‘Berlin meant Boys.’ Christopher Isherwood’s retrospective summary of the appeal of Germany for some of the writers of the 1930s set the tone for the rather limited critical evaluation of a very interesting feature of 1930s writing that was to follow. Almost every critical study of Auden, Isherwood and Spender feels obliged to make at least cursory reference to the fact that Germany represented some kind of libidinous homosexual nirvana. Atelling example is Valentine Cunningham’s British Writers of the Thirties. There he writes: ‘Germany was now the place to be: for artistic progressivism, but also because there sunshine and cocaine and sex, especially homosex, were up until Hitler’s intervention in 1933 so freely available. Berlin was a mythic sodom, and a sodomites’ mythic nirvana. The British homosexuals excitedly went there to ‘live’.’ I would like to add to this narrow and biased view some important and less simplistic aspects. I will try to show that the lure of Germany also touches on issues of class, politics and nationality. I will try to present the related transgressions that result from this entanglement not so much as biographical achievements or failures, but explore how they feature in the literary production of the writers of the era.
Homosexuality, Class, Politics and the Lure of Germany in 1930s Writing
Dreaming about Four Dimensions with Edwin A. Abbott and May Kendall
This article links the rise of non-Euclidean geometry with the ascent of theories of evolution in the second half of the nineteenth century, and argues that the upsurge of speculations on higher dimensional space figures as a corollary of the pre-eminence of Darwinian ideas in the late Victorian imaginary. It first provides a short sketch of the development of thinking in higher dimensions from Plato's 'allegory of the cave' to the late Victorian popularisation of the subject in the works of Charles Hinton and H.G. Wells. On this basis, it goes on to examine two literary texts from the 1880s, Edwin A. Abbott's novel Flatland and May Kendall's poem 'A Pure Hypothesis'. Both texts are premised on the assumption that there are different versions of the world with different numbers of spatial dimensions, and that through the faculty of dreaming it is possible to transcend the boundaries between these worlds. This article shows how both texts use this central conceit to pose serious questions about contemporary class hierarchies as well as the ethical implications of scientific progress.
Angels and Demons
This special issue of Critical Survey stems from a conference at Canterbury Christ Church University in June 2010 that was intended to explore continuities and ruptures in the representation and deployment of angels and demons and related binaries, be they in nineteenth-century print media or seventeenth-century Protestant texts, twenty-first century bestsellers or company PR strategies. From the first it was decided that discussion should not be limited to actual angels and demons, but the more general binaries of good and evil, lucid self and obscure Other. Considerations of the generic processes of demonisation and its opposite were also welcome, as were attempts to think outside such binaries (insofar as such is possible). Was it the case that the undoing of binaries, vital to Cixous’ feminist enterprise and deconstruction generally, was salient today for the various politics of gender, sexuality, ‘race’, class, disability, and place, or had such deconstruction been so co-opted by conservative commercial culture (as was always possible according to Christopher Norris) that alternative strategies were necessary? All these ways of thinking about angels and demons are represented in the essays that follow.
Terence Hawkes was an eminent Shakespearean and critical theorist whose career had many facets. He was also a friend and mentor to me, a man who throughout his career countered the class privilege and arbitrary power he had experienced himself at the beginning of his career and which he fought when he saw it at work against others. While his critical work developed over the years in different stages – from humanism to structuralism to poststructuralism to presentism – there were certain constants in all of them: an awareness of language as such, of the power of the critic's present in all readings of works of the past, and of the political and social dimensions of literature and literary criticism. The two of us collaborated in the promulgation of the idea of critical presentism in our 2007 anthology Presentist Shakespeares, but Terence Hawkes' presentist practice can be traced back into some of his earlier works composed well before the term was coined. His 1986 That Shakespeherian Rag can be seen as the beginning of both his pioneering work in deconstructive criticism and in ideas and practices that marked the presentism of his last several books and articles.
Nimrod, Surtees, and the New Sporting Magazine
In the early Victorian period, sporting literature found a new audience among the young century's industrialists and prosperous merchants who, enabled by the growth of the railroads and increased access to the countryside, chose to use their increased leisure time to experience English rural life and to hobnob on equal terms, at least superficially, with the rural ancien régime. The New Sporting Magazine, established in 1831, positioned itself to speak both to the existing devotees of sport and to the middle-class audience which was about to make its presence felt in the field. The parallel refinement of English sport and its print discourse is described by and exemplified in the two best-known sport writers of the early Victorian era: Robert Smith Surtees and Charles Apperley ('Nimrod'). Surtees and Nimrod, though highly professional and well remunerated, habitually put forward their own work as 'correspondence', contributing to the illusion that the magazine was a playground for gentlemen of leisure. The careful blend of the conservative and modern in the New Sporting Magazine thus extends to its contributors as well: in this magazine's pages the eighteenth-century culture of the gentleman correspondent was beginning to merge with the culture of the paid celebrity author that would become such a force in the mass literary environment of the nineteenth century.
