Peter H. Hoffenberg, “The Official Opening of ‘The Exhibition of the Photographic Pictures taken in The Crimea by Roger Fenton, Esq.'”
The first public exhibition of war photographs opened in London in late September 1855, during the costly and controversial Crimean War. The show introduced over 300 black and white images taken by well-known photographer Roger Fenton (1819-1869) and continued with various additions over the next several months in Britain. Later host cities included Manchester, Birmingham, and Belfast. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were the leading sponsors of the shows. The first exhibition was well chronicled at the time, and this essay reviews some of those public contemporary responses, published primarily in major newspapers and periodicals, as well as in photographic society journals. Those responses are considered in light of the history of photography, mid-Victorian matters of art, science and war, and common conclusions at the time and that the show was primarily a work of propaganda to support the Crimean War and that Fenton’s images were not realistic.
Martin Danahay “‘Valiant Lunatics’: Heroism and Insanity in British and Russian Reactions to the Charge of the Light Brigade”
The charge of the Light Brigade has always elicited ambivalent responses from eyewitnesses. Even though he was writing at a remove of time and distance from the action, Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem echoes the conflicted reactions of both British and Russian witnesses who characterized the charge both as heroic and an act of insanity. Tennyson’s polyvocal term “wild” in particular holds in suspense both admiration and the suggestion that it was an insane act, which resonates with accounts by Russians on the receiving end of the charge. Russian cavalry officers were convinced that their British counterparts were brave but deranged “valiant lunatics” after witnessing the charge. Both the British and Russians had difficulty in coming to terms with this incident, as they did with the Crimean War as a whole, because it was neither wholly a victory nor defeat for either side. As a result, even monuments to the Crimean War such as that in Waterloo Place or those in Sevastopol attest to loss as much as victory, and like the charge of the Light Brigade itself represent heroic failure.
Susan Donovan, “How the Post Office and Postal Products Shaped Mid-Nineteenth-Century Letter-Writing”
In an age of electronic communication it is easy to forget the vital role that letter-writing played in people’s everyday lives in the nineteenth century. Critical attention has tended to focus more on the communicative function of letters than on what is often considered as the more mundane material aspects of letter exchange such as the postal service or the type of stationery used. This article explores the impact of mid-century postal reforms, improved transportation and new postal products on the letter-writing practice and epistolary relationships of Arthur Hugh Clough. My reasons for making Clough the central case study of this piece are two-fold: firstly, because of the large body of correspondence that exists between him and his American literary friends over the period of the mid-nineteenth century (c.1847-1861); and secondly, Clough’s interest in, and innovative use of the epistolary form in his poetry. The article underlines the significance of the postal revolution for Clough’s life and work, which can hardly be overstated. The greatly improved transatlantic mail service enabled him to keep in regular contact with his closest friends and publishers and to send them, over a period of several years, all the revisions and additions to his most important work: Amours de Voyage, published for the first time in the US in 1858; his acclaimed translation of Plutarch’s Lives (1859) and the definitive edition of his collected poems, published posthumously in the USA in 1862. The article also highlights instances where material circumstances—the curtailment of the transatlantic mail service, or lost and delayed letters—had an adverse effect on Clough’s correspondence and on his publishing projects. On this point, I draw parallels with Clough’s epistolary poetry—most notably Amours de Voyage—whose form and plot clearly illustrate the importance he attached to the medium of correspondence. The article also demonstrates Clough’s awareness of the role played by postal products in the construction of an “epistolary self”—another aspect of materiality that is reflected in his creative work. Clough is the central figure of this study but I have widened the focus in some places to include some apposite quotations from the Brownings’ correspondence and Carlyle’s letters to demonstrate the far-reaching effects of the material aspects of letter-writing on the correspondence culture of the time.
This essay examines the death, and the life, of Florence Nightingale, the great nursing heroine of the Crimean War. An eminent Victorian, Nightingale passed away at the ripe old age of ninety in 1910, at a time when Britain was witnessing great internal strife and facing looming international tension. By that moment, the Crimean War was a thing of the distant past. Even so, Nightingale’s death served as a national tonic. It allowed mourners to rekindle the myths of Nightingale’s lifetime that had unified a ravaged nation in the wake of the Crimean War. Nightingale’s most important reforming efforts, which included nursing education, army improvement, and sanitary reform, both in Britain and in India, would postdate the Crimean War. However, the image of a young Nightingale ministering to the troops in the Crimea would remain the dominant one, not just in her life, but at her death as well. As it assesses the death and life of Nightingale, this essay focuses on two moments of celebrity and mythmaking in the long career of the heroine: the making of her legend in the Crimea and its resurrection at her death. It follows earlier literature, both generated during the nineteenth century and written by those who study it, establishing Nightingale as the avatar of Victorian womanhood. Accordingly, it seeks to understand Nightingale’s passing as a belated death knell to the Victorian age.
The Crimean War sheds light on mid-Victorian perceptions of class and national identity. As literary and visual representations of the war reveal, reactions to this conflict were both more nuanced and more ambivalent than our preconceptions about Victorian jingoism might anticipate. The charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava captures the ironies of a high Victorian military spectacle that frequently seemed to confuse the patriotic expectations of its home-front audience. A new form of heroism grew out of the bewildering experience of the Light Brigade’s defeat—and a new sense of national identity that was based in part on this new heroism.