Keeping the World Away

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Victorian Art and Aestheticism, University of Hull, 26 March 2011




‘Luscious Aftertastes: The Influence of Pre
Raphaelitism in Neo
Victorian Fiction’

The influence of the Pre
Raphaelites on neo
Victorian literature is pervasive, although it has
received very little critical attention so far. A brief overview of contemporary historical
fiction (and plays) reveals an extensive range of narratives that spe
cifically engage with the
Brotherhood and the artistic movement it inspired. This lecture will re
visit several neo
Victorian classics, including John Fowles’
The French Lieutenant’s Woman

(1969), A.S.

(1990), and some of Sarah Waters’

works, as well as lesser known texts,
in order to open them up to pre
Raphaelite focused readings and analyse the nature of the
links between our current obsession with the nineteenth
century’s cultural plenitude and pre
Raphaelite paintings, writings, and

aesthetic principles and techniques. Why should the Pre
Raphaelites in particular infuse such luscious aftertastes into the neo
Victorian experience of
wonder and spectacle? Why should they continue to command our imaginations to the extent
that they do?
And why should Pre
Raphaelitism translate so readily into current literary

Panel 1: Biofiction

Creator and Creation

AMBER THERESA POULIOT: ‘The Uses of Portraiture in Brontë Fictional
Biography of the Interwar Period’

The period between the

First and the Second World Wars saw the publication, in England and
the United States, of no fewer than thirteen plays, novels, short stories, and poems portraying
the lives of the Brontës. Although these works have been dismissed as sentimental popular
iterature by such writers as Lucasta Miller, and have been largely excluded from inclusion
within the category of the neo
Victorian by those scholars who situate its emergence in the
1960s, several works of interwar Brontë fictional biography demonstrate a

awareness of the problems of representation and interpretation. Through an exploration of the
depiction of the now iconic portrait of the Brontë sisters, painted by their brother Branwell,
this paper will analyse the way in which portraiture

and ekphrasis are utilized self
in Brontë fictional biography to elucidate the problems of representation, and will argue for a
more inclusive definition of the neo
Victorian that encompasses these works.

Painting Rooms of Their Own: Gendering Art & Space in
Margaret Forster’s
Keeping the World Away

Continuing her interest in the life stories of historical women, Margaret Forster’s
Keeping the
World Away
(2006) takes as its starting point the childhood and

early career of Welsh painter
Gwen John (1876
1939), whose work, until the second half of the twentieth century, was
largely neglected in favour of that of her brother, Augustus. In the 1960s, feminists
acknowledged the significance of John’s portraits an
d her intense studies of female nudes.
Since then, her work has been exhibited in the
Tate Britain
and the Welsh
National Museum
and Gallery
, and her life has inspired numerous biographies which render her more than the
once mistress of Auguste Rodin and t
he sister of Augustus John (whose work is now,
ironically, often overlooked and his talent frequently considered inferior to his sister’s).
Forster’s fictionalised account of Gwen John spans the years of her childhood, spent in
Haverfordwest and later in T
enby, her education at London’s Slade School of Art, and years
in Paris as a model and as Rodin’s lover. But rather than following traditional biographical
Victorian Art and Aestheticism, University of Hull, 26 March 2011


forms and chronologies, Forster takes as her starting point the conception of one of John’s
works (

Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris
, 1907) and explores not only its significance in
relation to the artist’s life but also its perception by other women throughout the twentieth
century. It is thus not genealogy which connects the women of the novel, bu
t John’s painting
and, most importantly, the space it portrays and their relationships to it, which are, in turn,
influenced by the ways in which these women negotiate their identities as mothers, lovers,
wives and artist. This paper will consider
the World Away
as a work of neo
Victorian biographical fiction and will discuss how Forster utilises John’s art as a means of
challenging traditional boundaries of biography and investigating women’s history through
their gendered relationships to space, t
hus exploring, both literally and metaphorically, the
feminist developments of the room(s) Virginia Woolf so vividly evoked and demanded in

The Master, What Maisie Knew, and Authorial Belatedness

Variously described as the last V
ictorian or the first of the Moderns, Henry James has proven
singularly resistant to classification. His recurrent presence in fictional biographies by,
among others, Colm Tóibín, David Lodge, and Emma Tennant suggests that the parameters
Victorianism need to be wide enough to include works on this late
Victorian subject.
Yet while this choice of subject seems to promise a narrowing of the distance between the
Victorians and ourselves, Jamesian biofictions still exhibit, at times, a palp
able sense of
belatedness. This paper will analyse Colm Tóibín’s attempt to overcome this by borrowing
two distinct images, the first from
What Maisie Knew

and the second from a letter from
Henry James Senior, and inserting them into
The Master

(2004), his

fictional life of James.

