Mini-Adventures in the Life of a Victorianist #4: Racehorses in the System

No, I haven’t started an indie rock band or a hipster micro-brewery. I’m talking, my friends, about a problem I first encountered many years ago but which, I’m coming to realise, affects more of us than I had previously imagined. I’m talking about racehorses.

Yes, you heard that right.

So, you’re at the start of a new research project or chapter. You’re about to wade into the wide, wonderful world of the digital archive to see what hidden gems you can uncover about your topic from the newspapers, letters, diaries, and parliamentary speeches of the nineteenth century. We’ve all done this, right? Gleefully, nerdily pursuing the answer to questions like: ‘What did the Victorians think about [delete as appropriate] the ancient world / science and medicine /  humour and comedy / gender and the New Woman / the lesser-read novels of the Brontës / politics’?

You input your search terms and, LO AND BEHOLD, a slew of results. Maybe even a spike just where you’d hoped. But as you dig deeper, you start to realise that all is not as it seems. You hear the ghostly clatter of hooves on the road behind as it dawns on you that this search term may also be the name of a nineteenth-century racehorse!


Julius Caesar

My own personal horsey haunting came while I was researching my book on Ancient Rome and Victorian Masculinity. Like a chariot from Ben Hur, though, my archival search was violently derailed by a rogue thoroughbred called Julius Caesar who, by the way, sounds like some hellish, Hannibal-Lecter-esque nightmare of a stallion:

Julius Caesar ‘came out wearing a hood, blinkers, and a muzzle, and was led down the course, nor was he mounted until the rest of the field has taken their preliminary canters. He seems to be developing into a savage brute, and must be an unpleasant horse either to ride or to handle.’

The Saturday Review (November 23, 1878), p.658.


Continue reading “Mini-Adventures in the Life of a Victorianist #4: Racehorses in the System”


Movies the Victorians Would Have Loved

It’s movie awards season. The BAFTAs are in full swing as I write this. The Oscars are just around the corner and I find myself wondering what movies would most appeal to some of the most eminent Victorian storytellers.

Charles Dickens

I can’t help feeling that Dickens would have been an avid movie-goer, so pinning his favourites down to just one was always going to be impossible. There’s your obvious favourites – The Greatest Showman (2017), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – the big, cheerful, jazz-handsy, Christmassy, feel-good films. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Dickens would also have loved the original cinematic blockbuster: Jaws (1975).



Christina Rossetti

The author of ‘Goblin Market’ gets an eyeful of the Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986)…and she’s not entirely upset about it.

labyrinth poster


Continue reading “Movies the Victorians Would Have Loved”

Victorian Snark Theatre 3000: Little Women

It’s been exactly a year since my good pals @BizarreVictoria (whose blog you can follow here,) and @DrDouglasSmall settled down with enough booze and Christmas cheer to knock out a reindeer and commenced a holiday viewing of Little Women (1994). For your festive entertainment, and from @BizarreVictoria’s pen, please enjoy our good-natured roasting of the movie.

Merry Christmas everyone!

It’s time for another instalment of Victorian Snark Theatre 3000! And this time we’ll be discussing Little Women (1994). As you guys know, I watch a lot of shitty long nineteenth century-inspired films with my good friends @VictorianMasc and Dr Douglas Small, so we decided to turn them into blog posts.

Previous posts on VST3K include:

Dracula 2000

Vanity Fair (2004)

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

The Raven (2012)

Titanic (1997)

Fievel Goes West (1991)

Warning for Spoilers and Lots and Lots of Swearing

For the record, I’ve seen this film roughly 600 times growing up and I think it’s a delight and Winona Ryder deserved her Oscar nomination and, frankly, should have won. This is a good-natured snarking done with all the love in the world.

Also, the opening credits say the magic words:

Continue reading “Victorian Snark Theatre 3000: Little Women”

An A-Z of Victorian Novel Deaths

Halloween weekend approaches, folks! At @VictorianMasc that means tis the season for dark comedy!

