Excavating the Victorians: Digging Up the Past

  • Jessica CoxEmail author


Neo-Victorian fiction reflects a persistent interest in encounters with deep time and the ancient past—mirroring, in part, Victorian cultural and scientific interests, and reflecting both nineteenth-century and contemporary anxieties about identity, origins, the past, and the future. This chapter explores the plethora of historical tropes in neo-Victorian, and specifically neo-sensation fiction, contending that these serve as a metaphor for the narrative’s ‘unearthing’ of the (Victorian) past. In particular, it offers a critical interrogation of representations of archaeology in popular historical fiction, including Victoria Holt’s Shivering Sands (1969) and Elizabeth Peabody’s Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975), and argues that these works force a reconsideration of the role of popular fiction within neo-Victorianism.


  1. Arias, Rosario. 2014. Traces and Vestiges of the Victorian Past in Contemporary Fiction. In Neo-Victorian Literature and Culture, ed. Nadine Boehm-Schnitker and Susanne Gruss, 111–122. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Beller, Anne-Marie. 2011. Amelia B. Edwards. In A Companion to Sensation Fiction, ed. Pamela K. Gilbert, 349–360. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bloom, Clive. 2008. Bestsellers: Popular Fiction Since 1900. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Boehm-Schnitker, Nadine, and Susanne Gruss. 2014. Introduction: Fashioning the Neo-Victorian—Neo-Victorian Fashions. In Neo-Victorian Literature and Culture: Immersions and Revisitations, 1–17. Abingdon: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Byatt, A.S. 2001. On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays. London: Vintage.Google Scholar
  6. Chen, Mia. 2010. “To Face Apparent Discrepancies with Revelation”: Examining the Fossil Record in Charlotte Yonge’s The Trial. Women’s Writing 17 (2): 361–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chevalier, Tracy. 2009. Remarkable Creatures. London: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  8. Christie, Agatha. 1960. The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding. London: Collins.Google Scholar
  9. Dickens, Charles. 1996. Bleak House. 1853; London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  10. Edwards, Amelia. 1864. Barbara’s History. Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz.Google Scholar
  11. Frank, Lawrence. 2003. Victorian Detective Fiction and the Nature of Evidence: The Scientific Investigations of Poe, Dickens, and Doyle. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Glendening, John. 2013. Science and Religion in Neo-Victorian Novels: Eye of the Ichthyosaur. Abingdon: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Goldhill, Simon. 2011. Victorian Culture and Classical Antiquity: Art, Opera, Fiction, and the Proclamation of Modernity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hardy, Thomas. 1998. A Pair of Blue Eyes. 1873; London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  15. Holt, Victoria. 2013. Shivering Sands. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.Google Scholar
  16. Kohlke, Marie-Luise. 2014. Mining the Neo-Victorian Vein: Prospecting for Gold, Buried Treasure and Uncertain Metal. In Neo-Victorian Literature and Culture, ed. Nadine Boehm-Schnitker and Susanne Gruss, 21–37. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Kohlke, Marie-Luise, and Christian Gutelben, eds. 2010. Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma: The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering. Amsterdam: Rodopi.Google Scholar
  18. Mertz, Barbara. 2002/2003. MPM: A Bulletin on the Doings and Undoings of Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels 41.Google Scholar
  19. Paige, Robin. 1998. Death at Bishop’s Keep. New York: Avon Books.Google Scholar
  20. Peters, Elizabeth. 2006. Crocodile on the Sandbank. London: Constable & Robinson.Google Scholar
  21. Pitts, Mike. 2009. Unearthing Manchester’s Victorian Slums. The Guardian, August 28.Google Scholar
  22. Shuttleworth, Sally. 2014. From Retro- to Neo-Victorian Fiction and Beyond: Fearful Symmetries. In Neo-Victorian Literature and Culture, ed. Nadine Boehm-Schnitker and Susanne Gruss, 179–192. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Steere, Elizabeth. 2018. Fictionalised History and Fabricated Artefacts: The Amelia Peabody Mystery Series. Neo-Victorian Studies 10 (2): 1–31.Google Scholar
  24. Talairach-Vielmas, Laurence. 2012. Sensation Fiction: A Peep Behind the Veil. In The Victorian Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion, ed. Andrew Smith and William Hughes, 29–42. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Vance, Norman. 1997. The Victorians and Ancient Rome. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  26. Wallace, Diana. 2013. Female Gothic Histories: Gender, History, and the Gothic. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.Google Scholar
  27. Zimmerman, Virginia. 2009. Excavating Victorians. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Arts and HumanitiesBrunel UniversityLondonUK

Personalised recommendations