The Glasstown Chronicles #3: Humble Parry Takes A Trip

In the 19th Century there was a movement, slow but significant, that infiltrated thought and decision-making. Some of the first steps in the progress towards improvements in Women’s Rights were taken. It might have been quiet, but it went hand in hand with other movements towards reform, across a century known for both the abuse of power and also violent revolutionary change.

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

  (Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797)

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With her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) Wollstonecraft contributed to the bases of the Romantic Movement of the early 19th Century. Her work drew attention to the importance of agency and the rights of the individual as applied to women as well as men.

If men can be self-willed entities in the context of the eternal, the universe, or God, then so too, argued Wollstonecraft, can women. Ensnared in a world that limited their identity and choices this argument was a refreshing one. Writers and thinkers helped to progress it.

Endeavours by some writers to do this involved their decisions about naming. What do you call yourself if you enter into a life of writing, journalism, or criticism? The Brontë Sisters renamed were the Bell Brothers: Currer, Ellis, and Acton. Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Eliot. Amandine Lucie Aurore Dupin was George Sand.

Sometimes it was useful to reassign a masculine identity. Could you become a man in your writing? Or, at least not get labeled as a subordinate thanks to the bias directed at you as a female.

Neutral names also helped to reinvent and disguise a writer. The daughter of a wine merchant from Bury St. Edmunds, Marie Louise Ramé, re-styled her name as Marie Louise de la Ramée. She later wrote as ‘Ouida’, her own childish contraction of her name ‘Louise’. She resided at Langham’s Hotel, seated in bed and writing by candlelight with the drapes closed, surrounded by purple flowers.

At other times, the choice of genre can determine your identity. As a writer of romance a female name might serve your career. As an author of thrillers, satire, or intrigue the masculine association might encourage readers to believe in you.

In America in 1866 the novella Behind The Mask by A. M. Barnard was published. The story follows a devious governess, Jean Muir, and her rise to dominance in the Coventry family. She follows the tradition of 19th Century characters that pursued social elevation: Currer Bell’s Jane Eyre, Ellis Bell’s Heathcliff, William Thackeray’s Becky Sharp, and Mary Braddon’s Lady Audley. Social climbing in the 19th Century involved many different approaches both fair means and foul.

A. M. Barnard was Louisa May Alcott, known for her stories of ‘The Little Women’ of the March Family. Under her own name she also wrote charming stories of childhood and reimagined fairy tales: ‘Poppy’s Pranks’, ‘Aunt Jo’s Scrap-bag’, and The Rose Family. So, a change in subject matter to a satirical tale of ruthless social climbing indicated the need to adopt a different, neutral, title on Alcott’s part.

This is a very useful development and precedent for creating new fiction about the writers of the ‘Glasstown’ stories and their fellow authors of the 19th Century: the Brontë-Bells, their contemporaries, and influences. It helps with the construction of new narratives that blend fact and fiction.

Charles Lamb was ‘Elia’, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was Silas Tomkyn Comberbache, Washington Irvine called himself Jonathan Oldstyle, and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was Lewis Carroll.

Polymath Benjamin Franklin made a good living from his writing in the 18th Century, as well as helping to found the Independent colonies in America. In that time he penned the enduringly popular Poor Richard’s Almanack. Writing as ‘Poor’ Richard Saunders he composed many popular, wise sayings:

“Historians relate, not so much what is done, as what they would have believed.”          (Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1739)

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Benjamin Franklin aka Silence Dogood aka Anthony Afterwit

Franklin’s emphasis on the use of pen-names began very early in his writing life. At 16 he was a printer’s apprentice in Boston, Mass. In order to say his piece, and convince his older brother he could write, he adopted the name of Silence Dogood, a 40-year-old preacher’s widow. At different times he was also Celia Single and Anthony Afterwit.

The use of pseudonyms creates tension. With a variety of persona there comes a variety of opinion. It gives the writer the chance to enter into a discourse and an investigation with the society around them. Re-naming highlights uncertainty, ambivalence, and flexibility with identity.

 


 

As part of the Glasstown narratives researcher Humble Parry is on the trail of  new information about where and when Branwell Brontë passed away. Her suspicions have been aroused about the authenticity of some of the facts surrounding the family’s history. She tracks down the mysterious Professor Mina Laury in her remote house on the Moors.

Humble considers herself something of an expert on obscure 18th & 19th Century literary history, but even she is surprised by the contents of Professor Laury’s home.

(Support The Glasstown Chronicles Kickstarter here)

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THE GLASSTOWN CHRONICLES: Humble Parry Takes A Trip.

The Yorkshire Moors — the present day

Humble Parry opened up the throttle on her vintage Norton motorcycle. The moorland roads with their long, sweeping stretches were perfect for seeing what the machine could do. She was pleased with how it sounded. She kept it well tuned.

The bright spring day on the Moors dried the roads after the overnight rain. Patches of darker tarmac were quickly shrinking. The Norton throbbed to a standstill alongside a typical dry-stone wall that bounded the road in a hollow between two hills. A stone bridge spanned a brook that trickled down from the high moors. Twisted, mossy oaks hugged the banks, their roots clasped the dark boulders that were caught in a petrified cascade in the crook of the hills.

Humble cut the engine and dismounted. She removed her helmet. Her tousled auburn curls sprang obediently from their confinement. She gently unlatched the rickety, lichen covered wooden gate of Brook House. She checked the handwritten card that she took from her pocket: ‘Professor Mina Laury, Brook House, Midhaven Hollow, Stoneyworth Moor Road.’

The narrow path that led to the charming rustic porch was flanked with choppy wild grass and twisted, scrubby bushes. Flowerpots and ornaments of different styles and periods sat in groups and huddled against the walls. Feeders hung from tree boughs with an occasional bird flitting in to peck at them.

