Shall we open Shakespeare’s grave?

January 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm (Uncategorized)

As I mentioned in my last post (a few days further in the past than I’d intended!), one of the  more  interesting nineteenth-century phenomena that I’ve run across recently was the a fairly virulent controversy over Shakespeare’s grave.  The main instigator of this controversy seems to have been C. M. Ingleby, who wrote a treatise of significant length entitled Shakespeare’s Bones: The Proposal to Disinter Them, Considered in Relation to their Possible Bearing on His Portraiture: Illustrated by Instances of Visits of the Living to the Dead (London: Trüner and Co, 1883). If I might be allowed a somewhat  sardonic comment, I’d say that, with such a title, he’d better write a long treatise to live up to the expectation!  The length aside, though, the title itself is fairly suggestive: the phrase “Visits of the Living to the Dead” really indicates that the opened graves described here allow for a very cozy and congenial domestic correspondence between the two.  The main line of Ingleby’s argument is that 1)Graves of similar age have been successfully opened, and the bodies therein have been intact, when protected by appropriate coffins; 2) Shakespeare, as a man of status, would likely have been buried in one of these coffins; 3) Therefore, his body is probably intact; 4) Even if his body crumbles to dust moments after being exposed to the air, it would still be possible to take photographs; and 5) Such photographs would be invaluable to our understanding of the man and his works.  If you’ve followed my other posts, you can very likely see why this idea would be of interest to me; here indeed is a very direct desire to access the body of the author!  In fact, it’s of so much interest to me that I now have a new article in process–I’ve had to resist the temptation to neglect my dissertation in favor of further investigations!

There was, of course, a counter-current in Victorian culture, spearheaded by Thomas D. King in Shall We Open Shakespeare’s Grave? No. (Monstreal: J. Theo. Robison, 1884). King was not, in fact, responding to Ingleby; his immediate provocation was J. Parker Norris’s essay in Manhattan Magazine (July 1884), which adopted Ingleby’s theories and spread the controversy to the United States.  His reasons are about what you would expect; he believes that such an excavation would be disrespectful and that there is very likely nothing left but dust in any case. Oh yes, and that curse that I quoted above.

For the record, I learned of the controversy only because I’d requested the wrong issue of Manhattan Magazine from the library’s annexes.  I decided to flip through it, anyway, and I’m very glad I did!  I sometimes think that the best academic discoveries are made by chance . . . which is why I will always prefer physical libraries with real, dusty books to digitizations, useful though they may be.  But that’s a topic for another day!


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Back from vacation, and physiological novel theory!

January 10, 2011 at 7:12 pm (Uncategorized)

Actually, I’ve technically been back for more that two weeks, but I’ve been knee-deep in dissertation materials, so I’ve been neglecting the blog terribly!  The good news, though, is that the research I’ve done over the past few weeks has produced all kinds of interesting issues that I’d like to blog about.  Modern controversy over opening the Brontë vault, the issue of Anne Brontë’s grave at Scarborough (threatened by parking lot construction), nineteenth-century scholars who were really keen on opening Shakespeare’s grave . . . far too much for one post!

At the moment, though, I’m stealing time from the Dickens chapter of my dissertation, which I’m meant to be revising at the moment.  I’m trying to make several sets of scholars talk to each other, and so far, it seems to be working!  If I don’t get back there soon, though, they might start fighting.  Basically, I’m attempting to articulate the nature of Dickens’ relationship with Victorian physiological poetics; Nicolas Dames, in The Physiology of the Novel: Reading, Neural Science, and the Form of Victorian Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) suggests that Dickens, as a wildly popular and widely read novelist, may have provided much of the motivation for the theory in the first place, but really limits his discussion of Dickens himself.

Just in case anybody was wondering, physiological novel theory, according to Dames, occurs at the juncture of science and literary criticism in the nineteenth century:

In the mid- to late-nineteenth century some of the period’s most eminent and prolific critics of the novel had already written on the ‘life rhythms’ of literary forms and reading practices, and had already tried to generalize from these rhythmic signatures some sense of the effects that certain narrative forms could have upon the ‘human physical organization’; they had already speculated upon ‘physical rhythms in certain reading contexts’, particularly in the context of novel-reading, and had arrived at a complicated sense of the social and political stakes of these rhythms. (2)

It probably won’t surprise any Victorianist particularly that George Henry Lewes was involved! In any case, these arguments about the corporeal roots of nineteenth-century novel theory deserve more attention, I believe, so I wanted to put them out here for everybody’s consideration!

