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78Victorian Review pertinently quotes Clare's vivid and violent phrase about land that had "never felt the rage of blundering plough." Jane Austen's enquiry in a letter of 29 January 1813 might also have been invoked: "If you could discoverwhether Northamptonshire is a country ofHedgerows I should be glad again." Both these volumes contain substantial sections giving bibliographical information related to the topics dealt with, and the lists of secondary works form a useful starting-point for anyone intent on further investigation. Whether it was wise also to include miniature biographies of writers, artists and others is open to question: an account of, say, Coleridge's life that runs to about 75 words is almost useless, and anyone wanting basic information of a less skeletal variety is unlikely to have much difficulty in finding it There is always a certain fascination in observing an expert discoursing on his or her special field, and few are likely to peruse these volumes without learning something new or being reminded of something they had forgotten. But the Guide remains a symposium rather than an encyclopedia; its conception rules out comprehensiveness, its ambitions render difficult or impossible the development of new ideas or the presentation of supporting facts on the necessary scale in relation to any particular topic, its format disqualifies it from being a source to turn to in quest of a specific piece of information. It is, in short, either too little or too much—-though in point of cost it may be thought decidedly the latter. Norman Page University ofNottingham Richard D. Altick. The Presence of the Present: Topics of the Day in the Victorian Novel. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1991. 852. $45.00 US (cloth). TAePresence ofthePresent is agreat, fat, eight-hundred-and-fifty-two page book, chock-full of things, places, people, ideas, fashions and events—topicalities—present to the minds of the Victorian novel's first readers, "all the details of everyday life and knowledge that were characteristic of the Victorian scene" (2). The object is, as much as may be possible, to put us in the position of the original readers. "Like metaphors and symbols, topical allusions have their own aura of suggestion. To re-create an aura that has faded with the passage of years Reviews79 requires, as it were, a psychocultural leap backward, guided by scholarship and imagination working in harmony, until, so far as our distance in time, place, and social circumstances permits, we see with the initial readers' eyes and react with their minds" (4). It would be hard to imagine a better, more scholarly, more spirited guide in that attempt than Richard Altick. The range and density of his erudition is exceptional, and one feels in reading the book that it is, as Altick suggests in his preface, the culmination of many years' interest in the subject and approach. One hundred and fifty novels form the base of the study, but a wealth of detail from Victorian culture and history illuminates them. I thought for example, that my learned spouse had exhausted the, God knows recherché, subject of Italians and white mice in the Victorian novel (VR, Winter 1990), but Altick too goes mouse-hunting and shows that "Mention at this time of hungry little Italian boys with show-boxes ofwhite mice was bound to arouse memories of the real-life victim of . . . body snatchers, John Bishop and Thomas Head, alias Williams, who were charged with his murder in London and were subsequently hanged" (527). Their death casts show up in Dickens's "A Visit to Newgate" in Sketches byBoz. (Incidentally Peter Ackroyd notes the possibility, based on a report in the Dexter collection of a trial about "the Italian boy," that Dickens reported it.) Altick adds that "In the wake of the murder it was reported that 'no fewer than four thousand of these boys . . . pursued their avocation by means of a hand-organ, a white mouse, or something else to afford an excuse for begging" (528). So, there is the ultimate lore on Italians and white mice. Throughout the book, Altick's lore is characteristically complete. I have myselfpursued at some length the many skeins of allusion in one...


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