My Victorian Novel: an edited collection
My Victorian Novel
Isobel Armstrong has lamented that the way we teach the Victorian novel, with enthusiasm and delight, is so different from the way we criticize it. I wonder if this is also partially true about the way we really read and experience Victorian novels, if there is a Wemmick-like division between the absorbed and happy reader, cozy and contented in the Castle, and the buttoned-up professor at the lectern or the laptop. Rereading Victorian fiction over time, for our classes or our scholarship, must at some level involve a relaxation of feeling, the evocation of memories, psychic immersion, and moral engagement––alongside critical distance, objectivity, or suspicion.
I would like this book to have a broader audience than academia. Many people genuinely love Victorian fiction. They create blogs, join reading communities, find forums to discuss film and stage adaptations of books they admire. And they reread their favorite novels, pulled by a desire to re-experience a certain world, a narrative voice, a well-told tale. There is much to enjoy in Victorian novels: the length, the language, the intricate plots, the humor, the love stories, the unabashed pathos, a sense of visiting the past. Perhaps these books remain compelling and satisfying for modern readers because when we pick them up we are mentally relaxed, and readily become co-travelers on the characters’ psychological journeys. Iris Murdoch has suggested that the nineteenth-century novel possesses “a great consoling power... a deep relaxing of tension, however alarming or horrible the events which are narrated, because of a sense of the strength of society, and of politics as a natural and ordinary part of the human scene.” The authorial confidence that reflects a secure sense of the order of things allows the reader to fall under the trance of the storyteller. This a pleasure we never outgrow. It is also a deeply human necessity.
I welcome critical and personal reflections on your relationship over time with a novel that has become entwined with your own history, or one whose mystery deepens upon each re-reading. This collection will explore how works from the past may remain “psychologically alive,” as Bachelard has written, so that it feels you are never finished reading them. I welcome experimental or creative criticism, reading memoirs, subjective or reparative readings, close or formal readings, character analysis, and meditations on rereading. Abstracts or completed essays of any length, and a c.v., to Annette R. Federico, firstname.lastname@example.org.