Fan Fictions – Victorian Celebrity Novelists and Their Contemporary Defenders

Reimagining Henry James and Lewis Carroll


  • Patricia Duncker Manchester University


Alice Liddell, biographical fiction, bodies, critical ethics, fanfiction, Henry James, history, Lewis Carroll, presentism, resurrection


If we love the work of a writer whose politics, personal behaviour and character can be shown to be alarming, disgusting or dangerous – if she, he (or they) is racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, a child-molester or an advocate of selective murder – should we continue to admire their prose? This is the central question that has preoccupied my thinking about neo-Victorian biographical fictions. In this essay, I examine the tensions between three modes of writing: history, biography, and fiction and address the question of neo-Victorian critical ethics. I then proceed to discuss two biographical fictions of Victorian writers, written at the beginning of the twenty-first century in very different literary registers. The first text is Colm Tóibín’s The Master (2004), which dramatises the later writing years of Henry James. The second text is Kate Roiphe’s Still She Haunts Me (2001), which reinterprets the relationship between Charles Dodgson, the Oxford don who became Lewis Carroll, and his child Muse, Alice Liddell. Neither of these novels were consciously written as neo-Victorian biographical fictions, yet both address the question of biographical ethics and judgements. Do we write to defend the writers we love against all comers, or to judge them in the light of contemporary morals and literary aesthetics? Or are we simply rewriting them in our own image?