While J. Russell Perkin accused him of having ‘shamelessly appropriated’ the passage
What Maisie Knew
, Tóibín’s stated intention was to demonstrate how James ‘merg[ed]
the deeply personal with the imagined’. Thus while the

image of a fisherwoman emerging
from the sea in Boulogne appears both in James’s novel and his father’s letter, James ‘merges
this with the imagined’

including ‘a café…with a floor sprinkled with bran in a manner that
gave it for Maisie something of the

added charm of a circus’

to create a fictional narrative
set in the same location. However, the ‘deeply personal’ threatens to eclipse ‘the imagined’ in
The Master
, wherein Tóibín juxtaposes the image of the café with that of the fisherwoman,
and transp
oses both back into James’s biography. The effect, then, is to render James’s
imagination surplus to requirements. While Tóibín, in an article, credits ‘alert readers’ with
the awareness that his passage appropriates an extract from
What Maisie Knew
, this
undermines his claim that
The Master

was not solely a book for Jamesians. In asking whether
it is necessary for Tóibín’s readers to be familiar with James’s fiction, I will examine the
potential for
Victorian biofictions to serve as pedagogical tools,

or renewing

aesthetic appreciation of their subject’s work.

I will go on to highlight the illusion fostered when turning from the passage in
to that in
What Maisie Knew
: that Tóibín’s writing is somehow the


of James’s.
this is ‘shameless appropriation’, it is briefly uncertain as to who is doing the
appropriating. I will ask whether this might counter the difficulty

axiomatic in studies of

of writing the lives of writers, whose work amounts to a private co
ntract between
the hand and the page. By positioning himself not as an imitator, but as an anticipator of
James, Tóibín can be seen to combat the sense of authorial belatedness. This culminates in
the writer of
Victorian biofiction

that shadowy prese
nce at the subject’s shoulder

being re
situated behind the subject’s page.

Victorian Art and Aestheticism, University of Hull, 26 March 2011



CHRISTINE WILKS: ‘Using a Vernacular Neo
Victorian Aesthetic in Underbelly, an
Interactive Digital Fiction’


is a playable media fiction I created for the web about a woman sculptor, carving
on the site of a former Yorkshire colliery, now landscaped into a country park. As the woman
carves, she is disturbed by a medley of voices and the player/reader is plunged
into an
underworld of repressed fears and desires about the artist’s sexuality, potential maternity and
worldly ambitions, mashed up with the disregarded histories of the 19th
entury women who
once worked underground mining coal. The lack of options avail
able to the female miners is
in stark contrast to the options available to the modern woman, yet the sculptor still struggles
to feel in control of her own destiny.


incorporates a rich and often grotesque mix of imagery, spoken word,
video, anim
ation, text, interactivity and random programming within a traversable map
narrative terrain. Its design is based on the remarkable uterine qualities of the
Mappa Mundi*
combined with historical diagrams of the female reproductive organs and
19th Century illustrations of mine shafts and pit workings. Video, shot in point
ups, represents the female stone
carver’s above
ground activity and conscious
concerns, but it’s persistently undermined by vocal, visual and kinetic elements ge
nerated by
the subterranean subconscious realm and the site’s dark industrial past. Shadows and echoes
of the latter take the form of re
voiced testimonies of women miners collected by
investigators from Lord Ashley's Mines Commission of 1842, and also ske
tches drawn as
visual evidence, which exposed working conditions in the pits.

I propose to give an artist’s talk/workshop, drawing upon the digital fiction,
, and my ongoing online supporting project,
Underbelly Cabinet of Curios
, which

a collection of some of the sources, influences and catalysts that gave rise to
, plus some broader contextual curios. My aim is to explore the connections
between the digital fiction’s vernacular (neo
)Victorian representations and its 21st
woman stone carver, whose art practice is based on that of my sister, Melanie Wilks. She is a
sculptor working in a traditional art form, carving stone by hand, in what could be viewed as
a vernacular figurative style. Her work is often commissioned b
y local communities in West
Yorkshire to mark the sites of and commemorate industries and ways of working life that
have now largely gone. My intention is to unearth some of the rich ironies, contradictions and
correspondences between our almost diametrica
lly opposed art forms, our experiences as
working women, our uses of the past, and also how and where our artworks are situated (in
the past) in the present.




