Posts tagged ‘editorial’

02/01/2016

More than ordinarily pear-shaped

Well…2015 rather fell apart there, didn’t it? I’m sure that those of you who visit here – and other places – are tired of listening to me whinge, so I’ll just say that some significant personal issues developed over the second half of the year, which prevented me from giving much time to any of my hobbies. I am trying to make some changes at the moment, and I hope that we will all see an improvement in 2016.

As far as this blog in concerned, I am utterly mortified to realise that the putative main subject thread – that is, the development of the English novel – did not get a single update during 2015. There were a couple of reasons for this, none of them very satisfactory: the unappealing nature of the material was one (though that never stopped me before), while another was the fact that after signing off the year 1689 with a flourish some twelve months ago, I immediately came across another item from that year that I was unable to persuade myself could be legitimately ignored. I did read the item in question (short version: erk), but didn’t get around to posting. Hopefully with the help of a little loin-girding, it will be showing up here before too much longer.

A side-reason for not progressing in the Chronobibliography was the introduction of the Australian fiction section, which proved a major distraction. I also made some progress with my examination of early crime fiction, with posts on Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris and Catharine Crowe’s Men And Women; or, Manorial Rights. I also read Frances Trollope’s Hargrave, another important work in this respect…which had the effect of sending me off on yet another tangled tangent…

…because YET ANOTHER TOPIC AREA is exactly what I need right now.

When researching Hargrave, I discovered that several of Frances Trollope’s novels have crime themes, and should probably be included in this section of reviews. However—it was also asserted that a major influence upon Trollope, and in particular her tendency to mix disparate genres in her novels, was Edward Bulwer-Lytton, specifically his 1828 novel, Pelham; or, The Adventures Of A Gentleman.

This is where it gets complicated. Pelham in turn had been influenced by Benjamin Disraeli’s Vivian Grey, which was published the year before. Both of these novels drew heavily upon what is considered the first Bildungsroman, Johann Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship—and themselves influenced that odd, transitional English subgenre, the “Silver Fork Novel”…a topic I’ve been meaning to tackle, but put off because I felt I had quite enough to be going on with…

Which is of course beyond true. Trouble is, though, I’m now struggling to see this collision of elements as anything other than A SIGN.

Sigh.

So – as the panic begins to take hold – what is on the horizon? Four unwritten posts, to start with, consisting of my second attempt to draw a line under 1689, a “Reading Roulette” selection, another study of the 19th century religious novel, and of course Hargrave. This being the case, new material is the last thing I should be pursuing; but I’ve recently discovered that there may be an opportunity to get my hands on a copy of one of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s more obscure early works via academic loan. If that does work out, it will be a case of drop everything.

Because let’s face it, everything’s better with Braddon.

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29/12/2014

One last thing…

Yes, yes. I’ll shut up in a minute, I promise.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank all of my blog visitors for sticking by me in what has been an even more than usually erratic year, and particularly those of you who have taken the time to comment.

I should know better by now than to make promises, so I will confine myself to hoping for a more regular posting routine in 2015.

I’ll also hope to see you all there!

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29/12/2014

Like a hole in the head

Even though I need more things to write about like I need an aperture in my cranial equipment, for the past several months I’ve found myself becoming increasingly fixated upon the idea of taking a look at the development of the Australian novel. This area of study, like its American counterpart, offers one significant advantage over the Chronobibliography that comprises the main thrust of this blog—namely, that it is possible to identify a finite starting point.

More or less.

Truthfully, when it comes to identify “the first”, there are probably few areas of literary study that offer more ground for argument than the Australian novel of the 19th century—where we have novels written in Australia but published in Britain, and novels written in Britain but published in Australia; novels about Australia written in Britain, and novels about Britain written in Australia; authors born in Britain but publishing in Australia, and authors born in Australia but publishing in Britain; authors who lived all their lives in Australia, authors who emigrated to Australia, authors who emigrated from Australia, authors who wandered through for a space of months or years, and authors who never in fact set foot in Australia but wrote about it anyway. We even have a few – just a few – of those rarae aves, authors who were born, lived and published in Australia.

