Envisaging the Place of 'Bookness' in a Society of the Future at the Fin De Siècle

Verity Hunt
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Development of the Ebook in our twenty-first century digital age has produced new anxieties about the place of the familiar paper book as we know it. Questions about the limits and possibilities of what a book may be and do surround the futures of publishers, authors and readers. But this fundamental challenge posed by new up-and-coming technologies of representation to the codex’s status as the culturally dominant carrier of text is not new. Fin de siècle speculative fiction is probably best known for its presentation of new or imagined technologies as machines of exploration, discovery or war-fare. But novels and short stories from this period that look towards a society of the future are also concerned with the role of machines in the everyday, including the technology of the book. This paper is interested in mid/ late Victorian texts that thematise their own bookness to explore the potential of new book forms offered by audio and visual inventions such as the phonograph and kinetoscope. It considers the presentation of a ‘new book’ in the speculative fiction of authors including Edward Bellamy, Octave Uzanne, Albert Robida and H. G. Wells, - as types of personal audio-player, video-phone and television. Adjunct to these ‘new books’ speculative fiction technologises the figure of the author; presenting forms of automatic writing and machines of authorship that destabilize ideas of individual creative inspiration, -the human face of print texts.

Keywords: Speculative Fiction, Fin de Siècle, Bookness, Technologies of Representation, Audio, Visual
Stream: Books, Writing and Reading
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Verity Hunt

Doctoral Research Student, School of English and American Literature, University of Reading
Reading, UK

Verity Hunt is a PhD student in the University of Reading’s School of English and American Literature. Her research is on 19th century ‘technologies of wonder’: optical devices and shows and movable books. She is interested in how these optical technologies traverse both Victorian cultures of magical entertainment and science and notions of child and adult audiences. Her areas of focus include the Great Exhibition (1851), popular treatises on optics and the eye, fin de siècle speculative fiction, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and presentations of movable/ toy book publishers. Verity is a member of the Centre for International Research in Children’s Literature, Culture and Media, and the British Society for Literature and Science.

Ref: B07P0066