Underbelly Cabinet of Curios

Melanie Wilks



* 13th
century map of the world now in Hereford Cathedral

Postgraduate Training Workshop

Mel Kohlke

will advise on ‘
Publishing in
Victorian Studies

, and
Helen Davies

report on her experience with
‘Public Engagement: Interviewing and the Media’.

Victorian Art and Aestheticism, University of Hull, 26 March 2011


Panel 2: Sensuality and Sensation

isthesis of
esthetics: Neo
daptations of the

The nineteenth

century is often considered an age characterized by a

crisis of experience

(Williams, 11) or of perception (cf. Scholz, 7). With a shift in the episteme that begins to
include the observer into the process of observation, new epistemologies emerge in the
context of these crises and foreshadow theoretical de
velopments such as the linguistic turn
and ultimately the self
reflexivity of the neo
Victorian project. The fin de siècle with its
appeal to the senses on the one hand (aestheticism), and attempts at a clear
cut semiotics to
domesticate those

, images, sensations […]

that continual vanishing away, that
strange, perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves

(Pater, 328)
, on the other, comprises
two cultural responses to the alleged crisis of perception.

The media
induced crisis of perception
in the context of contemporary cultural
negotiations of another fin de siècle

a fin de mill
nium even

certainly must be counted
among the triggers of the neo
Victorian return to the nineteenth century. Neo
cultural products are often brimmin
g with recreations of the concrete materiality of the past
so as to render it as sensually ‘perceptible’ as possible for readers and spectators. The most
decadent of all senses being smell (cf. Neumann: 210) due to its ephemerality on the one
hand and its
intensity verging on disgust on the other, I am specifically but not exclusively
interested in neo
Victorian osmologies. Since the

[a]ccess to the past

however illusory

depends on perception rather than cognition

(Colella 88), the senses, perceptions

and the
cultural formations of perceptions are crucial for neo
Victorian historiographic metafictions
in general.

I would like to investigate the complex adaptational processes of the culturally
specific calibrations of perception and focus on the neo
ctorian reconstructions of such
regimes of perception. Taking into account Oscar Wilde’s
The Picture of Dorian Gray

and a
selection of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories as well as literary and filmic adaptations
such as Will Self’s

(2006), Oliv
er Parker’s
Dorian Gray

(2009) and Guy Ritchie’s
Sherlock Holmes

(2009), I will show the complex links between the aestheticism of Wilde’s

and Holmes’s hypersensitive nerves, ontological scepticism and semiotics, and their
Victorian reworkings
. Besides, I will argue that it is specifically aisthesis that provides a
cultural link between nineteenth
century texts and their contemporary intermedial
translations, sketch first theses on why that is, and in what way a focus on
perception/aisthesis mi
ght reveal to be a promising methodological, style

and content
subfield of neo

Colella, Silvana.

Olfactory Ghosts: Michael Faber’s
The Crimson Petal and the White

, in.
Haunting and

in Neo
Victorian Fiction: Possessing the Past
. Eds. Rosario Arias and Patricia Pulham.

Palgrave Macmillan, 2010,

Neumann, Gerhard.

Verdichten und Verströmen: Zum Wahrnehmungs

und Darstellungsparadox des Fin de
’, in
Fin de Sièc
. Eds. Rainer Warning and Winfried Wehle. München: Fink, 2002, 195

Pater, Walter.

Conclusion [
The Renaissance

The Picture of Dorian Gray
. Ed. Michael Patrick Gillespie.
London and New York: Norton, 2007, 326


Living Words: Epistolary Pleasures in A. S. Byatt’s
Possession: A

Victorianism appears fuelled by a desire to illuminate a shadowy past that endures in
documents archived or hidden in dark recesses of contemporary lives. Neo
Victorian writers
frequently present an aesthetic dimension for situations that fetishise or
even orientalise
documents as recovered material relics: sensuous, exotic, ‘other’, and eminently desirable.
David Lowenthal suggests that ‘a past beyond recovery seems to many unbearable. We know
the future is inaccessible; but is the past irrevocably los
t? Is there no way to recapture, re
Victorian Art and Aestheticism, University of Hull, 26 March 2011


experience, relive it? We crave evidence that the past endures in recoverable form’.

