In Victoriana, leading feminist cultural critic Cora Kaplan reflects on our modern obsession with Victorian culture. She considers evocations of the nineteenth century in literature (The French Lieutenants' Woman by John Fowles, Possession by A. S. Byatt, Nice Work by David Lodge, The Master by Colm Tóibín, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst), film (Jane Campion's The Piano), and biography (Peter Ackroyd's Dickens). Why, she asks, does Jane Eyre still evoke tears and rage from its readers, and why has Henry James become fiction's favorite late-Victorian author?
Within Victoriana, Kaplan argues, lies a modern history of its own that reflects the shifting social and cultural concerns of the last few decades. Distance has lent a sense of antique charm and exoticism to even the worst abuses of the period, but it has also allowed innovative writers and filmmakers to use Victorian settings and language to develop a new and challenging aesthetic. Issues of class, gender, empire, and race are explored as well as the pleasures and dangers of imitating or referencing narrative forms, individual histories, and belief systems. As Kaplan makes clear, Victoriana can be seen as a striking example of historical imagination on the move, restless and unsettled.