6月7日讲座:The (Neo-)Victorians Today


SEIS Academic Forum Series

Forum on Culture Studies

The (Neo-)Victorians Today: The Nineteenth Century in the Contemporary International Imagination

演讲人:Ann Heilmann (英国卡迪夫大学)





Neo-Victorianism is the study of the way in which contemporary culture re-imagines the Victorians. This lecture examines the international dimension of neo-Victoriansm, considering the complex issues involved in applying the concept to transnational developments.

Following earlier terminologies (‘retro’ and ‘faux’-Victorian) ‘neo-Victorian’, in the 21st century, has become the established designation for 20th and 21st-century literature and culture that adapts and rewrites Victorian classics, biofictionally revisits Victorian personalities, creatively reworks the Victorian period, and/or re-imagines cultural memories of the Victorian in juxtaposition to the contemporary. If the post-World War II establishment of Victorian Studies as an academic discipline coincided with the rise of postmodernism, both developments facilitated the emergence of neo-Victorianism as a metanarrative genre invested in a self-reflexive mirror game (identified as ‘historiographic metafiction’ by Linda Hutcheon) in which the concerns of the present are explored through the lens of a reinvented version of the 19th-century past. That the first neo-Victorian novel of postmodernist inflection, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), bestowed agency on, and moved the colonial and racial Other from the periphery to the centre of, English literature signals the importance of postcolonial and transnational approaches to the then evolving genre. Rhys’s literary intervention affected a permanent transformation of any subsequent reading of Charlotte Bront?’s Jane Eyre (1847) and anticipated Edward Said’s project, outlined in Orientalism (1978), of highlighting Western literature’s active participation in the colonial and imperial appropriation of the East as the ‘Other’ that defines the Western self.

Ironically, as Marie-Luise Kohlke has pointed out, neo-Victorianism complicates the concept of Orientalism by turning the Victorians themselves into the quasi-exotic subject of contemporary desire. At the same time the orientalised Victorian has become globalised under the influence of an international literature and culture that imaginatively return to the Victorian but also to a broader sense of the 19th century as markers of contemporary identity. To use a UK-to-globe example: the 2012 Dickens bicentenary constituted a commemorative act that reinforced the global legacy of Victorianism, including the first complete works translation of Dickens into Chinese. The act of commemoration here raises complex issues related to the (s)elective affinities drawn between the contemporary and the historical. What culturally specific phenomena arise when the (literary) past of one nation is commodified for a mass-transcultural experience? And how appropriate is the concept of ‘neo-Victorianism’ if we move beyond global cultural engagement with the Victorian to consider the ways in which international cultures and literatures revisit their relationship with the 19th century both more broadly and also more specifically within different national and cultural contexts? What particular problematics arise from including, for example, Toni Morrison’s Beloved in the neo-Victorian category? How ‘neo-Victorian’ could one consider Daniel Kehlmann’s German-language novel Measuring the World (2008) about the Latin-American explorations of Prussian geographer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt? And where do we locate and/or differentiate historical narratives about China set in a time period that approximates the Western 19th century, such as US author Kathryn Harrison’s family saga The Binding Chair (2000), Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2006), and Chinese writer Feng Jicai’s The Three-Inch Golden Lotus (1985, English translation 1994)?