There are, consequently, as many “firsts” in the history of Australian fiction as even a complete obsessive like me could possibly desire.

The dogma (of which, by now, I have learned always to be deeply suspicious) is that “the first Australian novel” is Quintus Servinton: A Tale Founded Upon Incidents Of Real Occurrence by Henry Savery, which appeared in Tasmania in the early months of 1831. It was certainly “the first novel” written and published in Australia; its author, however, was born in England. Henry Savery was convicted of forgery in 1825 and sentenced to transportation after having his initial death sentence commuted. He wrote his novel – a semi-autobiographical and rather self-serving tale of convict life – while working as an assigned labourer in the New Norfolk district west of Hobart.

There appear to be three challengers for Quintus Servinton‘s crown. One of them is another, earlier work by Henry Savery: The Hermit In Van Diemen’s Land, which was published in 1830. This is not, however, a novel, but a series of sketches about Hobart life and its prominent citizens, which appeared first as separate stories in the local newspaper, The Colonial Times. It is also, in a sense, a roman à clef since, although without any political motive, its characters are based on real people, with a key to their identities being appended to the single-volume publication.

The other works highlight the difficulties in this area of study. Mary Leman Grimstone was already established as a poet and novelist when she accompanied her sister and brother-in-law to Australia in 1825. It seems that her second and third novels, Louisa Egerton and Women’s Love, were written during her stay in Tasmania, thus pre-dating all of the other contenders—but they were published in England, appearing in 1830 and 1832, respectively. Furthermore, as far as I am aware (I guess we’ll be finding out!), both are set in England as well.

We should also make mention of another 1830 publication, Arthur Dudley; or, The Australian Settlers. Although originally believed to be the work of the English writer, William Howitt (and is still listed in some sources as such), this children’s fiction has been attributed to a Mrs G. Porter, another English writer who never visited Australia, but drew upon Robert Dawson’s non-fiction work, The Present State of Australia : A Description of the Country, Its Advantages and Prospects, with References to Emigration: and a Particular Account of the Manners, Customs, and Condition of its Aboriginal Inhabitants for her story—which is, in any event, the first work for children to be set in Australia.

Taking all this into consideration, Quintus Servinton still seems a sensible place to start—although knowing myself, I suspect that the other works mentioned (and perhaps Mary Grimstone’s first novel, The Beauty Of The British Alps) will also be putting in an appearance.

29/12/2014

Vale, Aphra

epitaph1In her dedication of The Lucky Mistake to “George Greenveil” (George Granville, Baron Lansdowne), published the year of her death, Aphra Behn comments:

…the Obligations I have to you, deserves a greater testimony of my respect, then this little peice, too trivial to bear the honour of your Name, but my increasing Indisposition makes me fear I shall not have many opportunities of this Kind…

The last years of Aphra Behn’s life were a constant struggle against increasing ill-health. Most cruelly, it seems that she suffered from an arthritic complaint that made it painful, if not impossible, for her to write, and thus to earn an income. It is also easy to imagine that the overthrow of James II in 1688 took a simultaneous toll on Behn’s spirits. It is sad yet strangely fitting that her death almost coincided with the coronation of William and Mary in April of 1689.

Whatever her public reputation, Behn had friends and admirers who organised for her burial in Westminster Abbey; and while the epitaph on her gravestone is often taken as an expression of public disapproval, there are many who believe that Aphra wrote it herself—one last joke at her own expense.

Despite the increasingly punitive morality that would see Aphra Behn expunged from the English literary canon from the mid-18th century until her revival in the early 20th, in her lifetime and the decades that followed her writing was extremely popular – and profitable, for her publishers if not so much for herself. It has been pointed out that Behn was the first English writer of fiction to have her works collected and reissued, with William Canning publishing Oroonoko, The Fair Jilt and Agnes de Castro together in 1688 as “Three Histories“. Then, in 1696, Charles Gildon issued another collection under the title, The Histories And Novels of the Late Ingenious Mrs. Behn—following this two years later with, All The Histories And Novels Written By The Late Ingenious Mrs Behn, and two years after that with, Histories, Novels And Translations.