And so, inspired by Edward Gorey’s gloriously grim alphabet book The Gashlycrumb TiniesI present to you my A-Z of Victorian literary deaths. Also in the spirit of spooky season, don’t forget to check out 10 Supernatural Tales from the Nineteenth Century.

Also, this post is all about character deaths and so comes with *ALL THE SPOILER WARNINGS*

img_2428Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky (Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace).  Wounded during the Battle of Borodino (1812) when he is hit from an exploding shell. Despite being thoroughly kaboomed, Prince Andrei takes his sweet time to die from his wounds back in Moscow.

img_2429Emma Bovary. Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1856) Bored, middle class and prone to bouts of luxury shopping, Madame Bovary meets a sorry end after chugging a bottle of arsenic. 


Sidney Carton. A Tale of Two Cities (1859). Mopey Sidney Carton goes to the guillotine after switching places with golden boy Charles Darnay during The Terror.

Daniel Dravot. Rudyard Kipling, The Man Who Would be King (1888). Oh boy. After an elaborate con whereby he manages to get himself named King of Kafiristan and worshipped as a god, Dravot’s deception is exposed and he is thrown to his death off a rope bridge. But that’s not half as grim as the end that awaits his brother-in-arms Peachey Carnahan.


Ezra Jennings. The unsung hero who unravels the mystery at the heart of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868) is not the professional detective figure, but an unlikely and impoverished lawyer with a tragic past and who meets a poignant end after a long battle with laudanum.  Continue reading “An A-Z of Victorian Novel Deaths”

Mini-Adventures in the Life of a Victorianist #3: The Reichenbach Filing Cabinet; or, how it feels to be told you’ve accidentally destroyed a first edition run of Sherlock Holmes


Several weeks ago, as the summer drew to a close, my department was having some office reshuffles as people moved into new roles for the 2018-19 session.

My good pal, who shall be known here as Dr Beard, was moving into an office which had, once upon a time, belonged to me. This was also the room in which, for max security, I was storing in a locked filing cabinet an original set of Strand Magazines from the 1890s featuring a complete run of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with illustrations by Sidney Paget.

2 page Strand spread

With Dr Beard moving in I figured it was probably time to find a new home for Sherlock and so I went, key in hand, to retrieve the Strand mags. Continue reading “Mini-Adventures in the Life of a Victorianist #3: The Reichenbach Filing Cabinet; or, how it feels to be told you’ve accidentally destroyed a first edition run of Sherlock Holmes”

The Purple Cloud Reading Group

Read along with an understudied and utterly bizarre 1901 novel and share your thoughts by following @PurpleCloudRG


Ever wandered around your local bookshop and thought ‘Hmm…what I’m really in the mood for today is a novel about a Victorian bloke who goes on an expedition to the North Pole, manages to release a mysterious cloud of purple gas which wipes out the whole of humanity except for him, quickly goes mad (probably aided by all of the opium and marijuana he’s been taking), reinvents himself as Emperor of Earth, and sails around the world getting really high and burning all major cities to the ground before stumbling across a feral young woman who also escaped the toxic effects of the cloud and asking himself the age old question: should I cannibalise her, or make her my girlfriend?’

No? Well, my friend, now’s your chance!  Continue reading “The Purple Cloud Reading Group”

Mini-Adventures in the Life of a Victorianist #2: Revenge of the Chihuahuadiles

It was a fine, sunny, mid-August day and Husband and I, still basking in the peace and quiet of having tamed the fearsome chihuahuadiles, were awaiting the arrival of Baby Niece and her parents for a long weekend.

Now this visit had been the cause of both excitement and trepidation. We are two Victorianists in one household, we both specialize in the fin-de-siecle and needless to say this has produced some zany-as-balls collecting habits.

So between the bugs and the masks and the books, Husband had been fragilely angsting for several days about the prospect of two-year-old Niece rampaging through the house, crayons in hand, like a tiny Godzilla without thought or care for provenance or the need to USE A BOOK CRADLE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!!



