home and associated the army with a romantic vision of masculinity based in heroism, valor, and adventure, were left “deeply disillusioned with Britain’s imperial project” (p. 140). Chapter 5, “Settlers,” explores the experiences of settlers and long-term residents in India, Malay, Upper Canada, and Australia. Segregation, the language barrier, and anxieties of racial contamination meant that women who resided in the empire with their husbands or brothers lived in social isolation. Meanwhile, settlers in Australia experienced “disappointment and despair” at the infelicitous conditions for living and working that had been misrepresented by settler-colonial propaganda (p. 158). Finally, the conclusion considers the implications of imperial boredom for the analysis of western modernity and nineteenth-century attitudes towards British Empire more broadly.
Imperial Boredom is meticulously researched and sheds light on everyday lives on colonial outposts through its analysis of the diaries, journals, and letters of imperial officials, soldiers, settlers, and others. These complaints, found in primary sources, of tedium, monotony, drudgery, and dullness offer new insights into how empire bored the people tasked with upholding it. The book would have benefited, however, from more substantive engagement with theoretical approaches to the study of emotion and affect. For example, by drawing on affect theory and psychoanalysis, the author might have developed a more robust definition of boredom. Nevertheless, the book offers fascinating insights into the ideological, technological, and social conditions that produced boredom as the dominant experience of empire. Boredom could be the result of “unmet expectations” set by cultural discourse or media such as landscape painting, travel guides, war fiction, and adventure magazines (p. 103); of new technologies that reduced the risks and dangers of sailing to and fighting in empire; of the bureaucratic rationalization of imperial administration; or of racist and white supremacist views that caused settlers and long-term residents to withdraw from interactions with indigenous people. Overall, Imperial Boredom is deeply researched, unflagging in its commitment to making the uninteresting interesting, and especially illuminating in its conclusions that nineteenth-century empire was governed by disenchantment. It will be of particular interest for scholars interested in the history of British Empire, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century imperialist and settler experiences, and accounts of disenchantment within modern imperialism.
University of Chicago
Soares — New Prometheans
The New Prometheans: Faith, Science, and the Supernatural Mind in the Victorian Fin de Siècle. By Courtenay Raia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019. Pp. ix + 424. 4 black-and-white figures. $105.00 (cloth), $35.00 (paper).
The conflict between science and religion, reason and belief, proof and superstition, has haunted much of modern thought, resulting in perennial crises of faith and culture wars that threaten how we understand who we are and why we exist. These questions and debates persist in contemporary society, perhaps arising now more than ever as the world grapples with a global pandemic that has pitted medical professionals and public health experts against anti-vaccination advocates and science skeptics. Consequently, Courtenay Raia’s The New Prometheans is a timely study, positioning the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) at the center of these seeming oppositions between reason and belief during the final decades of the Victorian era. Founded in 1882 and comprised of luminaries in the scientific, literary, and cultural establishments in Britain, and allied with sister societies in Europe and the United States, the SPR attempted to dissolve the boundaries between professional and amateur science, popular and elite institutional knowledge, and materialist and metaphysical theories of consciousness. Although many historians and literary scholars have turned their attention to the pseudo-scientific, occult, and supernatural beliefs that gained popularity during the latter half of the nineteenth century, Raia depicts the SPR’s investigations of telepathy, automatic writing, séances, and hypnosis not as departures from Victorian science’s march toward rational and materialist progress, but rather as intellectual endeavors that were integral to the advancement of disciplinary science. For Raia, psychical researchers were not driven by a “nostalgic religious yearning” for ancient superstitions and outdated beliefs; rather, they desired “a bold new take on the future of secularization, an alternative route to the twentieth century yet to be reckoned by science” (p. 1). Thus, the SPR can be read in a radically modern light as “the first generation of psychical researchers, intellectuals working at the leading edge of experimental psychology in the late nineteenth century to test the limits of human consciousness” (p. ix).