The crowded eclectic theme of the garden continued into the unruly, busy interior. Humble could spot a cluttered hallway through the porch window. Brook House was more than a hundred years old. Grey rendered walls, streaked dark with the rain rose above her and the eyes of the building were sash windows with dusty green frames.

Humble could hear a radio playing faintly somewhere – a way off in the back of the house. She lifted the doorknocker. It was iron and cast into the shape of a large cog. She thudded it three times, and waited. The distinctive lilt of ‘The Archers’ theme tune travelled towards her through the house.

After a couple of minutes and more knocking, Humble walked around the side of the ample property. She came alongside a blind grey wall, pebble-dashed and cracked, with a worn wooden door, blistered green, standing partly open.

‘Okay, Goldilocks,’ Humble said to herself, ‘let’s check it out.’

She walked in.

She found herself in a narrow corridor with parquet flooring. On the pale blue walls were faded prints of garden flowers. Humble made her way along the corridor, careful not to knock her crash helmet against anything. A couple of delicate walnut stands flanked a doorway at the far end. Each one supported a fine majolica pot.

Humble walked through into a wider hallway, lined with shelves full of books and miscellaneous objects. Her eyes were drawn immediately to a desk in the corner with a stained-glass lamp. On it stood four wooden soldiers. ‘More of the Twelve,’ Humble murmured and went over to take a closer look. Old, worn, distinctive. She was just about to pick one up when a movement in the corner of her eye grabbed her attention.

On a shelf to the side something was moving. She drew closer and at a few feet away she could not quite yet discern what it was. Closer still and her eyes widened in surprise. Humble saw that it was a caterpillar, about four inches long, exquisitely tooled from what looked like brass, or gold. It edged its way along the shelf, small jewels glistened along its flanks and puffs of something – was it steam? Every so often a tiny hiss and the release of steam from minute holes. Humble watched transfixed at this miniature marvel. A bejeweled, golden, steam-powered caterpillar. It mesmerized her, this mechanical organic moving creature. So engrossed was she that she started violently and whipped around when a voice behind her said: ‘Welcome to my home. Can I help you?’

Before Humble there stood a diminutive, elegant lady. Her grey hair was in a neat chignon and she wore smart, well-matched clothes.

‘And you are?’

Humble, embarrassed, transferred her crash helmet to her left hand so she could greet her accidental host. ‘I’m so sorry – I’m Humble …’ she stammered out.

‘Why are you sorry to be humble?’ the woman had a twinkle in her eye, then she laughed kindly, ‘It’s alright, I know who you are, Miss Parry. Humble – that’s an unusual name – Quaker stock?’ she asked, perceptively.

‘Yes,’ Humble was pleasantly surprised she did not have to explain, ‘no one ever really recognizes that – my father and grandfather.’

‘My name is Mina – Professor Mina Laury.’

‘Yes, er … – Professor Townshend sent me.’

‘I know,’ she smiled again, ‘follow me. You look like you could do with a cup of tea.’

 

Humble followed Professor Laury into a rear parlour that occupied almost the entire back portion of the building. It was arranged as a larger library and study. There were skylights and long windows that looked out onto the pretty garden that was full of fruit trees. Dandelion wisps and other fluffy seeds floated past the windows. The garden had an age to it and was unlike the surrounding moorland. It was an interesting springtime oasis.

Mina struck a match and lit a small gas ring that had a cast iron kettle on it. ‘I was expecting you. Do you like Mrs. Beeton’s lemon biscuits?’

‘I’ve never tried them before – I’m going to say ‘yes’ though!’

‘And why is that?’

Humble took one from the proffered plate, ‘I feel a little like Alice and I should try a taste of everything, once, and see what happens.’

‘Well then, ‘Alice’,’ and Mina smiled, ‘have a look around whilst I make the tea.’

Humble immediately went to the bookshelves and scanned their contents. It was her habitual way of understanding her surroundings, new places and new people, to always check out the bookcases wherever she went. If Professor Townshend’s shelves had contained interesting and unusual new titles, then Mina Laury’s shelves were a positive treasure trove.

Acton Bell sat next to Anthony Afterwit, Artemis Ward and Benevolus. Boz, like Acton, was familiar but then who was Diedrich Knickerbocker? ‘Elia’, she knew, was Charles Lamb and there was George Sand, one of her favourites. Geoffrey Crayon surprised her and a plain cover surrounded the erotic memoirs of Pisanus Fraxi. Poor Richard Saunders and Silence Dogood – I remember, she thought, two of Ben Franklin’s many pen-names – ‘Poor Richard’s Almanac’.

Humble was intrigued by this collection, to see familiar and unfamiliar names and titles on show, and such an array of 18th and 19th century pseudonyms. Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain, Marie-Henri Beyle better known as Stendhal. Prominent authors rubbed shoulders with more obscure, edgy aliases, political and satirical, erotic and autobiographical. The remarkable thing was how many new, strange titles there were. It was a bibliophile’s paradise of lesser know, or unknown, works. Professor Laury’s shelves, it seemed, displayed an alternative literary canon.

Mina laid out the tea things on a small table in the centre of the room. A flurry of petals cascaded past one of the wide windows from a blossom tree in the garden. ‘Come and sit down,’ she invited Humble over.

Positioned on comfortable chairs in the middle of the room, Humble took the cup and saucer and munched on her lemon biscuit. It was delicious and crumbly and melted in her mouth. Washed down with fragrant tea it helped her feel calm, comfortable. From somewhere, perhaps the radio again, she heard a voice speaking some words she thought she knew: ‘T’was grief enough to think mankind all hollow, servile, insincere’. The voice sounded so sad. It had such a sadness the ache she heard in its tone made her own heart suddenly want to break.

