If you're going to do steampunk-y Holmes, or fantasy Holmes, or vampire Holmes, or literary mashup Holmes (Alice in Dr. Jekyll's Laboratory Meets Sherlock Holmes), or whatever, please don't do so by half measures. Standard-issue Holmes pastiche with a light dollop of steampunk/fantasy/vampires/mashup/whatever makes zero sense in terms of fictional world-building.
To modern eyes, the most startling omission from the seventeenth century would be all of Aphra Behn. And Bunyan's The Holy War? Not The Pilgrim's Progress? (Perhaps he just assumed everyone would have absorbed PP by osmosis.)
By contrast, I suspect most of us would find his eighteenth-century selections pretty unexceptionable, the glaring absence of Tristram Shandy aside. Clara Reeve's The Old English Baron (yes, I've read it) is really the only novel that has dropped out, although not out of academic consciousness--it's the sort of book one needs to read, as opposed to needs to assign to hapless undergraduates. And I'm guessing most of us would send students to Humphry Clinker instead of Roderick Random. Once again, I note that it takes about a century before we can tell if a work will succeed over the long haul.
Of course, it's when we hit the nineteenth century that we see the century principle in action. Several of the novels have survived on syllabi and in academic discourse: Jane Porter's The Scottish Chiefs, for example, is an important precursor to Scott's historical fiction (as Scott acknowledged); similarly, it is not entirely unlikely for an undergrad or grad to encounter, say, the Edgeworth, Lady Morgan, Sand, or Ferrier novels listed here. Marryat still has a vogue among fans of sea-faring adventures. But many of these entries qualify as "material to read for doctoral dissertations and/or highly-specialized monographs" (e.g., the entries for G. P. R. James and Ainsworth). And, of course, some probably aren't even that (e.g., Crowe, Whyte-Melville). I mean...Valerius? Was he joking?
Americanists will note the presence of Hawthorne and Stowe but the absence of Twain and Melville.
It's odd that Reuben Sachs is on the list, but not Eliot's Daniel Deronda (the novel to which it responds).Silas Marner was popular at one point, lest we forget (as it's rather easy to do...). Grace Aguilar's The Vale of Cedars is, historically speaking, a more interesting choice: Aguilar was the 19th c.'s most famous Jewish novelist among Christian readers, but this is a more uncompromisingly "Jewish" novel than some of her other well-known works.
Speaking of Aguilar, there's a fair amount of religious fiction on the list, of varying stripes: the evangelical Cummins and Warner, the High Church Sewell, the sort of High Church-y (but eirenic) Charles, the Catholic Kavanagh, the Dissenter William Hale White, etc. Shorter's religious aesthetic appears to be lower-case catholic.
Anne Manning was still a "minor classic" by the standards of the Everyman's Library in the early 20th c., then vanished abruptly.
I count about thirty-odd women on the list.
Bulwer-Lytton is there, which should remind us all that he used to be considered an important novelist, not the inspiration for a bad writing contest. (As John Sutherland has pointed out on more than one occasion. No Bulwer-Lytton, no Victorian novel as we know it, really.) If you walk through the Chicago Cultural Center, you'll see Bulwer-Lytton enshrined in a mosaic as one of the world's great novelists, while Walter Scott hangs out with the poets instead.
From Shorter's POV, the 1840s seem to have been the glory years of the nineteenth-century novel.
I imagine that most of us would not immediately send Scott-newbies to Kenilworth.
Some of Shorter's readers might have blinked at Ruth as the representative Gaskell.
The average Victorianist, if they've read any Meredith, will have read The Egoist or The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (or Modern Love, if you want to count that as a novel), not Rhoda Fleming.
Charles Dickens, ed., The Haunted House (1859). A Christmas Book. Includes short fiction by Wilkie Collins, Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Adelaide Anne Procter (better known as a poet), George Augustus Sala, and Hesba Stretton (best-selling evangelical novelist).