Imagining the Victorians as materially recoverable satisfies a desire for a past that ‘speaks’ to
the present and evidences the aesthe
tic appeal of revisiting the past in material as well as
strategic and political ways. Resurrecting the desired Victorian body through a metonymical
relationship of hand/handwriting proves a totem for some sense of an authentic past
recovered and experienc
ed via the tactile material evidence of surviving letters or diaries.

Cora Kaplan argues that ‘the rehabilitation of the historical novel and of the Victorian
period as a setting capable of producing a reading experience that is potentially both cerebral
and sensuous, have gone hand in hand’.

Sensuous narrative pleasures prove noteworthy for
the presentation or ‘dressing’ of letters in A. S. Byatt’s
Possession: Romance
(1990). As a
text at the forefront of the late twentieth
century burgeoning of neo

illustrates what Sally Shuttleworth suggests is the genre’s ‘deep commitment to recreating the
detailed texture of an age’.

is infused with sensuous metaphorical language and
there is a particularly heightened concentration

of vivid visual imagery around letters and
poems in the novel. Byatt suggests a romanticised materiality inherent in body/letter relations
and her descriptive prose makes direct appeal to the senses. Old, lost letters are romanticised
and fetishised in
to document a rich, lived

world of mystery, romance, and
artistry. Byatt believes there are diverse reasons to keep the past ‘alive’, one of which is ‘the
aesthetic need to write coloured and metaphorical language, to keep past literatures alive a
singing, connecting the pleasure of writing to the pleasure of reading’.

Her novel attempts to
deliver this message by pitting documents and secrets against representative literary theorists.
Letters and diaries navigate contentions between theory and
writerly authority as Byatt
harmonises seductive secrets and descriptive imagery to launch a counter
attack against
prescriptive critical reading. The novel is an aesthetic romance of discovered documents that
direct readers to riddling secrets, lost messa
ges, and the prospect of the past redelivered.

Victorian Fiction and the Art of Sensation

In September 1884, Henry James wrote to the scholar T. S. Perry lamenting the fact that his
recent article, ‘The Art of Fiction’

had attracted barely any attention and complaining that
‘There is almost no care for literary discussion here [in Britain],

questions of form, of
principle, the “serious” idea of the novel appeals apparently to no one’.

His comment might
be seen as an

indictment of Victorian popular fiction, which had dominated the literary
marketplace since the explosion of interest in the sensation novel in the 1860s. However,
while James may have been frustrated by the apparent lack of interest in the art of fiction

Victorian England, he no doubt would have been gratified by the direction taken by
subsequent literary critics: for most of the twentieth century, the enormously popular
Victorian bestsellers, by authors such as Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon a
nd Mrs
Henry Wood, were largely ignored, in favour of a focus on the producers of ‘high’ literary art

authors such as George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and James himself. James’s discussions of the
state of literary criticism in the nineteenth century, and the
subsequent exclusion from the
canon of popular Victorian writers point to a tension between perceptions of ‘highbrow’ and
‘lowbrow’ literary art.


David Lowenthal,
The Past is a Foreign Country
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 14.



Victoriana: Histories


(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p.115.


Sally Shuttleworth, ‘
Natural History: The Retro
Novel’, in
The Third Culture: Literature and
, ed. by Elinor S. Shaffer (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998), pp. 253

(p. 255).


A. S. Byatt,
On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays
(London: Vintage, 2001),

p. 11.


Henry James to T. S. Perry, September 1884 in Roger Gard (ed.),
Henry James: The Critical Heritage

York: Routledge, 1997), p.149

Victorian Art and Aestheticism, University of Hull, 26 March 2011


Through an exploration of the influence of Victorian sensation fiction on the
Victorian novel, this paper
proposes that this tension continues to manifest itself in the
production and critical discussions of
Victorian literature. The influence of the sensation
novel is evident in both popular works of historical fiction, and in ‘highbrow’
erature. In the former, such as Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series and Lee
Jackson’s historical detective novels, authors often employ narrative conventions and
techniques associated with Victorian sensation fiction (for example, the cliff
etection, mystery, and suspense) alongside a Victorian setting, but the intellectual
engagement with the Victorian context is limited. In the latter, including the novels of
nominated authors such as Sarah Waters,

the sensation novel is transformed

from its
‘lowbrow’ literary roots into something more ‘respectable’, and authors engage in a
deliberate manner with the conventions of Victorian narrative, presenting complex
intertextual works that speak to the ‘knowing’ reader.