Humble noticed, above the desk, a painting – a group portrait. It was familiar, but like the books here and in Charles Townsend’s office, something was off. Humble felt a soft wave of tiredness passing over her. She looked up at the portrait and blinked.

Mina’s face swam before her.

‘Are you alright, Humble?’

‘I think so,’ she blinked and tried to focus.

The painting above her came into place. That was it! She knew it. It was the family portrait of the Brontë sisters. But there was something different. A fourth face – male – dark and handsome looked out from between two of the pale faces of the sisters. That was the last thing she saw, and the voice with that same sadness again murmuring the final lines: ‘But worse to trust to my own mind and find the same corruption there’. That was the last thing she heard before she slipped into unconsciousness.

 


 

 

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Posted in Fantasy, Neo-Victorian Studies, Nineteenth Century Culture, Steampunk, Vicorian/Edwardian Literature | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Glasstown Chronicles #2: Into The Aether

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“I am disposed to believe, that the luminiferous ether pervades the substance of all material bodies with little or no resistance, as freely perhaps as the wind passes through a grove of trees.” (Thomas Young, The Royal Society, 1804)

The Victorian age had a transport problem. As people moved into the cities it became more and more difficult to get from one place to another. Congestion was an issue. The populations of major cities, such as New York and London, doubled and quadrupled in the first half of the 19th Century. One solution that was offered by a number of engineers and out-of-the box thinkers was the Pneumatic Transit System. Passengers could ride in vehicles that shot along great metal tubes. It was a version of an underground subway scheme. In one variation of the Transit System proposed by British engineer George Medhurst, passengers were supposed to ride in the tubes individually. But that was thought to be too claustrophobic.

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1867 – The demonstration of the pneumatic transit system designed by Alfred Beach, The American Institute Exhibition.

Pneumatic technology was replaced by steam-driven trains, except for the conveyance of messages throughout large buildings, such as banks and departments stores, and for underground postal dispatch systems. Objects, and not people, were preferable cargo for such technology.

So, horse-drawn and steam-powered travel prevailed in the 19th Century. But could a travel system be created that was more fluid and clean: ‘as the wind passes through a grove of trees’?

In a paper for a meeting of the BAVS (the British Association for Victorian Studies)  in the early 21st Century, the ‘Luminiferous Aether’ theories of the 19th Century were examined and seen to be unproven. No one, not even Newton, had ever been able to convincingly and consistently show that the Aether exists. But, that is in the ordinary world.

The geography, transport, and power of Glasstown, the Chronicles tell us, depends upon the power of the ‘Aether’. From weapons to biscuit manufacture, the Aether is harnessed and put to use. But to synthesise the Aether into an energy form for transit – that is the mission of the outsider scientists, such as Charles Babbage and PG Tait.

Penelope ‘PG’ Tait showed great affinity with the Aether from a young age – despite the dangers.

 

Because nature abhors a vacuum, the Aether takes up that space. It carries light, energy, and …. other things.

Meet Professor Ross.

THE GLASSTOWN CHRONICLES by Gabrielle Malcolm

In The Catacombs

Professor Jemima Ross stood in the darkness of the Glasstown catacombs, a series of caves on the edge of the Great Plain of Gaaldine, with all her senses alert. She regulated her breathing and heart rate expertly. She was not tempted to speed it up, despite the adrenalin that surged in her bloodstream. Warrior training at the University was thorough.

A noise, like a rasping inhalation of breath. Ross turned and, back against a heavy limestone pillar, froze. She waited. Split-second beat, and then the roar of a rapid exhalation and a pulse of Ether, in its ectoplasmic and luminescent form, swept past her, partially knocking the breath from her lungs. The density of the pillar protected her from the worst of it. She held what breath she had left as the pulse ebbed away and then she whipped around, both static-energy pistols fully charge. She blasted two beams of super-heated static into the darkness of the surrounding catacomb.

As the beams faded, and for the first time on this mission Ross murmured some words: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.’ She released more static charge into the darkness, ‘He maketh me to lie down in pastures green, He leadeth me beside quiet waters, He restoreth my soul.’ Ross lit a magnesium flare and checked the area she had cleared. She took out a set of static explosive charges.

‘He guides me along the paths of righteousness for the sake of his name,’ she began to arm the charges, maintaining a lookout into the surrounding gloom, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’

A rasping breath close by.

Ross spotted a purple glow in the corner of her vision. She ducked, rolled, and fired towards the shadows. A whine and the purple light extinguished.

Ross resumed her task, urgently, quick fingers worked at the mechanisms of the bombs. She could afford to quicken her breathing now, ‘For you are with me, Your rod and staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my foes,’ Ross turned and rapidly fired both pistols, the undercroft of the catacomb lit up. White light consumed purple luminosity. Whimpers sounded from more than one quarter. She knew they were closing in.

The arming completed, Ross was on her feet and making towards the exit with a rapid stride. She fired left and right before she reached the entrance of the tunnel up to the light. Louder now, and punctuated by the explosive discharge of her pistols, she recited: ‘You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. Surely goodness. And mercy. Will follow me. All the days. Of my life.’

Then she was running. Along the stone corridor, her sprinting footsteps echoing throughout the vaults. She did not need to look back to know the Creatures of the Ether were almost upon her. She reached the heavy wooden door just in time. The static charges lit up and the explosion travelled up the corridor, consuming the creatures, and hurtled towards Ross. The shockwave helped her through the door and into the daylight at the edge of the Plain. She half-flew half-ran out. She was on her hands and knees with a whistling in her ears: ‘And I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.’

Ross got to her feet and walked out into the dry air of Gaaldine.

‘Amen.’


