In the 1990s it was the French theorists such as Derrida, Lacan and Foucault who, with their stress on linguistic play and undecidability, took Victorian Studies by storm; w, it seems, it is the Germans who are coming. In Roger Ebbatson's new book, Marx, Simmel, Benjamin and, above all, Heidegger are unleashed on a range of Victorian texts - some unsuspecting, some all too suspecting. The results are alarming: Ebbatson begins with Tennyson overshadowed by empire and homosocial tensions and ends with Conan Doyle writing about a bicycle belonging to a character called Heidegger. In between, he makes bone-shaking progress over a Victorian terrain marked out by Thomas Hardy, Richard Jefferies, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Robert Louis Stevenson; along the way, Ebbatson considers shipwrecks, money, nature, the South Seas Mission, and 'final solutions'. Tennyson, we discover, was afraid of his own shadow, Hopkins's greatest poem was created by erratic compasses, Hardy wrote like Kafka, Stevenson was drawn to murderous missionaries, and Conan Doyle applauded the concentration camp. Ebbatson shows us that what the Germans bring to our understanding of the nineteenth century is a terrible awareness of the darkest moments of the darkest moments of the twentieth century.
Roger Ebbatson is visiting Professor at Loughborough University, having taught previously at the University of Sokoto, Nigeria and University College Worcester.