Putting aside the somewhat problematic qualities of Liam Scarlett's ballet adaptation of Frankensteinqua ballet (why is Henry Clerval submitted to something that looks suspiciously like sexual assault in Act I? why does the Creature have nothing to do until Act II? why is Clerval dancing a knock-off of Mercutio's choreography from MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet in Act III?), it's also an interesting example of how making a tiny alteration to the source text can radically alter the significance of what follows. Like many adaptations of Frankenstein, this one transforms the animation scene into spectacle, which it explicitly is not in Shelley's original: Victor electrifies the Creature into being to the accompaniment of the "glimmer of the half-extinguished light" (one of the novel's many ironic plays on the concept of "enlightenment"). That's not the key tiny change, although it does suggest the extent to which this Frankenstein has been mediated through earlier cinematic versions. It's what follows that's important. In the original text, Victor complains, has nightmares, and then awakens to this vision:
I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs.
This--and not the literally and figuratively gloomy moment at which Victor brings the Creature to life--is the crucial turning point in the text. Producing the Creature puts Frankenstein into dangerous spiritual and moral territory to begin with; running away from his creation is what brings him to the point of no return and sets off the deadly chain of events that follows. To reinforce that point, Shelley repeats the basic elements of this scene (moonlight, creature's gaze, grin, prone figure) twice:
I trembled and my heart failed within me, when, on looking up, I saw by the light of the moon the daemon at the casement. A ghastly grin wrinkled his lips as he gazed on me, where I sat fulfilling the task which he had allotted to me. [prompts the destruction of the bride]
The windows of the room had before been darkened, and I felt a kind of panic on seeing the pale yellow light of the moon illuminate the chamber. The shutters had been thrown back, and with a sensation of horror not to be described, I saw at the open window a figure the most hideous and abhorred. A grin was on the face of the monster; he seemed to jeer, as with his fiendish finger he pointed towards the corpse of my wife. [after the creature murders Elizabeth]
The second scene marks a turning point in the balance of power between Victor and the Creature, insofar as it plays out as a violation of contract; notice that the Creature's hand doesn't appear in this scene, as it does in the first and third. The third scene, though, darkly parodies the first. Victor (by process of Enlightenment psychological association) now automatically associates moonlight with terror, while the Creature's outstretched hand gives way to the aggressively pointing finger; the finger signals the Creature's embrace of violence, instead of its initial longing for connection.
In the ballet, by contrast, Victor and the Creature struggle briefly after its birth, and then...the Creature grabs Victor's coat and books it out the door, while Victor looks aghast.
The problem here is that in a matter of seconds, the ballet undermines most of the novel's critique of Victor's behavior, and doesn't substitute much of anything in its place. Victor doesn't abandon the Creature; it abandons him, and Victor's psychological collapse at the end of Act I suggests that he's not emotionally capable of running after his creation. Victor is thus still responsible for the Creature, but the ballet considerably reduces that responsibility, in a way that doesn't really justify the quasi-comical pileup of corpses with which the staging concludes. It doesn't help that there's no Bride, which reduces the Creature's justifications for angst even further.
Bram Stoker and Valdimar Asmundsson, Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula, trans. Hans Corneel de Roos (Overlook, 2017). The Icelandic translation of Dracula, which was really a complete Icelandic rewrite of Dracula, now re-translated into English. (Despite the subtitle, it was not actually all that lost.) (Lift Bridge)
Rohan Wilson, To Name Those Lost(Europa, 2017). In nineteenth-century Australia, a man goes hunting for his son while trying to avoid an enemy on his tail. (Lift Bridge)
I've been spending my illness-related downtime (achoo, cough, etc.) doing some revisions to an article, which means pulling out volumes from my various material and electronic collections. Now, I was giving some (numerically bizarre) examples of one Victorian anti-Catholic talking point--namely, totting up all the people murdered by the Catholic Church, salacious details optional--when I noticed that the same passage kept appearing over and over:
This footnote is from John Scott's sermon Samson's Fatal Sleep (1854), but examples recur right down to the twenty-first century. It is always this quotation specifically, which set off my academic Spidey-sense: when authors over a period spanning well more than a century (!) always somehow manage to cite the same quotation from a three-volume work, the work in question being John Scott's (not this John Scott's) The History of the Church of Christ (1826-1832), then it is highly likely that somebody somewhere has not actually done the reading, but is instead lifting the quotation from elsewhere. (Tsk, tsk.) In any event, this discovery called for further investigation, so I called up Scott's History and started searching for it.
