Essays on Victorian Fiction

Volume 53, No. 1 (2022)
Published by Pennsylvania State University Press



Troilism, David Copperfield, and the Problem of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
John Gordon, Connecticut College

Steerforth's seduction of Emily instead of David is an example of “troilism,” of homosexual desire displaced onto a more acceptable third party. In this, it resembles, but is different from, the “homosociality” introduced into critical discourse by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Notably, it intersects with another triangle, that of Rosa Dartle, Emily, and Steerforth, in which homosexual desire is not in play. The storm that kills Steerforth originates in Rosa's thwarted desire for him and, especially, in her resentment of his affair with another woman, Emily, who, from the same motive, she tracks down and threatens to pursue and have killed. Her wish to have Emily “branded” on her “face” comes from a defining trauma, the scar that Steerforth inflicted on her face. The storm is, explicitly, a meteorological version of similar dynamics in play in the triangles of Our Mutual Friend and Edwin Drood. Addressing these novels along with David Copperfield requires addressing and confuting what I believe to be Sedgwick's erroneously “homosocial” readings of all three.


“[A] hungry, ragged, and forsaken little boy”: The Significance of the Street Arab(s) in The Moonstone and The Sign of Four
Shannon Murphy, Dublin City University

This article illuminates the significance of the “little English boy” who accompanies the Brahmin priests in The Moonstone (1868), demonstrating that he functions as what Neil Cocks would describe as a “peripheral” child within Collins's novel (2014). It shows that close engagement with this child uncovers a complex set of relations at work within The Moonstone—one that illuminates, or conjures up, the kind of child poverty that was becoming increasingly visible at the time(s) when the novel was both published and set. The article also considers the importance of Collins's Gooseberry in this regard and, linked to this, the significance of Arthur Conan Doyle's creation of his Irregulars. It argues that Doyle's and Holmes's “employment” of these street children must be contextualized in relation to the kind of child labor—and exploitation—that was both endemic and increasingly problematic in late-nineteenth-century London. The overall ambition of the article is to demonstrate what is “disrupted,” to use Cocks's term, once we properly register the “peripheral” or “shadowy” children in The Moonstone and The Sign of Four, respectively.

KEYWORDS: Street Arab, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, The Moonstone, The Sign of Four


Through the Looking-Glass: “Full of All Manner of Curious Things”
Mark M. Hennelly, Jr., California State University, Sacramento

This article focuses on Lewis Carroll's repeated examples of “curious things” in Through the Looking-Glass, that is, curious in the double sense of Alice finding the things to be curious and the things finding Alice to be curious. In doing so, it employs several different critical approaches to the overlapping and problematic natures, orders, functions, contexts, and agencies of Carroll's curious things. These include flow theory's account of literally floating signifiers like the “large bright thing” in the Sheep's shop, carnivalesque gay matter like the White Queen's shawl, Freudian, Derridean, and Lacanian approaches to fort/da phenomena like Tweedledum's rattle, transitional objects like the looking-glass itself, liminal sacra like the Sheep's woolly yarn, thing theory's critical treatment of things like the egg that morphs into monstrous Humpty Dumpty, and new materialism's analysis of “things” like the Leg of Mutton who/that questions the binary separating humans and things. Finally, the article considers the significantly self-involved and ambivalent role of the reader-critic in discussing what Alice discovers to be “so many … curious things to think about.”

KEYWORDS: fort/da, mirror stage, transitional objects, thing theory, Through the Looking-Glass


An Overview of Digital Resources for the Study of Victorian Fiction
Lydia Craig, Lake Land College

Utilizing open-access, institutional, and subscription-only digital databases for research can advance studies in Victorian literature. Despite occasional issues with sample size, barriers to access, or bad OCR, these databases hold unprecedented quantities of nineteenth-century literature awaiting scrutiny, as indicated by research examples provided. Several long-standing or recent projects on the novel, literary culture, or race in the Victorian era are discussed in terms of their application for personal research and classroom instruction. Among these are the recently unveiled databases One More Voice and Undisciplining the Victorian Classroom, which bring non-European perspectives to the forefront of discourse in answer to the recent call to center and engage with marginalized nineteenth-century voices previously buried in archives due to racial difference. Primary sources, by offering new perspectives on life in the nineteenth century, can now enrich both scholarship and academic syllabi. Digital scans, if defined as free access or fair use, can be requisitioned for groundbreaking projects centered around literary writing, publication, and culture, or historical inquiry.

KEYWORDS: digital humanities, digital research, Victorian Studies, Victorian literature, Victorian novel


Recent Dickens Studies: 2020
Leslie S. Simon, Utah Valley University

This article surveys Dickens scholarship published in 2020, identifying these key trends: (1) adaptations and other afterlives, with dozens of publications appearing that year in commemoration of the sesquicentennial of Dickens's death; (2) form, with special attention to genre and affect, as observed in Victorian studies broadly; (3) gender and sexuality, with a primary focus on Dickens and women; and (4) politics and media, with a new urgency given to fact-checking as a rhetorical marker of critical integrity. The article also nods to the trends likely to increase in popularity in the next few years of research, by highlighting scholarship that deals even tangentially with (5) science and health and (6) race and intercultural exchanges.

KEYWORDS: Dickens, Dickensian, adaptations, women, news media


Ways of Seeing Dickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction, Volumes 1–52
Edward Guiliano, Dickens Studies Annual Editor
Anne Humphreys, Dickens Studies Annual Editor
Natalie McKnight, Dickens Studies Annual Editor

This article is a comprehensive listing, alphabetically, first by title and then by author-contributor, of all the essays that have appeared in Dickens Studies Annual over the last fifty years.

KEYWORDS: Dickens Studies, Victorian Fiction, DSA