And this is where things get awkward. The last volume was sold under the assertion that its contents were, “The greatest part never before printed.” It certainly offered under Aphra Behn’s name various short works not published before…but where did they come from? Charles Gildon, who declared himself to be Behn’s “literary executor”, insisted that they had fallen to his lot after her death; but this hardly explains why he waited eleven years to publish them, particularly given Gildon’s perpetual hand-to-mouth existence and his frequent forays into debt.

Not surprisingly, debate about the origin of these works still continues. There seems to be strong scepticism about their authenticity amongst the experts on Aphra Behn, with most prepared to go no further than to suggest that Behn may have left certain writings unfinished at the time of her death, and that Gildon, or someone paid by him, completed them and published them under her name. Others reject altogether the assertion of her authorship.

And on this basis, I have finally decided not to include these posthumous publications in my consideration of the oeuvre of Aphra Behn…which means that with The Lucky Mistake, we have reached the end of our journey through her works of fiction.

Furthermore, we have also finished our examination of the fiction of 1689—a point I hoped to reach by the end of this year (though for once I had more sense than to jinx myself by saying so out loud). The beginning of 2015 will see us tackling the works of 1690: a year in which I would expect at least a measure of politics to re-emerge, given the events that culminated in the Battle of the Boyne; but which, at least on the basis of a superficial glance, seems to have been a period of consolidation for the English novel.

I’m likewise hoping (ever hopeful, me!) that 2015 will be a year of consolidation for this blog. I did try to get back on track recently with “Authors In Depth”, but ended up lengthening the list rather than making significant headway with our established writers; while “Reading Roulette” came to a halt when a certain book took some dogged tracking down. (It’s on its way now, though!)

Now, between those categories of reviewing, plus my examinations of the roots of the Gothic novel and early detective fiction, you might think I had quite enough to be going on with; yet as I sit here in the waning days of 2014, I find myself in anticipation of founding yet another category of reviews; even though I need more things to write about like I need…um…

20/10/2013

Meanwhile, on Facebook…

williamandmary

.

Well, boys and girls, here I am again, beginning yet another apology. Nothing new to report – just the same ongoing struggle to get my head above water and keep it there. I’m not going to make any rash promises about getting back to track – I’ve learned the futility of THAT – but I do have some hopes of a shortish post about a piece of poetry; we’ll see.

My next anticipated round of Reading Roulette has ended in frustration and annoyance. After Steepleton, the roll of the random number generator landed me on Under The Lash, a novel from 1885 by Matilda Charlotte Houstoun, an interesting, socially conscious writer, who was particularly active in the area of prison reform. Finding to my excitement that Under The Lash was available as a reproduction released by the British Library, I immediately rushed to secure a copy – discovering too late that only the second volume of this three-volume novel has been made available – something apparent a priori only in the very finest of fine print – the kind you don’t read until after the event.

Why do they do things like that? Why do they BOTHER?

Anyway, thwarted in that direction, I rolled for another book. Imagine my anticipatory joy – particularly in the wake of wrestling with a 300-page-long polemic on church factionalism – when the Reading Gods offered me this:

Right And Wrong, Exhibited In The History Of Rosa And Agnes. Written, For Her Children, By A Mother

Heavily didactic children’s fiction? – fabulous!

On the other hand, I am currently reading the next entry in my series examining the roots of the Gothic novel, William Hutchinson’s The Hermitage. I’m only about a quarter into it, but so far it has some interesting, and relevant, features: it manages to be heavily anti-Catholic despite being set in England before the Reformation (the hero is an “instinctive Protestant”, if you will); it focuses upon the machinations of an evil priest; it features some haunted armour (shades of Otranto); and it breaks periodically into rapturous descriptions of nature, of the kind we usually associate with Ann Radcliffe. The Hermitage is not always included in the timeline of the development of the Gothic novel, but so far it seems it certainly should be.