Support ‘The Glasstown Chronicles’ on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/754299405/the-glasstown-chronicles-a-victorian-steampunk-adv?ref=created_projects

 

Posted in Fantasy, Neo-Victorian Studies, Nineteenth Century Culture, Steampunk, Vicorian/Edwardian Literature | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Glasstown Chronicles #1: The Library

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Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

‘A Vision In A Dream’ (‘STC’)

 

THE GLASSTOWN CHRONICLES by Gabrielle Malcolm

The Glasstown Chronicles combine Victorian fantasy, alternate worlds, and Steampunk technologies. The Bronte family – during their years of Scribblemania in the parsonage at Haworth – created an alt-fiction world. The first in what will be a series of novels is in process – funded by a Kickstarter page. The adventures in the Chronicles will unfold the fantasy and fiction in the family members’ lives. This includes – why did Branwell’s image get removed from the family portrait he painted? Who was he and where did he go?

On this blog you can get some extra insight into the narratives with additional material that won’t appear in the novels. What are the mechanics of the Glasstown Universe, for example? And here, some of the background of Patrick Brunty at Cambridge, before he was ‘Bronte’.

 

 


PROLOGUE

St John’s College, Cambridge

6th January, 1800

Patrick Brunty, the son of farm labourers from County Down, Ireland, pulled his thin coat tightly around his shoulders as he scurried his way through the first swirls of January snow. He crossed the college quad and heaved open the door of the Library of St. John’s. Whilst working under the parson at Rathfriland near his home, he had received his calling – first to poetry and the study of the classics and from there to the Church, and hence to Cambridge. Conscious of his humble roots compared to his fellow students, Patrick often took silent refuge in the library, diligently carrying out cataloguing tasks.

On this Twelfth Night, the first of a new century, whilst the other students celebrated with hot punch and carolling he breathed the chilly air of the library. His feet rang on the wrought iron staircase that spiralled up to the top floor. The hollow metallic note on each step sounded eerily in the quiet cold of the creaking building. Patrick’s mind wandered to what was said to be the miraculous happenings of Twelfth Night. Traditionally the night of the Epiphany to the gentile races of the birth of the Saviour, it was also reputed to be a time of magic and strangeness. Those who understood the magic could, he remembered, hear animals speak on this one night of the year.

The young clergyman dismissed these flights of fancy as he reached the top of the stairs and mounted the creaking upper floor of the library. Patrick felt the moorings of the old building strain and groan as the winter wind strengthened. At one end of the long upper chamber a small stove glowed valiantly in an effort to restore some life to the numb fingers of any scholar who decided to brave the atmosphere of the interior. A recent addition that always gave Patrick a shudder as he walked by it was a plaster life-mask of William Wordsworth, poet and traveller. The gaunt, pale face frozen in time was placed under glass on a dark cloth, near the top of the staircase. Patrick was always relieved that the eyes of the poet appeared closed. He slept on in the St. John’s upper deck.

The Library provided Patrick with the seclusion he enjoyed and the respite from mixing with others, around whom he was conscious of his threadbare gown and strong Irish brogue. In amongst the intricately carved, dark wooden bookcases he could disentangle the evidence of the previous scholars, collectors, and archivists who had worked here or bequeathed their collections of manuscripts. Rolls of parchment and vellum were heaped in nests and piles. Bound volumes listed in the shelves, their leather spines burnished to a warm hazelnut or mahogany through years of use.

Patrick unfolded the wooden seat and desk in an alcove. He placed a lantern carefully to one side and struck his flint to illuminate the shadowy space and by the flickering glow he opened the small wooden doors that hid the manuscripts he was cataloguing. Part of the conditions of his scholarship to the university included duties in the library.

The St. John’s Library was a work in progress like all good libraries – a scientific and critical endeavour for all fellows and members of the college to assist in. On each of the tall book cabinets was carved the arms of one of the twenty-two benefactors to the library. Two hundred years earlier the shelves were marked alphabetically running west to east. As the years passed and the collection grew, however, the reference system had to grow more sophisticated. Listed in the college’s ‘Liber Memoralis’ were the details and coats of arms of all the benefactions. This was one way of keeping track of the ever-expanding knowledge.

He retrieved the set of 17th Century sermons of the Reverend Charles Swafford of Warwickshire. The wind picked up outside as Patrick began to scrutinise some verses from Leviticus whose translation from the Greek he disputed. A rattling nearby gave him a start, and he saw that one of the leaded windows was loose. Its fastening creaked as the weather outside harassed it. The wind plucked petulantly at the casement and then with a crash and a tinkling of glass it blew open. The gust knocked Patrick’s lantern over and a shower of gold and purple sparks blew across the dry parchments and they slid to the floor.

In a panic, Patrick brushed the sparks away before anything could catch, and then surveyed the damage. Snowflakes pattered across the floor and papers, so he quickly secured the window to prevent any damage. He tied some twine around the window fastening against the stubborn winds. He began to retrieve the papers and sort them into a semblance of order once again. As he turned over the ageing parchment with its characteristic faded tone he spotted something. In amongst these sermons of an obscure Midlands parson was something different – fresher, newer.

 

He extracted these brighter pages, three of them, foolscap with dark scrawling marks and writing on their surface. He laid them out in the light of his guttering flame. The marks formed a series of verses, a poem, in a bold longhand surrounded by sketches. The images and words came together: visions of stormy skies and swirling cataracts and a huge, bright domed city rising from a steep cliff above a great wide bay. Patrick began to read:

 

“Kubla Khan —- A fragment …”

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea….

