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Reviews Andrew Maunder, Varieties of Women's Sensation Fiction: 1855-1890, 6 vols. Vol. 1, Sensationalism and the Sensation Debate, ed. Andrew Maunder, pp. xlvüi + 400; Vol. 2, Florence Marryat, Love's Conflict, ed. Andrew Maunder, pp. liii + 447; Vol. 3, EUen Wood, StMartin's Eve, ed. Lyn Pykett, pp. xxxiv + 446; Vol. 4, FeUcia Skene, Hidden Depths, ed. LiUian Nayder, and Rhoda Broughton, Cometh Up as a Flower, ed. Tamar HeUer, pp. Ix + 532; Vol. 5, Mary Cedl Hay, OldMyddleton's Money, ed. Mark Knight pp. xxvi + 333; Vol. 6, Dora RusseU, Beneath the Wave, ed. Graham Law, pp. xüv + 347; (London, Pickering and Chatto, 2004), ISBN 185196 771 0. ¿495/$840. These six impressive and much needed volumes have two main purposes, to demonstrate the range and variety of the sensational within Victorian fiction, and to examine the significance of the genre for women writers and readers. The controversy surrounding sensation fiction centred at least as much on worries about female discontent and instabiUty as on the representation of criminal behaviour. In one of the most famous and controversial sensation novels, Rhoda Broughton's Cometh Up as a Flower (1867), the sensation machinery amounts to one forged letter. The sensation lay in the heroine's unfulfiUed adulterous yearnings, and the fear that the book would, as Tamar HeUer says, be "a catalyst for a chain reaction of female moral contagion" (4, xxiv). As weU as representing female transgression, the sensation novel also questioned behaviour at the heart of the dominant ideal of domestic femininity. Excessive maternal devotion carried to madness in EUen Wood's StMartin's Eve (1866) is, as Lyn Pykett points out, "both a symptom or expression of femininity and its negation" (3, xx). This series reprints six novels by women practitioners of sensation fiction. Wood and Broughton were leaders in the field. Florence Marryat and FeUcia Skene, working at the genre's height in the mid 1860s, used it to express concerns about attitudes to marriage and sexuaUty. Mary Cecil Hay and Dora Russell, popular proUfic writers for journals in the 1 870s, have been recovered from obscurity. These women, who examined the contradictions and instabiUties in their excessive heroines, were hardworking professionals finding their way in the literary market. As Andrew Maunder argues in the General Introduction, aU achieved a fair measure of success in exploiting the market and controlling their careers. Volume 1 collects together 35 critical contributions to the sensation debate 132volume 31 number 2 Reviews between 1861 and 1880. Maunder points to the shifting definitions of this powerful and elusive genre, "the result of positions being constantly formed and held, chaUenged and subverted" (1, xxxv). The articles include such weU-known critics as OUphant, Mansel, and Jewsbury, but also reUgious and medical approaches, and reviews of stage sensation, and the coUection in one volume wiU be immensely useful to the sensation scholar. The extensive bibUography of sensation fiction for the same period includes male contributions, and notes particular sensation features for each novel. The six novels in the remaining five volumes are weU chosen to demonstrate the genre's range beyond the few famous novels, and are supported by introductions, chronologies, and pubUcation histories richly informative both on female Uterary professionaUsm of the period, and on the changing directions of the genre. The Wood, with its hereditary madness, murder and arson, is the closest to the Lady Audley model of sensation. Marryat's Love's Confict (1865), Uke the Broughton, treats an unhappy marriage. Skene's Hidden Depths (1 866) crusades on behalf of prostitutes in the wake of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Hay's Old Myddleton's Money (1874) and RusseU's Beneath the Wave (1878) were both seriaUsed in famUy magazines. Graham Law describes RusseU's novel as 'newspaper fiction'; syndicated in at least 10 periodicals, it drew material from contemporary newspapers. Hay and RusseU demonstrate the post 1860s absorption of sensation into mainstream fiction. The plot of Beneath the Wave coincides at points with that of DanielDeronda, and when the hero finds work as printer's reader in London, we are in territory usuaUy associated with Gissing. Reading through endless novels, he reflects on the quantities...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 132-134
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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