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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
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

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

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

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:

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