10/06/2013

Getting nowhere fast

Hello, all – remember me?

Probably not.

My apologies for the deathly silence, and particularly to those of you whose comments have gone unresponded to. I have been dealing with a mountain of frustrating crap lately and am only just now beginning to crawl out from underneath it. The challenge will be to stay out once I do.

I did briefly contemplate a long, whiny, self-pitying post about it all, but on reflection, I think this basically covers it:

    Alice never could quite make out, in thinking it over afterwards, how it was that they began: all she remembers is, that they were running hand in hand, and the Queen went so fast that it was all she could do to keep up with her: and still the Queen kept crying “Faster! Faster!” but Alice felt she COULD NOT go faster, though she had not breath left to say so.
    The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything. “I wonder if all the things move along with us?” thought poor puzzled Alice. And the Queen seemed to guess her thoughts, for she cried, “Faster! Don’t try to talk!”
    Not that Alice had any idea of doing THAT. She felt as if she would never be able to talk again, she was getting so much out of breath: and still the Queen cried “Faster! Faster!” and dragged her along. “Are we nearly there?” Alice managed to pant out at last.
    “Nearly there!” the Queen repeated. “Why, we passed it ten minutes ago! Faster!” And they ran on for a time in silence, with the wind whistling in Alice’s ears, and almost blowing her hair off her head, she fancied.
    “Now! Now!” cried the Queen. “Faster! Faster!” And they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy.
    The Queen propped her up against a tree, and said kindly, “You may rest a little now.”
    Alice looked round her in great surprise. “Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!”
    “Of course it is,” said the Queen, “what would you have it?”
    “Well, in OUR country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
    “A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, HERE, you see, it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

31/12/2012

James is kicked out of this blog!

…and with those posts about Inés de Castro (albeit that they ended up being nothing like what I originally envisioned), I have achieved my 2012 ambition of “getting the hell out of 1688” – YES!!

{holds for applause}

Honestly, I’ve been so long in reaching this point that it’s almost a physical shock. I feel slightly disorientated and panicky, but in a good way, if that makes sense. It’s one of those “time is relative” situations, I suppose, but I seem to have spent infinitely longer trapped in the three-year reign of James than I devoted to the twenty-five preceding years during which his brother was on the throne. What’s more, in contrast to the mixture of contempt and vague amusement which seems to be my prevailing attitude towards Charles, I find myself harbouring towards James a smouldering resentment that has little if anything to do with his methods of governance.

This being the case, I’ve decided that the most fitting way for me to see out 2012 is with a repeat viewing of Captain Blood, the film that marked Errol Flynn’s spectacular Hollywood debut.

For the benefit of those of you unfamiliar with the novel by Rafael Sabatini and its 1935 translation to the screen, Captain Blood opens during the Monmouth Rebellion. Peter Blood, a young Irish physician practising in England, unknowingly treats some of the wounded rebels and is arrested with them; he finds himself one of many tried during the Bloody Assizes of Judge George Jeffreys, and is condemned to death. However, his sentence is commuted to transportation and penal servitude for life when James is persuaded that simply hanging all these rebels is a waste of manpower that could be put to better use on the royal plantations in the West Indies. Peter’s fortunes improve when the Governor of Jamaica, a martyr to gout, learns that he is a doctor and engages him as his personal physician. Peter is granted certain privileges as a reward for his services, and uses his new opportunities to arrange the purchase of a ship and a mass breakout by his fellow slaves, who then embark upon a career of piracy.

The specific significance of this film in my present state of mind is not just its historical background, however, but that fact that it is bookended by two extremely rude references to James Stuart.

The first comes when Peter is originally condemned, and retorts upon Judge Jeffreys: “What a creature must sit upon the throne, that let’s a man like you deal out his justice!”

The second comes towards the end when, just as all seems lost, word of the Glorious Revolution reaches the West Indies, along with the welcome news that as a consequence, Peter and his men have been pardoned. Peter’s reaction is to leap up onto the railing of his ship and announce joyously, “James is kicked out of England!”

