Seminar on Neo-Victorianism organised with 19C Research Group

Wednesday 14th May 2014, MC0024, 4.15-5.30
Professor Angela Thody, Centre for Education Research and Development
‘Neo-Victorianism across the education spectrum: a quiz to amaze you’
Dr Ben Poore, Lecturer in Theatre, Film and Television, University of York
‘What Use Our Work?’ Sherlock Holmes, Ripper Street, and the Neo-Victorian Detective in Print and on Screen
The past five years have seen a sequence of television detective series, from Whitechapel to Sherlock to The Suspicions of Mr Whicher to Ripper Street, which have attempted new ways of exploring and exploiting our ongoing fascination with Victorian crime. In particular, these series have foregrounded the work of the detective and the beginnings of forensic methods of detection, whether to attempt an up-to-the-minute update of Victorian techniques, or to offer an account of the institutional and cultural contexts in which the early detectives operated. Between them, each of these four series conform to John Scaggs’ taxonomy of how historical crime fiction appropriates the past: through relocating to the present (Sherlock), through a trans-historical framework (Whitechapel), and through ‘straight’ historical fiction (Mr Whicher, Ripper Street) which is built around historical events (Scaggs, Crime Fiction, 2005: 129).
Publishing has provided ample examples of these trends for many years, from the classic trans-historical works of literary neo-Victorian fiction such as A.S. Byatt’s Possession, to the trail of Ripper- and Sherlock Holmes-derived pastiches stretching back at least as far as the 1970s. And this is before we consider the scale of fan-fiction and, with it, the changing nature of publishing and distribution.
As a specialist in recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations on screen and stage, I aim in this talk to broaden the terms of my inquiry, and ask: what is it about the Victorian period‘s tropes, totems and taboos that we’re drawn to? Why is the resuscitated figure of the Victorian detective so resonant in2014? And how do historical detective series, in print and on screen, serve the economics of the culture industry in the 21st century?

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