Category Archives: Books

Review: Theodore Wratislaw – Fragments of a Life

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D. J. Sheppard, Theodore Wratislaw: Fragments of a Life (The Rivendale Press, 2017)

Was there ever a more 1890s-sounding character than Theodore Wratislaw? His surname sounds like a Beardsley drawing: the craggy ‘wrati’ leading into the sinuous ‘slaw’. If that isn’t enough, his middle name ‘Graf’ hints at possible connections to the Bohemian nobility: a useful foil for a poet whose birthplace was the town of Rugby in Warwickshire. To those who haven’t read their copies of The Yellow Book or The Savoy too closely, Theodore Wratislaw seems invented – qualities that clearly endeared him to Max Beerbohm, whose famous fictional 1890s hero ‘Enoch Soames’ contained at least a ‘dash’ of Wratislaw.

Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933) was, however, not only very real, but – as D. J. Sheppard’s excellent new biography reveals – shared Beerbohm’s fate of living the vast majority of his life outside of the decade in which he achieved passing notoriety. The question of what happened to the main players of the 1890s in the 1900s and beyond has always been a fascinating one. Beardsley, Wilde, Dowson and Johnson were all dead by 1902, leaving the survivors of the decade to either trade in nostalgia for the rest of their lives (as Beerbohm did, to some extent), or try to forge a new identity for the coming century Continue reading

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CFP: The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947 (Edited Collection)

'Line of Life' by William Shackleton, 1915 (Tate)

‘Line of Life’ by William Shackleton, 1915 (Tate)

Proposals are sought for an essay collection entitled ‘The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947’, to be proposed to Ashgate’s new Among the Victorians and the Modernists series. Focusing on the development, popular diffusion, and international networks of British occulture between 1875-1947, the interdisciplinary volume will capitalize on the recent surge of scholarly interest in the late Victorian occult revival by tracing the development of its central and residual manifestations through the fin de siècle and two world wars. We aim to challenge the polarization of Victorian and modernist occult art and practice into discrete expressions of either a nostalgic reaction to the crisis of faith or a radical desire for the new. The collection will also map the affinities between popular and elite varieties of occultism in this period, recognizing the degree to which esoteric activities and texts relied on and borrowed from the exoteric sphere. Continue reading

Review: Edwardian Radicals and Literary Modernism

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Anne Fernihough, Freewomen and Supermen: Edwardian Radicals and Literary Modernism (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Flicking through the suffragist journal Votes for Women (1907-1918) today, a striking feature is the amount of space dedicated to advertisements for suffragist merchandise. ‘Wonderful Bargains in Electioneering Gowns’, announces an advertisement from January 1910, listing dresses with such names as ‘The Mildred’, ‘La Russe’, and ‘The Moscow’. In later issues there are suffragist banners, items of jewellery, and, perhaps most delightfully, Christmas crackers in suffragist colours (one wonders at the gifts and jokes they may have contained). Such merchandise, of course, helped to raise valuable funds and broaden the profile of the cause; harder to explain are the advertisements for ‘yougourt agents’, with accompanying articles extolling the health benefits of this vegetarian food. At first glance these advertisements can appear rather anachronistic: yogurt is hardly a convenient snack to take on a march, and does not obviously signify one’s suffragist allegiance in the same way as a ‘Votes for Women!’ pendant in purple, white and green. Yet during the Edwardian era radical politics and a healthy diet were often part and parcel of the same thing: a desire to attain an apparently higher, more evolved and more humane state of being.

The relationship between progressive thinking and individual development is the subject of Anne Fernihough’s exciting new study, Freewomen and Supermen: Edwardian Radicals and Literary Modernism. Continue reading

The Edwardian Ford

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The latest volume of International Ford Madox Ford Studies is titled ‘The Edwardian Ford Madox Ford’. According to the publishers the volume ‘focuses on Ford’s work from the Edwardian decade and a half before the First World War. It contains Michael Schmidt’s Ford Madox Ford Lecture, and fourteen other essays by British, American, French and German experts, both leading authorities and younger scholars. Chapters on Ford’s fiction, poetry, criticism of literature and painting, writing about England, and dealings on the Edwardian literary scene as editor and with publishers, bring out his versatility and ingenuity throughout his first major creative phase’. For more information see the publisher’s pages.