Er, one problem. It's not in John Scott's History.
It is, however, in Thomas Scott's enormously popular The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments (a.k.a. Commentary on the Whole Bible). Hey, Scott vs. Scott...it's easy to confuse them. Right? So when did they get confused?
It looks like the culprit may well be Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. There are earlier references to Scott in the 1820s that refer to him as "T. Scott" without any mention of the title--presumably because the name would have been sufficient to indicate the source. Alas, the Blackwood's author was apparently not up on their Bible commentaries, because in an 1838 article on "The Progress of Popery," they referenced Edward Bickersteth's Testimony of the Reformers (1836), which cites Scott without further identifying the Scott in question. However, Blackwood's thought Bickersteth meant the other Scott. Hence the problem. Later authors all appear to have lifted their references from a combination of a) Blackwood's and b) each other, with the result that the quotation has been misattributed for a good 185 years or so now.
Patrick Augustine Sheehan, The Short Stories of Canon Sheehan (Burns and Oates, 1911). Collection of five stories by the late-Victorian Irish priest. (eBay)
Vanessa Tait, The Looking Glass House (Corvus, 2015). Narrates the story of Alice's relationship with Charles Dodgson via the POV of Alice's governess, Mary Prickett. The novelist is a great-granddaughter of the real Alice Liddell. (Amazon [secondhand])
Naomi Tadmor, The Social Universe of the English Bible (Cambridge, ). Analyzes the relationship between Biblical translation and early modern culture, arguing that the translators in some ways "domesticated" the text. (Amazon)
By a nice, or should I say inconvenient, coincidence, he subject of disappearing online resources has resurfaced at VICTORIA. "Coincidence," because a nice Hannah More archive that was available the last time I taught one of this semester's courses, just two years ago, has now mysteriously vanished. Granted, the world is not full of people with a yen to read Hannah More--even my yen to read Hannah More is somewhat modest--but the Cheap Repository Tracts are important, and it would be nice if they were available in annotated form. Still, I'm hardly the only scholar to worry about the fate of scholarly digital projects, which have had a bad habit of dissolving into their constituent pixels the second someone moves, retires, and/or loses their funding. In any event, in the course of the thread, Dino Felluga announced a new project, COVE, or Central Online Victorian Educator, which has as part of its goal working around the "now you see it, now you don't" aspect of digital resources that can make them so nerve-wracking for their users (and, one assumes, for their producers). The site is not yet fully live, but you can see some of their future e-text publications. What's interesting, though, is the site's goal of generating "not-for-profit income to sustain the future development of tools and publication of COVE material." On the one hand, scholars have been used, I think, to casually dividing online resources into Free (To Me, Anyway) Sites and Either I Need to Win the Lottery or My University Needs Untoward Quantities of Cash Sites (that last may be a trifle exaggerated, but perhaps not by much). But, as COVE notes, openly-accessible sites aren't free; even a blog like this one requires an influx of cash ($179.40/yr, to be precise), and something far more elaborate, with lots of interactive tools, images, complex e-texts, moderating behind the scenes, &c. requires considerably more in the way of dollar signs. Hence the evanescence of many sites. It will be interesting to see how they succeed in producing a self-funding model that avoids becoming, as they say, "avaricious."
