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Are We There Yet?

Virtual Travel and Victorian Realism

Alison Byerly

Publication Year: 2012

Are We There Yet?: Virtual Travel and Victorian Realism connects the Victorian fascination with "virtual travel" with the rise of realism in 19th-century fiction and 21st-century experiments in virtual reality. Even as the expansion of river and railway networks in the 19th century made travel easier than ever before, staying at home and fantasizing about travel turned into a favorite pastime. New ways of representing place---360-degree panoramas, foldout river maps, exhaustive railway guides---offered themselves as substitutes for actual travel. Thinking of these representations as a form of "virtual travel" reveals a surprising continuity between the Victorian fascination with imaginative dislocation and 21st-century efforts to use digital technology to expand the physical boundaries of the self.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7

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pp. vii-viii

I am very grateful to Middlebury College, and to President Ron Liebowitz, for the generous leave support that made it possible for me to complete this book even in the midst of an appointment as provost. ...


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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Travel and the Art of the Real

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pp. 1-28

Looking at an Illustrated London News picture of viewers “visiting Paris” by way of a room-sized panorama, reading newspaper accounts of women swooning at an elaborately staged train wreck at Drury Lane, or opening a novel in which the narrator faithfully promises to take you to a nonexistent place called Wessex, ...

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I. Going Nowhere: Panoramic Travel

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pp. 29-35

The panorama is a unique space where the nineteenth century meets the present. Contemporary developments in panoramic videography have repopularized the word and helped to restore its specific visual meaning after a century in which it had come to signify any form of broad overview. ..

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1. A Room with a View: The Victorian Panorama

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pp. 35-41

It is difficult to overstate the popularity of scenic panoramas in mid-nineteenth-century London. Interest in panoramas among people of all classes surged in the years 1845 to 1850, but they were a staple of the London entertainment scene from the 1830s through the 1870s, with numerous competing panoramas running concurrently during most of that time. ...

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2. The Passing Scene: Moving Panoramas

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pp. 41-47

In addition to circular panoramas, the nineteenth century saw the development of an entirely new form of representation, the moving panorama. Panoramas painted on linear canvas that could be unrolled slowly while viewed from a stationary seat, usually presented in conjunction with music, commentary, or some combination of the two, ...

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3. Wish You Were Here: Marketing the Experience

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pp. 47-55

Most panorama exhibitors included in their advertisements lengthy testimonials from appropriate individuals: mariners, well-known travellers, eminent figures such as Dickens, people associated with the depicted scene who could vouch for its faithfulness to the “original.” The souvenir pamphlet that Banvard produced ...

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4. Watching the Grand Tour

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pp. 55-58

The popular, if playfully exaggerated, sense of panorama viewing as a form of virtual travel reflects both the wide range of distant places to which panoramas offered access and the sense of mobility generated by the panorama experience. Paradoxically, panoramas were not used to created imaginary landscapes that could not be seen any other way; ...

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5. Moving Pictures: The View from a Balloon

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pp. 59-66

While the experience of ballooning was unusual, and the views it provided unique, balloonists were not, as it turned out, at a loss for words to describe it. Virtually every balloonist who wrote about his or her experiences compared the landscape passing below to a panorama. James Glaisher, whose book Travels in the Air is the most comprehensive account ...

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6. Surveying the Scene: The Panoramic Gaze

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pp. 66-70

Balloon travel, like panorama viewing, produced a dramatic shift in perspective that allowed the viewer to take a comprehensive overview of a place he or she had previously seen only in pieces, transforming the way in which Victorians viewed the landscape as a whole. The preceding passages suggest that balloon travellers, ...

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7. The Hypothetical Tourist

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pp. 70-82

Having outlined the development of the panoramic perspective and its cultivation of a sense of virtual travel on the part of the spectator, I turn now to an analysis of the way in which this visual effect is translated into fiction. Nonfictional attempts to replicate the panoramic perspective, such as the panorama guides ...

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II. Total Immersion: Navigating the Thames

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pp. 83-87

Charting the many turns in the Thames’s literary course throughout the period allows us to map the shift from a picturesque romanticism to a new realism, as we see the England symbolized by the Thames begin to acknowledge the gritty realities of Victorian life. The Victorian obsession with describing and redescribing the familiar journey. ...

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1. No Place Like Home: The Thames as England

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pp. 87-97

Charting the many turns in the Thames’s literary course throughout the period allows us to map the shift from a picturesque romanticism to a new realism, as we see the England symbolized by the Thames begin to acknowledge the gritty realities of Victorian life. The Victorian obsession with describing and redescribing the familiar journey ...

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2. Journey to the Interior

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pp. 97-104

A trip on the Thames was an escape from a particular kind of reality: a modern, urban, technological reality. A journey into the heart of England might, it was hoped, allow the modern traveller to cultivate a more relaxed, introspective attitude. Most accounts of a journey on the Thames begin, like Wynter’s, ...