In light of these various

workings of the Victorian sensation novel in contemporary
literature, this paper explores the apparent ongoing tension between ‘highbrow’ and
‘lowbrow’ literary art, and asks whether popular historical fiction presents a valuable field for
scholarly in
vestigation, or if critical exploration should be limited to ‘those works which are
consciously set in the Victorian period […], or which desire to re
write the historical
narrative of that period by representing marginalised voices, new histories of sexua
lity, post
colonial viewpoints and other generally “different” versions of the Victorian’.

The value of
Victorian sensation fiction as a legitimate area for scholarly investigation is now widely

why, then, should popular ‘lowbrow’ contempor
ary historical fiction not
provide important insights into our ongoing relationship with the Victorian era? If
Victorian criticism limits itself to ‘highbrow’ literary art, is it in danger of repeating the errors
of earlier critics, in excluding poten
tially valuable works from the field of investigation?

Panel 3: Dressing Up


Portraits of a Lady: Neo
Victorian Recoveries of Madame X

When John Singer Sargent’s
Portrait of Madame ***

was shown at the Paris Salon in 1884 it
caused an immediate sensation, although not of the kind the artist had expected. Sargent had
hoped that his painting of one of the most talked
about women in fin de siècle Paris would be
the perfect advertisement of

his skill and vision, and would thus cement his bourgeoning
career. However, as Gioia Diliberto writes, not since the Salon of 1865 when ‘scorn poured
down on
, Edouard Manet’s painting of the nude model Victorine Meurent’, had a
work of art elicit
ed such a negative reaction from crowd and critics alike.

The Salon was
equally disastrous for the sitter,

Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau
. From being lauded as
‘La Belle Américaine’, a vision of ‘Occidental Loveliness’,

she was ridiculed for her
ent ugliness’ and ‘pointed’ profile.

Just a decade later Sargent’s portrait, which had
been so ahead of its time, was finally in vogue and the work has been almost unanimously
revered by subsequent generations as a masterpiece, while the artist is remembe
red as one of


Waters engages with some of the conventions of Victorian sensation fiction in her most recent work,
The Little
(2009), despite not employing a Victorian setting, and draws more explicitly on the genre (specifically
Wilkie Collins’s
The Woman in White

[1860]) in her earlier work



Mark Llewellyn, ‘What is Neo
Victorian Studies’ in Kohlke (ed.),

Victorian Studies
. Vol. 1: 1 (Autumn
2008), p.165,


Gioia Diliberto,
I Am Madame X

(New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004), p.207.


See ‘La Belle Americaine’,
New York
, 30

March 1880.


‘Eccentricities of French Art’,
Art Amateur

11.3, 30

August 1884, p.52 & Henri Houssaye, ‘Le Salon de
Revue des Deux Mondes

63.3, 1

June 1884, p.589.

Victorian Art and Aestheticism, University of Hull, 26 March 2011


the pre
eminent portraitists of his time. The name of Madame Gautreau, on the other hand,
has slipped form history. And yet, this, it appears, is no mere accident.

The original title of Sargent’s
Portrait of Madame ***

adhered to what Eliza
Prettejohn notes was ‘a common formula for preserving the sitter’s anonymity’.

Nevertheless, when the portrait was sold to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in
1915, Sargent insisted that ‘the picture should not be called by [Gautreau’s] name’ a
nd the
work became known as
Madame X

A number of writers and critics have offered
explanations for Sargent’s determination to preserve the anonymity of Madame Gautreau.
Elizabeth Prettejohn tenders the most benign interpretation when she suggests that t
alteration in the title ‘
respected the sitter’s wish to dissociate herself from the image’.

Stanley Olson, meanwhile, takes a very different view, arguing that it reflects the difficulties
Sargent experienced while working on the painting and with its

subject: ‘he wanted to
obliterate her name from the title’.

For Deborah Davis Sargent’s decision ‘defies

However, she concludes that, whatever the motivation, ‘[b]y removing her
name from
Madame X
[Sargent] robbed [Gautreau] of any claim
to immortality.’