In the end, though, Baby Niece turned out to be an absolute delight. We went to the beach, we visited the woods in search of squirrels and Gruffalos, we indulged her love of dinosaurs (and abused our role as aunt and uncle who don’t need to deal with the fallout of baby fears) by sneakily showing her the edited highlights of Jurassic Park. No, my friends, Baby Niece was a dream. The real horror – the terror we could not have anticipated – was merely biding its time and waiting for its moment to strike.

Continue reading “Mini-Adventures in the Life of a Victorianist #2: Revenge of the Chihuahuadiles”

Mini adventures in the life of a Victorianist #1: The Vanquishing of the Chihuahua-diles,

**No chihuahuadiles were harmed in the making of this blog. Also, I’m going to swear. A lot. Don’t read on if that offends you.**

Back in September we moved house. And all was fine and good.

Then our next door neighbours moved in to their house. And still all was good.

Then our next door neighbours had some kind of collective fucking brain fart – a common sense embolism, if you will – and decided it would be just a darling idea to buy a pair of little white chihuahuas.

Now, don’t get me wrong, when they were little puppies (read: ‘incapable of producing SHRILL SCREECHING MOTHER F- ahem, excuse me. When they were… quieter) they were pretty darn cute.

IMG_2102Also, I should clarify: I am very much a dog person. But my love of dogs extends primarily to dogs that don’t give you the fear, every time you sit down on the sofa, that you’re about to crush one of them; dogs that aren’t a risk for being yoinked away by birds of prey when out for a walk; dogs that can carry off names like Arrow, Pilot, or Achilles.


I don’t know the names of next door’s chihuahuas (Husband and I have taken to referring to them as Sauron and Morgoth), but within a few months it became clear that these things are EVIL INCARNATE. I should have suspected as much when, within weeks of their arrival next door’s cat was like ‘NOPE’ and left without warning in the night. Alas, I now fear that’s the best case scenario and a more likely explanation is that the chihuahuas have done for him and buried his body in the walls.

The full horror of the situation became clear one evening around Christmas time when our peace was disturbed by the sound of something being viciously savaged in next door’s garden. We ran to the upstairs window in time to witness the chihuahuas dragging the sad carcass of a teddy bear (our neighbours have a little boy) across the lawn and ferociously ripping it to shreds like a pair of crocodiles with a zebra. There were full-on death rolls, there was thrashing and shaking and snarling and snapping….and all the while the poor teddy bear stared up at us as if to say ‘Kill meeeeeee!’ while the chihuahuas went at it like it was feeding time at Jurassic Park.

And thus the Chihuahuadiles were born.


A brief lesson in the anatomy of Chihuahuadilus Assholius:


Continue reading “Mini adventures in the life of a Victorianist #1: The Vanquishing of the Chihuahua-diles,”

Creative Competition: Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century

Calling all creative-types, artists, academics, 19thC researchers and Sherlock Holmes fans!

The organizers of the ‘Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century’ conference (Edge Hill University, September 13th-14th 2018) are inviting submissions of creative works which explore any aspect of nineteenth-century substance use and abuse in one image:

  • Photography, painting, digital art, mixed media, posters?
  • Still lives of drug paraphernalia?
  • Microscopic images of chemical compounds
  • Mapping nineteenth-century drug use?
  • A sculpture featuring Sherlock Holmes’s 243 types of tobacco ash?!

The ‘Substance Use and Abuse in the Long Nineteenth Century’ conference will bring together international, interdisciplinary researchers from Medical Humanities, the History of Medicine, and Romantic/Victorian literature to examine the changing roles of substances for therapy, medication, and recreation in the nineteenth century.

This competition is open to undergraduate and postgraduate students, lecturers and researchers, and members of the public.

Winners will be announced and prizes awarded at the conference, 13th – 14thSeptember 2018 at Edge Hill University.

First prize: £100.

Head Judge: Stephen Whittle. Principle Manager, The Atkinson Southport.

Deadline for entries: 17th August 2018.

For full terms and conditions and to enter, download entry form here and send it, along with your submission, to 


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