On the reverse of one of the pages there was a swooping signature. Patrick read the name: ‘Silas Tomkyn Comberbatch …

 

Posted in Fantasy, Neo-Victorian Studies, Nineteenth Century Culture, Popular Culture, Steampunk, The Bronte Sisters, Vicorian/Edwardian Literature | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen

Good news for fans of Jane, Janeites, and writers of JAFF!

If all that is a little obscure for you, then this is definitely the publication for you. Due out April 2015, this addition to the Fan Phenomena series from Intellect Books will consider the wider world of Jane Austen’s appeal.

Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James: the cast from the BBC adaptation

Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James: the cast from the BBC adaptation

Call for Submissions

FAN PHENOMENA: JANE AUSTEN

Intellect Books

Editor: Gabrielle Malcolm

A Call for Essay/Chapter Submissions for a collection on the Fan Culture of Jane Austen.

This book will be an edited collection of essays and texts on the Fan Phenomena of Jane Austen. It will be a new addition to the successful Fan Phenomena series from Intellect Books, which acts as a more topic specific accompaniment to their ‘Journal of Fandom Studies’.

The afterlife of Jane Austen’s novels constitutes a vast culture on a global scale. She has remained enduringly popular and in recent years there has been a huge growth of spin-offs, derivations, new adaptations, and homage to her work. The original published novels are a starting point but the focus of this volume is principally on the fan culture, adaptations, cultural appropriations, derivations, JAFF, and Janeite world. The Fan Phenomena series is aimed at the fans and those interested in the cultural and social aspects of the fan culture universes. Submissions need to be entertaining, informative, and jargon free.

Submissions could cover, but are not limited to:

  • TV and film adaptations of the novels over the years and how they differ and reflect the changing reception of the works: such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in the hands of Fay Weldon (1980s) and Andrew Davies (1990s)
  • Feminism and Austen fandom: Emma Thompson’s Oscar-winning adaptation of ‘Sense and Sensibility’
  • Adaptations of the novels that relocate the narratives: e.g. Helen Fielding’s ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’
  • Sequels: ‘Pemberley’ (Emma Tennant), ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’ (PD James), ‘A Darcy Christmas’ (Amanda Grange), etc.
  • Literary and TV spin-offs (with the fan as central figure): e.g. ITV’s ‘Lost in Austen’, Laurie Viera Rigler’s ‘Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict’, Shannon Hale’s ‘Austenland’
  • Racy alternative narratives: Maya Slater’s ‘Diary of’ series
  • The re-imagined Zombie, slasher, horror and Gothic narratives: Amanda Grange’s ‘Mr Darcy Vampyre’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ by Seth Grahame-Smith
  • Tourism, merchandising and the Regency romance industry
  • Cos-play and role play, Jane Austen style
  • Neo-Georgians online and in person: the etiquette and manners
  • The biographical depictions of Austen, e.g. in ‘Becoming Jane’
  • Blogs, JAFF, and fan forum discussions
  • Re-enactments and parallels of plots in books and films like Karen Joy Fowler’s ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’
  • Is it ALL about ‘Pride And Prejudice’? How are the less popular novels featured in the fan’s universe?
  • Fan films, mash-ups, graphic novels, and comic book adaptations
  • THE scene – ‘the wet shirt’ – and the contemporary eroticisation of Austen’s characters.

Final submissions should include 5-7 high quality images. Each chapter needs to be 3,000-3,500 words, and can include a ‘Go Further’ reading/viewing/clickable list.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter and have any questions please contact the editor: Gabrielle Malcolm gabymalcolm@yahoo.co.uk

350 word proposals for submissions need to reach the editor by 30 March 2014, after which the chosen contributors will be notified in a timely fashion. Final completed chapters and images must be submitted to the editor by 15 September, 2014.

For more information on Intellect Books and the Fan Phenomena series please go to:

http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/

Marvel Comics: Pride and Prejudice

Marvel Comics:
Pride and Prejudice

 

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Blogging Braddon 4: Titillation and Tactility in the ‘Tally-HO’ Letter from John Gilby to Mary Braddon (1860)

I was hiding in the stacks of the Augustine Library at Canterbury Christ Church University with Dr Kate Mattacks (UWE) last November, and stifling laughter (yes, academics do sometimes have a good time) – and why? Well, smut – that’s why. I have to be honest. We had uncovered, from amongst the huge array of unpublished materials in the Braddon Archive, a little stash of letters. These date from the time of her affair with John Gilby (1860-61). One of them is in the form of a poem, entitled A Quarter of An Hour’s Run – Very Sharp’.

So, I wrote a paper which I delivered at the recent conference: ‘The Victorian Tactile Imagination’ at Birkbeck College, London (19-20 July, 2013).

The Centre for Ninteenth Century Studies at Birkbeck will also publish a report on the conference in their journal ’19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century’. Here then, is the transcript of my paper. I make no apologies for the blushes that it might induce.

‘A Quarter of an Hour’s Run – Very Sharp’: Tactility and Titillation in the ‘Tally Ho Letter’ in the private correspondence of Mary Braddon.

Victorian private worlds can seem especially alluring because the image of the age is sometimes one of protectiveness, coyness, secrecy. Desires are present, but the articulation of those desires varies. The sensation of touch gained or touch denied can often be integral to the expression of those desires. Nowhere is it more private than in the correspondence between couples and what is interesting about this particular letter is how it expresses desire but simultaneously also maintains a controlled and guarded quality. As a poem it follows a set form of imagery and whilst not remarkable as verse (in any way!), it is there to fulfil a function in the relationship between Mary Braddon and her patron John Gilby. So, to Braddon from the pen of Gilby (the first page of the manuscript):

tallyhopage1

From the pen of Gilby to Mary Braddon: the ‘Tally Ho Letter’ page 1

Tallyhotranscript

‘Tally HO’ Letter transcript

Braddon, from the mid-1850s to 1860, toured the Yorkshire theatre circuit and at some point along the way encountered John Gilby. In 1874, Charles Reade wrote a ‘sketch’ of Braddon’s life in one of his Notebooks, wherein he recorded Gilby as a ‘simple-minded Yorkshire squire’ who patronised Braddon in her career transition, from acting to writing. She knew many journalists, playwrights, and other actors of course, and worked to gain introductions to the publishing world. This proved highly successful, but just before she made the breakthrough with her first novels, she engaged in an affair with Gilby.