Gioia Diliberto’s
I am Madame X

(2004) and Davis’s

(2004), seek to
reassert Gautreau’s claim to be recognised not only as the model for the painting but as an
artist in her own right. In so doing, they pose some intriguing que
stions. Firstly, to whom
(ethically speaking) does a portrait really belong, that is, to the artist who paints it or the sitter
whose image it represents? Secondly, to what extent can a portrait be identified as the result
of the collaboration between art
ist and sitter? These questions are of particular relevance
within the field of neo
Victorian studies, not least because they encourage both scholars and
creative artists to consider that which Mark Lllewellyn identifies as the
‘ethical and aesthetic
sions of [our own] creative and cultural re
engagements’ with the peoples and practices
of the past.

‘(Re)Acting to the Aesthetics of Dress:

Transvestism on and off the
Victorian Music Hall Stage’

Although cross
dressing on the stage has previously been synonymous with Shakespeare,
recent neo
Victorian fiction, which in itself can be seen as an act of drag in terms of its
pretence, once again endeavours to depict protagonists who adopt transvestism
as part of their
act on the music hall stage. This paper will examine how the characters Kitty Butler and
Nancy Astley, in Sarah Waters’
Tipping the Velvet

(1999), perform their drag act on the stage
and the sexual complications which ensue from such an act. This will be compared to the
construction of cross
dressing for the stage by the characters Dan Leno and Elizabeth Cree in
Peter Ackroyd’s
Dan Leno and
the Limehouse Golem

(1994). Both novels show the
transvestite on stage (re)acting to the aesthetics of their dress in their assumption of an
alternative gendered and theatrical persona. Yet, both novels subsequently illustrate the
(re)action of other peopl
e to the aesthetics of dress when cross
dressing is taken off the stage
and on to the city streets. In this respect transvestism becomes dangerous, either to the cross
dresser or to the public at large, and ultimately has to be controlled by the confines o
f the


Elizabeth Prettejohn,
Interpreting Sargent

(London: Tate Gallery P
ublishing, 1998), pp.26.


John Singer Sargent, letter to Edward Robinson quoted in Charles Merrill Mount,
John Singer Sargent

York: W W Norton, 1955), pp.328


Prettejohn, Interpreting Sargent, p.27.


Stanley Olson,
John Singer Sargent: His Portr

(London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1989), p.101.


Deborah Davis,
Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X

(Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2004),


, p.188.


Mark Llewellyn
, ‘Neo
Victorianism: On the Ethics and Aesthetics of Appropriation’,
Interpretation Theory
, 20:1 (2009), p.28.

Victorian Art and Aestheticism, University of Hull, 26 March 2011


music hall. Just as neo
Victorian fiction is said to return to the nineteenth century, cross
dressers have to be returned to the stage

whether it be a stage at a socialist meeting (
the Velvet
), or the stage and spectacle of the gallows (

Leno and the Limehouse Golem

‘Clad in robes of virgin white’: the sexual politics of the ‘lingerie’

in novel and film versions of
The Go

In 2009, the Joseph Losey retrospective at the National Film Theatre reawakened inter
est in
the director’s creative partnership with Harold Pinter, and in the recurring themes of memory,
class and sexual repression that structured their collaborations. It seems timely, then, to re
consider the sexual politics of
The Go

(1970) starr
ing Julie Christie and Alan Bates,
which Pinter adapted from L. P. Hartley’s 1953 novel of the same name. This work traces an
ageing man’s recollection of his traumatic sexual awakening in the summer of 1900, when as
a thirteen
old boy he visits Brand
ham Hall and falls in love with his schoolfriend’s
sister, Marion Maudsley. The young hero, Leo, becomes her ‘go
between’ when he carries
messages to her secret lover, Ted, a lowly tenant farmer. The story has a tragic denouement
when Leo exposes their aff
air and Ted commits suicide. Many critical accounts of Marion in
both novel and film focus on the symbol of the deadly nightshade, which identifies her as
‘atropa belladonna’, poisoning the men who love her. In these readings, she personifies the
gap betwe
en appearance and reality that meshes the themes of sexual hypocrisy, class conflict
and false memory.

