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Are all (neo-) Victorians murderers? Serials, killers and other historicidal maniacs

Llewellyn, Mark 2018. Are all (neo-) Victorians murderers? Serials, killers and other historicidal maniacs. Literature Compass 15 (7) , e12462. 10.1111/lic3.12462

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What role do the acts of murder and dis(re)membering play in contemporary culture’s use of the Victorian? This article makes a deliberately provocative intervention in questioning the way in which the genre of neo-Victorianism raises ethical issues about real lives, the reading and writing of “true crime” and the position of the critic/historian. Beginning with a factual twenty-first century murder case and the role of Victorian reading matter as a marker of suspicion, even a sign of guilt, in the public consciousness and press reporting of the case, the article moves on to explore the tensions in re-visioning reality as quasi-fiction in a case study of the work of Kate Summerscale, focussing on the slippage between the figures of the writer, the detective, and the historian in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (2008) and The Wicked Boy (2016). In broadening the definition of ‘neo-Victorianism’ to include acts of genre-blurring across the lines between creative non-fiction and historical fiction, I argue that an approach to the past that destabilises genres and forms without sufficiently self-reflective or critically engaged perspectives on authorial motives presents a troublingly unresolved ethical dilemma in these works. Invoking the dangers of criminal reading and reading criminally, the article considers what rights the dead have to be redeemed or protected from our contemporary historicidal enquiry, which in its attempt to resurrect the past often itself kills off narratives of redemption and reform.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Publisher: Wiley
ISSN: 1741-4113
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 6 December 2017
Date of Acceptance: 23 October 2017
Last Modified: 26 Nov 2020 12:29

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