In order to trace not only the influence of institutional science on psychical research but also the potential that such paranormal investigations had to “explode the very capacity of science to know, crossing the powers of empiricism and epiphany,” Raia follows the intellectual and professional development of four of the SPR’s most famous presidents, all of whom were well established in traditional scientific disciplines (p. xi, emphasis in original). Dedicating chapters to Sir William Crookes (1832–1919) (chemistry), Frederic Myers (1843–1901) (psychology), Sir Oliver Lodge (1851–1940) (physics), and Andrew Lang (1844–1912) (anthropology), Raia’s work attempts to answer the thorny question of how educated and upper-class men who were decorated members of the Royal Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science could also participate in studies of supernatural phenomena. Raia approaches this question with an agnosticism that she argues her subjects themselves adopted; like the investigators she profiles, she takes seriously the intellectual questions of the time, treating psychical research as a “genuine scientific effort” working toward the objective goal of “confirm[ing] or exclud[ing] the existence of a psychical faculty” (p. x). Raia desires to move away from questions of why her subjects believed what they did and whether they were deceived or actively deceiving, choosing instead to focus on the beliefs themselves in order “to restore these neglected intellectual frameworks that legitimated psychical research for its practitioners, and thereby to recover the full scope of the Victorian scientific imagination as it ranged across this psychical terrain” (p. 9).
Raia claims that too much scholarly focus has been paid to notable members of the SPR rather than what the organization sought to prove and/or discover. She positions her work as a needed intervention in this traditional approach, claiming that “[t]his book returns to what was truly compelling about this endeavor: the experimental tour de force of the first few decades of its activity, marked by an astonishing theoretical depth and integrity of effort. Whatever hopes were held privately by its membership, the society itself aimed first and foremost to be an experimental research program, studiously replicating the norms of disciplinary culture in its publications, practices, and institutional structure” (p. 2). According to Raia, the SPR was notable for its insistence on the subordination of faith to skepticism. What is of interest to this study is not the ambiguous and often dubious nature of the object of study, but rather the orthodox scientific methods that were employed in the investigations. Nonetheless, by organizing her study around the intellectual development of Crookes, Myers, Lodge, and Lang, Raia seems to fall into the very trap that she seeks to avoid. Although Raia provides thorough and thickly historical chronicles of each man’s intellectual development in an attempt to show the reader how such scientifically-minded individuals could hold and pursue seemingly antithetical convictions, her account of the SPR at times misses the forest for the trees, delving so deeply into the lives of her subjects that the reader loses sight of the larger questions guiding the study. This tendency is especially clear in chapter 6, which follows the wide-ranging and interdisciplinary career of Andrew Lang from literary critic and defender of the imperial romance, to iconoclastic anthropologist and theorist of “psycho-folklore,” and finally to psychical researcher and president of the SPR in 1911, one year before his death (p. 287). While fascinating and meticulously researched in its own right, this chapter appears focused more on the intellectual and spiritual growth of a notable figure than on the SPR and late Victorian psychical research more generally. To some extent, this tendency is noticeable in the book as a whole.
Raia also takes great pains to distinguish the project of psychical research from the phenomenon of spiritualism and the séance circle, a desire the early psychical researchers shared as they attempted to separate themselves from the infamy of Sir William Crookes’s association with medium Florence Cook (1856–1904) and her spiritual manifestation Katie King. As a popular phenomenon, relying on and privileging evidence from the layperson rather than the scientific elite, spiritualism was at once a democratic and empowering enterprise, often revolving around the spiritual “talents” of female mediums who hailed from lower socioeconomic circles than the men who investigated them (p. 130). At the same time that the SPR sought to bridge the gap between the scientific elite and the faithful, creating a more inclusive sphere of inquiry, it in some ways became entrenched in the very elitism it was trying to combat.
