Reading "The Writing on the Wall": Neo-Victorian Reimaginings and the Potential of Popular Genres

Rhea, Austin, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ganguly, Debjani, University of Virginia

While the genesis of neo-Victorianism as a field centered on “the act of (re)interpretation, (re)discovery and (re)vision concerning the Victorians” as outlined by pioneering scholars Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn, this exploration has almost overwhelmingly focused on so-called “literary fiction” and other prestige-oriented forms of media in order to garner legitimacy and academic consideration. Given the Victorians’ penchant for popular culture as espoused by their contemporary fascination with spaces like the music hall and the birth of popular fiction such as the sensation novel, I posit that closer focus on the “popular” forms of twentieth- and twenty-first century media as natural evolutions of Victorian concerns can allow for more radical “(re)interpretation, (re)discovery and (re)vision” of the Victorian era. The constructs of genre allow today’s neo-Victorians to “play” with convention and normalcy, much like their Victorian predecessors experimented with their own notions of popular culture, and in these neo-Victorian experiments more capacious understandings of social constructs such as race, gender, sexuality, and the cult of domesticity are free to promulgate as their creators (re)define the existence of the Victorian being. I will focus on two “popular” forms of contemporary media—the Broadway musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, adapted from Charles Dickens’ unfinished final novel and the Sins of the Cities trilogy of romance novels by KJ Charles—in my discussions of the Victorian/neo-Victorian dialectic. By drawing lines between the spatial freedoms afforded by the music hall, the open generic capacities of the sensation novel, and these two forms of neo-Victorian expression, I will synthesize the popular media of today, questions of the Victorian legacy, and influences of the Victorians’ own notions of popular culture into discussions of postcoloniality, postmodernism, and representation politics as relating to the broad sphere of neo-Victorianism and popular expression.

MA (Master of Arts)
Neo-Victorianism, Popular culture, Postcolonialism, Postmodernism
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