Gender and Sex

Denae Dyck and Marjorie Stone,  “The ‘Sensation’ of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Poems before Congress (1860):  Events, Politics, Reception”

Denae Dyck and Marjorie Stone, “The ‘Sensation’ of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Poems before Congress (1860): Events, Politics, Reception”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Poems before Congress paradoxically addresses a political event that never took place: a meeting of European powers to discuss the “Italian question” planned for January of 1860. Nevertheless, the collection addresses several momentous historical developments, including the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859, the intervention of Napoleon III of France in the Italian struggle, and the international conflict his intervention precipitated. Indeed, the book’s publication and the sensation it created in themselves constitute a plurality of events, since the collection appeared under differing titles in England and America and encountered differing responses in each country. Contrary to the still dominant critical view that the volume was almost universally denounced, its reception was shaped by diverse locations, shifting chronological contexts, and conflicting political affiliations. Close analysis of the reviews underscores the importance of these wider contexts, which influence what otherwise appear to be primarily literary or aesthetic judgements. At the same time, analysis of varying responses to not only “A Curse for a Nation” but also “Napoleon III in Italy” and other poems in the volume demonstrates a number of recurring points of contention. These include the collection’s title, the politics of interventions across national borders, English liberalism, the nature of democracy, cosmopolitanism versus nationalism, women writers in relation to politics, poetic form, and, most of all, EBB’s representation of Napoleon III—the issue that is front and centre in most of the 1860s reviews and that shaped, in turn, reactions to all the rest.

CHarles Rickets Costume Design

Wendy S. Williams, “‘So Very Japanny’: The British Reception of The Mikado in 1885”

This article examines the writings of The Mikado producers and opera reviewers in 1885. It shows that the British were eager to create a quaint, picturesque, “authentic” image of Japan, based on familiar art objects, in order to ease national anxiety about a quickly developing country that was difficult to understand.

Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton, “‘Coquetting amid incredible landscapes’: Women on the River and the Railway”

Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton, “‘Coquetting amid incredible landscapes’: Women on the River and the Railway”

The opening of the first direct railway line from London to the Kent coast in 1862 challenged traditional dichotomies between town and country, and contributed to a growing nostalgia associated with the river. Fin-de-siècle writers used the apparent opposition between rail and river, city and country, to ask new questions about the place of women in a rapidly changing world; the transition to a new century further strained the traditional dichotomy between feminised pastoral and masculinised industrial, a tension reflected in the problematic portrayal of rail and water in the work of E. Nesbit.

Figure 1: Photograph of Florence Nightingale (1858)

Lara Kriegel, “On the Death—and Life—of Florence Nightingale, August 1910″

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.

Patricia Rigg, “Gender and Politics in London School Board Elections: Augusta Webster, Helen Taylor, and a Decade of Electoral Battles”

Patricia Rigg, “Gender and Politics in London School Board Elections: Augusta Webster, Helen Taylor, and a Decade of Electoral Battles”

Augusta Webster’s service on the third London School Board 1879-1882 was preceded by a campaign fraught with attempts to deter her from proceeding through the election process. Mentored in August of 1879 by Helen Taylor, the stepdaughter of John Stuart Mill, Webster successfully attained a seat on the Board despite a male consortium of Board members determined to exclude women from this form of public office. The intrigue against her unfolds in the press and in correspondence archived in the Mill Taylor Collection at the London School of Economics. These documents reveal attempts to make her step down as a candidate in order to allow the four men of the previous Board to continue as a consortium for the district of Chelsea. She was accused of selfish ambition, of costing the district money that would be wasted when her inevitable defeat came about, and of impeding the work that could only be done effectively by men. Her success in this election and in the election of 1885 did not mitigate similar problems when she ran for a seat on the Board for the third time in 1888. Women candidates for Board seats were fewer in number than male candidates, and, it is hinted in the press, she failed to retain her seat as a result of her determination to improve the education available to girls and the salaries of women teachers and teaching assistants.

Rebecca N. Mitchell, “15 August 1862: The Rise and Fall of the Cage Crinoline”

Rebecca N. Mitchell, “15 August 1862: The Rise and Fall of the Cage Crinoline”

First introduced to England by France’s Empress Eugénie in the late 1850s, the cage crinoline signaled a new era in fashion, reaching peak popularity (and peak circumference) in the early 1860s. While the garment has often been understood as a symbol of a repressive patriarchal order intent on confining women, contemporary reporting shows that it was regarded instead as a potentially threatening tool of emancipation. It replaced layers of heavy petticoats with a light and flexible alternative, offering women greater mobility and comfort, and the proportions of the skirts obviated the need for tight-laced corsets. What is more, donning crinoline allowed women to assert physical space in the public sphere, their voluminous skirts forcing men to the margins of the sidewalk or the omnibus—at least according to complaints. Perhaps the most pernicious quality of crinoline, though, was its potential to hide things from the male gaze: bad ankles or smuggled goods might be hidden by the cage, but the risk of concealed pregnancy loomed largest. Reports of death by crinoline fire were matched in their fevered pitch by warnings that crinoline sharply increased rates of infanticide. The range of Victorian responses that accrued around the fashion demonstrates that it was not simply a tool for unilateral oppression or reducible to the manifestation of empty, thoughtless vanity.

Cheryl A. Wilson, “The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812″

Cheryl A. Wilson, “The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812″

The arrival of the waltz in England changed both the experience of participating in the ballroom and the cultural impact of Victorian social dance.

Anna Maria Jones, “On the Publication of Dark Blue, 1871-73″

Anna Maria Jones, “On the Publication of Dark Blue, 1871-73″

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.

Figure 3: John Singer Sargent, sketch of Alice Meynell (née Thompson), 1894 (pencil, 14 1/4 in. x 8 1/4 in., 362 mm x 210 mm, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Meaghan Clarke, “1894: The Year of the New Woman Art Critic”

In 1894, satirical journals such as Punch mockingly identified the phenomenon of the New Woman, as found in novels, plays and articles, as an intellectual and independent figure. These mannish representations of professional women seem impossible to reconcile with the aesthetic and fashionable realms of late Victorian art and culture. Studies have frequently considered the role of Victorian women as models or sitters—objects of a male artist’s inspiration. However, other career paths for women were possible. Many women were successful artists and an alternative entrée into the art world was journalism. This article will posit that women art journalists provided a living example of professional opportunities for intellectual New Women. Although their work has been largely left out of accounts of the period, they contributed to key developments in art history at the end of the century. To begin with, I will touch on the history of art writing and its development as a professional avenue for women. Then, I will explore specific themes in order to consider the diversity of their critical responses to contemporary British art circa 1894. This will encompass women’s writings on Pre-Raphaelite and academic artists as “celebrities,” groups influenced by French Impressionism in Newlyn and St. Ives, London Impressionists and Glasgow Boys, as well as art and culture beyond Britain.

Arlene Young, “The Rise of the Victorian Working Lady: The New-Style Nurse and the Typewriter, 1840-1900″

Arlene Young, “The Rise of the Victorian Working Lady: The New-Style Nurse and the Typewriter, 1840-1900″

The increasing demographic imbalance between men and women in Britain in the nineteenth century forced many women and girls from the middle classes to seek employment to maintain themselves because, in the words of one commentator, “there were not enough husbands to go round.” Working for pay, however, was considered déclassé and the employments that emerged as two of the most popular for middle-class women, nursing and typewriting, had to overcome cultural resistance.