Now, back to the critics (nineteenth-century and otherwise!) who are fighting over Dickens’ body . . .

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Tennyson showing his age at last?

December 21, 2010 at 9:54 am (Uncategorized)

On the VICTORIA listserv this morning, someone posted a link to this article in The Independent; they’ve highlighted a fascinatingly befrosted statue of Tennyson as their picture of the day.  I’m reproducing it here for the full effect:

The cobwebs that would normally be invisible are thrown into sharp relief by all the the ice and snow, and the effect actually very much reminds me of an Arthur rising from his long sleep to save England.  Note, however, that his return in the majority of Victorian legends is purely theoretical; it’s an ideal that will never be realized.  In the twentieth-century post-apocolyptic novels in which he actually does come back, he tends to be a bit creaky and out of practice.

And since I’m theoretically on vacation, that’s it for now!  I hope that everybody has a wonderful holiday!

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British Women Writers Conference, March 31-April 2nd

December 16, 2010 at 5:30 pm (Uncategorized)

Since my friend Dan Franke was kind enough to mention me on his blog, I wanted to both return the favor (congratulations, Dan!!) and follow his example by promoting the British Women Writers Conference, put on by the British Women Writers Association!  The theme this year is “Curiosities,” and I’m very much looking forward to the conference.  I last attended this conference in 2008 at Indiana University, where I presented on hybridity and the Amazon in Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley. It was an excellent experience in every way, and I’m equally excited about this year’s speakers, who include Sharon Marcus and Helen Deutsch.  You can find more information here on there website; you can also visit the conference blog here for updates and to look for rides, roommates, and other essentials of grad student conference attendance!

This year, I’m presenting on my dissertation; my abstract follows, for anybody who’s interested:

Re-membering the Body of the Author: Memorialization, the Curious Gaze, and Nineteenth-Century Periodical Culture

Megan L. Morris, University of Rochester

“If, even in this age, blues are black-balled and homespun is still the ‘only wear,’” George Gilfillan, the Scottish author, spasmodic poet, and literary critic, asks in his 1847 “Female Authors No. 1.— Mrs. Hemans,” “in what light must the Aspasias and the Sapphos of the past have been regarded? Probably as lusus naturae, in whom a passionate attachment to literature was pardoned as a pleasant peccadillo, or agreeable insanity” [Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine 14 (June 1847): 359]. With its simultaneous connotations of monstrosity and curiosity, the term “lusus naturae” summons the body of the historical female author as item of specular display, available for the consumption of the Gilfillan’s implicitly male audience.  Gilfillan proceeds to solidify the corporeal connotations of female authorship, arguing that these literary tendencies are comparable to “a slight squint in the eye of a beauty, or even a far-off faux pas in her reputation,” which are “still not unfrequently forgiven” in modern society (359).  The connotations of sexual misconduct are clear in this passage; Gilfillan employs the analogy of the “beauty” to temporally transpose the links among female authorship, corporeal display, and prostitution from the realm of the classical past onto England’s Victorian present.

This paper stems from a larger project that traces the role of the body in nineteenth-century literary representations of authorship. The convergence of a broad range of scientific and social discourses rendered the body and its role in intellectual productions particularly visible during this time.   To offset the alienating, decorporealizing effects of industrialization and the mechanized print process, both nineteenth-century authors and readers desired a tangible, embodied author-figure within the text.  Nineteenth-century literature’s domestic codes, however, necessitated the simultaneous concealment of the authorial body within the voracious literary marketplace.  As works such as Marysa Demoor’s Marketing the Author have suggested, authors marketed their constructed identities along with their works; thus, an overtly materialized authorial body within the text solidifies the specter of prostitution that lurked behind nineteenth-century theorizations of authorship.

In this portion of the project, I examine the treatment of the female author’s body within the nineteenth-century periodical press, concentrating particularly on posthumous tributes, reviews, and memorial notices.  These articles and reviews, I argue, attempt to reconstruct the female authorial body in order to provide a tangible interpretive locus for their textual productions.  As Fraser, Green, and Johnston’s Gender and the Victorian Periodical (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) suggest, nineteenth-century periodicals offer a productive site for this study because media culture triggers the re-evaluation of gender roles in both their contributors and their readers. In this vein, Gilfillan follows his description of the historical lusus naturae with an attempt to reconstruct Felicia Hemans’ deceased body.  Gillfillan reports that, when reading her works, “All the woman in her shines. You could not (unknowing of the author) open a page of her writings without feeling this is written by a lady” (360).  The terminology of this passage sanitizes Hemans’ incarnation within her text, attempting to render the production of her body a pure and holy influence, yet the close juxtaposition of the lady’s body against that of the “lusus naturae” renders the two equivalent curiosities, similarly vulnerable to the reader’s gaze.

