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Stephano Evangelista and Catherine Maxwell eds., The Yearbook of English Studies: The Arts in Victorian Literature

Laurence Roussillon-Constanty
p. 256-259
Référence(s) :

Stephano Evangelista and Catherine Maxwell eds., The Yearbook of English Studies: The Arts in Victorian Literature. vol. 40.1 & 40.2., Leeds, Maney Publishing, 2010, 325 p.
ISSN 0306-2473/ISBN 978-1-906540-96-8

Texte intégral

1This special issue of the YES, guest-edited by two distinguished nineteenth century scholars, is a multifarious volume that accurately reflects the dynamism of interdisciplinary research when applied to Victorian studies. The fourteen essays present in the volume cover a period from the 1830s to the turn of the twentieth century. They are broadly organized in chronological order, with no particular attempt to draw themes or authors together. In their introduction to the volume, Stephano Evangelista and Catherine Maxwell argue that the main goal of the volume is to show “the way that the arts in general make their mark on Victorian literature” (1) and one does feel that the essays have been left to resonate and effortlessly come to bear on one another. The result is a very coherent volume that is at the same time scholarly and enjoyable to read.

2The collection opens with an essay on Dickens’s Nicholas Nickelby by Luisa Calè which questions the notion of the Victorian novel as a stable text and envisages extra-illustration as a way to engage with the novel in its material and critical reception. At its heart, “the archival urge behind an extra-illustrated book is driven by a contradictory impulse: in the encyclopaedic, at once iconophilic and iconoclastic need to master the visual corpus of each figure, its pages store up images culled from other books” (9). Calè goes on to show how early sets of extra-illustrations tend to amplify the fictional world of the text and to magnify the contemporary reader’s experience of the text to include viewing and collecting. In the next essay, Jonah Siegel blurs the distinction between the Crystal Palace and the museum of words of Tennyson’s The Palace of Art to reflect on the relation between material culture and the passing of time. Bringing in Ruskin’s point of view on the roles to be played by museums, Siegel shows how the Victorian critic’s questioning of modernity anticipates on Walter Benjamin’s famous account of the loss of aura in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and places repetition and loss at the heart of the aesthetic experience. By mixing references to well-known works of fiction or poetry and evidence from the periodical press and lesser-known sources, both essays set the tone for the entire volume and open up the field of inquiry to give a broad and contrasted picture of the interaction between the arts and Victorian literature.

3In the next three essays written by Hilary Fraser, Patricia Pulham and Phyllis Welliver, the main focus is on women and their relation to three forms of art, respectively fiction-writing, sculpture and singing. In her essay, Fraser deals with women’s engagement with art and shows “some of the ways in which they introduced the visual arts and artist figures in critically distinctive ways into their fiction” (64). The examples she chooses to examine, such as Margaret Oliphant’s The Three Brothers or Anna Mary Howitt’s novella The Sisters in Art (1852), all indicate the way in which women were allowed to find a way into the art world. In this respect, her analysis of Anne Thackeray Ritchie’s novel Miss Angel (1876) and its relation to Sir Joshua Reynold’s portrait of Angelica Kauffman astutely reveals how such pieces of fiction that are less studied than the Brontë novels for instance stem from the same cultural tradition as some of the more popular female fiction of the time and are to be seen as a “companion or a countertext” to them. Focusing on transatlantic literature, Patricia Pulham’s essay on the mediation of desire in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Fawn also seeks to trace European aesthetic models while engaging discussion on homoerotic desire—an undercurrent theme in some of the essays in the collection relating to Walter Pater or Vernon Lee. Finally, Phyllis Welliver’s essay on the Prima Donna motif examines the influence of de Staël’s Corinne, ou l’Italie and demonstrates how it laid the ground for subsequent fictional work on the same theme. Her fascinating essay goes on to show how George Eliot reworked the Prima donna narrative in Daniel Deronda. The essay concludes on the idea that the prima donna narrative not only served as a literary model for George Eliot but also as a personal “script” on which she modelled her own life.

