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Rewriting/Reprising Middlemarch: plural intertextualities in the creation of a neo-Victorian palimpsest.
Neo-Victorianism can be divided into two distinct categories: creative works engaging with Victorian literature and culture, and scholarly works exploring shifting relationships with the Victorian period since its close in 1901, through critical investigation of Neo-Victorian creative works. Although criticism of historical fiction set in the Victorian period has a long history, Neo-Victorianism, as an academic discipline, is a new phenomenon. The plethora of Neo-Victorian creative works emerging in the last twenty years has led to analysis of contemporary fixation with Victorian art, literature, and history. A number of critical terms exist to identify this genre: Post-, Retro- and Neo-Victorian. But most recently, following the establishment of the journal Neo-Victorian Studies in 2008, “Neo-Victorian” has become adopted. Neo-Victorianism is now established as a genre for scholarly investigation.
Scholars argue that not all works with a Victorian setting can be identified as Neo-Victorian and that the term implies “knowing” engagement with the period. Works that employ the period merely as backdrop are excluded from Neo-Victorianism, and thus issues of inclusion require research. Critical debates have also examined the genre’s chronology. Various critics locate the 1960s as the period in which this literary genre emerges, citing Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) and John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) as prototypes. This association with the 1960s reinforces the genre’s links with
http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199799558/obo-9780199799558-0083.xmlPostmodernism. However, it has recently been acknowledged that its origins are earlier. Works predating Rhys’s novel include Robert Graves’s The Real David Copperfield (1933), Virginia Woolf’s Freshwater (1935), Michael Sadleir’s Fanny by Gaslight (1944), and Marghanita Laski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue (1953). Questions are therefore raised about the necessary chronological distance between the Victorian and the Neo-Victorian.
The hybrid nature of Neo-Victorian studies presents unprecedented opportunities for innovative and interdisciplinary fiction writing. Writing a neo-Victorian novel reopens inspection of the Victorian novel whilst forging a new literary genre. In re-writing Middlemarch (G. Eliot, 1871-2) as a neo-Victorian palimpsest, I will explore how nineteenth century texts can be used as models for writing twenty-first century fiction. The synthesis of creative and critical components into one homogenous text marks this project as new. In traditional creative writing PhD’s there exists a balance between creative component and critical exegesis. My thesis will therefore consist of a critical voice surveying the field of critical literature in neo-Victorian Studies, and the voice of a creative writing practitioner making a fictional text as a reprentative product of the survey. Having compiled a cannon of texts, I will undertake a case study of how these texts either conform to or subvert both canonical Victorian texts and conventions from this new genre. In my work to date I have found narratological uncertainty (which requires investigation) in the synthesis of the voice of the literary critic in the critical component and the voice of the omniscient narrator in the creative component. The voices have become intertwined, as the omniscient narrator and the literary critic synthesise to produce a hybrid voice. One can write a neo-Victorian novel whilst researching the corresponding critical literature in a symbiotic relationship. The PhD thesis will be therefore built on a blend of pluralities and intertextualities: between literary criticism and omniscient narration; between ludic parody and nostalgic pastiche; between creativity and literary theory, and between novel and PhD thesis.
This creative/critical hybrid project will demonstrate how fiction can provide an innovative method of examining the Victorians. Neo-Victorian fiction is a generic mediator in the experience of reading the Victorian novel, and represents a creative writing process that mimics the experience of reading the Victorians’ literary product. The symbolic method is the creation of a palimpsest: a manuscript on which an earlier text has been effaced and the vellum or parchment reused for another. Such practice was common in medieval ecclesiastical circles, to erase an earlier text by means of scraping the manuscript, to prepare it for a new text. By substituting the medieval vellum for Victorian paper, and in partially erasing Middlemarch from the page, and writing a neo-Victorian novel over the top of the original text, a neo-Victorian palimpsest is created. The production is pluralistic, drawing on medieval, Victorian and contemporary intertextualities.
In neo-Victorian generic fiction, there is a natural blending of the creative and the critical. Critic Mark Llewellyn, a leading scholar in neo-Victorian Studies, calls this genre critical f(r)iction, (What is neo-Victorian Studies? 2008). Other leading critics in the field are Anne Hielman and Marie-Luise Kohlke.
Cambridge University's body of Victorian critical literature, and its human resources in the Department of Modern and Contemporary English, will be key in locating contemporary reviews of texts, and conducting research based on primary sources. In addition, the weekly Research Seminar Series in the Centre will serve as a vital stimulus for new avenues of research. French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) as prototypes. This association with the 1960s reinforces the genre’s links with
This creative/critical hybrid project will demonstrate how fiction can provide an innovative method of examining the Victoria