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sermonizing over Dickens’ grave

December 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm (Uncategorized)

I poke around a lot on Nineteenth-Century Masterfile, since it’s our library’s best database for searching nineteenth-century periodicals.  It’s not full-text, but it does draw on a really broad range of periodicals, some of which even WorldCat can’t locate!  I’ve now got a running list of periodicals, speeches, sermons, and newspapers that, as far as I can tell, can only be accessed at the British Library.  Have I mentioned that I’m excited about my research trip to England recently? 🙂

Yesterday, though, I came across one of my most intriguing finds yet.  On the Sunday after Charles Dickens’ funeral at Westminster Abbey (June 19th, 1870, for anybody who’s curious) Arthur P. Stanley, D.D., Dean of Westminster Abbey, preached a sermon that, beyond its ordinary liturgical aims, explored the reasons behind Dickens’ interment in the abbey.  Fortunately for all future scholars of Dickens, the Rev. Stanley appears to have had a cold that day.  The copy of the sermon that I obtained through Google Books explains its printing with characteristic Victorian precision: “This Sermon–preached under the pressure of a temporary indisposition, which prevented it from being heard except by comparatively few–is printed at the request of some of those who have since desired to read it” (2).  Due this “temporary indisposition,” Stanley’s sermon, with many, many thanks to Google Books, is available here and therefore vulnerable to my prying eyes.

Stanley opens his sermon with a reference to the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which was apparently the liturgical text of the day.  Just in case I’m not the only one with whom that parable doesn’t ring an immediate bell, one version of it is available here (complete with discussion questions, it would appear!).  This parable is an interesting text in the context of the Victorian modes of authorial memorialization; as anybody who’s familiar with my dissertation will know, I’m arguing that these modes of memorialization often hinge on a desire to revive the author’s body in its corporeal form.   In this parable, the rich man pleads for Abraham’s permission to return to warn his brothers that salvation requires ministering to the poor. (This is after he sees the sore-covered beggar Lazarus, whom he ignored, being saved from fiery torment by the angels.)  Abraham responds that the rich man’s brothers have Moses and the prophets to warn them, and that if they fail to listen, they will not be persuaded by one who rises from the dead, either.

The juxtaposition of this text with Dickens’ funeral sermon is fascinating. According Stanley, Dickens’ works and his death draw our attention to the presence of Lazarus of the world: “By him that veil was rent asunder which parts the various classes of society.  Through his genius the rich man, faring sumptuously every day, was made to see and feel the presence of the Lazarus at the gate” (12).  This construction places Dickens in a peculiar position in the text: he occupies the position of  both the prophet and the dead body in the parable.  This dual position appears in Stanley’s initial introduction of Dickens into his sermon:

There are some incidents of human life which almost demand a special notice from the depth and breadth of the feelings which they awaken in the heart of the congregation.  Such was the ceremony which, on Tuesday last, conveyed to his grave, within these walls, a lamented and gifted being, who had for years delighted and instructed the generation to which he belonged.  And if the Scripture of the day and the incident of the week direct our minds to the same thoughts, and mutually illustrate each other, the attraction is irresistible, and the moral which each supplies is doubly enforced. (4)

Whereas the revival of the dead body in the parable cannot secure the attention of the unfeeling rich men, Stanley employs the unrevived and unrevivable body of Dickens as a tangible witness to the scriptural themes upon which he wishes to expound.  This function is not limited to Dickens; Stanley writes that:

In various ages it has assumed various forms–the divine flame of poetry, the far-reaching gaze of science, the searching analysis of philosophy, the glorious page of history, the burning eloquence of speaker or preacher, the grave address of moralist or divine.  These all we have had in ages past; their memorials are around us here. These all we have in their measure, some more, some less, in the age in which we live.  But it is perhaps not too much to say, that in no age of the world, and in no country of the world, has been developed on so large a scale, and with such striking effects as in our own, the gift of ‘speaking in parables;’ the gift of addressing mankind through romance and novel and tale and fable. (6)

Literature, then, becomes the primary vehicle of fable; the writers, by extension, are the modern prophets who take the place of Moses in the parable of Lazarus.  Sir Walter Scott, so familiar to Stanley’s audience that he need not be named directly, occupies a prominent place in this sermon:

First and far above all others came that greatest of all the masters of fiction–the glory of Scotland–whose romances refreshed and exalted our childhood as they still refresh and exalt our advancing years . . . He rests not here.  He rests beside his native Tweed.   But long may his magic spell charm and purify the ages which yet shall be!  Long may  yonder monument of the Scottish Duke, whom he has immortalised in one of his noblest works, keep him for ever in our memory, as, one by one, the lesser and later lights which have followed in that track where he led the way, are gathered beneath its overshadowing marble. (6)

This passage suggests the importance of the memorial in securing the place of the author within Victorian material culture; a tangible reminder evokes the body of the author, which in turn provokes a recursive return the the author’s text. (I’d actually argue that the pattern is yet more cyclical: memorialization evokes the body of the author, which leads to the text, from which the reader again attempts to extract the body of the author, which drives the reader again towards a form of body-centric  memorialization. But that’s a topic for the dissertation itself!).

Unlike Scott’s body, Dickens’ is immediately available to Stanley’s audience in Westminster Abbey: Stanley’s sermon is laced with references to the “freshly laid grave,” and it becomes a profoundly visible backdrop to the sermon as a whole (10).  The presence of Dickens’ body becomes a surrogate for the monument which he refused:

He laboured to tell us all, in new, very new, words, the old, old story that there is even in the worst of [sic?] a capacity for goodness–a soul worth redeeming, worth reclaiming, worth regenerating.  . . If by any such means he has brought rich and poor nearer together, and made Englishmen feel more nearly as one family, he will not assuredly have lived in vain, nor will his bones in vain have been laid in this home and hearth of the English nation. (14)

The presence of Dickens’ body within the “domestic” space of Westminster Abbey – an interesting designation in and of itself – drives visitors back from the body to the text.

Originally, I’d not really intended to talk about this sermon in my dissertation, but I think I’ve changed my mind.  The connection that Stanley establishes between the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man and Dickens’ authorial practice suggests to me that he’s trying to establish a different relationship between the text and the body of the author than that typically constructed in Victorian aesthetics. The body in and of itself is an inadequate vessel for narrative transmission, and yet is inextricable from the process of the text’s memorialization.

And if you actually make it to the end of this long, long post, congratulations!  I clearly had much more to say than I thought I did, and the whole exercise of working through this sermon has given me some interesting ideas. . . I have yet more ideas, but I’ll save them for a more official format. 🙂

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Google, Ghosts, and the Victorians!

December 12, 2010 at 11:09 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

This morning, I’m feeling decidedly lethargic; I was up until the wee hours of the morning learning new bread-making techniques! (And very good bread it is, too!) To be quite honest, my dissertation isn’t moving as quickly as I’d like today, and so I decided to Google “Victorian and ghost” as a matter of scientific experiment.  Little did I know that Google itself played a key role in the documentation of Victorian ghosts!

According to this article from The Telegraph of 26 March 2009, a “woman dressed in long skirt, crisp blouse, bow tie, blue boater hat and scarf appears to be shimmering above the pavement” appeared in a Google Street View image of old Victorian dockyards, thus generating quite a sensation. (Really, I hadn’t realized that Google Street View had so many applications; the “related articles” section on The Telegraph website informs me that this useful feature also recorded the presence of a cheating husband at the home of a lady other than his wife.)  The article also records that “She was captured by the Google Street View cameras in Tiger Bay, Cardiff – the scene of murders and unsolved mysteries going back 200 years.”  The experts called in to analyze the apparition report that the strangest aspect of the figure is her incomplete materialization.

I’m reproducing the image for your enjoyment:

Just to clarify, I have much interest in recording these issues as a cultural phenomenon, and none whatsoever in determining their accuracy or truth.  I do think that there’s something about the nineteenth century that lends itself to reported ghostly sitings; it’s historically present enough to seem accessible and tangible to us, and yet distant enough to lose some of it’s materiality.  Rather like the figure in the image, in fact . . .

This story, by the way, wasn’t precisely viral on the internet, but  it was reproduced on several websites and in a number of UK newspapers.  We don’t seem to  want to let the Victorians go entirely, however our culture may revile their mores!

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C. B. Hughes, “On The Phrenological Character of Jesus Christ,” 1843.