ReadingTara Conklin's The House Girl and Matt Guinn's The Resurrectionist back-to-back turned out to be a slightly unsettling experience--as the two novels are, for all intents and purposes, the same book. Both are parallel-plot historical novels featuring a beleaguered white professional in the present and a much-more beleaguered slave in the past. In both, the slave is literate and possesses a unique talent (Josephine in The House Girl is an artist; Cudjo/Nemo in The Resurrectionist is an anatomist). In both, the white professional (a lawyer and a disgraced medical resident) trawls the archives to uncover how the slave's talents have been appropriated and erased by the white establishment. In both, the slave makes a break for freedom. In both, the researcher discovers multiple lost ancestors (both theirs and someone else's). And in both, the research project ultimately liberates the white professional from the grind of an oppressive institution, while belatedly restoring the once-lost slave's achievements to historical consciousness.
Suzanne Keen has argued that "the romance of the archive arrives at something labelled truth, recovers lost or revealed knowledge, and reassures the reader with the promise of answers that can be located, despite the intervening obstructions and obfuscation."1The House Girl and The Resurrectionist are equally invested in giving historical comfort through the power of quasi-magical archives, which contain secrets guaranteed to disrupt the status quo, whether that of the art world (The House Girl, in which Josephine's talents have been mistakenly ascribed to her mistress) or of medicine (The Resurrectionist, in which the medical school turns out to be deeply imbricated in racism and old boy networks). Of the two novels, The House Girl's archival adventures may be the more likely to cause experienced researchers to wince in non-recognition: Lina, our career-minded protagonist, has an uncanny knack for coming across letters that explain virtually everything, including Josephine's ultimately sad fate. Jacob, Guinn's protagonist, winds up having some similar luck with a blackmail-worthy photograph, but he has virtually no access to Cudjo/Nemo outside of the medical school's financial records, course listings, and a couple of photographs, and the most satisfying aspects of his tale remain entirely unknown to him (albeit not the reader). In each case, though, the white protagonist's historical researches function in the plot as a sort of belated atonement, substituting historical agency in modern narratives (look! they did something!) for withheld freedoms (and much worse) in the past. Even more disconcertingly, the primary beneficiary of this research is not the slave (for whom this all comes too late) or, necessarily, African-Americans (although Guinn at least gestures in that direction), but the crusading white protagonist: Lina liberates herself from the tyranny of "billable hours" and the implicitly misogynist culture of her prestigious law firm, while Jacob abandons his residency and regains his self-respect. Neither character has a fixed destination at the end; instead, they luxuriate in the privilege of choice, of an open-ended future. "She did not want six-minute increments and clients' whims to dictate how she spent her waking hours," Lina thinks; "she did not want to live a life ruled by reason" (366). Lina's ability to choose uncertainty sits awkwardly next to the concluding chapter, which flashes back to Josephine, "walk[ing] steadily, with purpose" (369) toward what she believes to be a station on the Underground Railroad (but which the reader already knows is now a trap); the reader cannot help noting the discrepancy between what Lina's archival work accomplishes for Lina and what it accomplishes, or fails to accomplish, for the doomed Josephine. For all that the narrative unfolds as a parallel plot, what primarily stands out is that the plots are not and cannot be parallel.
Indeed, The House Girl's modern plot is oddly lacking in African-American characters, given its parallel slave plot. The only two we encounter, Dresser (a high-flying executive who wants to launch an equally high-profile lawsuit demanding reparations for slavery) and Lina's coworker Garrison, inhabit a rarefied world of class privilege...and Garrison turns out to be a back-stabbing jerk into the bargain. (We hear about a couple others, most notably a Sudanese refugee whom Lina once represented during her request for asylum, and whose primary plot function is to embody a worthier world of humanitarian action.) Neither Lina nor the narrator ever spends much time reflecting on the plot's own segregation, and Lina herself appears to have little in the way of racial self-awareness. By contrast, The Resurrectionist dwells more explicitly on the problematic relationship between the medical school and the local African-American community, carefully noting the workplace segregation (the doctors are almost all white; the manual laborers far more likely to be black) and Jacob's own unconscious prejudices. That being said, Jacob's interactions with his housekeeper verge dangerously on the stereotypical, especially once he starts quizzing her for words of wisdom. For Nemo, a far more ambiguous character than Josephine, snatches African-American bodies for dissection. "Tell me something," Jacob finally asks, "why would he [Nemo] do that to his own people?" "What makes you think he had a choice?" Mary responds (236).