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3. You Are Here: The Guided Tour

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pp. 104-110

If a trip up the Thames seemed to happen in a space located somewhere between real and simulated experience, then it is not surprising that the Victorians craved texts that would help them to orient themselves in this amorphous space. Over the course of the century, guidebooks were instrumental in negotiating the boundaries ...

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4. Blogging the Trip: Three Men in a Boat

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pp. 111-117

The power of the Thames fantasy made it tempting to deflate. While Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1889) seems at first to present itself as a familiar example of the river journey, the book’s style quickly undermines any sense of specificity or sequence of location, creating instead a narrative that does not attempt to accurately represent ...

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5. Back to the Future: News from Nowhere

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pp. 117-122

The Internet is full of websites that function as virtual museums, preserving the experience of sites and places that have long since vanished. Virtual tours of the Acropolis (http://www.acropolis360.com/) or the now-inaccessible Cave of Lascaux (http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/lascaux/en/) allow visitors not only to see specific aspects ...

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6. River of Oblivion: The London Thames

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pp. 122-133

The guidebooks and travel accounts examined earlier, as well as the literary texts that appropriated many of their themes and structures, create a timeless, pastoral, and largely affirmative vision of England through their emphasis on the restorative power of the Thames and its capacity to remove the viewer/traveller from specific, quotidian, reality. ...

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7. Change of Pace: The Rush toward Leisure

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pp. 134-142

The idea of the Thames as a generalized and generalizable non-place was reinforced by the way in which river travel effaced the difference between public and private space, focusing attention on the speed and quality of travel itself and on the subjective experience of the traveller. ...

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III. High-speed Connection: The Railway Network

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pp. 143-152

It was a new technology that seemed to herald a new age. A network that was initially designed for use by a limited number of professionals quickly grew into an indispensable infrastructure that changed a whole society’s sense of distance, scale, and community. Though its eventual impact was impossible to predict, ...

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1. Frankenstein’s Monster: The Cyborg Engine

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pp. 152-154

The Victorians were not entirely confident that the power of the railway could be predicted and controlled. E. Foxwell’s image of “Distance . . . led captive across the land in triumphal possession at forty miles an hour” (17), and his claim that “men who were once the serfs of distance, are now free” (18), suggests that in overcoming physical constraints, ...

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2. Neither Here nor There: The Body in Transit

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pp. 154-167

An obsession with the speeds achieved by railway trains is evident in virtually all accounts of railway travel. The earliest “Bradshaw,” the standard railway guide, was like a pocket calculator, providing, as one author notes, “a pleasant little chart, by which we can make amusing calculations on the rate of travelling per hour, ...

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3. User’s Manuals: The Railway Guide

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pp. 167-173

This effort at mental alignment is made explicit in reading material designed specifically for the railway traveller: railway guides and handbooks. The railways generated a unique body of texts that sought to fill the perceptual gap created by this disorienting form of travel. Like an “iPad for Dummies” book, these railway guides were indispensable ...

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4. Chat Rooms: The Social Space of Trains

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pp. 173-181

The sense of control over the reader that is increasingly evident in railway guides mirrors the overall experience of railway travel for most passengers. Travelling by rail was often figured as a complete surrendering of individual agency and control. The precise time of departure and arrival were dictated by the railway company; ...

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5. Game Over: The Railway Journey as Dream and Nightmare

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pp. 181-187

The discrete experience of a railway journey seemed to lend itself to a narrative structure whereby the journey defines a specific imaginative episode that might be a dream, a nightmare, or, in a frequent pun, a specific “train of thought.” The journey becomes a world of its own, with its own rules and logic; ...

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6. The Matrix: Railway Junctions as Non-Spaces

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pp. 187-190

Railway stations, particularly at major junctions, were a favorite subject of both verbal and pictorial representation, for they seemed to emblematize the connective power of the railway network. While it was understood that a major benefit of railway expansion was the opportunity it provided for wider circulation of goods, ...

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7. World Wide Web: Information Networks in Sherlock Holmes and Dracula

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pp. 190-200

By the end of the century, novelists would use the railway as both example of, and metaphor for, the increasing interrelatedness and complexity of life, particularly urban life, and the endless pressure for improved communication. Although the development of the railway preceded that of the telegraph, ...

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8. Moving through Media

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pp. 200-204

The “mobility of vision” that, according to Schivelbusch, characterizes the visual experience of train travel has been linked to capitalism and the development of commodity culture in the nineteenth century. Schivelbusch suggests that the “commodity character of objects” (186)—even of passengers, as seen in the epigraph by Ruskin ...

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pp. 204-208

I began this study with a question about why the mode of fictive experience I have called “virtual travel” was so appealing to the Victorians. In attempting to address that question, I have argued that the development of a culture of virtual travel in nineteenth-century England played a fundamental role in the evolution of the Victorian realist novel. ...


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pp. 209-224

Works Cited

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pp. 225-244


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pp. 245-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028764
E-ISBN-10: 0472028766
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051861
Print-ISBN-10: 0472071866

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 8 halftones
Publication Year: 2012