December 10, 2010 at 2:05 pm (Uncategorized)

At the moment, I’m deeply engrossed in Roger Cooter’s Phrenology in the British Isles: An Annotated, Historical Biobibliography and Index (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1989).  It’s exactly what it sounds like: 353 pages of entries that detail [chiefly nineteenth-century] speeches, letters, medical treatises, philosophical essays, etc. that discuss phrenology, plus several appendices.  It’s a very interesting and useful resource, although I haven’t yet found the original object of my quest.  In view of the many references to phrenology and physiognomy in Dickens’ works, I was wondering if anybody had ever done a study of the man himself.  The enormously helpful and generous VICTORIA listserv provided one result (a phrenological study of Dickens conducted in 1842 by L.N. Fowler), but thus far, a search of Cooter’s bibliography hasn’t suggested any other sources.

Along the way, however, I’ve been both awed and entertained by the diversity of Cooter’s entries.  The Victorians, it would seem, had a substantial interest in the phrenological study of murderers; I wish that I could say that I’ve kept a tally!  The principle aim of these studies, so far as I’ve discerned, is to discover which areas of their brains were over- and under-developed.  These principles were then applied in the education of children.

Although there’s no sign of Dickens yet (as of page 177), I have found several studies of Sir Walter’s Scott’s head, one of Shakespeare’s head (errrr – posthumous, of course, and based on his bust), and a couple of references to Dean Swift’s recently unearthed skull. [In that particular case, a later scholar doubted the authenticity of the skull under consideration; I will report further once I’ve tracked down the articles in question!]

And, the find of the day: “Hughes, C. B. (sometimes Hughs), delivered a lecture on ‘The Phrenological Character of Jesus Christ’ to the Owenite John St. Inst, 1843.”  I’m now engaged in a completely tangential [to my dissertation] quest to see if there’s a transcription of this lecture anywhere; if there is, be assured that I will reproduce it here.  In the meantime, Google Books provided me with a copy of the original advertisement for the lecture. It’s from The Reasoner and Utilitarian Record 2 (1843):12.  This is one of the times when I really love modern technologies!

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Francis Turner Palgrave and the conflicts between literary medievalism and medieval history

December 8, 2010 at 2:51 pm (Uncategorized)

I admit to cheating today; the trials and travails that beset grad students (broken computers, snow that needs shoveled, and avalanches of books, among others) have conspired to usurp almost all of my time thus far today, and the dissertation looms large.  As a result, I’m basically drawing on a portion of an annotated bibliography entry which I wrote last night.  I’d run across a poem called “A Crusader’s Tomb,” written by Francis Turner Palgrave and published in a volume called The Visions of England in 1881.  The Visions of England was digitized by Google Books, incidentally, and can be found here.

It’s quite an interesting collection in and of itself; Palgrave had significant ties both to Tennyson and to members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and his interest in medievalism appears to have been considerable.  The Visions of England attempts to create a cohesive poetical history of England, but the way that Palgrave frames the project suggests that he’s seeing conflicts between his artistic and historical endeavors. The poem emphasizes the role of the poet as an interpreter of history. After his initial image of a crusader “unanamed, unknown,” yet “a shrine within a shrine,” Palgrave asserts the poet’s right to fictionalize his vision of medieval history:

—How so! Thou say’st—This is the poet’s right!
He looks with larger sight
Than they who hedge their view by present things,
The small, parochial world
Of sight and touch: at what he sees, he sings. (53)

Palgrave’s defensive stance indicates the tensions surrounding Victorian medievalism: nineteenth-century literary aesthetics demand realism, and nineteenth-century historians and antiquarians were, as a body, preoccupied with recording precise historical details. Nineteenth-century literary medievalism thus falls outside the dictates of both genres: it employs the material relics of the past to fashion a visionary narrative that draws upon both romanticism and realism.  This transcendence of genres and literary modes, Palgrave implies, allows the Victorian medievalist poet to fashion a unified history of England that coincides with the nineteenth-century nationalist drives. [And yes, that’s where I may or may not have used the copy-paste function!]

In any case, I found this passage interesting; it’s always fascinating to run across a passage that directly states the aims of Victorian literary medievalism, particularly a theorization that both  acknowledges the conflicts between literary and historical vision *and* argues that literary interpretations trump strict historical accuracy!

A last point: lest my enthusiasm deceive anyone into thinking that Palgrave’s place on the literary scene is larger than it actually was, he’s known chiefly for a collection called The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language (1861), which won critical acclaim in his day.  He’s also received some attention from modern critics; his relationship with Tennyson tends to loom large in these articles.

