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  • Time and the Poetess:Violet Fane and Fin-de-Siècle Poetry in Periodicals
  • Kathryn Ledbetter (bio)

The overwhelming variety of discourses, readerships, authors, editors, and paratextual interventions engaged with periodical publications challenges interpretive approaches to poetic taste and cultural value, often discouraging readers who may be further deterred by the temporality, popularity, unapologetic commodification, or perceived lack of discrimination in quality they find in periodicals upon first glance. Poetry published in Victorian periodicals is often overlooked because of dismissive prejudices, past and present, against periodicals as ephemeral, therefore inferior and unimportant. Yet the nineteenth-century periodical genre chronicles modernity through notions of time and ephemerality and, as Mark Turner suggests, “part of the periodical-ness of the periodical is exploring the various ways that time was imagined and experienced by nineteenth-century readers.”1 Turner describes the ways the periodical press “both represented anxieties about the shifting nature of time and participated in creating those anxieties” through the “cacophony of media time” evident in periodicals.2 When we fail to consider periodicals we erase evidence of intriguing discursive dynamics that can contribute to our understanding of Victorian poetry’s cultural relevance and uncover obscure textual nuances that help us interpret the past, as well as the future.

The poetry we canonize and explicate for modern readers is traditionally the poetry in volumes, but the practice of valuing volumes over individual publishing instance draws a curtain over the past and limits understanding of Victorian poetry on its own terms. Individual poems published in periodicals vie for attention from readers who are rapidly consuming texts: advertising, miscellaneous reportage of current events, court news, society columns, fashion plates, essays, crossword puzzles, word games, reader correspondence, and other literature by a mixture of anonymous, pseudonymous, obscure, or popular authors. Visual messages from illustrations are enmeshed with all other textual discourses, which include the periodical’s “personality,” branded by paper, columnar style, degree of illustration, intellectual depth, intended readership, miscellaneity, and reputation. [End Page 141]

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Figure 1.

Frontispiece illustration of Violet Fane from Under Cross and Crescent: Poems by Violet Fane (London: Nimmo, 1896), collection of the author.

Of course, a reader’s decision about what to accept and what to ignore is unknowable and perhaps unimportant, but the possibilities for meaning remain on the page, inseparable from the poem as long as the print lasts (and now with digital preservation, perhaps much longer). In many cases, the print of Victorian periodicals lasted longer than the poet’s reputation, largely because of the poet’s presence in the periodical. Viewing poems by fin-de-siècle poet, novelist, and essayist Violet Fane through the lens of their first publication in Victorian periodicals reveals new ways we may appreciate obscured women writers and understand how they articulate relationships between form and content within the perpetually cyclical format of periodicals.3 Here Fane’s poetry interrogates notions of time [End Page 142] in thematic modes such as seasons of nature, passages of life from youth to old age and death, suspension of time in dream and fantasy, and the dynamic nature of celebrity. Reading Fane’s poetry as deeply embedded in her fin-de-siècle print culture suggests not only a literary history of nineteenth-century women’s poetry predicated on negotiating literary celebrity’s fraught dependence on notions of ephemerality and permanence, but also Fane’s self-conscious interventions in women’s poetry as her poems thematize the relation between the woman poet and women and time.

“Violet Fane” (fig. 1) was a pseudonym for Mary Montgomerie Lamb Singleton Currie (1843–1905), descendant of a literary, aristocratic family in Sussex who claimed among its ancestors the poet John, Earl of Rochester. She married Irish landowner Henry Sydenham Singleton in 1864 and had four children. When she began her professional career in 1872, Fane adopted a pen name from a fictional character in Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Vivian Grey (1826) because her family disapproved of her literary ambitions. The pen name distanced the poet from family disapproval and the celebrity of authorship while encouraging public fascination with pseudonymic mystery. Fane made a striking contribution to poetry. Although Wilfred...


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pp. 141-159
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