Evidently, questions of geography, temporality (what are the demarcations of and how appropriate are temporalities like ‘the 19th century’ in a global context?), nation-specific histories and terminologies all intersect in complicating the concept of ‘neo-Victorianism’ in diverse ways. What issues result from the conceptual slippage between (Anglophone/Anglocentric) ‘neo-Victorianism’ and wider international forms of memorialising the 19th century? ‘Neo-Victorianism’ as a concept has arguably little validity when applied to international cultures and literatures that are not explicitly concerned with the Victorian; and yet the term is often used as a paradigm for any inter/natural cultural engagement with the Victorian. Thus in the inaugural 2008 issue of Neo-Victorian Studies, Kohlke conceptualised neo-Victorianism as ‘includ[ing] the whole of the nineteenth century, its cultural discourses and products, and their abiding legacies, not just within British and British colonial contexts and not necessarily coinciding with Queen Victoria’s realm; that is, to interpret neo-Victorianism outside of the limiting nationalistic and temporal identifications that “Victorian”, in itself or in conjunction with “neo-“, conjures up for some critics.’ Sally Shuttleworth, on the other hand, cautions against such broad conceptualisation because it risks ‘los[ing] that quality of self-conscious questioning of our relations’ to the 19th century: ‘Once fiction loses that sense of questioning, and awareness of its own placement in time, then the “Victorian” in fiction can become little more than outward trappings, which help to accentuate, in Jameson’s terms, our “historical deafness”.’ Kohlke concedes that the term ‘neo-Victorian’ is ‘problematic, since it resurrects the very spectres of imperialist exploitation and appropriation responsible for many of the wrongs being registered and worked through [in this fiction]. This is especially the case when the term is applied to postcolonial and subaltern literatures, or historical fictions of other nations that never were or, by the start of Queen Victoria’s reign, were no longer British colonies.’ To what extent does Elizabeth Ho’s concept of ‘the neo-Victorian-at-sea’ negotiate the fluidity and multiplicity of transnational approaches? As Ho argues, the ‘sea narrative’ that many texts adopt ‘responds to a need to make sense of global consumption, trade and labour, and the mass movement of people via a previous moment of globalisation made possible by imperialism. By focusing on the sea, [such] novels … resist the urge in much neo-Victorian fiction to return to the prominence of the nation-state and posit instead an unbounded globality that might unravel neo-Victorian studies by expanding it to its limits.’ This reading can certainly be applied to sea narratives like Amitav Gosh’s Sea of Poppies (2008), a text that locates its plot within the history of the British empire while positioning itself in relation to specific national contexts and at the same time exploring a vision of 19th-century and contemporary multiculturalism. And yet, how delimiting is the ‘Victorian’ in the category of the ‘neo-Victorian’? What alternative descriptors and terminologies might be developed to offer culturally more inclusive approaches to the multiplicity of 19th centuries invoked in contemporary cultures and transnational contexts? These are some of the questions this lecture will examine.


Ann Heilmann is Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University in the capital of Wales, UK. She previously held professorial chairs at Hull and Swansea Universities. Prior to this she was a Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan and Bradford Universities, UK. Born and brought up in Germany, she studied in Germany, France and Britain, moved to the UK in 1987, and first taught German at Leeds University and Women’s Studies in Adult and Further Education. Her specialist fields are Victorian to contemporary women’s writing, literary gender studies, and neo-Victorianism. The author of over fifty articles/book chapters and three monographs, on New Woman Fiction: Women Writing First-Wave Feminism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), New Woman Strategies: Sarah Grand, Olive Schreiner, Mona Caird (Manchester UP, 2004) and (with Mark Llewellyn) Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the 21st Century (Palgrave, 2010), she has (co-)edited) a scholarly edition of George Moore: Gender and Genre (5 vols, Pickering and Chatto, 2007), four essay collections on late-Victorian, turn-of-the-century and contemporary women’s writing and, most recently, George Moore: Influence and Collaboration (with Mark Llewellyn, Delaware UP, Rowman and Littlefield, 2014). She is also the (co-)editor of four multi-volume anthology sets of archival source materials on the late-Victorian New Woman, marriage, and early 20th-century (anti)feminism and has (co-)guest-edited eight special journal issues, most recently an issue on ‘Neo-Victorian Masculinities’ for Victoriographies (vol.52:2, 2015). She is a member of the editorial boards of four journals and is the General Editor of two Routledge book series, ‘Gender and Genre’ and ‘History of Feminism’. Between 2011-2014 she served on the sub-panel for English Language and Literature of the UK’s Research Excellence Framework. Her current work in progress is a monograph on James Miranda Barry and Neo-/Victorian Biographilia and a database, Routledge Historical Resources: The History of Feminism.

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