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Reimagining Nineteenth-Century Historical Subjects
This volume explores the many paradoxes of neo-Victorian biofiction, a genre that yokes together the real and the imaginary, biography and fiction, and generates oxymoronic combinations like creative facts, fictional truth, or poetic truthfulness. Contemporary biofictions recreating nineteenth-century lives demonstrate the crucial but always ethically ambiguous revision and supplementation of the historical archive. Due to the tension between ethical empathy and consumerist voyeurism, between traumatic testimony and exploitative exposé, the epistemological response is per force one of hermeneutic suspicion and iconoclasm. In the final account, this volume highlights neo-Victorianism’s deconstruction of master-narratives and the consequent democratic rehabilitation of over-looked microhistories.
In: Neo-Victorian Biofiction

Abstract

This essay explores how Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody Emerson series, beginning with Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975), reimagines the world of real Victorian women travellers and the Egyptologist Amelia B. Edwards. I read Peters’s ‘Othering’ of the historical subject, evoked as a rewritten and overwritten trace in the fictional Peabody, through Jacques Derrida’s conflicting ideas of différance. The palimpsestic figuration of the protofeminist archaelogist reveals not only how Peters’s biofictionalising of these women is a result not only of interweaving different threads of history and scientific discourse, but also of playing with gender and genre, in ways that destablise and multiply the historical subject’s referentialty and meanings.

In: Neo-Victorian Biofiction

Abstract

Richard Flanagan’s novel Wanting (2008) mingles biofiction of celebrity figures (John Franklin, his wife Lady Jane, and Charles Dickens) with the biofiction of historically marginalised individuals (Mathinna, the Aboriginal girl whom the Franklins adopted and abandoned when they left Tasmania). Wanting thus blends invention and the archival past to challenge narratives of Tasmanian history from an unusual angle. Revisiting Dickens, the novel indulges in the demystification of the literary icon yet seeks to weave ties with the great tradition through (af)filliative patterns. But this reading suggests that Flanagan also reaches beyond caricature and counterfactual slippage. Embedding Tasmania in a global system of economic oppression, the novel ties together Dickens, Mathinna and Lady Jane as figures of loss. It investigates the past to recover a missing story (Mathinna’s life), thereby implicitly addressing today’s concerns with the Stolen Generation.

In: Neo-Victorian Biofiction

Abstract

This chapter focuses on neo-Victorian biofictions of writer/artist figures. It introduces the relevance of biofiction as a cultural phenomenon that should also be appraised in the light of the relationship between literature and the philosophical notions of value and truth, and surveys the crucial implications that entangle biofictions, biography, and the construction of cultural memory. The essay moves on to examine the notion of post-authenticity as an encompassing critical perspective on neo-Victorian fiction and then briefly considers some biofictions featuring the lives of Victorian authors and artists, notably A.S. Byatt’s ‘The Conjugial Angel’ (1992) and Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze (2009), before turning to Julian Barnes’ Arthur & George (2005) as its main case study. The novel is analysed as an outstanding neo-Victorian biofiction, which probes into epistemological instabilities, revealing ethical inflections and aesthetic strengths through the reconstruction of Arthur Conan Doyle’s involvement in a legal case that affected the course of English justice and the British legal system.

In: Neo-Victorian Biofiction
Author: Matthew Crofts

Abstract

This chapter examines how George MacDonald Fraser’s novel Flashman (1969) and its sequels interact with historical figures. Ranging from unflattering remarks about James Brudenell, the seventh Earl of Cardigan, to a chance encounter with future American President Abraham Lincoln, the Flashman Papers utilise a wide range of Victorian figures to achieve a range of textual effects from challenging stereotypes to exposing hypocrisy. MacDonald Fraser’s biofictional accounts of famous Victorian lives broadly conform to neo-Victorian revisionism as well as historiographic metafiction, but it is the device of the series’ outspoken and morally dubious protagonist that makes such accounts stand out. Flashman’s encounter with the Rani of Jhansi in particular demonstrates not only the series’ questionable approach towards female characters, but how on a personal level biofiction still allows for positive portrayals.