Jacinta Prunty, Margaret Aylward: Lady of Charity, SIster of Faith 1810-1889 (Four Courts, 1999). Biography of the Irish charitable reformer Margaret Aylward, founder of the SIsters of the Holy Faith. (Amazon [secondhand])
We are halfway through the miniseries Taboo, which I must confess is interesting me rather more than (shock! horror!) Victoria. There is certainly much to criticize about Taboo, like its ouroboros-shaped plot (Delaney is doing...what now? And he's suborning this person because...why? And all this is to...some purpose?), but, as a number of other ambivalent viewers have noted, it's surprisingly absorbing in the moment. It's too bad that I'm not teaching a Gothic course this semester, though, because if I were, I would suggest that my students have a look at it. Taboo, I'd argue, is another update of the imperial Gothic, in a manner more than slightly reminiscent of Lloyd Shepherd's novels. Its evil anti-hero, James Delaney, is a Byronic character (complete with incestuous passion for his half-sister) who exerts a powerful, mesmeric influence on anyone he chooses to manipulate; as episode four makes explicit (in more ways than one, shall we say), he has mysterious powers that he acquired in Africa and/or inherited from his dead mother Salish, a member of the Nootka tribe brought back to England by his now also-dead father, Horace. (Significantly, Horace came across his second wife, the actress Lorna Bow, in a play called The Painted Savage--the lost indigenous wife, mysteriously driven to madness [by England itself? we don't know yet], gives way to a far more comfortably English version.) Both James' background and the manner of his initial disappearance--thought lost while aboard a slave ship--raise questions about imperial violence and its recoil upon England itself, literalized in James' return from exile in Africa. James is given to moments of shocking violence--tearing out one assassin's throat with his teeth, eviscerating another one like an animal--that punctuate his eerily affectless demeanor; but at both ends of the violence/control spectrum, he merely offers up a funhouse mirror to the Big Bad Trio, the Americans, the East India Company, and the British Crown. Despite all the whispers about James' "unspeakable" practices, he is hardly more unspeakable than the unbelievably grotesque Prince Regent (Mark Gatiss under an eye-popping makeup job), the foul-mouthed and murderous head of the EIC, Sir Stuart Strange, or the various conniving Yanks. There's not much civilization on view at the heart of the British empire or its former colonies.
Barbara Hofland, Emily's Reward; Or, the Holiday Trip to Paris (Grant and Griffith, 1844). A didactic travelogue for children in fictional form, following Emily and her family to the sights of Paris and its surroundings. (eBay)
Maria Luddy,Prostitution and Irish Society, 1800-1940 (Cambridge, 2007). Political and religious responses, nationalist theories about prostitution's origins, various forms of activism, the medical establishment, and so forth. (Amazon)
It is not hugely surprising to find, as Andrew Piper and Chad Wellmon have done (the full pre-print is linked via IHE), that elite journals tend to be occupied by authors from elite universities. Putting aside the hypothesis of the relative inferiority of scholars like yours truly--I hail from an elite university, but don't teach at one, ergo...--the material conditions of production, as some scholars like to say, do partly account for the results. As some of the IHE commenters also pointed out, if you have research funding, a well-stocked research library, and a 2-2 teaching load (or, as at the University of Chicago, a 2-1-1 teaching load, or even a 2-0-2 teaching load), accompanied by tenure requirements that concentrate the mind wonderfully, then of course you will write more than someone who has none of these things. (One might add that SLACs are infamous for having murderous service requirements, which also cut into research and writing time.) Moreover, faculty at R1s may experience overt and covert pressure to write about certain topics and publish in certain venues, whereas someone outside the vaunted halls of ivy has the liberty to write whatever they please and publish wherever is appropriate. For example. PMLA is really fond of heavily-theorized, single-author and/or single-text readings, which I...don't do. Ergo, it has never occurred to me to bother to send them anything--instead, I aim for literary-historical venues hospitable to work on religious authors of whom nobody has ever heard. Another factor, too, may be in play, and was when I was working at Modern Philology in the late 90s: the shift to writing commissioned articles for edited collections. (We were genuinely terrified at one point that we wouldn't have enough articles to publish an issue.) A good chunk of my own recent work has been commissioned, which means that, by default, I'm not working on projects intended to make the rounds of any kind of journal. In other words, I have established a reputation (people ask me to write for them) but work in a niche field (looks puzzling to the editors of CI). It is highly unlikely, to be honest, that my own scholarly interests could have developed as they have had I started at an R1.
