1st Edition

The Victorian Idyll in Art and Literature Subject, Ecology, Form

Edited By Thomas Hughes, Emma Merkling Copyright 2024
    204 Pages 10 Color & 25 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    204 Pages 10 Color & 25 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Resonating with contemporary ecological and queer theory, this book pioneers the theorization of the Victorian idyll, establishing its nature, lineaments, and significance as a formal mode widely practised in nineteenth-century British culture across media and genre.

    Chapters trace the Victorian idyll’s emergence in the 1830s, its flourishing in the 1860s, and its evolution up to the century’s close, drawing attention to the radicalism of idyllic experiments with pictorial, photographic, dramatic, literary, and poetic form in the work of canonical and lesser-known figures. Approaching the idyll through three intersecting categories—subject, ecology, and form—this book remaps Victorian culture, reshaping thinking about artistic form in the nineteenth century, and recalibrating accepted chronologies. In the representations by a host of Victorian artists and writers engaging with other-than-human forms, and in the natures of the subjectivities animated by these encounters, we find versions of Victorian ecology providing provocative imaginative material for ecocritics, scholars, writers, and artists today.

    This book will be of interest to scholars working in art history, English literature, Victorian studies, British history, queer and trans* theory, musicology, and ecocriticism, and will enliven debates pertaining to the environmental across periods.


    Caroline Arscott and Clare Pettitt



    Thomas Hughes and Emma Merkling


    1. Idyll as Refuge: The Settler’s Dream

    Charlotte Cary-Beckett and Josephine McDonagh


    2. ‘Cutting So “Sweetly”’: Idyllist Wood Engravings and the Lost Boxwood Forests

    Bethan Stevens


    3. Multicolour as Disavowal: The Racial Politics of the Nineteenth-Century Idyll

    Caroline Arscott and Clare Pettitt


    4. John Addington Symonds’s Theocritus and the Homoerotic Idyll in Sicily

    Daniel Orrells


    5. Ancient and Modern: Attention and Environmental Change in the Victorian Pictorial Idyll

    Kate Flint


    6. Queer Pastoral Soundscapes and the Idyllic Voice: Vernon Lee, A. Mary F. Robinson, and Lady Archibald Campbell

    Fraser Riddell


    7. Plant Subjects, Plant Erotics: Julia Margaret Cameron’s Creeping Idyll

    Emma Merkling


    8. Wondrous Transformation in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s La Ghirlandata

    Thomas Hughes


    Thomas Hughes is an art historian who has published on John Ruskin, Victorian art, ecology and temporality.

    Emma Merkling is Rome Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, and Deputy Associate Director of Research at the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies International at Durham University.

    "As though startling us from a dream or waking us from a too-peaceful slumber, the editors of this bracing new collection have turned a topic we thought we knew into a set of problems sharply relevant now. Across a gorgeous range of artworks and literary texts, the essays gathered in this bracing new collection tune us in to the idyll’s haunted signaling power, showing how the seemingly inert or apparently passive gives broken testimony to a world in crisis. Timely, provocative, and precise, The Victorian Idyll in Art and Literature recovers the idyllic as an aesthetic category for uneasy times."

    --Nathan K. Hensley, Georgetown University

    "Radical, experimental, political, provocative — these are not terms typically associated with the seemingly genteel, idealising pictures and verses known as idylls that seem so ineluctably Victorian. Contributors demonstrate that, quietly and often obliquely, the apparently backward-looking idyll was profoundly engaged with modernity: with ecological issues, questions of race and empire, sexuality and gender identity. This is a volume that recalibrates the scene of Victorian culture."

    --Hilary Fraser, Emerita Geoffrey Tillotson Chair of Nineteenth-Century Studies, Birkbeck, University of London