For more on Ford Madox Ford see the Ford Madox Ford Society.

Review: A Cultural History of the 1905 Aliens Act

William Rothenstein, 'Aliens at Prayer', 1905

William Rothenstein, ‘Aliens at Prayer’, 1905

David Glover, Literature, Immigration, and Diaspora in Fin-de-Siècle England: A Cultural History of the 1905 Aliens Act (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
ISBN: 9781107022812

The Edwardian era, as noted in the catalogue to the recent exhibition Edwardian Opulence, witnessed a ‘colossal torrent of political, social, economic, and cultural change’. Though some of these changes were reflected in the visual examples selected for the exhibition – such as John Byam Shaw’s haunting canvas The Boer War (1900) – other issues, such as immigration, were overlooked. Yet it was during the Edwardian period that the first modern law to restrict immigration into Britain was passed. The 1905 Aliens Act was a highly significant event in British history (one contemporary referred to it as a ‘revolution in national policy’), and is the subject of a recent study by the literary scholar, David Glover.

Though the Aliens Act was ostensibly designed to restrict the influx of all ‘undesirable aliens’, regardless of nationality or cultural background, it was in essence a response to a particular crisis: the substantial growth of Jewish immigrants to Britain following the Russian pogroms of the 1880s and early 1900s. In British culture, the so-called ‘alien’, argues Glover, was almost indistinguishable from ‘the Jew’, and the two must be considered together. In this sense, David Glover’s book follows on from several excellent studies of Jewish immigration and its representations, most notably ‘The Jew’ in late-Victorian and Edwardian culture: between the East End and East Africa (Palgrave MacMillan 2009). Continue reading

Review: Elizabeth von Arnim: Beyond the German Garden

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Elizabeth von Arnim: Beyond the German Garden by Isobel Maddison (Ashgate 2013)
ISBN: 9781409411673

Type ‘Victorian Literature’ into Google, noted Simon J. James in his keynote lecture for ‘Beyond the Garden Party’, and you’ll find almost eight-million search results for sites hosting scholarly journals and university-affiliated projects. Try the same thing with ‘Edwardian Literature’ and you’ll get just over a million hits, the first of which is a Facebook page. It has six ‘Likes’.

The perception of Edwardian literature – particularly Edwardian fiction – as a literary backwater seems always to have been with us. As early as 1923 Virginia Woolf was pinpointing the Edwardian era as ‘the fatal age’ in literature, naming and shaming ‘Mr Wells, Mr Galsworthy, and Mr Arnold’ as ‘the culprits’ of this literary demise. Such dismissals have proved surprisingly difficult to shake off, no more so than in the case of female Edwardian novelists (who, tellingly, Woolf’s ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’ didn’t even bother to cite). Continue reading

Edwardian Opulence – Catalogue Review

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Angus Trumble and Andrea Wolk Rager, ed. Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (Yale Center for British Art; Yale University Press, 2013).

The last couple of years have witnessed an upsurge of interest in art of the Edwardian era. Recent months have seen a special edition of Visual Culture in Britain dedicated to ‘Edwardian Art and its Legacies’, the launch of the Tate-based Camden Town Group in Context, and the first part of Yale’s Edwardian project, The Edwardian Sense (published in 2010). Now we have Edwardian Opulence, the four-hundred page catalogue to the exhibition currently showing at the Yale Center for British Art, and the culmination of a decade’s research into early twentieth-century British culture.

Long seen, in the wonderful words of Edwardian Opulence curators Angus Trumble and Andrea Wolk Rager, as ‘an indolent coda drifting behind the long Victorian era’, the first decade of the twentieth century has struggled for some time to find its own voice, with many commentators holding onto the cliché of the ‘long summer afternoon’ or the ‘country house garden party’. This trope has not been accepted by all: Samuel Hynes, in his 1968 book The Edwardian Turn of Mind, was one of the first to call attention to the darker undercurrents of the age – an idea taken up with gusto in the field of art history by the 1987 exhibition The Edwardian Era. Indeed, it is fair to see both of these as foundational texts to which this current influx of Edwardian surveys owe a large debt. The title – and bold, Boldini cover – of Edwardian Opulence, however, suggests a slight shift in interests. Continue reading