Raia explains the distinction between the SPR and other movements such as spiritualism, mesmerism, and theosophy by arguing that “[w]hile such movements may have entwined with scientific themes and actors in fascinating ways, only psychical research constructively aspired to be a fully academic discipline. If we shift our focus from the character of the phenomena to the character of the individuals and the praxis of their research, the difference between midcentury ‘scientific spiritualism’ and the SPR’s codifying and consensus-building ‘Committee of Apparitions, Haunted Houses, etc.’ is readily discerned” (p. 9). By suggesting that the “character” and professional status of the investigators renders their project more authentic or legitimate, Raia in some ways reinforces the very divisions that the SPR allegedly sought to dismantle. Such a claim leaves unexamined the gender, class, and often ethnic differences and power differentials that existed between the investigators and their objects of study. While Raia clearly articulates the “elite cultural space” (p. 10) that the SPR occupied, she glosses over the complex power dynamics that existed between the man of science and the female medium, only briefly mentioning issues of gender in psychical research when discussing Florence Cook’s questionable relationship with Sir William Crookes (chap. 2), the Sidgwick Group’s investigations of the celebrated mediums Annie Fairlamb Mellon (1850–1938) and Catherine Fox Jencken (1837–92) in 1875 (chap. 3), and Eusapia Palladino’s (1854–1918) awe-inspiring contortions during the 1894 séances conducted on the Île Ribaud (chap. 5). These passing anecdotes about well-bred scientists “focus[ing] their energy on restraining the suspect, the foreign and lowborn” female medium leave the reader eager for a more robust engagement with the gendered implications of the SPR’s research program (p. 214). Despite these minor issues, Raia’s ambitious and richly detailed study will likely become required reading for scholars of the history of science, especially those interested in the development of abnormal psychology and theories of consciousness. Literary and religious scholars will also find within its pages a fascinating take on the alleged Victorian crisis of faith at the turn of the century.
Arizona State University
Williams — Nineteenth Century Settler Emigration
Nineteenth-Century Settler Emigration in British Literature and Art. By Fariha Shaikh. Edinburgh Critical Studies in Victorian Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018. Pp. x + 244. 10 color illustrations. $103.93 (cloth), $17.88 (paper).
With this publication, Fariha Shaikh makes a deft and welcome contribution to the flourishing field of settler studies. Her monograph expands the category of emigration literature to illuminate new ways in which verbal and visual art registered the departure of six million subjects from the British Isles between 1800 and 1869. How to represent distance, home, and mobility across global networks of exchange? Shaikh investigates a range of responses to this aesthetic challenge by gathering multifarious works created “directly out of the practices of emigration” between 1830 and 1870: manuscripts, shipboard periodicals, genre paintings, numerous letters, as well as more canonical miscellanies and novels (p. 5). Taking this capacious approach, her work builds upon the work of James Belich, Lorenzo Veracini, and John Plotz, to name a few, and enhances how we understand the experience and representation of the emotional and physical distances settler emigrants traveled.1
As Shaikh contends, this demographic shift was textually constituted from the outset. Proponents of emigration harnessed the energy of print culture to encourage nation-building through systematic colonization, and its fuel was pragmatic, optimistic booster literature delivering a consistent message: after a period of privation and hard labor, success in the colony would be inevitable; local attachments would be fruitfully cultivated to reproduce older forms of community, even as ties to the homeland would be strengthened. Following a useful introduction that reviews these mechanisms of cultural production, Shaikh divides her book into two sections. Taken together, the first three chapters argue that the mobility of emigration texts catalyzed formal innovation. To begin, she introduces a sizable group of emigrants’ letters aggregated into anthologies (many published by promoters of emigration), which were arranged by networks of personal association. The circuits traced by these volumes certainly exceed the binary of writer and recipient, for they occupy what Clare Brant has called a third zone of epistolary form, neither private nor public.2 Moreover, manuscripts were often available to authenticate the published renditions. In other ways, too, this archive’s material reality is seen to amplify its ability to create and represent intricate networks of exchange.
