First, some meta-questions. What were the Victorians anxious about? What did they mean by the term? And, what do we? What are the best approaches to Victorian anxieties? Are they theoretical, historical, psychological, aesthetic, feminist, generic, or some other? And, then, what are our late twentieth-century anxieties about the Victorians? How have we Victorianists reproduced the anxieties we study? Must they all relate to otherness, social hierarchy, gender, sex, and power, our own obsessions these days? How do anxieties of influence intersect with the above? And what are our anxieties about what's happening to our own profession and field?
The rhetoric and aesthetics of anxiety deserve special attention. How was anxiety expressed? What are the privileged literary forms for its depiction, its characteristic themes, motifs, and narrative strategies? Can we map a paradigm for the anxious character in Victorian fiction (restless, vexed) and his/her common features ? Consider, also, manifestations of anxiety in contemporary criticism, biography, essays, etc.
Think about the social constructions and sources of anxiety. How did the Victorians identify, manage, react to, alleviate, and regulate anxiety? The list of Victorian anxieties is as long as ours, but here are a few to get you thinking: anxieties about transformations of space (shrinking) and time (expanding), about urban decay, crowds and mobs, about aliens, about motion and speed, about shopping and information overload (consider the Crystal Palace), about inclusion and exclusion, death, seances, religion, science, revolution, degeneration, decadence and belatedness (esp. fin de siecle), gender (the New Woman, demons, witches, vampires), popular culture, rural life, beggars, the Irish (or other nationality), technology, disease, superstition, about capital and property (and its inevitable loss), inheritance and ownership, risk, crime, the loss of knowable origins, reverse colonialism, the end of the world.
And, lest you are still relatively anxiety-free after perusing this list. let me add a few others: What about legal anxieties (e.g. about newly defined crimes such as sodomy), or professional and status anxiety (the need to legitimate new fields such as art history, anthropology, archeology)? What of anxieties concerning the appropriate educational curriculum in English studies and other fields? And of psychosexual fears?
Lastly, you might think about sites of resistance to anxiety, as well as aspects of human behavior and thought that the Victorians didn't seem to worry about, at least not as much as we do (e.g. exercise, weight, smoking).
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NEW ROUNDTABLE : Because NVSA's conference format minimizes double sessions and maximizes time for discussion, the number of actual slots for papers is limited. Often, we receive as many as 150 proposals and can accept only 20-22. In an attempt to allow more participation in the program itself, we are continuing the popular roundtable session we initiated last year, for an early Sunday morning session. This year's topic is: How does one teach a Victorian Cultural Studies course? As a literature professor with slides? Is this a worthwhile project? Why should we do it? If you would like to be part of this discussion, please send a note to Jonathan Loesberg (address above) with a brief description of your perspective on the topic. You will receive a letter inviting you to participate in the roundtable, and, depending on how many respond, you will be listed in the program. People submitting paper proposals may also participate in the roundtable, but will not be named a second time on the program.
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