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Victorian Afterlife

Victorian Afterlife: Postmodern Culture Rewrites the Nineteenth Century

John Kucich
Dianne F. Sadoff
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 376
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt439
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  • Book Info
    Victorian Afterlife
    Book Description:

    Major critical thinkers have found in the nineteenth century the origins of contemporary consumerism, sexual science, gay culture, and feminism. And postmodern theory, which once drove a wedge between contemporary interpretation and its historical objects, has lately displayed a new self-consciousness about its own appropriations of the past. This diverse collection of essays begins a long-overdue discussion of how postmodernism understands the Victorian as its historical predecessor. Contributors: Nancy Armstrong, Ian Baucom, Jay Clayton, Mary A. Favret, Simon Gikandi, Jennifer Green-Lewis, Kali Israel, Laurie Langbauer, Susan Lurie, John McGowan, Judith Roof, Hilary M. Schor, Ronald R. Thomas, and Shelton Waldrep._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5286-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction Histories of the Present
    (pp. ix-xxx)
    Dianne F. Sadoff and John Kucich

    A scene fromClueless,Amy Heckerling’s campy 1995 film version ofEmma,handily identifies the crisis of postmodern historiography thatVictorian Afterlifeaddresses. From the backseat of a car, Cher watches Josh and his intellectual poseur girlfriend critique their university creative-writing class. “Like Hamlet said,” the long-haired, beret-wearing girlfriend proclaims, “to thine own self be true.” Cher pipes up: “[Hamlet] didn’t say that. That Polonius guy did.” Girl laughs: “I think I rememberHamletaccurately”; Cher: “Well, I remember Mel Gibson accurately.”¹ Tongue in cheek,Cluelessfollows Cher in undoing literary history and placing twentieth-century cultural icons in the position...

  4. mystifications

    • Modernity and Culture, the Victorians and Cultural Studies
      (pp. 3-28)
      John McGowan

      John Stuart Mill begins his 1831 essay “The Spirit of the Age” with the conviction that his very subject matter is new:

      The “Spirit of the Age” is in some measure a novel expression. I do not believe that it is to be met with in any work exceeding fifty years in antiquity. The idea of comparing one’s own age with former ages, or with our notion of those which are yet to come, had occurred to philosophers; but it never before was itself the dominant idea of any age.¹

      My thesis in this essay is, in some ways, a...

    • At Home in the Nineteenth Century: Photography, Nostalgia, and the Will to Authenticity
      (pp. 29-48)
      Jennifer Green-Lewis

      Until the 1970s, as Raphael Samuel has noted, there really was no market for Victorian photographs, few readers for those images that currently crowd the pages of popular and academic journals, weigh down coffee tables in vast tomes, perform new (and revisit old) narratives along the walls of contemporary art galleries, and provide, in short, visual accompaniment to just about any reference to the wordVictorian.¹ For more than a century, pictorial photography was considered merely testament to the bad taste of the Victorians; today, with our sophistication as readers apparently indexed to our liberation from the burdens of realism,...

    • The Uses and Misuses of Oscar Wilde
      (pp. 49-63)
      Shelton Waldrep

      Perhaps beginning as early as Sir Peter Hall’s 1992 revival of the play that Wilde thought his masterpiece,An Ideal Husband,Wilde has been reappearing with a vengeance. Wilde’s wife, Constance Lloyd (later Wilde, then Holland), has a play devoted to her, and Tom Stoppard’s latest effort,The Invention of Love,has Wilde show up in the last act only to steal the show. Stephen Fry plays him in the filmWildeand Liam Neeson stars as Wilde on Broadway inThe Judas Kissand may play him in another biopic. Off Broadway, Wilde appears as the suffering victim of...

    • Being True to Jane Austen
      (pp. 64-82)
      Mary A. Favret

      In choosing this title for my essay, I mean to invite questions about fidelity in the recent mass-media presentations of Jane Austen’s novels. The cinema and TV appearances of Austen’s works, as well as the glossy new versions of the novels in our local Barnes and Noble, are all putting their faith in our faith in Jane Austen, or at least they aim to make converts of us all; for in these versions of Austen, and in our obsessive measuring of their devotion—either to the literal “facts” of the written works, to the historical details of Regency England, or...

    • A Twentieth-Century Portrait: Jane Campion’s American Girl
      (pp. 83-100)
      Susan Lurie

      In describing her writing ofThe Piano,Jane Campion has stated that her representation of nineteenth-century characters “means that I can look at a side of the relationship that [nineteenth-century authors] could not develop. My exploration can be a lot more sexual, a lot more investigative of the power of eroticism.”¹ Yet, if contemporary mores allow a greater freedom in erotic representation, Campion also claims that twentieth-century “rules and ways of handling” courtship have meant the loss of “the pure sexual erotic impulse”available to inhabitants of the previous century (138). For Campion, then, the nineteenth-century is the site both of...

    • Display Cases
      (pp. 101-122)
      Judith Roof

      In its quotation and appropriation of Victorian display tactics, computer interface technology deploys the familiar Victorian graphic style associated with capitalist zeal, consumer appeal, and imperial zeal while repressing its specifically Victorian character.¹ Both Victorian exhibition techniques and contemporary computer interfaces employ icons, images, letters, multiple fonts, varying scale, and decorative partitions, often nested behind glass, to draw the eye, organize information, display curiosities, and invite their contemplation by onlookers. The similarities in the strategies and style of the Victorian exhibit and the modern computer are not only superficial; the coincidence of the same tactics in two very different contexts...