Manuscripts are also the focus in the second chapter, where Shaikh offers two lively case studies of shipboard periodicals created decades apart on vessels bound for Australia. Building on the scholarship of Jason Rudy, she presents the ship as a liminal space where settler emigrants were “homed and unhomed” simultaneously (p. 87).3The production of a newspaper at sea, complete with illustrations, pseudonymous correspondents, and content modeled on English village life, created a provisional community in which passengers began the affective transformation from emigrant to colonist. Shaikh posits three spaces of “overlapping … imaginaries”: the village, the ship, and the periodical, all ephemeral but essential to the narrative of cultural continuity (p. 85).
Rather differently, Chapter 3 treats solidly canonical texts – classics, in fact, of Canadian literature: The Backwoods of Canada (1836) by Catharine Parr Traill (1802–99) and Roughing It in the Bush (1852) by her sister, fellow emigrant Susanna Moodie (1803–85). While participating in the discourse of preparation, these texts offer a riposte to booster literature through the interplay of gender and form. Suggesting that the sketch is especially suited to female experience, Shaikh notes Moodie’s “loose diachronic structure” and idiosyncratic subject matter (p. 102). Whereas typical emigration literature appealed to young men searching for personal liberty, Moodie’s sketches sought to capture a woman’s efforts to create a knowable community in an unfamiliar locale. This more anecdotal approach, coupled with Traill’s efforts to develop a new botanical nomenclature, offers a fragmented aesthetic to represent the female experience of nation building.
Following this expansion of settler literature, Shaikh turns to two examples of cultural instantiation, when the concerns of emigrant texts become visible in other modes. The first is art historical, for she presents five mid-century paintings, all shown in London, in which settler motifs and texts become visible on the canvas: The Last of England (1855) by Ford Madox Brown (1821–93), The Emigrant’s Last Sight of Home (1858) by Richard Redgrave (1804–88), A Letter from the Colonies (1852) by Thomas Webster (1800–86), Answering the Emigrant’s Letter (1850) by James Collinson (1825–81), and Second Class—The Parting (1854) by Abraham Solomon (1825–62). In some cases, the artists offer accompanying explanations and even original poetry. This skillfully chosen set thus offers what Rachel Teukolsky and Gerard Curtis have called inverted ekphrasis , a discontinuous rhythm that here disrupts the optimistic narrative of emigration and establishes a “periphery-periphery connection” (p. 151).4
Shaikh detects a similar kind of cultural instantiation in the Victorian novel when, in select works by Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–65) and Charles Dickens (1812–70), the now familiar motifs of emigration literation announce themselves. Yet perhaps the most provocative passage of Shaikh’s final chapter deals with Catherine Helen Spence (1825–1910), the single figure examined in the book who was raised largely in a colony. In her novel Clara Morison (1854), the effort to recreate a knowable community erupts into a crisis of knowing more generally. A female character can conjure no understanding or vision of Australia from her wide reading, and allusions to Dickens only confuse. Here the legibility that is so essential to emigration literature falters. The epistemological challenge in this brief but important moment suggests, then, that distance distorts. If the expanse of the voyage out cannot be bridged via print culture for an emigrant, what might the implications be for the metropolitan reader?
In moving from the creative textual encounters of the first three chapters to the appearance of emigration literature in genre paintings and the novel, Shaikh ably demonstrates the pervasive cultural effects of emigration literature as she has recast it. In so doing, she also gestures to several opportunities for sustained inquiry into how distance shaped the aesthetics of mid-century settlement. For all its progress in deconstructing the metropole-colony binary, vestiges of that recalcitrant formation still assert themselves in this valuable study. The inclusion of Spence – and the insufficiency of the emigration texts that her character consumes – will pique interest in further expanding the corpus to include writers who published from the colonies and, indeed, from the “empty spaces” of the metropole’s imaginary (p. 21).Notes
1. James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World , 1783–1939 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); John Plotz, Portable Property: Victorian Culture on the Move (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).
2. Clare Brant, Eighteenth-Century Letters and British Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
3. Jason R. Rudy, “Floating Worlds: Émigré Poetry and British Culture,” ELH 81 (2014): 325–50.
4. Rachel Teukolsky, The Literate Eye: Victorian Art Writing and Modernist Aesthetics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Gerard Curtis, Visual Words: Art and the Material Book in Victorian England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999).