4In the next set of articles ranging from such well-known artists as Burne-Jones (Colin Cruise) to the programme note-writer Rosa Newmarch (Philip Ross Bullock) the various motifs and figures outlined in the first articles recur and are played out in the context of aestheticism. Colin Cruise’s essay on Burne-Jones and Pre-Raphaelite Medievalism discusses how the second generation Pre-Raphaelite painter managed to find a compromise between his longing for a return to Chaucer’s “dream-vision” works and his reading of Walter Pater’s aestheticist criticism. Arguing that “Chaucer provide[d] a focus for Burne-Jones as Dante did for Rossetti”(133), Cruise accurately describes the painter’s use of allegory in his paintings.

5Looking at the way in which poetry and singing enter into a dialogue in Tennyson and Swinburne’s lyrical poetry, Elizabeth Helsinger’s essay points to the hybrid nature of the “poems-including-song” that, she argues, “retain singing as poetry’s horizon of aspiration” (149). In her analysis just as in the subsequent essays in the collection one gets the sense that the relation between the arts is one that brings out the specificity (or the “otherness”) of each medium while enhancing its distinctive, performative qualities: from the embedded song poem in Swinburne’s poetry to his ekphrastic writings in “Notes on Designs of the Old Masters at Florence” or “Notes on Some pictures of 1868”, the pervading theme that is highlighted by Stefano Evangelista’s essay has to do with the creation of a virtual archive where the museum experience gets transformed into an ideal aesthetic experience.

6As any Victorianist might expect, at this point in the volume, the name of Walter Pater has kept cropping up and it is only fair that his critical work should occupy centre stage in two stimulating essays, one on sculpture (Lene Ostermark-Johansen), the other one on music (Andrew Eastham). As the focus decidedly moves away from the nineteenth century, Baudelaire is a timely reference in both essays as they try to pin down Pater’s famous Anders-Streben concept. What does strike the reader in these essays just like in the next essay by Catherine Maxwell on Vernon Lee, John Addington Symonds and Arthur Symons, is how a given aesthetic experience (such as viewing a painting or listening to a piece a music) generates another, often hybrid, aesthetic experience. Thus, Maxwell convincingly argues that late Victorian art critics were able to draw from Whistler’s impressionism a particular impressionistic style that they then applied to describe certain key romantic loci such as Venice. Through the prism of aestheticism the most familiar scenes or subjects get transformed and transcended to reveal some kind of ghostly presence that mirrors the onlooker’s psyche and particular identity. In the same fashion, mediation, a major concept explored by many of the authors in the volume is the focus of Jane Thomas’s essay on classical statue in later Victorian literature. In examining examples from Henry James, Vernon Lee or Thomas Hardy’s fiction, Thomas reminds us of the ambiguities of desire at stake in novels dealing with the sculptural trope. Issues of gender and sexuality, a well-explored theme of the essay collection is shown here as one of the dynamic forces behind the creative process.

7The collection of essays concludes with two pieces on music in the fin de siècle as if Walter Pater’s famous cue had also guided the editor’s ordering choice. Shafquat Towheed offers a stimulating analysis of Vernon Lee’s musical reading and response revealing a lesser-known facet of this fascinating figure whose artistic flair is definitely well-acknowledged in many essays in the volume. The final essay, which deals with Rosa Newmarch and music appreciation, is a nice final coda that shows the artistic lineage of Walter Pater’s aestheticism and his modern interpretation by such fine female music popularizers as Newmarch.

8As the editors write in the introduction to the volume, their decision to avoid pairing essays together by theme or subject does entail more work for the reader (and for the reviewer!) as one has navigate through the essays as through the arts with no single critical eye or ear and with very little sense of hierarchy. As far as the inter-artistic relations are concerned, it is precisely what makes the volume so compelling and thought-provoking.

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Laurence Roussillon-Constanty, « Stephano Evangelista and Catherine Maxwell eds., The Yearbook of English Studies: The Arts in Victorian Literature », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, 74 Automne | 2011, 256-259.

Référence électronique

Laurence Roussillon-Constanty, « Stephano Evangelista and Catherine Maxwell eds., The Yearbook of English Studies: The Arts in Victorian Literature », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 74 Automne | 2011, mis en ligne le 03 décembre 2014, consulté le 17 janvier 2018. URL :

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Laurence Roussillon-Constanty

Université de Toulouse.

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Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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