In her seminal work on Fantasy fiction in French criticism (La Fantasy, Paris, Klincksieck, 2007), Anne Besson refutes the idea that Fantasy is as old as Homer’s epics – a statement often defended by Fantasy writers in order to legitimate their fiction – and argues that this fictional genre has only started to develop in Victorian Britain. This is re-affirmed in the MOOC on Fantasy fiction she has been co-running at Université d’Artois (France), and which is subtitled “De l’Angleterre victorienne au Trône de fer” (‘From Victorian Britain to A Song of Ice and Fire‘).
It can hardly be denied that Fantasy, like other imaginative fiction genres, did indeed start to flourish during the Victorian era, a period when the supernatural fascinated writers and painters alike. We can see a connection with the vogue of fairy painting in the 19th century, as Nicola Bown demonstrates in Fairies in Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2001), and the emergence of such fiction. Themes such as the fairies farewell are to be found both in paintings and in poetry of the time, and are still present one century later in Tolkien’s works. Fairyland is also explored on stage and in the developing children’s literature. Along with George McDonald’s works, children’s literature also gives birth to many narratives that are difficult to classify, such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, yet continue to remain an important source of inspiration for today’s Fantasy authors.
The 19th century is also a time of rediscovery of European folklore. Following the Grimm brothers, folklorists collect fairy tales and start to apply scientific methods to study them (see for instance Jack Zipes’s introduction to Victorian Fairy Tales: The Revolt of the Fairies and Elves, New York, Routledge, 1989). The Arthurian legend is also not forgotten with Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, published between 1859 and 1885. Similarly, Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement turn back to medieval influences, and William Morris’s romances prefigure Tolkien’s works. Fairies are everywhere and even the famous art critic John Ruskin published a Fantasy story, The King of the Golden River, in 1850.
The Victorian era is also a period of transition between the old pre-industrialised world and the modern one, and though superstitions recede, the belief in the Little People is still high in the British Isles, hence changeling affairs such as the Bridget Cleary case in Ireland in 1895, or, by the end of the period, the less ominous story of the Cottingley fairies involving Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Undoubtedly the Victorian era was a fruitful period for the emergence of imaginative fiction. Now, at a moment when Neo-Victorian fiction (which includes Gaslamp Fantasy, and the Steampunk subgenre in Science Fiction) has become increasingly popular, such as Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (recently adapted into a TV series by the BBC), Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci Series, Lilith Saintcrow’s Bannon and Clare Series, Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent, and the recent Shades of Magic Series by V. E. Schwab, alongside live action Disney movies such as Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass that reinvent Carroll’s famous character into a Fantasy heroine, it seems necessary to go back to the Victorian roots of Fantasy. What can they tell us about the fictional genre we know today? And what is the legacy of Victorian Fantasy works?
So, for its fourth issue, Fantasy Art and Studies invites you to explore the Victorian roots of Fantasy, from the works which created the genre to their influence on current Fantasy fiction, through the development of folklore studies, the rediscovery of medieval romances and the importance of the fairy figure during the Victorian era.
Papers (5 to 6 pages maximum) in English or French are to be sent in .doc format, Times New Roman 12 points, single line spacing, before December 10th 2017 to firstname.lastname@example.org