They were intimate, I think it is safe to say, although he did not want there to be any appearance of impropriety. He saw her as a project. A woman whom he could tame, draw away from her life as an actress, and thanks to her work ethic and impressive intellect, he knew she could make something of herself. His correspondence is peppered with: ‘Nagging, hectoring, demanding instant responses and poems written and revised to order,’ (Robert Lee Wolff, Sensational Victorian: The Life and Fiction of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Garland 1979), 93. This is an evaluation and impression of Gilby’s letters that Robert Lee Wolff, Braddon’s biographer in the 1970s, uncovered.

Gilby wanted Braddon to develop her social standing and commissioned her to work as a poet. He was wealthy and thought he could direct her career, probably with a view to marrying her at a later date once she had become a respectable published author. He was a church-going man (the son of a clergyman), who fully approved of Fanny, Braddon’s mother, accompanying her daughter as chaperone on the theatrical circuit. He established mother and daughter in a residence in Beverley, Yorkshire, in 1860. Braddon named him her ‘Beverley Maecenas’ after the Roman cultural figurehead and patron of the arts under the Emperor Octavian.

Gilby desired Braddon to write Horatian Odes, Spenserian stanza, and asked her: ‘When will you write a Shakespearean play …?’ (Letter, Oct. 13, 1860). Her  main published work from her time under his patronage is her stab at an epic biographical poem ‘Garibaldi’. This episode in her life predates her meeting with John Maxwell, who became her publisher, lover, and finally her husband. 1861 marks the beginning of her career with Maxwell, and her passionate and serious relationship; the start of a triumphant phase of sensation fiction writing. She was happy with Maxwell, where she had been unhappy under the tutelage of Gilby in the year before. She was not happy as a poet, and some of her responses to his passionate scoldings are aloof, or on some occasions she met him with indifference, his letter remaining uncollected from the Post Office.

Gilby’s poem to her is simple enough. It is a rhythmic, pounding, hunting song, written as a private communication. Braddon kept these pages amongst her personal papers for over fifty years, until she died. They have a clear dimension of urgency, suggestiveness, and titillation. This missive certainly meant something to her. He eagerly explores the sensation of hunting and riding down a quarry. This experience, as a means of exercise and mobility for Gilby, was essential. As Wolff discovered from the little evidence that exists of Gilby’s life, ‘both [his] legs were paralyzed’. It is not clear if this was due to accident or illness, but it seems to have affected him since childhood. He remained in Yorkshire, whilst his brother and other relatives left home to attend boarding school and Cambridge. His was a life of restrictions and perhaps some confinement. The sense of touch to his lower limbs could only be imagined for Gilby.

Wolff also discovered that he ‘used a specially constructed saddle with grips in front, which enabled him to ride to hounds and retain his seat while jumping’. Whilst he could not feel the touch of anything on his legs, riding was a full physical experience, an exertion that required different muscle groups and enabled him to enjoy speed and dynamism, as well as risk. It also brought him into close proximity with women for a vigorous social activity. Acting, Braddon’s first profession, and riding were areas in which women could mingle more freely and also come into contact with men of different classes, from grooms to gentry (as Gina Dorré examines in her recent monograph, Victorian Fiction and the Cult of the Horse, Ashgate, 2012). In that work she looks at the the way the sexually charged situations that arose were frequently referred to in coded form. Such an exploration occurs in Braddon’s Aurora Floyd (1863), which she wrote not long after her split with Gilby. In this novel the wayward ‘horsey’ heroine falls for her father’s groom,  horsewhips a servant in a disturbing scene, and finally marries a handsome, young Yorkshire squire, gaining respectablility and happiness. This could be read as an apology of sorts to Gilby, as some Braddon scholars have theorized.

Gilby was a countryman and a sportsman, and it is not speculating too far that as a Victorian gentleman with wealth and social influence, the fact of his paralysis meant he felt he had to try that much more to prove himself. In the boisterous and vigorous world of the ‘Tally-HO’ letter he wanted to be in the lead, as a contrast to the imposition of an otherwise sedentary life. He occupied his time with correspondence and literary patronage, and possibly, in Braddon’s case, the sexual conquest of challenging and clever young women. She was an actress first, in order to pursue regular income for her and her mother, the embodiment of what intrigued the male gaze. Gilby wanted to discipline her towards poetry, the embodiment of the touching nature of female creativity. It would also be a way of confining her to the domestic sphere, keeping her away from the temptations of the stage.

However, his preachiness and insistence upon discipline in the letters partially masks a fuller desire for power and control, coded in the ‘Tally-HO’ letter, and finding an outlet in a story he relates to her in further correspondence:

Mr Brereton has just been in, & has been describing to me how Miss Blythe got introduced to Mr. Macmillan’s family [the publisher, no doubt], then asked to his house, then got him to sell her works amongst his friends, & so on, till she told him her fairy tales & got a permanent engagement! But then she had such a good dear father! He used to have a cane for her special use in his study (besides those for his school) and when she didn’t please him, of course he applied it effectively.’