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Shelley’s Ghost

December 7, 2010 at 9:00 am (Uncategorized)

Yesterday, Rachel Lee, a colleague and friend of mine at the University of Rochester, drew my attention to an exhibit entitled “Shelley’s Ghost” that will be on display at the Bodleian through March 2011.

According to Charles Cuvkendall Carter, writing on this blog, run by the New York Public Library, the exhibit will be wide-ranging and include never-before-displayed relics from the Pforzheimer collection. Carter’s description makes me want to move up my currently-scheduled research trip to England by a couple of months:

Exploring the life, afterlife, kith and kin of the nineteenth-century radical poet (and Oxford expellee) Percy Bysshe Shelley, the exhibition integrates the unique Pforzheimer materials – some of which have never before been on public display in the UK – with the cream of the Bodleian’s own extensive collections of Shelley-related manuscripts, books, artworks and realia. Some of the exhibition’s highlights include, from the Bodleian, Shelley’s manuscript notebooks, and an early draft of Frankenstein, the first novel by his (arguably now more famous) second wife, Mary; among the Pforzheimer items are bookends to Shelley’s life with his first wife, Harriet: her engagement ring, and her suicide letter.

Fortunately for me, I’ll be in England to research the final chapter of my dissertation in March 2011, and I will definitely plan on a visit to the Bodleian. After the Oxford exhibit closes, however, a version of the exhibit will apparently appear at the New York Public Library, also relatively accessible from Rochester.

OK, off to shovel snow as a pre-dissertation exercise!

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Devotion (1946), dir. Curtis Bernhardt

December 6, 2010 at 10:18 am (Uncategorized)

In a thread about Brontë parodies on the Victorian listserv, someone just mentioned Curtis Bernhardt’s 1946 Devotion, directed by Curtis Bernhardt and starring Ida Lupino and Olivia de Havilland as Emily and Charlotte Brontë, respectively.  According to the original poster, it promised to be a dramatization of this sisters’ struggle for M. Heger’s love and (perhaps secondarily) for literary prominence, seriously hindered by their brother Branwell.  Needless to say, I was immediately intrigued.

I had hoped that the film would be available in full on the internet or in the University of Rochester library (after all, it’s a snowy morning in Rochester, and what better way to keep nice and warm, yet still work on my dissertation, than to curl up with an unintentional Brontë parody?), but so far, no luck. I did, however, find this trailer on YouTube, my recent goldmine of dissertation materials:

There’s so much to say that I don’t quite know where to start, and my time is limited this morning! I suppose I’d better begin with the opening quote, displayed broadly and boldly across the screen: “Out of the hush of the century comes a strange love story to excite and enthrall you with its powerful drama and emotional fire—DEVOTION.”  Out of respect for my audience, I’ve omitted the dramatic capitalization, the title always excepted.  So, let’s see.  In this quotation, I’m seeing a fairly familiar impulse to read the Victorian era as the repository of untouched narratives of passion, awaiting the touch of modern lips to awaken them.  (Wait — did that sound like Sleeping Beauty? Whoops.  Purely accidental, I assure you!) The audience’s excitement and enthrallment thus hinges on the combination of historical drama with the modern compulsion to narrate scandal.

Another particularly rich quote by M. Heger: “There are who ways of dealing with a woman of your perverse temperament, Miss Brontë. It is lucky for you that I am not a a woman-beater.” [Insert here the traditional pause, semi-violent grab, and deeply passionate kiss.] I believe that the “Miss Brontë” being addressed is Charlotte, but I’m not completely positive – I will have to check this later.  In either case, this scene doesn’t really need my interpretations!

And, last but certainly not least, the film’s final commentary on the intertwining dramas of passion and literary genius that it’s creating: “The exciting story of two exciting women whose affairs were whispered across an era.”  Notice again the invocation of a suppressed historical narrative, implicitly “whispered” through the Charlotte and Emily’s novels.  Oh, and just before these words play across the screen, we actually see all three Brontë sisters, dramatically unfolding their fans as they boldly move into high society.  Anne’s present, but somehow collapsed into her two more prominent sisters.

A final note: Based only on this brief trailer, it looks like the sisters’ literary struggles emerge chiefly in their rivalry with the dissipated Branwell, who accuses Emily, Anne, and Charlotte of desiring his downfall in order to “clear the field” for their own literary works, but until I’ve seen the full movie, I’ll withhold further commentary.

So, where can I obtain a copy of this film??? Methinks that there’s a prominent film library just down the road . . .

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