On the weekend, while taking a break from writing lectures, the Nerd introduced me to Stacking! A longer post is coming, in which we’ll take a look through the use of neo-Victorian (and.or Steampunk) Things in the game, but for now: feast the eyes!
Your tea break this morning should really be spent in horrified contemplation of this blog post from Feministe.us, which details some of the recommendations made by Barkham Burroughs in his Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information. Burroughs exhorts women to put soapsuds in their eyes, bathe in ammonia (probably best not to confuse those last two suggestions), briskly brush themselves down with stiff bristled brushes and – last but not least – dance naked in the sunshine.
Burroughs is inexplicably silent on what men should do, but I can think of a few. Bleach their moustache tips, perhaps?
You can get the full text – and why would you not want to do that? – from archive.org. You will have instantly at your fingertips solutions for almost every problem that may beset the human, such as ‘serpent bites’ and ‘bleeding’ from almost every orifice and organ. A personal favourite is the entry on ‘How to Distinguish Death’ which is included due to the many many instances of ‘parties being buried alive, they being to all appearance dead’. No ride on the Necropolitan Line for you, you ‘imaginary dead’! Only the ‘truly deceased’ get to go!
On a more serious note, the Encylopaedia functions as an excellent guide to the many solvents, poisons, ‘medications’ and other chemical wonders to which the Victorians clearly had access in liberal quantities. Anyone who winces at The Crimson Petal and the White‘s homemade abortifacent of zinc sulphate, among other nasties not intended for vaginal douching, would do well to consult Burrough’s loving catalogue of the endless ways in which you can do yourself harm.
And on that note, a little bit of dancing naked in the (much wished-for, late-but-still-welcome) sunshine is clearly required!
‘Pretty soon’ did not quite go to plan. I’ve spent a lot of time on trains – no good for writing but good for reading! As it comes to an end, let me Think about the Things I have read in July and August:
Mark Forsyth – The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language (2011): I was always going to like this, wasn’t I? Much like this blog, it does exactly what it says on the tin, meandering across the interesting corners of the English language. Will definitely provide at least one of the Fascinating Facts of the Day on this blog – it’s that kind of book. But the format does it no favours at all – far too list-like to be a truly comfortable read. Bill Bryson might not be better at etymology itself, but he is better about writing about it.
Emma Donoghue – Room (2010): Personally I found this disappointing; perhaps because I’d been told a lot of fantastic things about it and was expecting something quite different.
Jennifer Egan – Look at Me (2002, relaunched 2011): A less-than-successful first novel, this has been given a massive publisher push because of Egan’s recent success with A Visit from the Goon Squad (2011). Largely an interesting premise – a model smashes every bone in her face in a car accident; the resulting reconstructive surgery leaves her beautiful but unrecognizable to anyone who knew her ‘before’ – this doesn’t always convince. The strands of the narrative hang loosely together, connected by a character whom Keegan seems to have set out to make thoroughly unlikeable, but doesn’t always have the guts to see it through. Similarly, you can see the joins in Egan’s self-conscious ‘purple passages’, normally when she’s considering Americana.
SOUND THE NEO-VICTORIAN KLAXON!
Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crimes and the Lunatic Asylum – Mark Stevens – pretty good, particularly for a short book compiled by an archivist that is free on Kindle. Inevitably neo-Victorian, in that it ‘discovers’ intriguing information about four notorious Victorian figures. There isn’t as much reference to the Victorian perception of mental illness as I’d like, and the text is curiously silent about the treatments that were considered effective.
The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime – Judith Flanders (2011) – A whacking great doorstop of a book that saw me through a solid week of travel. It’s great stuff from Flanders, who really excels at this sort of widescale analysis; the book is crammed with newspaper factoids, plenty of sources and a few witty asides that only ever work when an scholar knows their stuff as well as Flanders does. Particular bonus points are gained by the fact that I was reading the section about the particularly grisly fate to befall Sweet Fanny Adams as I was actually journeying towards Alton, Hampshire, which is where she met her end. I wish the book had spent a little more on the Road murders, as Flanders hints at quite a different end to Mr Whicher than is suggested by Kate Summerscale’s excellent The Suspicions of Mr Whicher.
….life got the better of Neo-Victorian Thoughts just recently. I don’t know whether to be delighted or depressed that me not posting has trebled the number of daily visitors to the site!
I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but Neo-Victorian Thoughts is at well over a thousand views and counting. Wherever and whoever you are, it’s really nice to have you all with me.
You shall be rewarded (or not) with some more posts in the very near future!
And did some neo-Victorian Thinking!
Most straightforwardly, I Thought about Kate Williams and Clare Clark, both of whom were interviewed by Rosie Boycott and both of whom really sold our little neo-Victorian world to a thrilled audience. Williams (a historian known for her work on Queen Victoria) was there to promote The Pleasures of Men, a neo-Victorian murder-mystery and Clark was there for Beautiful Lies, a really intriguing novel that fleshes out the few historical sources available on Maria Lowe, wife of a Scottish Radical MP who is not all she seems (I’ll leave you to find out)…
Both novels were promptly added to the neo-Victorian bookshelf here at neo-Victorian Towers. But what really fascinated me wasn’t the books (though I’m looking forward to reading them). It was the burning desire of both Clark and Williams – and the audience at Hay – to dig about in the nineteenth century. Oh, how we loved the tales of Jack the Ripper, inventor of tabloid reporting WT Stead, and a vast cast of Urchins. Best thing of all was Williams’s recounting of the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (1887), which featured the giant face of the monarch, constructed from fireworks. This pyrotechnic marvel then malfunctioned in the vicinity of one eye, much to the delight of the crowd – the malfunction meant that their monarch was not only made of fireworks, but appeared to be winking at them!
Williams and Clark both spent about ten minutes in deep discussion about the similarities between Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. Both were vast displays of pomp, wealth, and civic pride, both of which rang hollow in the face of a collapsing economy and a series of riots. Both Queens were criticised for not looking happy enough, and both of them had their lack of appropriate joy ascribed to the absence of their consort (Philip having a bladder infection rather than being dead like Albert – whether Victoria was correspondingly more solemn than Elizabeth went unremarked at Hay-on-Wye). The audience loved that as well, loved the similarities between them and us. There are moments at which neo-Victorian texts like to emphasise the differences between them and us, but this was not one of those moments.
In a time of great instability, it’s an immensely comforting thought that we’ve been through it all and survived. Personally, it’s an immensely depressing thought to realise that we never learn. A little too depressing for Rosie Boycott to suggest, I’m sure, but more than one audience member must have had that thought cross their mind.
And while I was listening to them both, guess who I missed? Kate Summerscale! I am a really big fan of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. It is something of a groundbreaker, collapsing the distinction between a history derived only from textual sources and fiction (two thumbs up from Neo-Victorian Thoughts), and I was very, very sorry to have missed her.
…and this is due to general end-of-term business. Do bear with me, as I am Thinking all sorts of interesting neo-Victorian Thoughts: I finished The Sealed Letter, re-watched a documentary on Anne Lister (not Victorian at all, but I’m claiming her) and got some extremely interesting feedback on my work from some lovely academics and students at UCLan.
A vast pile of marking has overwhelmed me, however, and left no time for indulgent blog-writing. Normal service shall resume some time very soon.
If you are offended by vulgar language, then LOOK AWAY NOW (and probably don’t pick up any neo-Victorian novels except maybe the ones by AS Byatt):
(Seriously, if this makes you laugh, buy Kate Beaton’s book: she writes very, very funny historical comic strips. They aren’t all neo-Victorian but they are all hilarious)