What about other prejudices? There are certainly horror stories out there, some of which go back decades; this evening, my father told me an anecdote relayed to him by his own dissertation supervisor, who had been rejected by Very Elite Classics Journal in the 1940s because, as the editor explained, he wasn't important enough for them to publish. (The article appeared elsewhere and wound up being highly influential. Oops.) Certainly, it remains the case that the "blind" part of the peer-review process begins with the readers, not the journal editors, and a snooty editor might well give the heave-ho to an article before it ever made it out of house. It's rather difficult to quantify such stories, though.
Barbara Hofland, Moderation: A Tale (Pomeroy, 1826). US reprint of one of Mrs. Hofland's many moral tales, this one centering on the need for economy in things both literal (money) and figurative (passions). More about Hofland here. (eBay)
[Annie Webb Peploe], Oliver Wyndham: A Tale of the Great Plague, 4th ed. (Hodder and Stoughton, 1876). A young man finds religion during the Great Plague of London in 1665. First published in 1867. (eBay)
Kirstie Blair, ed., Poets of the People's Journal: Newspaper Poetry in Victorian Scotland (Association of Scottish Literary Studies, 2016). Collects over one hundred poems published between the 1850s and 1880s in the People's Journal and People's Friend. (Amazon [secondhand])
HALF-LP: We've seen what is probably the very last episode of Sherlock. It's time for us to deliver a well-considered analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.
OTHER HALF-LP: OMG!!! WTH?!! AYKM?!
HALF-LP: Ahem. This is an academic blog. It is a place for high-minded discourse. Let's try this again.
OTHER HALF-LP: THAT WAS CLICHE SALAD, TOSSED TOGETHER FROM EVERY HORROR MOVIE AND POLICE PROCEDURAL FEATURING OVER-THE-TOP SUPERVILLAINS WITH TOO MUCH TIME ON THEIR HANDS, STUCK IN RIDICULOUSLY SPACIOUS PRISON FACILITIES.
HALF-LP: ...OK, you're writing in complete sentences now, but I can't help noticing the all caps. Would you really allow your students to do something like that in an academic essay? Time to model good behavior.
OTHER HALF-LP: If I must. First, the plot had more holes than swiss cheese--
HALF-LP: And you're complaining about cliches?
OTHER HALF-LP: I think the writing may have contaminated my capacity for invention. More seriously, the entire concept of Euros--who was apparently endowed with some super-mesmerist capabilities that would have left Mesmer himself agog--merely recycled the kind of hyper-manipulative villain so beloved of procedurals like CSI (think, for example, of that show's eidetic miniaturist). There didn't seem to be any self-critical distancing from that kind of character, as the series has tried to do in the past; Euros is just a straight rehash. In fact, I thought the puzzles, which were all designed to elicit extreme emotional responses, hinted at the source of the series' failure, albeit unintentionally.
HALF-LP: How so?
OTHER HALF-LP: Because the series finale (it's pretty clear that that's what this was) made it clear that the writers ultimately wanted to solve Holmes, rather than to represent Holmes the problem-solver. And yet, they could find no way to solve Holmes that made any sense in terms of their own series' narrative development. As Scott Bailey said in his comment on my last Sherlock post, "Watson is just another stick used to beat Sherlock, and the Deep Sad Pain of Sherlock is the core of the show." Hence, the grand "reveal," in which Holmes turns out to have rewritten his own past, is also a rewrite of the entire series--Moriarty has always been working for Euros, etc., etc., etc. Everything turns out to be about "family" (as the final shots of the episode reiterate). There's no greater mystery than Holmes himself!