Although Josephine's lack of "choice" primarily plays out around her lost child--born out of rape by the master, her son is concealed from her and given away to a neighboring plantation--Nemo's more overtly puts him at odds with the local slaves, who fear him and whom he often scorns. The name, which he chooses for himself at his new owner's behest, simultaneously advertises his literacy and his nature as something of a Odysseus-like trickster; at the same time, as he thinks to himself, "[i]f not only his body and soul but his very name was at the behest of other men, why not become No Man?" (47). Unlike Josephine, whose attempts to seize agency result in tragedy, Nemo actively seeks out opportunities to resist both the whites and black Christians--the former for obvious reasons, the latter for counseling peace and resignation instead of rebellion. When Prince, a freed black preacher, confronts Nemo over his body-snatching, Nemo sneers that "[o]nly devil I know is white as a sheet, and yes, he walks around in the broad daylight. I works for him and you works for him" (106). (Prince's modern-day parallel, by contrast, breathes as much fire as Nemo would like.) Nemo's attempts to negotiate and subvert his captivity range from the theatrical (his elegant clothes) to the secretive (serving a Confederate alcohol that has been used to preserve a baby's corpse); at the same time, he also runs up against the limits of his ability to work against the system from within, most horrifyingly when he must decide what to do with a "dead" prostitute who, it turns out, is not. What does it mean to behave morally, the novel asks, if there is no choice? Unfortunately, The Resurrectionist soon slides over that troubling question, opting instead to let Nemo triumph in spectacularly Shawshank Redemption-ish fashion while, in the present, Jacob overcomes the almost parodically Old-Boyish network at the medical school and engineers his own moral victory. The ending is very Hollywood.
1 Suzanne Keen, Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 43.
I'm at NAVSA! There are heavily-discounted books at NAVSA! (Including an bound advance proof of Book Two.) It is possible, nay probable, that I may have acquired some books while at NAVSA!
Richard Salmon, The Formation of the Victorian LIterary Profession (Cambridge, 2013). New addition to the literature on Victorian professionalization, focusing on the reconceptualization of "the author" in the early Victorian period and linking it to concrete literary practices. (Cambridge)
In case you're wondering, Amazon promised me on the 15th that "within 24 - 48 hours," my Robert Elsmere would be disconnected from the other editions, thereby removing the one-star review (that has nothing whatsoever to do with my book). Alas, we appear to be trapped in some strange temporal distortion, as over a week has passed and the one-star review is still there. (Still, some nice folks have at least pointed out in comments that the review should not be on the page.)
On a more positive note, advanced proofs of Book Two have been spotted in the wild--or, barring that, on the Scholar's Choice table at NAVSA.
This social constructivist reading of the Book of Common
Prayer is unusually slick in feel, and redolent of Judith Butler, but startling
undertones of Stephen Greenblatt and Gloria Steinem combine to produce an unusual
chocolaty aftereffect. The finish is
reminiscent of slightly undercooked green beans, but with an intriguing aftertaste not unlike parboiled Foucault.
Verdict: Revise and resubmit.
Although the multicolored hues of this new digital edition
of Eliza Cook’s poetry promise a cherry-like taste, somewhat akin to Lacanian
interpretations of Dickens, the actual result resembles nothing so much as a
combination of Ouzo and petroleum, liberally seasoned with pizza, and with
pulsing undertones of Pepto-Bismol. The mélange
of digital humanities jargon and New Criticism in the body is liable to upset the stomach,
rather like subpar Jungianism. Verdict:
This exceptionally fruity deconstruction of Emily Sarah Holt
has been nicely aged in the author’s hard drive, and thus has pleasantly warm
tones of circuit boards and Microsoft Office ’97, with a slightly tart
finish. Close attention to Lollards
provides structure to an article that, thanks to its potentially unsettling
infusion of Derrida, might otherwise lack body.
