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February 23, 2012 / Louisa Yates

Some Things You Might Like to Know…

What does ‘neo-Victorian’ mean?

Broadly, this blog takes ‘neo-Victorian’ to mean ‘contemporary engagements with the nineteenth century’. This can manifest in various ways and in various forms: literary texts, films, television programmes, advertising, cultural practices, art, architecture, politics, the criminal justice system and even relationships, sex and etiquette can all be neo-Victorian. Cultural practices engage with the Victorian in different ways – they can re-write them (Will Self did just that in Dorian: An Imitation (2002)). They can play with them, or reinforce them, or lust after them, or fetishize them, or re-position them.

Most often, however, neo-Victorian texts piggy-back on the authority of the Victorian narrative in order to draw attention to all the people denied a voice by Victorian (and contemporary) society. The nineteenth-century was the age of the novel – that long, linear story that tells us realistically about people like us. Working-class people don’t get much of a look in – neither do women, people of colour and anyone non-heteronormative. Neo-Victorian Things often seek to remedy these omissions and speak these silences.

Why are you Thinking about it?

Because I’m a neo-Victorian academic who has just finished a PhD and has many more neo-Victorian Thoughts than can possibly fit in my thesis and the book I’m writing. They both focus on literary texts.

I’m also Thinking about it because, well, there’s so very much of it: Sherlock, anyone? And not just the Man in the Deerstalker: plenty of other Victorian themes, personages, characters and narratives stalk through our contemporary landscape. Music hall, detectives (and crime fiction), grimy London town, prostitution, petticoats, tabloid newspapers. Street urchins – and their opposite, the clean, blonde, Pears child – grim patriarchs, and the Angel in the House live inside a drawing room that is crammed with knick-knacks. Oscar Wilde pops up all over the place, as do the sexual practices that sent him to prison (sexology is a Victorian invention). Oh, I could go on and on and on. Which is exactly what this blog is for!

Do you like dressing up as a brass robot in a pith helmet and shouting ‘what ho, old chap?!’ at people?

No. That would be steampunk (a wonderful, glorious subculture in its own right, but not something I know very much about. Perhaps writing this blog will change that). I do, however, wholeheartedly support the cultural practice of taking tea in all its glorious, doily-centric, cucumber-sandwiches-with-the-crusts-cut-off-and-don’t-spare-the-cake Victorian-ness.

Doesn’t that mean that you’ve welded rose-tinted glasses to your face? Is this blog going to turn into a sustained campaign for the return of the birch and the Empire?

Negative. Engaging with the past does not have to mean longing for it. It’s what makes neo-Victorian Things so very varied and intriguing. Some neo-Victorian Things do long for the past, and some suffer from nostalgia. Most, however, use the past in order to say something significant about Right Now.

What else are you Thinking about?

As well as all things neo-Victorian, I Think about thousands and thousands of other things. The most important things, the things that invariably affect my view of the world around me are: queer theory, feminism, and small, squat dogs (Pugs, Airedales, Schnauzers, that sort of thing). Due to a severely nerdy partner, I am also starting to Think about comic books (a vast repository of neo-Victorian Thoughts). These will probably creep in, at some point.

What sort of Thoughts can I expect from this blog?

Well, mostly some Thoughts about anything neo-Victorian. I’m going to review books and fims, point out interesting sites, and generally Think about Neo-Victorian Things.

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