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The lures of neo-Victorianism presentism (with a feminist case study of Penny Dreadful)
Literature Compass, Volume: 15, Issue: 7, Start page: e12463
Swansea University Author: Marie-luise Kohlke
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DOI (Published version): 10.1111/lic3.12463
This article explores neo-Victorian presentism, its contradictory liberal and reactionary sexual-textual politics, and the mixed messages that result from its appeal to diverse audiences as part of its active engagement with popular culture. An overview of the presentist debate and its relation to n...
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This article explores neo-Victorian presentism, its contradictory liberal and reactionary sexual-textual politics, and the mixed messages that result from its appeal to diverse audiences as part of its active engagement with popular culture. An overview of the presentist debate and its relation to neo-Victorian practice and criticism is followed by a case study of Season Three of Showtime/Sky’s Penny Dreadful (2014–2016) series, created by John Logan, focusing on the plotline involving the resurrected prostitute Brona Croft/Lily and her lovers, Dr Victor Frankenstein and Dorian Gray. Brona/Lily’s recruitment of Victorian London’s exploited streetwalkers to wage a crusade against the city’s abusive punters is read as a parody of the twentieth- and twenty-first-century Take Back the Night campaigns, radically undermining the series’ apparent initial commitment to feminist politics and manipulating reader response via surreptitious historical distortion. Introducing the notion of ‘antithetical critical presentism’, the article argues that the complex operations of Penny Dreadful’s historical self-consciousness suggest that we need to conceptualize and complicate our notions of one of neo-Victorianism’s defining features.
‘antithetical critical presentism’, feminism, historical distortion, misogyny, neo-Victorianism, paedophilia, Penny Dreadful, presentism, sexuality, Take Back the Night.
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences