Can what is vanished, lost, or past be recuperated in a work of art? While early nineteenth-century historical fiction writers like Sir Walter Scott would answer this question with a resounding “yes,” the question becomes more fraught in the second half of the nineteenth century as literary artists, in particular, come to find in the act of recuperation a second, more politically nuanced question: at what point does the desire for aesthetic recuperation, the desire to “save the thing” (Robert Browning’s words), become a violence perpetrated upon the historical imagination rather than a revitalization of it? In Necromantic Victorians: Reanimation, History, and the Politics of Literary Innovation, 1868-1903, I argue that the “resuscitative historiography” of the early nineteenth century morphed in the later century into the omnipresent Gothic figure of the reanimated body, as writers like Robert Browning, D. G. Rossetti, W. B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Sheridan Le Fanu, and Bram Stoker expressed their skepticism about the aspiration that art could functionally resurrect the past as a tool for historical instruction and entertainment.
The texts I address in Necromantic Victorians all have at their centers not a ghostly haunting but a figure that has returned to life in a way that problematizes both the possibility of historical inheritance and the desire for historical invention. The bodies in these works are all brought back to life from without rather than from within: they are material objects that are deliberately (although not always literally) reanimated through the powers of art, science, “magic,” narrative, or any other artificial means by which, in Browning’s words again, “something dead may get to live again”—almost. Almost, that is, because these texts are marked by instances of slippage, misrecognition, and corruption: again and again these writers must confront the conceptual gap between the reanimated corpse and the live body, negotiating as they do so the complex political and aesthetic questions that constellate around the willful desire to overlook this gap. Whether imagining poetry as an essentially resuscitative rather than a creative art or figuring the supernaturally reanimated body as a medium for alternative national stories, writers in the second half of the nineteenth century often saw reanimation as a metaphoric model for both the possibility and the limitations of generating art out of remnants of the past.
|Advisor:||Fuss, Diana, Gikandi, Simon, Nord, Deborah|
|School Location:||United States -- New Jersey|
|Source:||DAI-A 71/11, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||British and Irish literature|
|Keywords:||Gothic, Innovation, Ireland, Reanimation, Victorian|
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