Cynthia Schoolar Williams
Wentworth Institute of Technology
Godbey — Unredeemed Land
Unredeemed Land: An Environmental History of Civil War and Emancipation in the Cotton South. By Erin Stewart Mauldin. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. x + 244. $35.00 (cloth), $25.00 (paper).
This concise volume (162 pages of text with extensive endnotes) provides evidence as to why cotton became the king of the Cotton Belt, even though cotton was harmful to the people and the land itself. This history goes beyond explanations about free market forces and race/class conflicts in order to trace the role of agricultural practices and their effects during 1840–80. The U.S. Civil War helped dismantle existing land use traditions leading to ones which were more ecologically, sociologically, and economically damaging. Putting almost all the region’s land into cotton left its producers poorer and more wanting in daily provisions than before the war.
Using both small-scale sources (individual letters and journals) as well as larger theoretical and scientific texts, Mauldin elucidates Southern antebellum farming conditions in the Cotton Belt. While tobacco, cotton, rice, and sugar were prevalent crops, these antebellum farms had self-sufficient, comprehensive farming traditions. The author provides a lively account of strategies which included a robust variety of edible crops, ample farming areas, and “free-range animal husbandry” (pp. 5–6 88–89). In free-range animal husbandry, cattle and swine were not enclosed by fences. Instead, the tasty crops were enclosed so that the livestock could not consume them. Livestock grazed and foraged in wooded landscapes. Thin, erosion-prone soil was subject to harsh, unpredictable weather conditions (heat and humidity punctuated by gully-washing rains). Solving this problem involved intensive soil management, leaving part of the farm fallow, and the slaves with back-breaking work. Slaves periodically cleared and burned trees in select tracts to provide needed soil amendments in the form of wood ash. These combined practices lessened environmental impact while providing varied edible crops and meats to those on the property; collectively, these practices of maintaining or improving land quality were known by the biblical-sounding phrase of redeeming the land (see pp. 5–6).
During the U.S. Civil War, hungry soldiers degraded the landscape; they destroyed fences enclosing crops and considered any available food free for the taking. Thousands of troops’ boots trampled productive fields while the soldiers themselves felled trees and repurposed fence posts for barricades, battlements, and cooking fires, thereby contributing to widespread environmental harm in order to meet the immediate needs of the passing hoards. The war’s impact also included scorched-earth policies so that essential food and material resources would not be available to the enemy, another environmental insult.
After the war was over, high prices for cotton during 1865–66 were enough to entice some farmers to put all their eggs in one basket – some producers even neglecting raising the livestock to provide essential manure for crops. Many impoverished farmers hoped that cotton would bail them out of a sticky financial situation. While the first cotton crops were initially robust, after the first couple of seasons, the quantity diminished, then necessitating large amounts of guano, phosphates, and, of course, labor. Emancipation certainly resulted in eventual improvements on many levels for previously enslaved people; however, it did not make it easy for freed black workers to own land. Freedmen and women largely did not own land in the quantities needed to make the former system viable.
Emancipation reduced former slaves to sharecropping situations and contract (group) labor which proved difficult – circumstances perhaps little to no better than enslavement. Proactive and location-specific land management practices slipped, resulting in poorer soils for King Cotton. Falling prices for cotton meant that the farmers had made unfortunate choices, incurring debts for fertilizers and labor, as well as for edible grains, vegetables, and meats for the people on the land.
War and Reconstruction therefore changed time-established farming practices quickly – leading to intensive cotton production. Farmers ended up in a never-ending cycle requiring fertilizer inputs for a temperamental crop as well as cash on hand for basic human food. When the land could no longer be “redeemed” in traditional ways, neither heaven nor earth were of much help.
The book would be very helpful for those interested in environmental, African-American, and U.S. Civil War/Reconstruction histories. The prose is lively, approachable, and short so that it might be useful both to the scholar and to the college student. The interdisciplinary approach is one that might inspire other writers wishing to combine environmental and social histories.
Iowa State University