Released by Chapman and Hall on 15 November 1856, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh—a verse-novel and modern epic—set off literary, social, and political reverberations in Britain, North America, and Europe up to the end of the century. “The advent of ‘Aurora Leigh’ can never be forgotten by any lover of poetry who was old enough at the time to read it,” Algernon Charles Swinburne recalled in 1898. By 1900, Aurora Leigh—among much else the first extended poetical portrait of the professional woman writer in English literature—had appeared in more than twenty editions in England and as many in America. Given its innovative, generically mixed form and its controversial contemporary subject matter, it figured in debates over poetry and poetics, the nature of the realist novel, class divisions and social reform, women’s rights, religion, and the politics of nations. Contrary to the critical legend that Aurora Leigh was greeted by an “avalanche of negative reviews,” responses to it were diverse, shaped by periodical competition and differing print-culture, artistic, political, national and religious contexts. This essay surveys seldom-cited notices in the transatlantic daily and weekly press, analyzes critical debates on Aurora Leigh in the major British periodicals, and charts differing patterns in its American and European as compared to its British reception in the years immediately following its publication. It also indicates at points how debates over Aurora Leigh were intertwined with debates in the visual arts associated with the paintings of J. M. W. Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites.
Magazine Day refers to the last day of every month when wholesale booksellers in London received the new monthly serial publications and prepared them for distribution. The monthly event determined the rhythm of the publishing industry for much of the nineteenth century and thus reflects the growing importance of serials to the nineteenth-century book trade.
Dark Blue (1871–73) was a monthly magazine, edited by Oxford undergraduate John Christian Freund, which folded two years after a brilliant debut. During its brief run, it brought together a stunning list of literary and artistic contributors, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A. C. Swinburne, William Morris, Andrew Lang, Mathilde Blind, Sheridan Le Fanu, Simeon Solomon, and Ford Madox Brown, who produced aesthetically and sexually daring poetry, art, and criticism. However, it also strove to “appeal to the whole English-speaking public,” as Freund put it, and, thus, included much that might be described as middlebrow, even conservative. Whereas individual texts from Dark Blue, such as Le Fanu’s Carmilla, have received considerable attention, scholars have devoted very little sustained attention to the journal beyond noting its importance as an “artifact” in the history of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement and British aestheticism, and registering puzzlement at the journal’s eclecticism. This essay returns to Dark Blue to uncover common threads among dissimilar writers and artists. With particular attention to the journal’s commitments to transnationalism, I trace three intertwined threads—synesthesia, translation, and sexual dissidence—as they manifest in key texts by Swinburne, Solomon, Le Fanu, and others. Reading these texts in their original context not only demonstrates Dark Blue’s importance to early formations of aestheticism but also helps us to see how aestheticism connects with, rather than stands in opposition to, mid-Victorian culture.
A survey of the negative twentieth- and twenty-first-century critical reception of the Liberal; a summary of the history of the journal and a re-evaluation of the philosophical and political coherence of the journal, focusing on its defence of religious liberty and suggesting that religious free thought is a previously overlooked component in the politics of liberalism. The criticism of doctrinal rigidity and advocacy of different forms of religious toleration evident in the four issues of the Liberal support the claim that the journal forms a lucid and intelligible cultural intervention.
This entry considers Thomas Hardy’s “End of Prose,” his renunciation of the novel in favor of poetry, as an important event in nineteenth-century literary history, motivated by aesthetic concerns. It reads the geometric imagery in Hardy’s final novel, Jude the Obscure, in connection with the advent of non-Euclidean geometry, suggesting that mathematical forms inspired Hardy’s turn to the poetic line.
Claudia Nelson, “Mass Media Meets Children’s Literature, 1899: E. Nesbit’s The Story of the Treasure Seekers“
Looking both backward and forward, E. Nesbit’s The Story of the Treasure Seekers stands at the intersection of Victorianism and modernism. The novel crosses borders in another sense as well: in its handling of references to advertising, newspapers, and iconic historical events, it highlights the extent to which fact and fiction, reportage and mythmaking, alike depend upon artifice. The publication of Nesbit’s breakthrough work, which foregrounds the importance of mass culture to middle-class children’s imaginations, marks a historical change in perceptions of children’s relationship to consumerism.
Between 1824, when Theodore Hook’s sketches, Sayings and Doings, were published as a volume, and 1841, when Catherine Gore’s Cecil, a Peer, appeared, the silver fork novel was among the most popular fictional modes. This sub-genre rewrote Jane Austen’s narratives for a more exclusive class and a new, reform-minded middling reader with class aspirations, thus preparing for the mid-century emergence of William Makepeace Thackeray’s and Charles Dickens’s novels.
In 1843 or 1844, Matthew Arnold saw a mother and child on a pier in Douglas, Isle of Man. This sighting connects to “To a Gipsy Child by the Sea-Shore,” which appeared in 1849 in his first poetic collection, The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems, where it is identified in the volume’s contents page under a slightly different title, “Stanzas on a Gipsy Child by the Sea-Shore, Douglas, Isle of Man.” This essay explores the poem from the perspective of lyric craft, beginning with its rhetorical strangeness and focusing on the young Arnold’s poetic experimentation. “Gipsy Child” is a lyric assay. It acknowledges Romantic antecedents while definitively diverging from them, particularly in how it deploys questions to transform the rhetorical identity of its speaker. Ultimately, the young Arnold asserts poetic authority through questioning – a gesture we can relate to the high value that Arnold later places on dialogue in other aspects of his work, as cultural critic and as inspector of schools. In terms of experience and representation, the rhetorical transformation in “Gipsy Child” raises questions about the relationship between real-world events and poetic fashioning.
Deborah Denenholz Morse, “The Way He Thought Then: Modernity and the Retreat of the Public Liberal in Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, 1873”
Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now represents the culture of pervasive dishonesty and greed he saw everywhere around him in High Victorian England. The novel has come to be understood as a text about the unfamiliar problems of modernity, of the title’s “now.” In 1873, Trollope responds to the cultural moment by briefly retreating from his liberal reformist stance to a belief only in private commitment between individuals. The novel marks a caesura in Trollope’s faith that the public domain could reform.
The Second Anglo-Afghan War grew out of longstanding tensions between Russia and Britain over Britain’s prized colonial possession of India. In my account of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, I would like to emphasize two main themes. First, Afghanistan occupied an anomalous position in the British Empire. The British did not seek to colonize it or conquer it. Rather, they sought to install a sovereign who would be sympathetic to British interests, allow the British to control Afghan foreign policy, and forbid Russia from entering its borders. Second, by granting sovereignty to chosen leaders, British actions toward Afghanistan complicated the notion of sovereignty as such. The case of Afghanistan ought to remind us that it is extremely difficult to generalize how imperial power functioned across the nineteenth century and, moreover, that imperial power, in Afghanistan and other sites, was not homogeneous but rather could emanate from multiple empires at cross purposes over a single location.