Friday 25 May 2012

Wonderful Victorian websites

Broaden your Victorian horizons by taking a look at these interesting websites:

Girls' Literature and Culture Blog

Dr Michelle Smith from the University of Melbourne writes about what it was like to be a girl in the Victorian and Edwardian era - what you would have read, worn, and done with your time. She's also written a book on the same subject titled Empire in British Girls' Literature and Culture: Imperial Girls, 1880-1915.

According to Smith, "from the nineteenth century [...], women have learned through women's magazines and how they present and construct ideas about women's dress and appearance how to be appropriately feminine". This is such a relevant and controversial theme today, with issues such as eating disorders and the objectification of women permeating media discourse.

Queen Victoria's Online Scrapbook

A fantastic interactive scrapbook of Queen Victoria's life and times, with tons of images (paintings, documents and photographs), detailed facts and even some video clips from later in her reign.


An assortment of every possible news snippet or website post that relates to Charles Dickens and his work. The fun, informal tone of blogger Gina Dalfonzo's writing invites you right in.

Judging a book by its cover

How important is a book's cover? Let's say you're looking to buy a particular classic. Are you more likely to buy the more expensive one with the beautiful cover, or the one with the lowest price (after all, the content is what matters!)? What do you look prefer: hardcover/softcover? Small print/large print? Illustrated or not?

Tuesday 1 May 2012

A whole new level of fan fiction

If you're a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories (or any of the countless adaptations), read Jeanette Laredo's insights on the long history of this character's followers here. Talk about taking your literature seriously!

Thursday 19 April 2012

Are you a (Brontë) bookworm?

Have you read Jane Eyre? What did you like about it? Perhaps you've just seen the new movie with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, or one of the BBC adaptations, but it's got you keen to get to the real thing?

This is my favourite cover for the novel - the Penguin Clothbound Edition by Coralie Bickford-Smith. She has also designed beautiful cloth bindings for various other classics - see her portfolio here.

Have you read anything else from the Victorian era? What was your favourite? Let me know!

ReKindle your love for the classics

One of the best things about works of Victorian literature is that their copyright has expired in most countries, including South Africa (where the duration is 50 years). This means you can download the full text of Jane Eyre, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights and countless others for free from sites like Project Gutenberg. You can download the electronic text, the audio-book version or even the e-book version for Kindle and similar devices. I've found that electronic copies of long texts are also extremely handy for essay writing, for example when you want to find a specific quote or scene in a novel, or all the references to, say, mirrors (or some other thematic element).

While I still believe there's nothing quite like holding a (new) book in your hands, the advantages of gadgets like  Kindle are looking more and more appealing. Imagine walking around with Jane Austen's collected works in your handbag! Read more about Kindle downloads from Project Gutenberg here.

Do you have a Kindle or other e-reader? How are you finding it? Or are you still favouring hard copies?

Girl reading
- George Cochran Lambdin (1830 – 1896) (image from here)

Thursday 12 April 2012

Facebook in 1836?

Charles Dickenss Networks Public Transport and the Novel

In a new book called Charles Dickens's Networks: Public Transport and the Novel (2012), Jonathan Grossman, associate professor of English at UCLA, suggests that the technological advances in transport and communication during the Victorian era led to the same kind of "social networking" we experience today through Facebook, Twitter and similar websites. He points out that Dickens makes extensive reference to these "networks" in his novels, employing them to create links between socially or geographically unconnected characters - i.e. in the same way we use Facebook, or even dating websites. Read Meg Sullivan's thorough and interesting review of Grossman's book here.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Dickens tackles social issues (I)

At our first TOCS reading group meeting today, we talked (among many other things) about the fact that Charles Dickens used his novels to address specific social problems - and that the awareness his novels created often led to the solution (at least partially) of these problems. In Oliver Twist (1838 - full text and Kindle here), one of Dickens's most famous works, he describes the ghastly living circumstances of workhouse labourers. As a boy, Dickens of course spent time in a workhouse himself, while his father was in the debtors' prison - a horrible experience which influenced this author's work greatly.

British historian Ruth Richardson has just published a new book called Dickens & the Workhouse: Oliver Twist & the London Poor (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Photo: Celebrating Dickens 2012

In this book she describes her discovery of the actual workhouse Dickens worked in as a child, and the building's astonishing proximity to a residential house Dickens lived in for years. See her enthuse about her discovery in this video clip:

(full version here)

or read about her petition to save this historical workhouse from demolition here. (It worked, by the way, and the building was saved.)