Maternal Violence and the Self-Made Man in Popular Victorian Culture
Motherhood, for the Victorians, was seen not just as an organic phase of womanhood, but a responsibility that required a constant system of behavioural actions or inactions to make it a success rather than a danger. In this essay, I explore mid-nineteenth-century formulations of maternity through the ‘work’ of two women: Mary Ann Brough and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Both women played a significant role within the era’s popular culture. In 1854, Brough notoriously cut the throats of six of her children, killing them all, and then attempted suicide by cutting her own.1 From 1862 until her death in 1915, Braddon was one of Britain’s most popular and prolific novelists. Through analysis of the correlations and inconsistencies between non-fictional reactions to the crimes of Mary Brough and representations of dangerous maternities in the early fiction of Mary Braddon, this piece aims to explore the period’s biological and social ideas of motherhood in relation to emerging ideas on male professionalism and class mobility.
Political readings of Treasure Island are rare, and of fairly recent date. David H. Jackson’s account, ‘Treasure Island as a Late-Victorian Adults’ Novel’, identifies a strong element of class antagonism. Against Robert Louis Stevenson’s claim that his early romances are amoral and ahistorical, Jackson proposes that ‘Treasure Island is a simplified account of eighteenth-century hierarchical society’, where ‘the premium virtue is duty – unquestioning loyalty to the hierarchy’, and in which Stevenson promotes ‘firm and conservative social values’. For Jackson, Treasure Island is mainly about good and bad children as defined by obedience to or disrespect for authority figures, engaging ‘the reader’s personal nostalgia for his or her own childhood’. In her postcolonial work Problematic Shores, Diana Loxley also counters the traditional view of this novel as a timeless romance. She finds that it is ‘in fact deeply marked by its moment of historical production in the heyday of Victorian imperialism’, and she convincingly provides ‘the colonial context within which Treasure Island should be read and discussed’.
observes that the focus upon the sentiment of the filial sonnets has obscured their political concerns. 2 What has not been noticed is the sonnets’ politics of sentiment. These sonnets about Harrison’s inarticulate, reticent working-class family link
Seamus Heaney and Tony Harrison (Back) at School
While literature may possibly be, as Derrida claims, ‘the institution which allows one to say everything’, school most certainly is not. As an institution, it is bound up with the political system of a society and inevitably subjected to educational policy. Literature, however, is taught at school, and, as some would claim, institutionalised and canonised thereby. School education, of course, is also a topic within autobiographical poetry that conjures up the days at school or university as part of a reconstructed growth of a poet’s mind. In an unprecendented opening of the school system, the post-war period following the Education Act in 1944 witnessed the introduction of scholarships for marginalised social groups in Britain and campaigns for institutions of higher education in the colonies. Many of the now well-established and internationally renowned poets in English went to school then. Perhaps surprisingly, their class-room poems are not so much about great opportunities and hard-won laurels as about the pressures on, and depressions of, those recently welcomed to a system that distributes social and cultural power. In concentrating on two well-known poems that were both published in the 1970s, Tony Harrison’s ‘Them & [uz]’ and Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Ministry of Fear’, I want to trace the entanglement of poetry and school education from the 1950s, the period reconstructed in the poems, until today. Although critical of the British educational system and its attitude to poetry, these poems are now taught at school. A consideration of the performative dimension of these poems will yield the criteria with which to describe their classroom career.
Peter McLaren and Ramin Farahmandpur
As we lean into the gusty winds of the approaching millennium, squaring our shoulders and lowering our heads against an icy unknown, we discover much to our surprise that the future has already arrived; that it has silently imploded into the singularity of the present. We are lost in a crevice in the ‘wrong side’ of history, in a furious calm at the end of a century-old breath, doing solitary confinement in the future anterior. Time has inhaled so hard that it has lodged us in its lungs, compressing us into shadowy, ovaloid spectres out of the horror classic, Nosferatu. Capitalism has authored this moment, synchronising the heartbeat of the globe with the auto-copulatory rhythms of the marketplace; deregulating history; downsizing eternity.