The crop and the cane, and the activities that employ them throughout school, domestic, and sporting life, and the allure of their use in other contexts caused the blurring of boundaries. It encouraged a totally normalised view of corporal punishment and the use of whip and crop as urge for someone like Gilby. He can articulate his desire and his intentions in these terms. It also moves the sense of touch and imaginative touch into the location of coercion, cruelty, arousal, and control.

The suggestions of whipping appear in private communications from Gilby to Braddon, as poem or anecdote, so not for general consumption, and they are there for her to be in no doubt of his desires and ambitions for her. She is the quarry, her is the huntsman; she is the wayward schoolgirl, he is the schoolmaster who must correct her behaviour for her own good, as the unfortunate Miss Blythe encountered at the hands of her father. Encouragement and correction, emphasized by the use of whipping, was an echo, as Kraft-Ebbing stated in the Psychopathia Sexualia (1886), ‘of the first excitation of the sexual instinct … caused by a spanking.’

As someone who suffered from paralysis from a young age, it is not certain how much direct corporal punishment he would have experienced, but Gilby would certainly have witnessed it directed towards others. Whipping might have been something he felt he had to resort to as well, receiving as well as administering, as he matured because of the fear that he might not be able to perform sexually. Kraft-Ebbing describes cases around this widely held belief, that whipping enabled the debauched, the old, the paralyzed to achieve arousal. Accounts range from the 18th Century onwards of licentious roués and debauchees who needed ‘a severe preparatory beating’ before sex. There was ‘ … a Venetian, who had to be beaten and driven before he could have intercourse, just as reluctant Cupid was driven by his followers with sprays of hyacinths …’

For Braddon, however, this seems to have been something she veered away from. Perhaps the speedy deterioration of her relationship with Gilby has more to do with her disquiet at the articulation of his desire towards her that it had to do with her reluctance to be a poet. Once Braddon took up with Maxwell in London he became the driving force of her professional and personal life and there was no way Gilby could tempt her back to Yorkshire, as he had been unable to discipline her to his will. There might also be more to the depiction of Aurora Floyd’s whipping of her servant than meets the eye. It could be considered an act of revenge in fiction upon Gilby, or a fulfilment of his fantasy if he enjoyed receiving as well as giving.

In Braddon’s revisiting, and revision, of the horsey heroine with Vixen (1879) Braddon might, again, be seen to express her sense of annoyance and discomfort with male control. In the novel, Vixen (Violet Tempest), ‘is neither cunning nor shrewd. Rather, she is like a fox in that after the death of her father, the narrative tension entails the relentless pursuit of Vixen and her property by the dishonorable and licentious fortune hunter, Captain Winstanley.’ (Dorré, 85)

Braddon was characterized by her lover, Gilby, as the fox, if we read his poem as a titillating epistle of coercion and control, vigour and compulsion. She is the ‘Reynard’ he is hunting. She kept the letter, as a reminder perhaps, of the devices and attempts at control and cruelty in her life. She could be represented as the woman who could evade and escape the disciplinary male touch, and not only that but excel and deliver a riposte to that manner of treatment. She repositioned female power in many of her novels and especially reclaimed the control and will after enduring what seems to have been a power-touch relationship with Gilby.

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Blogging Braddon 3: ‘Dear Boss’, how many roads must an archival researcher travel?

Shock revelation from the Braddon Family Archive – Mary Braddon wrote the Ripper letters to Scotland Yard in 1888!  (So there, Patricia Cornwell with your Walter Sickert theory!)

Now that I have your attention, it’s, well …  it’s not explicitly obvious from the evidence, but then that’s kind of the point with most of this sort of archival research isn’t it? There is rarely if ever any kind of direct proof of something like that. The whole supposed ‘case’ of the Jack the Ripper letters is more of a cultural arrangement of different elements, most of which do not have a relationship with the murders themselves. It is this cultural (and linguistic) arrangement that corresponds to the evidence in the Braddon Family Archive.

Just as a side note, neither was Braddon Jack (or Jill) the Ripper; I only mention this because one Ripperologist has asserted recently that the killer was a woman. And another aside, I don’t know about you, but that certainly brings to mind the great 1971 Hammer film Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (do you see what they did there?) starring the fantastic Ralph Bates.

Anyway, as far as where the Braddon archive might take me, I rule nothing out! That has probably been the major lesson about working on these papers. And I would urge any other potential primary source researchers to bear that status in mind when setting out on the journey. Where the manuscript leads you have to follow.

As I progressed through the collection during the years of my PhD research I felt as though I was working in a very disorganized fashion. I would be making my way through a set of papers and just as I thought I was dealing with one topic I would rapidly have to change tack and pursue a whole new line of investigation. I needed to be ready to take up a brand new area of research with whatever emerged, as I turned over another leaf in one of her notebooks or unwrapped a bundle of drawings. For example, I knew well the published novel A Lost Eden (1904), which holds a great deal of interest for the exploration of Braddon’s theatre career. What it also contains is the underpinning of Samuel Richardson’s plot for Clarissa (1748).

When I recognised the plan for A Lost Eden in one of Braddon’s 1890s notebooks it was clear that there were a series of routes to investigate, including the framework of Richardson’s narrative. So, from the compositional strategy for a late Victorian novel (already strongly coloured by theatrical references) that was published in the Edwardian period but is set across the trajectory of the Crimean War in the 1850s, I was directed to the 18th century epistolary tradition, partly via Jane Eyre, in case I hadn’t already mentioned that! The fabric of invention and composition causes the researcher to have to dog the footsteps of the author’s imagination, taking up the slightest of suggestions that indicate an influence or allusion. Which meant, to cut a long story short (pun very much intended – oh yes!), I had to read Clarissa (sob …)

However, on a lighter note – I mentioned the Ripper letters … have I kept you in suspense long enough? I wasn’t – as I might well have done – setting up a Braddon-style red herring, to draw you in. It is, however, never as cut and dried as it seems.  Here you go: a short manuscript (only 3 pages long) offers the tantalizing title: ‘The Double Event’.