I know exactly how he feels.

So what lies ahead? I honestly don’t know. I’ve been so focused on getting to this point that I haven’t looked any further. I’m pretty sure that we’re in for some more political writing and romans à clef, though, since many of the people who had bitten their tongue during the three years of the dangerously thin-skinned James put pen to paper during 1689 in celebration of their new freedoms. And of course, sadly, we have the last few works of Aphra Behn, who died in April of that year at the age of only forty-nine. Beyond that, it’s all a mystery.

I’ve neglected the other aspects of this blog during my push to the finish-line, but from here I’ll be trying to get back to Reading Roulette and Authors In Depth, so we can mix it up a bit more. However, I’ve decided not to do anything so foolish again as making a definite statement of intent about where I’d like to get to next year: too much like hard work! Let’s just say that I hope to post more regularly, and leave it at that.

Finally—profound thanks as always to everyone who has visited this blog in 2012, and in particular to those of you who took the time to comment. See you in 2013!

04/10/2012

“…some disruption to services…”

Yes, sorry – should have posted an explanation / disclaimer well before this.

As some of you would know from other contexts, I suffered a technological meltdown a month or so ago, which (long story short) left me needing to buy a new computer and find a new ISP, plus dealing with botched service and ten internet-less days. It was all particularly ill-timed, as I was already horribly behind and disorganised; even more than normal. Since then I’ve felt rather like Alice in Wonderland, running as fast as I can just to stay in the same place – and knowing I need to run twice as fast if I actually want to get anywhere.

However…things are slowly coming back together, and I hope – HOPE! – to be able to get some writing done this coming weekend. For my reading, I’ve picked up the Chronobibliography again, with not just the most important literary work of 1688, but perhaps one of the most important of the 17th century.

That’s by way of a hint.

13/07/2012

The sensational Miss Braddon

Off-blog, I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries lately; not merely Golden Age, but Silver and Bronze as well. And since I’m apparently genetically incapable of simply reading anything, this side-hobby has turned into an investigation into the evolution of the detective novel. The fact that the majority of mystery novelists took pride in the accuracy of their stories makes these early novels a fascinating repository of information about the process of law and the state of criminal investigation in both Britain and the States at the time of their publication. Did you know, for example, that although the technique was officially adopted at the turn of the century in England, it was well into the 1920s before fingerprints were widely employed as an investigative tool in America?

Inevitably, this course of steady-ish reading has also found me creeping ever further backwards, trying to determine “the first” detective novel on both sides of the Atlantic—an exercise in wading in intriguingly muddy waters. It is evident that the detective story, that is, the short story that dominated this school of fiction through the second half of the 19th century, and the detective novel evolved down two quite distinct pathways; and while the latter was necessarily influenced by the former, it did not grow out of it. Instead, the detective novel was an offshoot of the sensation novel, which appeared as a recognisable genre during the 1850s.

It is easy enough to see how this came about: the sensation novel was often about a central mystery, the unravelling of a dark secret by circumstances; all that was required was for an individual, either amateur or professional, to devote himself—or herself—to the deliberate pursuit of a secret. Understandably, then, in the early days the line between “the mystery novel” and “the detective novel” is drawn in shades of grey. “Detectives”, as a recognisable real-life entity, were still becoming established; and the ambivalence of the public towards these professional investigators is very clear in the literature of the day, where they tend to be viewed as a necessary but distasteful phenomenon. This is particularly reflected in the tendency of early detective novels to be set amongst the middle- and upper-classees, with the investigation itself often regarded as an outrageous invasion of privacy, and in which the identity of the guilty party is as likely to be hushed up to avoid a scandal as exposed in open court. (Climactic suicide is popular.)