  5. engagements

    • Found Drowned: The Irish Atlantic
      (pp. 125-156)
      Ian Baucom

      On the morning of 30 May 1847 an English brig bound for Quebec set sail from the Irish coast. On board were a Cumberland captain and his wife, a crew of some twenty men, a gentleman passenger named Robert Whyte, and some no Irish emigrants, refugees from the Famine. For the first twelve days the voyage proved uneventful. Whyte, whose diary serves as the record for the voyage, had opportunities to sketch the vessel and its company, to fish, and to divert himself in his cabin by reading Shakespeare. On the thirteenth day, however, the Head of Committee reported two...

    • The Embarrassment of Victorianism: Colonial Subjects and the Lure of Englishness
      (pp. 157-185)
      Simon Gikandi

      In 1953, C.L.R. James, the great Afro-Caribbean writer and intellectual, was arrested and asked to leave the United States. It was at the height of the McCarthy era and James’s close involvement with the small Trotskyist movement in the United States was enough to identify him as an undesirable alien involved in distinctly “un-American activities.”¹ James was beginning to develop doubts about Trotskyism at the time of his arrest, but, still, he had struck up what appeared to be a close friendship with Trotsky during a trip to Mexico in the 1930s, and his closest ideological ally in the contentious...

    • Hacking the Nineteeth Centuary
      (pp. 186-210)
      Jay Clayton

      Midway through William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’sThe Difference Engine(1991), a historical science fiction set in mid-nineteenth-century England, an automaton startles the protagonist Edward Mallory by whirring to life in the parlor of a foreign-service operative. The figure is a carved Japanese doll, fashioned entirely of bamboo, horsehair, and whalebone. It is lifelike enough to be mistaken for a kneeling lady, although stereotypes of the submissive Asian woman contribute to the deception. The urbane secret agent appears at ease with such marvels, so Mallory, who is jealous of his reputation as a scientist, recovers his composure with a show...

    • Queen Victoria and Me
      (pp. 211-233)
      Laurie Langbauer

      One thing feminist scholarship does, in literary studies as well as in the study of history, is recover the work and lives of women made invisible, women lost to time. However various, even at odds with itself, feminist criticism might be, that recovery—whether called gynocriticism or Anglo-American literary history—has remained an enduring element; the annals of feminism depend on it. “Show us the life of the average Elizabethan woman all but absent from history now!” Virginia Woolf exhorts the women scholars at Newnham and Girton inA Room of One’s Own.Adrienne Rich, inOn Lies, Secrets, and...

    • Sorting, Morphing, and Mourning: A. S. Byatt Ghostwrites Victorian Fiction
      (pp. 234-251)
      Hilary M. Schor

      For most contemporary readers, the Victorian novel matters because of its plot: whether old-fashioned, garden-variety readers (those who “Love a good story”) or costume-shop haunting, melodrama-adapting producers for the BBC, moderns who turn the novel backward are looking for the confidence of psychological realism and the faith that character will emerge from incident, fact from fiction, and conviction from clutter. In the realist novel, all will be fitting, all will be appropriately clothed, and all will be well. The unspoken rules of Victorian fiction promise moral unity and historical veracity and generate adaptations that (in that new periodization that makes...

    • Asking Alice: Victorian and Other Alices in Contemporary Culture
      (pp. 252-287)
      Kali Israel

      Carol Mayor’sPleasures Taken: Performances of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographsbegins with a description of a revision. Mavor used to perform, she tells us, as a “portmanteau” figure who combined the Alice ofAlice’s Adventures in WonderlandandThrough the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found Therewith “the real Alice” (Alice Liddell [Hargreaves]) and with the figure of Lewis Carroll. In these stagings, she says, she called into question who is an author, who a character, and who a muse, while “insist[ing]” on the “sexuality” of children.¹ Mayor’s first chapter, on Carroll’s photographs, in turn begins with...

    • Specters of the Novel: Dracula and the Cinematic Afterlife of the Victorian Novel
      (pp. 288-310)
      Ronald R. Thomas

      “Here I am, sitting at a little oak table . . . and writing in my diary in shorthand all that has happened since I closed it last. It is nineteenth-century upto-date with a vengeance. And yet, unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere ‘modernity’ cannot kill.”¹ So writes Bram Stoker’s character Jonathan Harker while imprisoned in Dracula’s Transylvanian castle, lost in an unmapped region of Eastern Europe while on a business trip selling Londan real estate to that strange foreign gentleman. Despite Harker’s repeatedly expressed cocern that he cannot...

    • postscript: Contemporary Culturalism: How Victorian Is It?
      (pp. 311-326)
      Nancy Armstrong

      The essays in this collection indicate how pervasively postmodernism depends on the very conventions and critiques that modernism condemned as naive, authoritarian, mercenary, superficial, trashy, or commonplace. Moreover, the essays suggest why recycling these remnants should have resurrected a controversy over the very definition of culture that preoccupied the intellectuals of that earlier age. What the reader consequently takes away from this collection is a sharp sense of just how Victorian is the present-day identification of our nation with our national culture and the attendant fear that the strength of the nation is being sapped by an insidious erosion of...

  6. Contributors
    (pp. 327-330)
  7. Index
    (pp. 331-344)