Neo-Victorian Victorian Novels: The Writer-Heroine as Metafictional Informant

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Date: 17th March 2022
Time: 19.30
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Dr Tabitha Sparks (Associate Professor of English, McGill University)

‘Neo-Victorian Victorian Novels: The Writer-Heroine as Metafictional Informant’

This talk aligns two late-Victorian novels with the generic conventions attributed to neo-Victorian novels. The Type-Writer Girl (1897) by Grant Allen (writing as Olive Pratt Rayner), and A Writer of Books (1898) by Emily Morse Symonds (writing as George Paston) epitomize the metafictional and metahistorical features Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn (as well as other theorists of neo-Victorian fiction) attribute to the genre. The Type-Writer Girl is narrated in mock-heroic mode by Juliet Appleton, a young woman making a living as a “typewriter” (or copyist) in London while also writing fiction. Juliet parodies other literatures, questions historical authority and contemporary values, and calls attention to her narrative’s liminal status between realism and romance. A Writer of Books also features an aspiring novelist, Cosima Chudleigh, whose immersion in literary worlds ill-prepares her for the London publishing market. Cosima’s tendency to interpret her experiences through literary conventions and plots undermines the novel’s realism, as she is at once the subject of Symonds’s novel and its metafictional informant. These textual features correlate with “the presence of self-consciousness or metafiction” that Sudha Shastri attributes to neo-Victorian novels that “revitalize literature” through their intertextual license. My purpose is not to challenge the generic definition of neo-Victorianism but to propose that the oddity of comparing actual Victorian novels to neo-Victorian ones reflects how periodization and historicization can conceal Victorian formal innovations.

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