In early 1840, the New York lawyer and diarist George Templeton Strong noted that the newspapers were obsessed with commentary and speculation about the upcoming wedding of Queen Victoria. All this was ‘doubtless very interesting and important to her Majesty’s loyal subjects’, wrote Strong huffily, but ‘to us republicans is, or ought to be, rather dull and profitless’ (p. 50).
When reviewing books one’s expectations can be raised by the title. In the case of The End is Nigh one could be forgiven for assuming that it must relate to the End of Time and the various ways in which the world might end – cosmic impact; neighbouring supernova; nuclear apocalypse; unstoppable virus; runaway global warming, i.e. large scale global catastrophes.
This is a literary study of the servant problem, a problem that endlessly bothered employers and moralists, and has recently emerged in a rather different sense to worry scholars too. Virginia Woolf observed that we would understand great lives far better if we remembered domestic struggles, the scrubbing, carrying and labours of one maid to hold back cold and dirt.
The title and sub-title of this work promised much, suggesting – to this reader at least – that we would be presented with a monograph that could help take forward the growing international and inter-disciplinary scholarship on the animal – human historical relationship. The study of non-human animals within the humanities and social sciences has developed dramatically in recent decades.
Gutenberg-e’s Digital Gumption
Second only to movable type, as far as libraries are concerned, is the emancipation of journals from their printed-texts. Gone, or nearly so, are those titles irregularly delivered, with their maddeningly unanticipated supplements, infernal name changes and gargantuan space requirements, in lieu of their let-freedom-ring electronic environments.
Most famously, Aristotle declared that men are by nature political. It’s chancy, of course, to take on the genius of Stagirus, but he did manage to get it wrong once in a very long while (oh, to be so wrong so infrequently!). Chaucer, however, may have had it more accurately (and certainly did so as he anticipated our digital age) when he argued that men by nature ‘love newfangledness’.
The bard, of course, was on to something when he posed this now proverbial line. A rose is a rose no matter what you call it – unless of course it’s a turnip – well, you get my drift. The principle is a sound one, but try to get that across to the men on fifth in Marketing.
If quincentenaries are anything to go by, then 1492 is now commemorated principally for Christopher Columbus’s transatlantic voyage of exploration rather than either the conclusion of Ferdinand’s and Isabella’s eleven year conquest of Islamic Granada – which completed the Reconquista – or the expulsion of Jews from Castile and Aragon.
In the introduction to her long-awaited and extremely interesting study of the popular literature of Victorian interior decoration, Judith Neiswander prepares her readers – and perhaps to a certain extent herself – for their predicted negative reactions to the décor of the late 19th-century middle class home.