Book reviews in the Journal of British Studies

Having rejoined, after several years hiatus, the North American Conference on British Studies, I am getting caught up with my journal reading. Naturally I am emphasizing the nineteenth century, but haven’t found any pertinent articles in this year’s issues. In the book reviews, however, are several items to make note of.

From April 2017:

Katheleen Frederickson’s The Ploy of Instinct: Victorian Sciences of Nature and Sexuality was reviewed by Kate Holterhoff. Apparently during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, there was an idea that instinct was the opposite of, or could replace, rational thought, and tended to do so in groups that were “less equipped to reflect on their own self-conscious” (animals, women, primitive peoples and, I assume, children). Instinct was a controversial idea, one indispensable to scientists and political thinkers but also hated. The most interesting point to me was from the fourth chapter, which contained the example of suffragette hunger strikers. In refusing to eat, these women negated the idea that they were not rational people, because they were dismissing the instinct of survival for a higher purpose.

Graham Mooney’s Intrusive Interventions: Public Health, Domestic Space, and Infectious Disease was reviewed by Nicola Shelton. The focus was on the intrusive nature of notification systems designed to increase public health. As with other politically forced breakthroughs in hygiene, such as London’s sewer system, there was no national policy and thus local authorities had the freedom to develop plans and schemes. For this reason, it’s a difficult area to study, but apparently Mooney was able to go into much detail. He examined disease surveillance and control as both a need and a risk to making the problem worse, as people resisted the reporting requirements. Landlords would not want to report sick people and lose rent money. Teachers, who were told they must report disease (rather like I am told to report child abuse), were usually not qualified to diagnose anything and, since they were often paid per pupil, weren’t necessarily willing anyway. Wealthy people were both treated differently and had their own self-imposed systems of isolation, staying home and hiring nurses instead of going to hospital. Forced isolation, though, could keep people from visiting the sick and being helpful. But what was most interesting was that even when notification and isolation were employed, there is no evidence they reduced mortality. Also of interest is that Mooney apparently claims a move away from the dependence on government action because of tuberculosis, which couldn’t benefit from disinfection (the latest trend in hygiene) or hospitalization. Thus the market and the household became the centers of medical care. The balance between individualism and collective good has always interested me, and no more so than in Britain, which in the Victorian era rejected both public health measures and a national education system, but would ultimately create the NHS.

From July 2017

Tina Young Choi’s Anonymous Connections: The Body and Narratives of the Social in Victorian Britain was reviewed by Pamela K. Gilbert. The idea here is to replace the usual literary analysis of affective relationships between characters with a focus on the corporal. What Choi adds is apparently the idea that Victorian liberal individualism was countered by an alternative of multiple anonymous connections with others. It is possible to see the elements of disease and psychology in many literary works as related to this tension, and that good things (new friendships) could result from such contacts, but beyond that I had trouble understanding the focus when the reviewer got into posthumanism. I had to look it up. As near as I can tell, posthumanism denies the Renaissance idea of man as the measure of all things, acknowledging humanity as only one element in the world. I’m not sure I’ve ever thought otherwise. The reviewer claimed that one of Choi’s achievements in her book is to offer a view of society that goes beyond “traditional identity categories”. Um…ok.

And last the most interesting:

Kate Hill’s Women and Museums, 1850-1914: Modernity and the Gendering of Knowledge was reviewed by Barbara Black. Now, I get annoyed immediately with words like “gendering”, even though I am fine acknowledging that such work (history from feminist, racial, or other perspectives) is necessary until such time as everyone is fully integrated into the traditional narratives. I also had to read the review itself with a dictionary in hand, the word usage was so complex. But I happen to have a particular interest in museums as places where history is interpreted, and those interpretations shared with laypeople, very much like in my job as a community college professor. We may unnecessarily point out that women were a factor in museum culture, as visitors, donors, curators, volunteers. But beyond that, the “porous” nature of the museum in daily life, the way people of all walks of life go in and out, makes them uniquely influential in ordinary society. Museums in many ways put women on the “outside”, but they also afforded them opportunities. Although careful not to pinpoint the affective domain as “female”, the book seems to have implied that an emphasis on affect (as opposed to straightforward factuality) is somehow attributed to women’s influence. Women were at the forefront of popular Victorian enthusiasms like Egyptology (and presumably Chinoiserie), and the implication here is that they shaped museums as cultural institutions. It reminds me of the educated women in the 18th century who forced Latin-writing male philosophers to have their work translated and discuss it in salons so more people could have access.

New perspectives on DE from 1961

A book from 1961, New Perspectives in University Correspondence Study (Chicago: Center for the Study of Liberal Education for Adults), lists the “characteristics that a correspondence student needs”:

  • self-motivation
  • organization skills
  • concentration

and “the characteristics necessary for a good program in correspondence study”:

  • clear goals and objectives
  • manageably sized lessons
  • rapid feedback from a skilled teacher

That’s it then. Nothing has changed. Not sure why people are getting degrees in this stuff, really.

from Terry Ann Mood, Distance Education: an Annotated Bibliography (Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, Inc. 1995), p. 15.

Midhurst Mystery

I received a mystery yesterday, in the package with a copy of Wells’ text-books (second edition, and beautiful). My correspondent, Simon Wheeler of Wheeler’s Bookshop in Midhurst, kindly shared with me a page from a book called Midhurst Town: Then and Now by V. and B. Mitchell, 1983.

It contained this caption on a photo of Church Street, Midhurst in the 1900s.


A Mrs. Allin arranged the post for Wells at the Grammar School?
This is the first I’ve heard of her. Well’s autobiography says he came up with the idea of contacting Byatt for an “usher” job when he was miserable in his indenture at Hyde’s Drapers in Southsea:

Finally I had the brilliant idea of writing to Mr. Horace Byatt at Midhurst.

Although Wells notes that, “I do not remember now the exact order of events in my liberation nor when it was I wrote to Byatt”, he was two years into the indenture so it was some time in summer 1883. He would be on his way to Midhurst in August.

There is no mention in Wells’ autobiography of Mrs. Allin, nor the ironmonger’s shop. So I did a quick check around the web.

The West Sussex Records office, where I had spent some time looking at the Grammar School prospectus, seems to have the records of the Allin Brothers’ business from 1879, but I doubt they would contain anything useful.

I also found the Allins’ son George, on a memorial web page  of those who had fallen in the Great War – his name is inscribed on the memorial in the town centre. George was born near the end of 1883, just after Wells returned to Midhurst to take up the position with Byatt. But Wells must have known Mrs. Allin (who would have been hugely pregnant with George when Wells arrived at Midhurst to teach) before this, if she helped him get the post.

midhurst-ironmongersallin
Courtesy of Simon Wheeler, Wheeler’s Bookshop, Midhurst

So this is the mystery. If Mrs. Allin (her given name was Elizabeth) had something to do with obtaining the teaching post for Wells, how did that occur? Did she know Horace Byatt and suggest to him that he hire Wells? How did she know Wells wanted out of his indenture? Did Wells write to her (there is no evidence of this) or did Byatt show her Wells’ letter or tell her about it? Or had H.G. confided in her somehow before he left Midhurst the first time, when he was 14, in spring of 1881?

Wells suggests that his mother, who was from Midhurst but was working and living at Uppark, knew nothing of his plans when he confronted her, pleading that she end his indenture and allow him to return to Midhurst, so it’s unlikely that either Byatt or Elizabeth Allin had contact with his Sarah Wells.

What might have been the connection?