In America, the first detective novel was long held to be Anna Katharine Green’s The Leavenworth Case, from 1878, in which a police detective recruits a gentlemanly young lawyer as his assistant specifically because, as a gentleman, he has access to people and places that the working-class policeman does not. However, while it might rightly be regarded as the first modern detective novel, The Leavenworth Case is not the first per se, an honour held by Metta Fuller Victor’s The Dead Letter, published in 1866. This murder mystery does indeed feature a professional private detective, who is associated with the police but not of the police, but betrays its sensation novel roots by having the detective assisted by his clairvoyant young daughter. Victor followed The Dead Letter with The Figure Eight, which has a young man turning amateur detective in order to clear his own name, after being accused of the robbery-homicide of his uncle. He eventually succeeds in solving the robbery, while the murderer is exposed in sensation novel terms, via a subplot involving somnambulism.

Meanwhile, over the pond, the dogma is wrong again (as dogma is with remarkable regularity). Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, published in 1868 and featuring Sergeant Cuff of Scotland Yard, has long been considered “the first English detective novel” (even though the detective doesn’t solve the crime). Recently, however, the good people at the British Library have unearthed and reprinted The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Felix (aka Charles Warren Adams), which was serialised in 1862 and then published in book form in 1863, and features a startling number of the features we associate with modern detective fiction, including the use of chemical analysis.

Of course, no sooner was this rediscovered novel trumpeted as “the first” than a number of still earlier contenders for the title were offered up by interested parties—the most cogent challenge, or so it seems to me, coming from Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s The Trail Of The Serpent, published in 1860.

M. E. Braddon is a novelist for whom I have enormous affection and admiration; a talented novelist whose choice of the sensation novel as her preferred vehicle has tended to overshadow her very real abilities. And while I need another reading-thread like a hole in the head, I have taken her appearance at this critical juncture in my off-blog reading as a sign that I should promote her to Authors In Depth.

So!—I will be starting with The Trail Of The Serpent, before (at some point) stepping back to look at her first, long-forgotten novel, The Octoroon; or, The Lily Of Louisiana.

Behind the sensation novelist who attracted both praise and outrage for her choice of material was a woman who, in Victorian terms, lived a life still more outrageous and shocking. Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s parents separated when she was still a child, she and her brother and sister remaining with their mother. (Braddon’s brother, Edward, who possibly deserves a biography of his own, was Premier of Tasmania from 1894 – 1899.) The separation was amicable, and for some years Henry Braddon continued to support his family; but the Braddon finances had always been rocky, and finally the money stopped coming.

To help support her family, Mary Braddon began to write short stories. At the same time, at the age of only seventeen, she began a career on the stage under the name “Mary Seyton”, and found some success, albeit mostly in provincial companies. While touring, she continued to write and publish, trying her hand at plays and poetry as well as fiction. In 1859, her first attempt at a novel, The Octoroon, was serialised, and she gave up acting to concentrate on writing.

In 1860, a second novel, Three Times Dead, was serialised. It was not a success with the public, but it brought Braddon to the attention of the publisher, John Maxwell, who had already published several of Braddon’s short stories in his magazines. Inspite of its flaws, in Three Times Dead Maxwell recognised a talent worth cultivating, and he offered to help her revise the text. Reworked as The Trail Of The Serpent, Braddon’s second novel found an appreciative audience and some critical attention. She continued with her novel-writing, and 1862 published Lady Audley’s Secret, a cause célèbre of the first order. From that notorious pinnacle, she never looked back. In 1866, using her own profits and with John Maxwell’s encouragement, she founded the Belgravia Magazine, an affordable vehicle for serialised novels, poems, travel narratives, biographies, and essays on fashion, history and science.

Meanwhile, Braddon’s private life was following a path every bit as scandalous as her novels.

The attraction between Mary Elizabeth Braddon and John Maxwell was almost instantaneous, but Maxwell was already married—in a manner of speaking: his first wife (also Mary, uncomfortably enough) had suffered a severe mental breakdown some years earlier, and as a consequence had been institutionalised for a period of time, leaving Maxwell with the care of their six children. Under the laws of the day, a divorce was out of the question. In 1861, Braddon and Maxwell began living together unmarried.

I like to think of Mary Elizabeth Braddon as the sensation novel’s answer to George Eliot. Only George Eliot didn’t write better than eighty novels while raising twelve children.