HALF-LP: But why is that a bad thing, necessarily?
OTHER HALF-LP: Oh, nothing is necessarily bad. But remember the swiss cheese plot? The only way for the authors to represent Holmes' salvation via emotion was to put him through this ludicrous series of death games (couldn't Moriarty just point out that this was silly, like he did in the Abominable Bride?); they couldn't figure out how to get Holmes to show love in any other way. And yet, the plot references "The Three Garridebs," which is the one story in which Watson sees just how much Holmes cares about him:
"You're not hurt, Watson? For God's sake, say that you are not hurt!"
It was worth a wound -- it was worth many wounds -- to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.
...And then Holmes goes back to being his normal self, which is the point: this is not a transformative moment, just an instance of emotional honesty. Nor has it been engineered by another character to make Holmes engage in some sort of emotional outburst--it's a perfectly understandable response to seeing his friend unexpectedly being shot. Now, in one sense, this is, as we would now say, a bit of fanservice; but it's also in line with the rest of the stories, which rest pretty comfortably in Holmes' impenetrability. Holmes' interiority is not the point of Doyle's stories, whereas Sherlock eventually became the central mystery of Sherlock. It is central to the original stories that Holmes not be like everyone else--that's Watson's plot function. Sherlock sets out to domesticate Holmes, but even rewriting itself isn't enough to make that narrative arc plausible. Hence the aforementioned silly games, taking the place of crime-solving--the writers couldn't figure out any way to make their Sherlock respond spontaneously, so they had to introduce a character who acted like a not-very-polished script writer, battering the character into submission.
HALF-LP: It seems to me that your primary objection to the series is that it's not a very good adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
OTHER HALF-LP: It's not a very good reflection on the Sherlock Holmes stories, which tends to be key to even a freewheeling adaptation of any original text. Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of the Mind, for example, is also about "solving" Holmes, and yet it takes on Holmes' emotional isolation in ways that closely engage both with Doyle's stories and with previous adaptations. Sherlock started out that way, but eventually threw Doyle (and everything else) entirely overboard. If you judge it as its own thing, it ended up as a not-very-original decayed procedural. If you judge it as Sherlock Holmes...well.
Two comments that will, at first, appear to be tangential to the subject at hand.
1) When I was in high school, one show I followed with some faithfulness was Beauty and the Beast. Towards the end of its run, though, even adolescent I began to notice that the series had developed this weirdly self-devouring attitude to its emotional drama, in which all personal relationships slowly morphed into warped and contorted angst. It seemed to me that something creative had gone awry somewhere.
2) When Jeremy Brett was shooting the Granada Sherlock Holmes series, he was initially famous (notorious?) for demanding that everything in the scripts have some explicit relationship to what was on Doyle's page.