However, while Hartley’s densely symbolic novel depicts Marion as ‘villainously
beautiful’ in a series of binary images, the Pinter/Losey film utilises
one of these symbols

the white ‘lingerie dress’

to create a more ambivalent, multi
layered and occasionally
sympathetic portrayal of Marion’s sexuality. I begin by examining how the cinematography
develops Hartley’s own use of light and dark imagery to

evoke the politics and processes of
memory; I then go on to consider how material objects, including dress, are used in the film
to critique the class, imperial and sexual assumptions of late Victorian and Edwardian
house society, by utilising rec
ent scholarship on the relationships between costume
and spectacle in heritage film. I then devote the remainder of the paper to the visual motif of
the ‘lingerie dress’, whose oxymoronic nickname aptly describes a cultural history that
provokes an array o
f contradictory ideas about the sexual nature of the Edwardian country
house lady. In particular, I will consider the historical and cultural contexts of the film’s
production and the dialogue that it creates between the late 1960s and the
ian eras, most notably through its star Julie Christie, an icon of the
‘Swinging Sixties’.

Panel 4: Wilde

SUSANNE GRUSS: ‘Wilde Crimes: Biographilia, the Art of Murder and Decadent
(Homo)Sexuality in Gyles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde Series’

Oscar Wilde,
the key figure of fin
siècle decadence, seems to be an obvious choice for
Victorian adaptations of the yellow nineties. As an author who has been annexed by
almost every critical ‘fashion’ in recent decades (queer Wilde,

Wilde as post
hman or postmodernist
avant la lettre
the witty aph

has already demonstrated his


Most famously in Alan Sinfield’s T
he Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Moment

(1994). More recent publications include Elisa Glick’s
Materializing Queer Desire: Oscar Wilde to Andy


See, for example, Neil Sammell’s
Wilde Style: The Plays and Prose of Osc

(2000). For an overview of
critical readings that apply li
terary theory to Wilde’s work see Melissa Knox,
Oscar Wilde in the 1990s: The
Critic as Creator


Victorian Art and Aestheticism, University of Hull, 26 March 2011


potential as easy fodder for adaptations and appropriations that cater to the tastes of the
twentieth and twenty
first centuries. Gyles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde novels
appropriate Wilde for a neo
Victorian crime series in which the sharp
witted aestheticist
becomes a detective à la Sherlock Holmes, including a Watsonesque sidekick who figures as
narrator and several eminent and much
loved Victorians such as Arthu
r Conan Doyle, Bram
Stoker, Sarah Bernhardt or James McNeill Whistler.

As I will show, the art of adapting Wilde (both the biography and the works) and
English decadent culture for neo
Victorian readers works on several levels Brandreth’s
novels can, of
course, be read as traditional crime mysteries: while readers follow Wilde as
deterctive, they are also prompted to decipher the ‘truth’ of biographic and cultural/historical
detail (and, Brandreth claims, ‘anything that you think is real almost certainly
is real, even the
truly strange bits’, 2009, 430). That readers act as textual detectives in neo
Victorian fiction,
tracing ‘the canonical threads within the narrative’ (Heilmann/Llewellyn 2010, 22), has by
now been well established, and Brandreth explicit
ly invites his readers to test their knowledge
of Victorian literature and English decadence by creating
parallels between Wilde and
Sherlock Holmes/C. Auguste Dupin, and the solving of crimes runs on a parallel trajectory to
the composition of
The Picture

of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest

Wilde’s essays and fairy tales. Additionally, Brandreth writes himself into the Victorian
canon by claiming a biographical connection to Wilde.

At the same time, the mysteries also work as Wildean

biographilia. With reference to
several neo
Victorian novels, Cora Kaplan argues that ‘[t]he figure of Oscar Wilde provides
[…] a limit case, and not an admirable one, for the expression of transgressive sexuality, and
authorial publicity’ (2007, 70). Bra
ndreth’s novels revolve around Wilde’s scandalous
(homo)sexuality: Oscar generously endows young men with inscribed silver cigarette cases,
the first murder victim is a young male prostitute

a ‘pupil’ of Oscar’s, he visits Reading
Gaol, and, foreshadowin
g the trials, the Marquess of Queensberry figures prominently in the
second novel. However, the novels remain curiously cautious when it comes to the depiction
of Wilde as homosexual: all novels depict Wilde’s marriage, Constance’s virtues and Oscar’s

of his children, and the real ‘Somdomites’ are the murderers he pursues

such as the
homosexual, necrophiliac policeman in
Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders

who turns the corpse of his lover into a macabre work of art, or the clergyman in
scar Wilde
and the Ring of Death
(2008), who combines a predilection for pornography with trafficking
in child prostitution. These crimes serve as a means to sidetrack questions about the less
comfortable and transgressive

aspects of Wilde’s sexuality and help to reduce him to a
thoroughly amusing

suitable for a general reading public. Brandreth’s novels can
therefore, as I will show, be read as a decidedly conservative adaptation of Wilde (and
decadent culture) fo
r the neo
Victorian market.