As soon as she moved into his house, Braddon took over the care of Maxwell’s existing family (disproving all the step-motherly myths in the process, it seems), and over the following years bore seven children of her own, of which six survived. One of them, William Babbington Maxwell, born in 1866, would eventually follow in his mother’s footsteps by becoming a prolific and popular novelist. In 1874, the tragic Mary Maxwell died in Dublin. As soon as they decently could, Braddon and Maxwell got married—and the former’s novels began to be trumpeted as “—by MRS MAXWELL.” Amusingly, it didn’t stick: Braddon was by then far too famous, not to say infamous, under her maiden name.

For all of her success, there is still some uncertainty over exactly how many novels Braddon did write. Remarkably, in spite of her popular and financial success amongst the middle- and upper-classes, with Maxwell’s encouragement Braddon continued to write (albeit pseudonymously) for magazines aimed at the working-classes. In recent years a great deal of scholarly effort has gone into unearthing and preserving these hitherto unrecognised works, and is still ongoing.

There are, however, plenty of novels by Mary Elizabeth Braddon for us to be going on with in the meantime.

31/12/2011

Overweening ambition

It was about this time last year, I believe, when I declared that my ambition for 2011 was to “get the hell out of the 17th century”.

Yes, yes. Feel free to point and laugh.

A number of factors, positive and negative, contributed to my lack of chronological progress this year. On the sad side, 2011 turned out to be (not to put too fine a point upon it) a real crap factory of a year, where between insane work pressures and recurrent illnesses I ended up neglecting all of the things I’d rather be doing. And really, the only reason this blog was able to trundle forward at all is because of thirty minutes each way on the train each work day, which allowed for reading and note scribbling. We’d have been in serious trouble without this time sanctuary, particularly during the last three months of the year when, whenever I sat down to read or watch something, I ended up falling asleep instead.

But—there have been nicer reasons for the slow movement forward. This year the chronobibliography was more frequently interrupted by random novel reading, which brought to light some very interesting (and some hilariously bad) works. If 2011 had a message, it’s that there was really no such thing as “the typical Victorian novel”.

And if I didn’t quite manage to finish writing them up, I did finish reading all four-and-a-bit volumes of The English Rogue, which frankly I consider no mean feat. However, this too seriously interrupted the flow of the chronobibliography, since my cowardly refusal to just read the damn thing volume by volume in the first place, as they were published, meant I then had to backtrack from 1688 to 1665. On a more positive note, that last, spurious, add-on volume handed me one of my biggest laughs for the year, for reasons I’ll eventually get around to sharing.

And now, as we look to a new year and fool ourselves into believing that everything will be magically different as soon as the clock ticks over at midnight—what can we expect – what do we hope for – in 2012?

Well, for one thing, I’ve severely reined in my ambition for the year, which I hereby declare to be—to see the back of James Stuart. In other words, to get the hell out of 1688. This isn’t as small a task as it might initially appear. One of the first signs that James was in real trouble was that the bizarre and outrageous political writing that (as we have seen) had been such a feature of his easy-going brother’s reign, but which had dried up under the dangerously humourless new monarch, suddenly came roaring back. This propaganda attack (some of it orchestrated by William of Orange) dealt James some serious blows in the lead up to the “Glorious Revolution”.

One of the few writers to stay loyal to James was Aphra Behn, who entered the propaganda war on the incumbant side. More importantly, however, 1688 also saw the publication of Oroonoko, a work whose virtues even those people most eager to denigrate its author are usually forced to concede. So one way and the other, we’ll be seeing quite a lot of Aphra this year.

On top of that, we’ll be hearing more from our highlighted authors, as well (I hope) as unearthing still more interesting 18th and 19th century texts.

And as always, my umbrella ambition is to get into a regular rhythm with my reading and writing, but after the slap-down that was 2011, I think I won’t say too much about that…

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank-you to everyone who has taken the time to drop by and read my ramblings, and particularly to those who then stuck around for some conversation. I appreciate your support more than I can say.

Fingers crossed for a much more productive 2012!