Stefanie Markovits. The Crimean War in the British Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. ISBN: 9780521112376. Price: US$95.00/£50.00[Notice]

  • Claudia Klaver

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  • Claudia Klaver
    Syracuse University

Stefanie Markovits’s study, The Crimean War in the British Imagination, is a masterful analysis of the complex production and reproduction of the Crimean War in British media, literary, and visual culture. Throughout the book, Markovits rather quietly, but consistently and powerfully, argues for the significance of the Crimean War to a period of Victorian literature and culture that is often analyzed with only minimal acknowledgment of its historical role. Markovits makes this argument through an impressively well-researched analysis of a wide array of written and visual material. Each of her four chapters examines one cultural or artistic mode: the newspaper press, the novel, poetry, and the visual arts. This deceptively simple organizational format, however, is actually a crucial aspect of her analysis, since she shows how each of the artistic modes she examines in the final three chapters of her study is forced to come to terms with the dominance of the press’s coverage of the war. The interpenetration of these cultural and artistic modes is, indeed, one of the most significant and compelling aspects of Markovits’s analysis, so that by the time she gets to her final chapter on the visual arts she is able to tease out myriad threads of intra-cultural referentiality embedded in the illustrations and paintings that she examines. The density of such references adds force to Markovits’s argument about the significance of the Crimean War at the same time they convey the complexity of the war’s representation. Two major, interconnecting sets of concerns structure Markovits’s study of the culture of the Crimean War. The first concern involves genre, the issue of the appropriate mode through which to describe the events the war and the consequences, the challenges, of selecting one mode over another. Thus, for example, in her examination of Crimean War novels, Markovits demonstrates how domestic realism, romance, epic, and even sensation fiction jostle and give way to one another in the course of a single novel and the significant shifts in tone that attend such generic transformations. Perhaps the most important arena in which these shifts register themselves is that of heroism and heroic action, the second set of concerns that Markovits’s analyses trace out. Picking up on the some of the threads of her earlier book, The Crisis of Action in Nineteenth-Century Literature (2006), Markovits shows how the textual and visual arts of the Crimean War pursue the question of the heroic possibilities available to Britain’s modern commercial present through their imaginative representations of the conflict. This is one of the areas in which Markovits’s study makes its most wide-reaching contribution to Victorian studies. By examining how representations of the Crimean War challenged, eroded, and refigured traditional models of masculine and feminine heroism, Markovits makes a significant contribution to Victorian gender studies, one that extends well beyond the narrow chronological parameters of the war itself. At the same time, however, that very contribution supports her overarching argument about the importance of the Crimean War in the shaping of the British imagination. In addition to these two major structuring concerns, several other key issues emerge from Markovits’s analysis. The crucial concept that links these issues is that of interpenetration. Over and over in her discussions of Crimean texts and images, Markovits shows how writers’ and artists’ understandings and representations of the Crimean War were alternately troubled and enabled by the interpretration of apparently distinct domains, spaces, and artistic modes. The most persistent of these is the interpenetration of the public and private spheres. Markovits’s analyses also trace out the interpenetration of life and art, which has particularly intriguing effects in the …

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