In: Neo-Victorian Biofiction
In: Neo-Victorian Biofiction
Author: Lucy Smith

Abstract

The categorical doubleness of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographic art, being simultaneously a biographical archive and a set of imaginative fabrications, means that she and her work make highly productive material for the creation of biofictional narratives and for the re-evaluation of the Victorian imagination and its relation to contemporary social conditions. Cameron’s photography of enhanced reality brings to the fore pertinent issues of affective materiality and biographical deconstruction. Helen Humphreys’s Afterimage (2001) and David Rocklin’s The Luminist (2011), biofictions based on Cameron’s life and work, translate her aesthetics into ekphrases that structure their narratives via subjective responses to material objects. These novels use the flexibility of Cameron’s aesthetics and creative approach to history to blur temporalities, renegotiate the artist-muse relationship and make an attempt to ‘rescue’ biographically peripheral subjects for both feminist and postcolonial agendas. Rather than simply reproducing the photographic archive as ‘evidence’, photographs are used intermedially as a radical means to both dramatise elements of Cameron’s life and social circle in line with present day concerns and to explore the radical and subjective materiality of an archival imagination.

In: Neo-Victorian Biofiction
Author: Marc Napolitano

Abstract

Regarded as one of the most infamous murder cases, media circuses, and miscarriages of justice in the nineteenth century, the Lizzie Borden story has evolved from historical fact to American myth. Among the most innovative biofictional interpretations of the case are the ballet Fall River Legend (1948), the opera Lizzie Borden: A Family Portrait in Three Acts (1965), and the rock musical/concept album Lizzie (2013). As in the case of many neo-Victorian biofictions, these musical treatments of the Borden case revolve heavily around the subject of trauma; dances, arias, and pop/rock songs convey weighty topics such as psycho-sexual abuse, depression, and Oedipal obsession. However, this psychoanalytic emphasis consistently directs the audience’s focus inward toward Lizzie’s aberrant madness (and the more general madness of her father’s household), as opposed to establishing an outward focus on how the domestic inequalities of Victorian society shaped the real-life murders. This limited emphasis on Victorian social criticism ultimately inhibits some of the feminist and queer components of these unique interpretations. Still, these limitations could be rectified through a less traditional use of music; specifically, the detached (and oftentimes ironic) musical commentary that characterised the ‘concept musicals’ of the 1960s and 1970s would allow for a broadening of the biofictions’ focus and a more deliberate condemnation of the larger social issues that defined the Borden tragedy.

In: Neo-Victorian Biofiction

Abstract

The eccentric Victorian jack-of-all-trades Richard Francis Burton keeps inspiring biographers, scholars and fiction writers alike to unearth new findings or re-examine known material, to imagine background details that fill in undocumented gaps, or to place him in the middle of blatantly unhistorical circumstances. This chapter investigates how two examples of neo-Victorian biofiction frame their Burton-versions with reference to postcolonial theory and beyond. The first, Iliya Troyanov’s The Collector of Worlds (2009, originally published in German in 2006), is a novel of cultural passing, which indirectly represents Burton as an absent hero through several narrative voices of cultural Others. The second, Mark Hodder’s steampunk extravaganza The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack (2010), imagines its Burton as an un-estranged action hero in the alternate reality of Albertian England. I propose to ‘cross-light’ the historical rfb with the aid of these two biofictional texts. In photography, ‘cross-lighting’ is a technique used to achieve dramatic visual effects. As a method of literary analysis, it seeks to render visible what implications for biofiction as a genre arise from the choices neo-Victorian novelists make in their representations of a historical figure. In addition, the goal of this article is to expose the ideological effects of Troyanov’s/Hodder’s choices, through tracing the specific ‘shadows’ cast by the Burton versions their biofictional novels offer.

In: Neo-Victorian Biofiction