So, the questions arise: foremost – where did she come up with the term? The story outline – very short – does not cover any direct reference to the series of 1888 Whitechapel murders. There is no suggestion as far as the manuscript develops, other than the title, that she was going deal with the case as part of the narrative. Neither is there a date on the manuscript, just a chapter heading ‘He’. However, we are talking an early, slim outline of something that never saw the light of day in that particular form. Speculation, therefore, can run riot – which is part of the fun of writing a blog such as this. Our imaginations, along with that of the author, can be stretched and reach into every dark corner.

To use the phrase ‘The Double Event’ as a title for a story draft seems very telling to me and I am no Ripper expert (I actually really enjoyed From Hell – accents and all!). Does it mean Braddon noticed it from a published version of the Ripper postcards? Was it a widely used term, or did it only emerge in reference to that specific double murder; first appearing in the ‘Saucy Jack’ postcard of October 1st, 1888 and entering into more common usage after that? The ‘double event’ that the writer of the card refers to is thought to be the murders on the night of September 30th of Catherine Eddowes and Elizabeth Stride.

The Saucy Jack postcard (1888) from casebook.org ‘The Ripper Letters’

Now, this highlights various possibilities. Perhaps an already extant term entered into popular slang thanks to the publicity surrounding the crimes? Braddon was certainly in the habit of gathering contemporary reportage. She had cuttings and scrap books in her study so that she could keep material of interest at her fingertips.  We know this from the interview with Joseph Hatton in 1887: ‘Miss Braddon At Home’, during which she described the layout of her study and mentioned her ‘commonplace books’ full of such jottings and clippings. I don’t doubt that her interest would have stretched to the tragic and macabre and undoubtedly sensational coverage of the Whitechapel murders in the popular press.

So, in what or by whom was the phrase ‘The Double Event’ coined? Was it first seen on that 1888 postcard – or (once dated accurately) will it turn out that Braddon pre-empted it on her manuscript? Is this evidence of the influence that the murders exerted over her — or, did Mary Braddon write the ‘Saucy Jack’ postcard, and even some of the other Ripper correspondence to Scotland Yard and the newspapers? If, according to Patricia Cornwell, Walter Sickert had a go – why not a Victorian sensation novelist? She certainly had the imagination and better credentials!

According to Professor David Wilson in A History of British Serial Killing (2011), a sketch of the possible personality type of the murderer is as follows: ‘I would suggest that Jack the Ripper was a white man of limited intelligence and education, under the age of forty-five. From the nature of his offences, it seems highly unlikely that he would have been interested in writing letters to the press.’

This seems a sensible enough evaluation, working on what we know of the killer, whose likely background was that of working-class male in Whitechapel, choosing his victims from the community around him. It follows then that the sinister meanderings and really obvious ‘bad’ spelling of the Ripper correspondence came from other – shall we say, more learned – sources: journalists, artists, novelists. One of which could have been Braddon. I think some hand-writing analysis might be in order?

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BLOGGING BRADDON: 2 Just when you think you know stuff, life is still full of surprises …

I have to admit – guiltily – that there were times when I could get slightly blasé about working on the Mary Braddon archive, now housed with the Augustine Library, at Canterbury Christ Church University. It constituted an embarrassment of riches. So much was revealed to me in just the first few days of researching it that after years I could feel almost nonchalant about uncovering yet more amazing finds.

I promised you a glimpse or two and I wouldn’t want to disappoint. Plus, it gives me the chance to send an appeal – to any Rhoda Broughton scholars out there. Take a look at the signature, here: ….

Does it belong to her? There are two complete letters that could be from her – but the hand-writing is especially indecipherable, so that I will have to consult a document expert over the course of the project to work on them. In the meantime it would be useful to know if this is even her writing – to Braddon.

So, yes, with a somewhat workaday attitude I went back to the library recently and spent several hours photographing and assessing the condition of a large quantity of the papers. These are kept in the trunk belonging to Braddon, which was cleared out of her study around the time of her death in 1915. I feel very familiar with the majority of this material; however, as I dug deeper amongst the papers I found some new surprises. I am ashamed of myself. I should never underestimate this collection. This attitude came about as a result of years of describing it to interested (and not so interested) parties (and – literally – sometimes I was doing it AT parties) – and fellow academics who would nod and smile. Genuine excitement at one end of the spectrum has to be contrasted with a ho-hum attitude at the other end – once the listener realised that the work was closed to general access. Oh, the rivalries and competition in our business!

But I wasn’t being deliberately unhelpful – it’s just that the papers were in no real condition or situation for large numbers of people to start scrutinising them. A small portion of material was sent out to the Richmond Museum and Library for their exhibit on Braddon a few years ago, reflecting her years of residence in the town. Those are amongst the more worn and rapidly deteriorating manuscripts now. Not, I hasten to add, anything to do with the museum’s handling of them! No, it was just the mere fact that they have been out in the world and not kept safe, dry, and mildly warm in their metal case. As simple as it was, the system of storage that the family had inherited was amongst the best that could be managed outside of special collection conditions.

However, that will all change soon – and in the meantime the surprises keep on coming. For example, I had never allowed this small scroll to be unwrapped. I took the risk of doing it myself at the library – and it was some butterfly that emerged from the cocoon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More information soon – on the Waterstone’s Book of the Month series set for the Canterbury branch and the forthcoming exhibition in July at the Augustine Library, Christ Church University. And let me take this chance to welcome Alyson Hunt onto the team as Research Assistant – a Wilkie Collins specialist who will no doubt enjoy some of the finds in the collection! Such as this one:

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