A selection of books recently authored by members of the Birkbeck Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies. For further information on articles, previous books, digital projects, and other publications, please look through the research profiles of individual members.
Ana Parejo Vadillo, Michael Field: Decadent Moderns
In the last twenty years, Michael Field has emerged as one of the most fascinating poets of the Victorian era. Through their collaborative partnership as “Michael Field,” Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper engaged in the aesthetic and decadent movements of the fin de siècle, while their poetry and verse drama articulate ideas associated with the New Woman and boldly express queer and lesbian desire. Michael Field: Decadent Moderns extends the focus on these key literary and cultural contexts by emphasizing their continuing significance within twentieth-century literary modernism. Through a series of interdisciplinary essays, this book addresses Michael Field’s energetic engagements with a range of topics including ecology, perfume, tourism, art history, sculpture, formalism, classics, and book history. In doing so, Michael Field: Decadent Moderns highlights the modernity, radicalism, and relevance of their work, both within the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well as in our own cultural moment.
Peter Fifield, Modernism and Physical Illness: Sick Books
T. S. Eliot memorably said that separation of the man who suffers from the mind that creates is the root of good poetry. This book argues that this is wrong. Beginning from Virginia Woolf’s ‘On Being Ill’, it demonstrates that modernism is, on the contrary, invested in physical illness as a subject, method, and stylizing force. Experience of physical ailments, from the fleeting to the fatal, the familiar to the unusual, structures the writing of the modernists, both as sufferers and onlookers. Illness reorients the relation to, and appearance of, the world, making it appear newly strange; it determines the character of human interactions and models of behaviour. As a topic, illness requires new ways of writing and thinking, altered ideas of the subject, and a re-examination of the roles of invalids and carers. This book reads the work five authors, who are also known for their illness, hypochondria, or medical work: D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Dorothy Richardson, and Winifred Holtby. It overturns the assumption that illness is a simple obstacle to creativity and instead argues that it is a subject of careful thought and cultural significance.
Emily Senior, The Caribbean and the Medical Imagination, 1764-1834
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Caribbean was known as the ‘grave of Europeans’. At the apex of British colonialism in the region between 1764 and 1834, the rapid spread of disease amongst colonist, enslaved and indigenous populations made the Caribbean notorious as one of the deadliest places on earth. Drawing on historical accounts from physicians, surgeons and travellers alongside literary works, Emily Senior traces the cultural impact of such widespread disease and death during the Romantic age of exploration and medical and scientific discovery. Focusing on new fields of knowledge such as dermatology, medical geography and anatomy, Senior shows how literature was crucial to the development and circulation of new medical ideas, and that the Caribbean as the hub of empire played a significant role in the changing disciplines and literary forms associated with the transition to modernity.
David McAllister, Imagining the Dead in British Literature and Culture, 1790-1848
Imagining the Dead in British Literature and Culture, 1790-1848 offers the first account of the dead as an imagined community in the early nineteenth-century. It examines why so many Romantic and Victorian writers believed that influencing the imaginative conception of the dead was a way to either advance, or resist, social and political reform. This interdisciplinary study contributes to the burgeoning field of Death Studies by drawing on the work of both canonical and lesser-known writers, reformers, and educationalists to show how both literary representation of the dead in fiction and poetry, and the burial and display of their corpses in churchyards, dissecting-rooms, and garden cemeteries, responded to developments in literary aesthetics, psychology, ethics, and political philosophy. Imagining the Dead in British Literature and Culture, 1790-1848 shows that whether they were lauded as exemplars or loathed as tyrants, rendered absent by burial, or made uncannily present through exhumation and display, the dead were central to debates about the shape and structure of British society as it underwent some of the most radical transformations in its history. The Review of English Studies: ‘McAllister mobilizes a wide array of material and is yet judiciously selective. Imagining the Dead draws upon sources of an imaginative and historical nature, blending literature, politics, educational psychology and social history to identify a unique, convincing and rather unexpected narrative that traverses periodic boundaries to connect two significant phases of development in the cultural history of death in Britain. It is a highly commendable addition to what is a burgeoning field of study.’
Hilary Fraser, Women Writing Art History in the Nineteenth Century
This book sets out to correct received accounts of the emergence of art history as a masculine field. It investigates the importance of female writers from Anna Jameson, Elizabeth Eastlake and George Eliot to Alice Meynell, Vernon Lee and Michael Field in developing a discourse of art notable for its complexity and cultural power, its increasing professionalism and reach, and its integration with other discourses of modernity. Proposing a more flexible and inclusive model of what constitutes art historical writing, including fiction, poetry and travel literature, this book offers a radically revisionist account of the genealogy of a discipline and a profession. It shows how women experienced forms of professional exclusion that, whilst detrimental to their careers, could be aesthetically formative; how working from the margins of established institutional structures gave women the freedom to be audaciously experimental in their writing about art in ways that resonate with modern readers.