Essays on Victorian Fiction

Volume 53, No. 2 (2022)
Published by Pennsylvania State University Press



Stains, Blushes, Flushes, and Other Telltale Marks in Our Mutual Friend
Mark M. Hennelly Jr., California State University, Sacramento

This article focuses on stains, blushes, flushes, and other nonphonetic marks such as scriptural signifiers in Our Mutual Friend. These metonymic markings help constitute what Dickens called the "main line" of the novel's development. This line turns rhizomorphic as it figuratively begins with the rope line salvaging the stained corpse in the novel's fifth paragraph and extends to the later lines ironically salvaging Gaffer Hexam's own marked corpse and the dead-alive Rogue Riderhood's body as examples of the death-by-drowning with the possibility of resurrection motif. But the fifth paragraph also anticipates other significant signifying tropes and events in Our Mutual Friend as the meaning of all such signifiers, whether finally legible or illegible, requires close reading by the novel's characters and readers alike. And other Dickens novels, like Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, provide a significantly larger context for the stains and other markings in Our Mutual Friend. According to the problematic principle of the inside outside the outside, surface signifiers, particularly somatic signifiers, often become self-defining indicators of nearly all the novel's characters and their interrelationships.


The Afterlife of Charles Dickens: His Posthumous Impact on Nineteenth-Century Spiritualism
Lorena N. MacMillan, Anglia Ruskin University

Although an avid skeptic, Charles Dickens can be found having conversations with spiritualist communities while he was alive—and after he was dead. The most intriguing use of Dickens's name in the spiritualist community was through the American medium T. P. James, who became known as Dickens's medium, and gained popularity when he published Part Second of the Mystery of Edwin Drood (1873) from the "spirit-pen of Charles Dickens." In addition to the publication of the manuscript itself, writers for the spiritualist press were quick to attempt to prove or disprove the text's validity. Later, James started his own spiritualist magazine, The Summerland Messenger (1874), which continued to publish short stories and social commentary from the "spirit-pen of Charles Dickens." This article will analyze the various spiritualist messages that James included in Part Second while connecting it to the supernatural themes present in Dickens's original novel. It will examine James's claim that his manuscript was written through the spirit-pen of Charles Dickens, evaluating the text and its influence on its audience. It concludes that James, and the spiritualist press, used Dickens's work and name to increase the followers of Spiritualism, proving that it was at its core, a community of readers.

KEYWORDS: Dickens, Spiritualism, nineteenth-century press, Edwin Drood, newspapers


Middlemarch at 150: Eight Reflections
Gillian Beer, University of Cambridge
Susan David Bernstein, Boston University
Rosemarie Bodenheimer, Boston College
Edward Guiliano, New York Institute of Technology
Natalie McKnight, Boston University
Michael Tondre, Stony Brook University
Katharine Isabel Williams, CUNY Graduate Center
Wendy S. Williams, Texas Christian University

Eight scholars of Victorian literature reflect on George Eliot's Middlemarch in honor of the 150th anniversary of its publication. The authors offer their personal responses to the novel, and each has a unique focus: insights into the lesser known characters who contribute essential strands to the rich fabric of the text, reflections on friendships within and beyond the novel, analysis of the complexities of characters' thought processes, a letter to Mr. Casaubon and a comparison between reading the novel as a rushed graduate student and later as a more seasoned scholar, a reflection on how Middlemarch is NOT Jane Eyre and a belated appreciation of its humor, an analysis of the novel in context of a "world historical energy transition" and the current climate crisis, musings on reading Middlemarch for the first time while also teaching for the first time, and finally a defense of the character of Rosamond.

KEYWORDS: Middlemarch, George Eliot, Victorian novels, friendship, marriage, reader response, eco-criticism, teaching, energy


Recent Thackeray Studies: 2009–2022
Jonathan Farina, Seton Hall University

Thackeray's presence in recent scholarship, on present-day syllabi, and on present-day nightstands still pales in comparison to his popularity in the Victorian period and to the relative investments we have in Dickens, Eliot, and other Victorians. But the last twelve or so years nevertheless feel like something of a Thackeray resurgence, at least in scholarship. This article reviews here more than twenty-five pieces of scholarship, a fifth of what we might typically see on Dickens in the same period, but that scholarship includes some exciting, insightful, and transformative thinking, particularly about genre and prose style. Reasons innumerable weigh against a revival of Thackeray's popularity, foremost of which may simply be the length of his mature work, which can be too difficult to balance with other texts on syllabi sensitive to the attention spans and extracurricular demands of many students. As it happens, inattention, interruption, productive reverie, and distraction are the preeminent virtues that Nicholas Dames ascribes to Thackeray's fiction and Victorian theories of fiction in "Distraction's Negative Liberty: Thackeray and Attention," from The Physiology of the Novel (2007), which is unquestionably one of the most perceptive, ingenious, and influential accounts of Thackeray in the past twenty-five years.

KEYWORDS: Thackeray, recent studies


Dickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction, Comprehensive Subject Index 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, high-level-access subject index to the more than 750 essays published in Dickens Studies Annual (DSA) since its inception in 1970 through 2021. Entries in the index guide the reader toward specific authors, books and other works, concepts, and themes with significant discussion in a particular essay.

KEYWORDS: Dickens Studies, Victorian fiction, DSA, index, studies of Victorian fiction