August 2019

The Favourite Books of Arthur Conan Doyle (and others)

They’re some of our favourite Victorian authors: Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, H. G. Wells, Joseph Conrad. But what were their favourite reads?

Recently I’ve been looking at issues of The Academy, which ran a series of Christmastime features between the mid 1890s and 1903 on ‘Favourite Books.’ The editor C. Lewis Hind explained that:

‘We have sent to a number of well-known men and women, both literary and practical, a request that they would name the two books which, during the past year, they have read with the most interest and pleasure.’

The feature is a great little insight into Victorian reading habits and trends. Here are some of the highlights:

Arthur Conan Doyle

Portrait of Arthur Conan Doyle with large moustache

In 1899 the author of Sherlock Holmes listed his favourite novels as:

Bernard Hamilton’s The Light

Frank Norris’s McTeague: A Story of San Francisco

Yes, I know…I had to look these up too.  Boy howdy, though, does Conan Doyle enjoy the melodrama.

The Light has been described as ‘”Love melodrama and religious discussions, with a hint of reincarnation’ (Suvin). M’kaaay. I’m also told that the novel’s climax takes place against the backdrop of the Franco-Prussian War. Such melo. Much drama. Continue reading “The Favourite Books of Arthur Conan Doyle (and others)”

Polarbears for Antarctic Exploration!?

My recent rummagings in The Sketch have turned up another extraordinary photograph. Yes, that there is a sled being pulled by polar bears in harness!

In 1912 The Sketch published this amazing image alongside a report that:

Before he started in 1910 on his Arctic Expedition, which later on developed into an Antarctic one, and ended in his reaching the South Pole instead of the North, Captain Amundsen had thoughts of employing polar bears as sledge-drawers in addition to his dogs. It was thought that, being much more powerful than dogs, they would prove useful steeds in their native haunts.

‘Our Wonderful World!’, The Sketch (20 Mar 1912)

Continue reading “Polarbears for Antarctic Exploration!?”

CFP: Midwest Victorian Studies Association 2020 Conference – “Truth, Investigation, & Mystery”

Chicago, Illinois

April 24-25, 2020

In an age when the mystery novel was invented and popularized, Charles Darwin propounded the theory of evolution, and police investigations were covered extensively in the popular press, did Victorians develop a distinctive attitude towards revealing the truth? Were nineteenth-century Britons convinced that they possessed the means to find answers to long-standing questions both practical and theoretical? Did some Victorians feel that casting a light on mysteries both religious and secular risked exposing dangerous answers to the public view? The Program Committee for the 2020 MVSA conference invites proposals for papers and panels on the subject of Victorian inquiry broadly defined. Submissions are welcome from scholars working in art history, musicology, history, science, philosophy, theater, theology, literature, and other fields of scholarly endeavor. We encourage proposals that will contribute to cross-disciplinary discussion, which is a special feature of MVSA conferences. Topics might include: Continue reading “CFP: Midwest Victorian Studies Association 2020 Conference – “Truth, Investigation, & Mystery””

CFP: Romance, Revolution and Reform Conference

15th January 2020

University of Southampton

Check out the full RRR site at:


From fraught restructures of the voting franchise and the education system, to vast infrastructural redevelopments and the overhaul of poor relief systems, an understanding of the reform movements of the long-nineteenth century and their various implications for politics, culture and society continue to play a central role in scholarly engagement with the epoque. In an era punctuated by the French Revolution, Slavery Abolition Acts, civil war in America, successive British Reform Acts, and the rise of women’s suffrage movements across Europe, advocates for change and stasis alike constantly and often violently jostled for primacy. Arising from these vast and complex conflicts and debates, new political, literary, journalistic, musical, philosophical and artistic discourses—from Malthusian political economy to serial fiction—emerged as a means of supporting, challenging and interrogating the reforms being proposed and implemented. Continue reading “CFP: Romance, Revolution and Reform Conference”

$1million for wearing outdated clothes for the rest of your life?

According to a report in The Sketch from 1909⁠, Mrs Reilly O’Donohue received a legacy of $1million on the condition that she wear old-fashioned clothing for the rest of her days.

The report—which comes with a fabulous image but teasingly few details⁠—doesn’t say who bequeathed this legacy (and its bizarre condition), but only that Mrs O’Donohue was required ‘to wear always clothes that were in fashion a considerable time ago.’

OLD FASHIONED CLOTHES The Sketch; London Vol. 67, Iss. 863, Aug 11, 1909 139.

Bear in mind also that, according to this US Dollar inflation calculator, $1,000,000 in 1909 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $28,147,582.42 in 2019!

So, for $28million, would you be tempted to spend the rest of your days with a bad perm and wearing pink shellsuits?


You might also like: ‘Go home Robert browning, you’re drunk’, and ‘Victorian Hay Fever Remedies’

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