Victorian Literature Neo-Victorianism
Jessica Cox
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0083


Neo-Victorianism can be divided into two distinct categories: creative works that in some way engage with Victorian literature and culture, and scholarly works that seek to explore the shifting relationship with the Victorian period since its close in 1901, often through a critical investigation of Neo-Victorian creative works. It is with this latter category that this bibliography is concerned. Although critical discussions of historical fiction and film set in or engaging with the Victorian period have a long history, Neo-Victorianism, as an academic discipline, is a relatively new phenomenon. The plethora of Neo-Victorian creative works that have emerged in the last twenty years or so have led to increasing debate over the contemporary fascination with the Victorians and their art, literature, and history. In the course of these debates, a number of critical terms have been posited to describe this genre, including Post-, Retro- and Neo-Victorian. But in the last few years, particularly following the establishment of the online journal Neo-Victorian Studies in 2008, “Neo-Victorian” has become the favored term. Neo-Victorianism is now firmly established as a genre for scholarly investigation, though debates around what exactly constitutes a Neo-Victorian work continue. A number of scholars have argued that not all works that employ a Victorian setting can be identified as Neo-Victorian and that the term implies a “knowing” engagement with the period. According to this definition, works that employ the period merely as backdrop are excluded from the Neo-Victorian genre, and thus issues of inclusion and exclusion are potentially problematic. Critical debates have also examined the origins of the genre of Neo-Victorian works. Various critics locate the 1960s as the period in which the literary genre emerges, citing Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) and John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) as early examples of the Neo-Victorian novel. This association with the 1960s also serves to reinforce the genre’s links with Postmodernism. However, as the genre has continued to expand, there has been an acknowledgment that its origins are earlier than this. Works predating Rhys’s novel include Robert Graves’s The Real David Copperfield (1933), Virginia Woolf’s Freshwater (1935), Michael Sadleir’s Fanny by Gaslight (1944), and Marghanita Laski’s The Victorian Chaise-Longue (1953), while stage and film adaptations of Victorian literature have an even longer history, raising questions about the necessary chronological distance between the Victorian and the Neo-Victorian. In some respects, there remains a distinction between screen and literary studies, marking two specific trends within Neo-Victorianism. However, an increasing number of critical works engage with both of these, as well as with other areas of scholarship, such as cultural studies.

General Overviews

As a relatively recent academic discipline—indeed, one that is still taking shape—a work intended as an introduction to the genre of Neo-Victorianism for the general or student reader has yet to appear. However, a number of publications that have appeared since the late 1990s have proved central in terms of establishing the key concerns of Neo-Victorianism. Many of these take a broad approach to their subject, emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of Neo-Victorianism through a focus on literature, film, culture, and heritage, among other issues. All seek, to varying extents, to investigate the nature of the relationship between contemporary and Victorian culture. Many of these have also proved crucial in terms of Defining the Neo-Victorian. A review of these works enables an identification of some of the key trends within Neo-Victorianism, including Gender and Sexuality, Postmodernism, and Reimagining Empire: Neo-Victorianism and Postcolonialism Postcolonialism. Joyce 2007 considers responses to the Victorians since the early 20th century in a work encompassing literary, cultural, and screen studies and explores a range of themes central to Neo-Victorianism, including Nostalgia, politics, and Reimagining Empire: Neo-Victorianism and Postcolonialism Postcolonialism. Kaplan 2007 employs the term “Victoriana” rather than “Neo-Victorian,” and like Joyce 2007 (whose work also predates the establishment of “Neo-Victorian” as the preferred critical term), offers an interdisciplinary work that explores a variety of key issues, including literature (fiction, biography, and the legacy of the Victorian author), film, Heritage, empire, and the historical imagination. The focus of Heilmann and Llewellyn 2010, as the title suggests, is on Neo-Victorianism in the 21st century, and the authors offer a broad sweep of current trends within Neo-Victorianism. Neo-Victorianism, or Rewriting the Long Nineteenth Century includes some useful short articles and references.

  • Heilmann, Ann, and Mark Llewellyn. Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century, 1999–2009. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    NNNAlthough concentrating on a single decade (1999–2009), this is perhaps the most extensive exploration of the genre of Neo-Victorianism to date, with discussions of a wide range of issues including memory, race and empire, sex and science, spectrality, and the heritage industry. An extensive range of texts (literary and filmic) are explored.

  • Joyce, Simon. The Victorians in the Rearview Mirror. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2007.

    NNNA detailed scholarly overview of responses to the Victorians since 1901. An interdisciplinary work combining discussion of Neo-Victorian literature (specifically the “Neo-Dickensian” novel), with an examination of contemporary cinema, cultural values, and nostalgia.

  • Kaplan, Cora. Victoriana: Histories, Fiction, Criticism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

    NNNScholarly but accessible study of Neo-Victorianism, or “Victoriana,” as Kaplan terms it. Provides a useful introduction to a number of key issues. Some discussion of Neo-Victorian art and film but primarily focused on literature, including reworkings of Victorian novels, historical fiction, and biography.

  • Neo-Victorianism; or Rewriting the Long Nineteenth Century. Victorian Web. 2008.

    NNNThe Victorian Web contains a relatively short section on Neo-Victorianism, which includes some interesting material, such as analyses of specific authors and texts. Particularly useful as an introduction for the general reader.

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