Psychological Sensation: Victorian Fiction’s Lost Genre
Lecture by Tabitha Sparks
Date: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Time: 17.00 – 19.00
Venue: University of Amsterdam, Spuistraat 134, Rm 1.04
With the decreasing costs of print in the mid-to-late nineteenth-century, thousands of novels flooded the marketplace in the second half of the nineteenth century. Most of these novels had an ephemeral lifespan in print, which has relegated them to near-invisibility in literary scholarship. As literary historian John Sutherland writes, “the academic study of Victorian fiction has signally failed to engage with the mass of works produced in the field.” This talk takes that failure as a starting point, and through an examination of canonization, assumptions about the mass reading public, and concepts of high and low culture, identifies a once-ubiquitous subgenre, the psychological sensation novel. These novels’ preoccupation with transgressive behavior and shattered relationships (especially marital ones) challenges the conventional status of marriage as closure and reward in the Victorian novel, as well as a well-established opposition between psychological investigation and sensational plotting. The claim that purportedly “light” literature engaged its readers through psychological complexity even as it figured improbable plots, coincidences, and scandals, asks that we reassess not only these novels but the sophistication of their writers and readers as well.
Tabitha Sparks is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She specializes in the nineteenth-century novel, genre theory, popular literature, and canonicity, as well as literature and medicine in the Victorian era and beyond. She is the author of The Doctor in the Victorian Novel: Family Practices (Ashgate 2009), The Brontës (ed., 2008), as well as articles in publications including A Companion to Sensation Fiction (ed. Pamela K. Gilbert, 2011), Women’s Writing, Genre, Cultural Studies, The Journal of Narrative Theory, and numerous collected editions. She is currently writing a monograph on popular Victorian fiction.