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Strange and Secret Peoples Fairies and the Victorian Consciousness by Carole G. (Professor of English, Stern College for Women; Chair of the Humanities, Yeshiva University) Silver


Strange and Secret Peoples Fairies and the Victorian Consciousness by Carole G. (Professor of English, Stern College for Women; Chair of the Humanities, Yeshiva University) Silver

Teeming with creatures, both real and imagined, this encyclopedic study in cultural history illuminates the hidden web of connections between the Victorian fascination with fairies and their lore and the dominant preoccupations of Victorian culture at large. Carole Silver here draws on sources ranging from the anthropological, folkloric, and occult to the legal, historical, and medical. She is the first to anatomize a world peopled by strange beings who have infiltrated both the literary and visual masterpieces and the minor works of the writers and painters of that era. Examining the period of 1798 to 1923, Strange and Secret Peoples focuses not only on such popular literary figures as Charles Dickens and William Butler Yeats, but on writers as diverse as Thomas Carlyle, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charlotte Mew; on artists as varied as mad Richard Dadd, Aubrey Beardsley, and Sir Joseph Noel Paton; and on artifacts ranging from fossil skulls to photographs and vases. Silver demonstrates how beautiful and monstrous creatures-fairies and swan maidens, goblins and dwarfs, cretins and changelings, elementals and pygmies-simultaneously peopled the Victorian imagination and inhabited nineteenth-century science and belief. Her book reveals the astonishing complexity and fertility of the Victorian consciousness: its modernity and antiquity, its desire to naturalize the supernatural, its pervasive eroticism fused with sexual anxiety, and its drive for racial and imperial dominion.


Strange and Secret Peoples is concerned not with eminent Victorians, but with the 'little people'-fairies, elves, mermaids and the like-in whom those eminent Victorians believed. With cogency, clarity, and learning, Carole Silver maps the intricacies of nineteenth-century faith in fairy lore, a faith perhaps more vital in British life than official, organized religion. [This book] is a scintillating work that will appeal to everyone interested in nineteenth-century England, in odd gods and folk beliefs, and, of course, to all readers who believe in fairies. -Nina Auerbach, University of Pennsylvania Silver's superb study of the Victorian fascination with fairylore and folklore reveals how pervasive and significant the belief in fairies was and still may be in British culture. Silver traces the evolution of fairy images throughout the nineteenth century and convincingly demonstrates how they provide important commentary on changing tastes and attitudes of the British, who took the fairies very seriously. Her book is filled with fascinating case studies of changelings, fairy brides, goblins, and banshei, transformed into representative figures of Victorian beliefs in discourses about utilitarianism, race, gender, and industrialism. Not only does she deal with the intertextuality of fairylore in society and literature, but she also discusses painting, music, ballet, theater, and folklore. This book is required reading-and delightful reading-for anyone interested in the 'secret people
who captivated the Victorians throughout the nineteenth century

. -Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota Highly accessible....This is essential for academic libraries, and highly recommended for public libraries as well. -Library Journal This is an entertaining and informative study of Victorian culture....Provides some of the most original reading on the subject we have. -The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Carole G. Silver is a Professor of English and holds the Humanities Chair at Yeshiva University (Stern College). She is also Adjunct Professor of English at New York University. Among her publications are The Romance of William Morris and The Earthly Paradise: Arts and Crafts by William Morris.

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Book Info

Publication date

1st December 1998


Carole G. (Professor of English, Stern College for Women; Chair of the Humanities, Yeshiva University) Silver

More books by Carole G. (Professor of English, Stern College for Women; Chair of the Humanities, Yeshiva University) Silver
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Oxford University Press Inc


288 pages


Literary studies: c 1800 to c 1900
Folklore, myths & legends
History of ideas



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