Excavating Victorians

By Virginia Zimmerman

Subjects: History Of Science, History, English Literature, British Studies, Archaeology
Series: SUNY series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Paperback : 9780791472804, 242 pages, January 2009
Hardcover : 9780791472798, 242 pages, November 2007

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
1. Introduction: “All Relics Here Together”
2. The Victorian Geologist: Reading Remains and Writing Time
3. Tennyson’s Fairy Tale of Science
4. Accidental Archaeology in London and Pompeii
5. Dickens among the Ruins
6. Final Fragments

How Victorians reacted to the new sciences of geology and archaeology.


Excavating Victorians examines nineteenth-century Britain's reaction to the revelations about time and natural history provided by the new sciences of geology and archaeology. The Victorians faced one of the greatest paradigm shifts in history: the bottom dropped out of time, and they had to reinvent their relationship to the earth and to time and history. These new sciences took the Victorians by storm, inundating them with fossils, skeletal remains, and potsherds—artifacts, or traces, that served at once as relics from the past, objects in the present, and markers of time's passage. Virginia Zimmerman explores how the Victorians utilized a nexus of literature, excavation, and reflections on time to ease anxieties about the individual's fate in the face of time's overwhelming expanse. The function of artifacts is also considered through careful readings of Tennyson's The Princess and Dickens's Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend. Zimmerman shows how these literary works make use of the language, tropes, and even generic conventions of excavation, and how they participate in the effort to rescue the individual from temporal insignificance.

Virginia Zimmerman is Assistant Professor of English at Bucknell University.


"…an ambitious and worthwhile study … there is a richness of detail in Excavating Victorians, and a sustained and valuable insight throughout that the powers of human interpretation, as exercised upon a residue of simple material artifacts, led to a new Victorian sense of the self in the flux of deep time. " — Victorian Studies

"…Excavating Victorians provides an engaging overview of nineteenth-century geology and archaeology … effectively works to alter readers' readings of the Victorian cultural landscape. " — Journal of British Studies

"…[Zimmerman's] study is valuable for its convincing analyses of the relations between high Victorian literature and geology or archaeology, as well as for aligning the subject with present-day efforts to rethink literary history in terms of 'deep time. '" — Review of English Studies

"…for the historian of science who examines wider cultural or literary phenomena [this book] is an important guide to the stimulus that the writings of geologists and archaeologists gave other mid-Victorian writers. " — Isis

"…the volume's interdisciplinary nature and Zimmerman's engaging, clear style make the book valuable for readers in a variety of fields. " — CHOICE

"This book is a sheer pleasure to read. Zimmerman has crafted an important and genuinely intriguing interpretation of the relationship between literature, geology, and archaeology in the period when these new sciences came into their own as separate disciplines. Zimmerman brings to her interpretations an impressive knowledge of many now forgotten episodes in the history of science. She examines a wide range of works and finds elegant and convincing ways to make them speak to each other. " — Robert D. Aguirre, author of Informal Empire: Mexico and Central America in Victorian Culture