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.