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Blasted Literature

Blasted Literature: Victorian Political Fiction and the Shock of Modernism

Deaglán Ó Donghaile
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Blasted Literature
    Book Description:

    By connecting Fenian and anarchist violence found in popular fiction from the 1880s to the early 1900s with the avant-garde writing of British modernism, Deaglán Ó Donghaile demonstrates that Victorian popular fiction and modernism were directly influenced by the explosive shocks of late nineteenth-century terrorism.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4545-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Julian Wolfreys
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction: Shock, Politics, Literature
    (pp. 1-26)

    In 1894 Strand Magazine sent a correspondent into the carefully guarded Crime Museum of New Scotland Yard. The journalist was despatched to report on a new exhibit containing every ‘dangerous species’ of bomb, or ‘dynamite relic’ that had been found intact during the Fenian campaign of the 1880s. The contents of the Black Museum, as it was also known, were, like the exhibits in British Museum’s Secretum, never intended for public inspection as they were considered by the authorities to be far too hazardous for popular consumption. Instead, these volatile specimens were put on display for the sole and very...

  6. Chapter 1 Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James and the City of Encounters
    (pp. 27-60)

    The bombs planted in British cities by Irish Fenians during the 1880s had a literary impact as well as a political one. The popular genre of the ‘dynamite novel’ marked the beginning of the influence of Irish political violence on literature, a phenomenon that continued into the 1890s. The influence of Fenianism can also be found in later literary modernism, as we will see in Chapters 3 and 4. The shock waves generated by these bombs were also felt in some of the more highbrow novels of the 1880s, with discussions of revolutionary politics also appearing in classics such as...

  7. Chapter 2 Imperialism and the Late Victorian Dynamite Novel
    (pp. 61-93)

    In contrast to Robert Louis Stevenson, who complained that the Irish reminded him of toads,² some nationalist authors confronted British imperialism by writing fiction that promoted republican separatism and tried to explain the rationale behind the 1881–5 bombing campaign. Some of these dynamite novels even ended with the Fenians achieving political independence and becoming the ‘undisputed masters of the whole of Irish soil’.³ Displaying a global perspective, from which the planting of bombs in England and attacks on British forces in Ireland are compared to the anti-imperial efforts of the Transvaal Boers and Zulus, the pro-Fenian fiction that was...

  8. Chapter 3 Exploiting the Apostles of Destruction: Anarchism, Modernism and the Penny Dreadful
    (pp. 94-135)

    In the 1892 potboiler, The Anarchist: A Story of To-Day, Richard Henry Savage distinguished anarchism from Irish nationalism by portraying it as a politically unreadable phenomenon. Focusing on its foreignness, he blamed the ‘fleeing scoundrels’ of Europe for radicalising American industrial workers, provoking riots and masterminding strikes across the modern industrialised world¹ (Vol. 2, p. 205). He observes that the ‘reasonably quiet’ Irish, on the other hand, avoid participating in the American class war and they are praised by the novel’s hero, the tycoon, philanthropist and militia leader Philip Maitland, who advises his plutocratic colleagues: ‘Say what you will of...

  9. Chapter 4 ‘The Doctrine of Dynamite’: Anarchist Literature and Terrorist Violence
    (pp. 136-178)

    Like Fenianism, late nineteenth-century anarchism was an intensively mediated form of radical politics. Despite its association with violence in many of the political novels of the period, printed propaganda was by far the most characteristic form of anarchist activity in late Victorian Britain.² Stressing the continuum between anarchist words and deeds, such journals, pamphlets and, sometimes, also fiction written by anarchists and former revolutionaries suggested the revolutionary function of writing. As if responding to Joseph Pierre Proudhon’s claim of 1840 that ‘equality failed to conquer by the sword only that it might conquer by the pen’,³ anarchist writers challenged the...

  10. Chapter 5 Shock Modernism: Blast and the Radical Politics of Vorticism
    (pp. 179-225)

    As Vanessa R. Schwartz has suggested, overt sensationalising and spectacularising provided the means by which experience was commodified in late nineteenth-century popular culture.² As we have seen with the dynamite novel, Fenian and anarchist politics were marketed as popular literary spectacles, with revolutionary violence being presented to readers in the guise of popular forms such as detective fiction, imperial quest adventures and science fantasy. While Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent bridged the void separating the various types of dynamite novel of the 1880s and 1890s from literary modernism, Wyndham Lewis’s Vorticist movement adopted political violence as the basis of its...

  11. Conclusion: Literature and ‘the resources of civilization’
    (pp. 226-239)

    In his sensational dynamite novel of 1886, For Maimie’s Sake: A Tale of Love and Dynamite, Grant Allen addressed the influence that political violence exercised over the late Victorian popular imagination by drawing attention to the fascinating quality of its shocks. Part melodrama, part political yarn and part romance, as well as a satire on British imperialism, the novel initially centres on the efforts of an ambitious scientist, Sydney Chevenix, to invent a noiseless high explosive which he plans to donate to the British government for use as a stealth weapon against anti-colonial insurgencies in Africa. This occurs against the...

  12. Bibliography of Cited Works
    (pp. 240-254)
  13. Index
    (pp. 255-260)