These thoughts are, alas, not tangential at all, as "The Six Thatchers," the opener for Sherlock's fourth series, makes abundantly clear. For some time now, Sherlock has primarily rested its laurels on its representation of the Holmes/Watson/lately Mary Watson/sort-of Moriarty relationship, as opposed to more minor matters, such as coherent plots. If developing Holmes' friendship with Watson necessarily results from the shift to a visual medium and away from Watson-the-narrator-function, it is still the case that in Doyle's stories, the characterization emerges from the action, and not the action from the characterization. That is: we learn a great deal about Watson from how he narrates, rather than from any extensive backstory or, in some cases, continuing story (he...has a brother, you say? How many wives, again?); similarly, we learn about Holmes by watching Watson watching him work (or grumble about not working), but we never learn more than tiny snippets about his life pre-Watson. Thus, the Granada series' slightly revisionist Watson emerges plausibly from a close reading of the originals, whose Watson is a strong storyteller with excellent eye for detail. Sherlock, by contrast, has by now evolved (or devolved) entirely into the permutations of how these characters relate to each other--usually dysfunctionally. Worse still, it has been drinking deeply at the well of Our Heroes Must be Personally Menaced by Grand Conspiracies, which has been the downfall of many a series related to detective work of some sort. (There must be a mathematical formula which allows us to calculate when a series will decide that it needs a Brilliant Villain who has nothing better to do than Endlessly Persecute Our Hero and Torment His Loved Ones.) Matters are only worsened by this version of Holmes, a self-described "high-functioning sociopath" who is so brutally unpleasant that nobody with any alternatives would want to spend time in his near, or even far, proximity. It is not clear why this Watson likes him, let alone supposedly loves him or feels any loyalty to him. Indeed, the series' moment of greatest psychological verisimilitude occurs immediately after Holmes reveals to Watson that he didn't die after all: Watson proceeds to beat him up. Repeatedly. Across London. If anything, the most plausible finale to this series would be the end of Act I in Charles Marowitz' Sherlock's Last Case, in which Watson, driven insane by Holmes' behavior, (believes he) murders him.
Ah. The episode, you say? Like most Sherlock installments, "The Six Thatchers" mashes up various Holmes stories--notably "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," "The Adventure of the Empty House," and "The Adventure of the Yellow Face"--with, also as per the usual, a super-added plot having to do with the creepier side of the British intelligence services. Oh, and "The Appointment in Samarra." In theory, "Appointment in Samarra" is what drives the plot's organization, although it's noteworthy that Sherlock omits a key point of Maugham's retelling that is integral to what plays out on screen: the merchant recognizes Death, but, more importantly, misinterprets Death's behavior, and it's that that sends him fleeing from Baghdad to Samarra. All events play out to a predetermined ending, even when Death herself is initially under the impression that something has wrecked the pattern. In "The Six Thatchers," Sherlock misinterprets the point of shattering the Thatcher busts, which eventually propels the narrative forward to the deaths of both the perpetrator and Mary Watson herself. (At a meta level, the viewer who remembers "Six Napoleons" will also misinterpret the plot, as the pearl turns out to be a red herring.) But Mary's death, of course, was itself supposedly predetermined by Doyle's stories, so that at no point has she ever been able to "escape" the fate of her original. This despite the episode reworking other aspects of Doyle's stories so that they don't play out as planned, most notably "The Adventure of the Yellow Face," whose plot hinges on a child born from an interracial marriage in the nineteenth-century South. Here, instead of Doyle's praise for love and honor vanquishing bigotry, as well as for a mother's determination to protect her child, we have an actual instead of imaginary affair; the reveal that, really, Watson is worse, rather than better, than Mary thinks him; and a rather cavalier attitude to the Watsons' baby. ("Norbury," as it turns out, remains key.) Some plot reversals, it would appear, are more viable than others.
Unfortunately, the plot and pacing are themselves rather a mess, which left me contemplating the sort of matters that viewers ought not to be contemplating. How concealing a flash drive inside of a dry, hollow bust would work is unexplained; in "Six Napoleons," the pearl was concealed before the plaster had dried, which was why the busts needed to be smashed instead of gently shaken. The child care arrangements in the Watson home seem somewhat strange, as apparently both Mary and John can take off with no notice to go globe-trotting; one would imagine that even Mrs. Hudson might begin to balk at some point. Neither Mycroft nor the British government can afford to turn the lights on (granted, this is a standard feature in British mysteries; only the shot of dust motes in a random beam of light was missing). We will not go into Watson's...interesting...vocalizations at Mary's death (already a target of some derision on Twitter), which spoiled the effect. What effect there was, as my tears remained unjerked. Let us hope that there is nowhere to go but up.