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Bodies, Boundaries and Queer Waters

Drowning and Prosopopæia in Later Dickens

Vybarr Cregan-Reid

The way in which the judgements of the landmark 1860 case Rylands v. Fletcher employed the English language to attempt some kind of clear notion of liability is representative of a much wider cultural anxiety over the status of water as a live, conscious and capriciously dangerous agent. I will suggest that the Victorians' emergent fear of wild and live water represents a kind of cultural imaginary that predetermines Dickens's use of prosopopoeic figurative language. The novels that I will draw upon, principally David Copperfield and Our Mutual Friend, both take the trope of drowning as their focal rhetoric. Because the idea of water being embodied as a feral animal emerged around the 1850s, I will deploy some of Dickens's earlier work that uses the same trope of drowning, but in a more simplified way which envisioned water as the passive recipient of the drownee. As a result of the cultural idea of a live and conscious water, Dickens's later novels and journalism can be seen to be exploring an inherently queer notion of intersubjectivity; as the drownee meets their fate, their body's boundaries become permeable, they and the water which 'takes' them become intermingled. The water takes their life and it dissolves their identity. Dickens's later work and Rylands v. Fletcher both play their part in articulating this wider cultural anxiety and phenomenological presence of water as live monstrosity. Moreover, Dickens's use of water as embodied, raging and stampeding agent, raises some fascinating questions surrounding the taboo nature of gender, sexuality and subjectivity in Victorian culture.

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Running Wilde

Landscape, the Body, and the History of the Treadmill

Vybarr Cregan Reid

How have exercise, the body, and modes of imprisonment become so imbricated in modern societies? The treadmill started its life as the harshest form of punishment that could be meted out, short of the death penalty. It remained so for two centuries. Today, we pay membership fees equivalent to a household energy bill for the dubious privilege of being permitted to run on them. The treadmill is a high-functioning symbol of our anthropocene life that chooses to engage with self-created realities that knowingly deny our creaturely existence.

This essay aims to bring a number of genres and disciplines into conversation with one another to effect a mode of reflective but insightful cultural analysis. Through this ecological interdependence of genre, (including history, philosophy, literary analysis, sociology, psychogeography, autobiography, and biography) the essay aims to look at the ways in which our condition in modernity conspires against our psychological, physiological, geographical, and personal freedoms. Using Oscar Wilde's experiences of life on the treadmill, some of Hardy's poetry, Simone Weil, Pater, Foucault, Lacan, Sartre, Althusser, and Lukács, the essay draws attention to the ways that inauthenticity and dehumanisation have become the mainstay of life in the modern gym.

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Water Defences

The Arts of Swimming in Nineteenth-Century Culture

Vybarr Cregan-Reid

In Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), the Minor canon of Cloisterham Cathedral is introduced to the reader as a thoroughly muscular Christian. Crisparkle’s moral fibre is designated by a prolonged succession of adjectives; indeed, the only point at which this adjectival rhythm is ruptured is when the text pauses to describe the Reverend’s sophisticated and frequent swimming rituals. So proficient a swimmer is he, that when the crews that drag the river searching for Drood’s body fail to find any clues, it is Crisparkle we are told, who ‘threw off his clothes, […] plunged into the icy water, and swam for the spot. Climbing the timbers, he took from them […] a gold watch, bearing engraved upon its back E. D.’ (198).

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Dennis Brown, Ana-Isabel Aliaga-Buchenau, Katharine Cockin, Vybarr Cregan-Reid, Joseph A. Tighe, and Peter Wilson

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Kristina Aikens, William A. Cohen, Vybarr Cregan-Reid, Holly Furneaux, Jenny Hartley, Tara MacDonald, and Anne Schwan

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