The nose promises a tangy tartness not unlike a sour
gumdrop. But the body of this Foucauldian
interpretation of Windows 8 is so acidic as to dissolve all tastebuds in the
immediate vicinity. Unpleasant tones of
spoiled milk in the finish merely clinch the final effect. May benefit from further aging. Verdict: Revise and resubmit.
As one might expect of a New Historicist analysis of
late-Victorian hymnals, the nose combines rag paper, leather, and just a hint
of active mold. It’s a little startling,
then, to come across an aroma of overspiced cranberry juice in the footnotes,
drifting across the more substantial body of dark chocolate (72% cacao),
cinnamon, and neo-Darwinian theory. Strong
notes of Lyotard in the finish make for an unexpectedly pleasant read. Verdict: Accept with minor revisions.
This article, written on a topic in which I specialize,
starts off well, with enjoyable, inviting aromas of slightly overripe pears, well-aged
Cheddar cheese, and a slight hint of triple-chocolate-chip cookies. But the article itself, which fails to
reference my seminal contributions to the field, entirely lacks taste. The ill-judged mix of Derrida, Irigaray, and
Bakhtin in the finish reminded me of unwashed socks. Read my work instead! Verdict: Reject.
"I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father," our narrator sternly informs us at the beginning of John Boyne's This House is Haunted. The reader who believes the publisher's boilerplate and expects the novel to rework one or more of Dickens' own tales, however, will be sorely puzzled; although there are occasional Dickensian allusions, like the clerk named Cratchett (who turns out to be unacquainted with A Christmas Carol), the novel in fact yokes Jane Eyre to The Turn of the Screw. As in Jane Eyre, our heroine is a plain governess summoned to undertake a job at an isolated country mansion--a mansion that comes complete with a secret in the attic, no less. And as in The Turn of the Screw, the governess' charges are two slightly preternatural children, Eustace and Isabella (whose parents are, strangely enough, nowhere in sight), and the house is, as the title cheerfully says, haunted. Whereas most revisions of The Turn of the Screw--e.g., Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, A. N. Wilson's A Jealous Ghost, John Harding's Florence and Giles--go the "unreliable narrator" instead of the "actually existing ghosts" route, This House is Haunted is all about the poltergeists. And an endless run of Gothic cliches.
Spoilers ahoy, so I'll put the rest below the fold.
Once upon a time, a small professor spent many months working on a new edition of Mrs. Humphry Ward's Robert Elsmere. After much sighing, sobbing, moaning, and dire imprecations directed in the general vicinity of the universe at large, the small professor finished the edition. And it was useful. She hoped.
Then, one day, the small professor checked the Amazon page to see if Robert Elsmere had reached #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List. (OK, perhaps not.) And there was one star on the page. And she became sad, because apparently she was a failure.
Except that she went on to read the review. Whereupon she discovered that: a) the review was written in 2007, six years before her own edition was published and b) the review was of a book published by something called Hard Press, of which she had never heard. And so she was still sad, except that now she was sad not because she had failed, but because Amazon had appended a review of an entirely different edition to her own book.
After that, the small professor girded her loins--however you do that--and set off to do battle. Or, at least, to find a contact address at Amazon that would allow her to complain. (Because sometimes people don't like your books--but it's very different when somebody doesn't like somebody else's book, and yet their review is slapped on your page.) And it was hard to find that contact address. But she believes she may have found it. So she complained, and awaited the response that she was supposed to receive within twelve hours.
Which, alas, she hasn't received. Being moderately charitable, she will assume that Amazon gives its customer reps the holiday off. In the meantime, her book still has somebody else's lone star.
UPDATE, 10/15: Problem possibly solved! Developments await...