Gyles Brandreth,
Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death
. London: John Murray, 2009.

Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn,
Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty
First Century
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Cora Kaplan,
ctoriana: Histories, Fictions, Criticism
. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Pres, 2007.

Oscar on trial, Gyles on trial? Judging Brandreth’s neo

Oscar Wilde has emerged as an important figure in the neo
imagination, whether in
terms of recreations of his biographical ‘voice’ (Ackroyd, 1983), adaptations of his work
(Self 2002) or appearances as a ‘fictional’ character (Byatt, 2009). As Julia Wood has argued,
the trials of Oscar Wilde have played a signifi
cant role in the ‘Wilde myth’ (Wood, 2007, p.
8) and this pivotal moment has also received attention in fictionalisations of Wilde’s life
(Eagleton, 1989; Hare, 1998). This paper seeks to broaden the concept of ‘Wilde’s trials’ in
relation to neo

representations of Wilde. Focusing on Gyles Brandreth’s series of
Victorian Art and Aestheticism, University of Hull, 26 March 2011


Victorian detective novels, I argue that a cluster of issues surrounding the trial and
conviction of Wilde

his relationships with men, the aesthetic movement, his relationship
with hi
s wife

are also explored and ‘judged’ in Brandreth’s texts. Although Brandreth has
emphasised his personal investment in championing Wilde, my reading of his work will
suggest that there is an increasingly critical tone in his depiction of Wilde’s life s
tyle and
choices, particularly in the latest novel,
Oscar Wilde and the Nest of Vipers

(2010). Through
examining key moments across the texts I aim to demonstrate the ways in which Brandreth
‘tries’ Wilde and finds him lacking, particularly in relation to

his treatment of Constance.
However, my commentary also highlights the problematic aspects of Brandreth’s
representations. I contend that in attempting to render an ‘authentic’ vision of Wilde and his
circle, he inadvertently reiterates some disturbing st
ereotypes, especially in relation to gender.
Although Brandreth’s novels have much to offer scholars of neo
Victorianism, his series also
raises some pertinent questions about the relationship between repetition and transformation
within the genre. My pape
r argues that we should not limit our understanding of ‘the trials of
Oscar Wilde’ to a series of events in the Spring of 1895. The issues surrounding Wilde’s
integrity and behaviour are continually being debated, but the jury is still out on how
’s series might further develop these concerns.


Poisoned by a Book

: The Afterlife of Dorian Gray in
Contemporary Culture

Considering that Oscar Wilde’s
The Picture of Dorian Gray

(1890) is itself a collage of
various influences and
intertexts (ranging from Shakespeare, Marlowe and Goethe to
Huysmans, Stevenson and Pater) and offers a kaleidoscope of styles as well as discussing
questions of representation in general, it is certainly not surprising that this novel has been
y revisited and rewritten in various media over the past century. In this paper, I
will focus on a number of recent rewritings (mainly 1990
2010) in diverse media, including
novels (Will Self’s
Dorian: An Imitation

and Jeremy Reed’s
), films (the 200
adaptation by Oliver Parker, as well as freer versions such as

Pact with the Devil

uses of the character in
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
), photography and visual art
(Yinka Shonibare’s
Dorian Gray

Diary of a Victorian Dandy
, Karl

Portrait of Dorian Gray
), comics (
Sebastian O
V for Vendetta
), and perhaps music
and dance (e.g. Matthew Bourne’s 2008 dance adaptation). I will be interested in
representations of identity and (homo)sexuality, the role of art in a

consumer society, and the
mediatisation of personality and art

all in a contemporary as opposed/related to (late)
Victorian context. It will also be necessary to investigate the differences of dealing with the
Wildean intertext according to the respect
ive genre being used in each instance, significantly
including the more popular end of the neo
Victorian spectrum that is rarely discussed in
criticism of the phenomenon. This will lead me finally to speculate on the more general
significance of the (late)

Victorian moment and Wilde’s ideas to our own ‘neo
present. I will argue that
we can use Wilde’s own writings, particularly his essays in which he
outlines his theories on art and life (including
De Profundis
) to analyse and understand the
omenon of neo