My book project extends my PhD dissertation to examine representations of Victorian Britain in contemporary British historical fiction, Anglo-American period dramas, and Japanese girls’ comics (1980 – present). Like other forms of historical fiction, narratives that look back on Victorian Britain prompt the reader to make connections between past and present. By reading texts ranging from A. S. Byatt’s novel Possession and its Hollywood film adaptation to Harrods advertising and the Lady Victorian manga series, I reveal the rich synergies between these seemingly disparate bodies of literature. I examine how these neo-Victorian narratives help us understand how the dissemination of British culture to the United States, Japan, and Singapore in the long 19th century has contributed to the formation of three competing and collaborative cultural empires in the global “creative economy” today: one founded on British high culture, the other on the American media industry’s global reach, and the third on Japanese popular culture. The struggle in Possession over who gets to “possess” a collection of fictional Victorian letters draws attention to Anglo-American competition and cooperation in commodifying British heritage since the 1980s. Possession traces this ambivalent transatlantic relationship back to the concept of “cultural property” in 19th-century Britain and the anxieties that surrounded it in the light of rising American wealth, tourism, and the purchase of British heritage properties.
Japanese neo-Victorian manga likewise point to how Anglo-Japanese relations in the second half of the 19th century have given rise to a postcolonial desire for aristocratic cultural capital that is associated with the idealised image of “Victorian Britain.” These manga suggest that Japanese cultural industries today capitalise on this desire to enrich themselves and the British heritage industry, while also positioning Japanese manga, anime, and other cultural commodities as a proudly popular alternative to the British high cultural empire.
The last section of the monograph turns from texts to the people who consume them, focusing on why young Singaporean women who are fans of Japanese neo-Victorian manga are often also fans of Anglo-American period dramas such as Penny Dreadful and Crimson Peak. How does Singapore’s history as a former British and Japanese colony affect the consumption of these narratives? Following recent writings that have posited a polycentric approach to world-literary systems, this monograph contributes to both World Literature and Victorian Studies by exploring the myriad transnational networks that are created by the Anglo-American media industries, Japanese popular culture, and the global history of imperialism in the long 19th century.
"Spreading the Word: What Fifty Shades of Grey Means for World Literature"
I am currently writing up a journal article on Fifty Shades, which derives from a teaching assignment for the "Modern World Literatures" course I taught at Warwick in 2015/2016. How does the global popularity of Fifty Shades complicate our understanding of World Literature as “literary works that circulate beyond their culture of origin,” and which are “actively present within a literary system beyond that of its original culture” (Damrosch)? By applying the practice of close reading to a novel few would call “literature,” this article uses Fifty Shades as a premise to rethink existing paradigms in the field of World Literature.
I have also published an op-ed piece on Fifty Shades for JSTOR Daily. "Fifty Shades of Affective Labour for Capital" was published on 17 January 2018 to coincide with the release of the Fifty Shades Freed movie adaptation.
Since the early 2000s, there has been an emergence of romance novels, films, television dramas, and blogs that feature romantic, familial, and fraternal relationships connecting people and places, especially global cities, in East Asia and North America, Europe, and Australia. The South Korean television drama, Assorted Gems [Boseok bibimbap] (2009 – 2010) opens with an American man renting a small room in a Korean family’s cramped home. The drama emphasises the man’s ordinariness, as he mingles with the locals and forms an ambiguous friendship/romance with one of the daughters of his landlord. This on-screen multicultural conviviality mirrors that in Eat Your Kimchi, a blog created by a Canadian couple who have lived in Korea and Japan, and who are fans of K-drama, anime, and other Korean and Japanese popular culture products exported worldwide.
This conviviality forms a stark contrast to rising nationalism and xenophobia in the United States, Europe, and East Asia. It prompts us to discover transnational forms of solidarity both smaller and larger than the nation and the region. My project examines popular love-story narratives set in East Asia and asks, how does the transnational circulation of highly emotional popular culture texts create transnational communities united by feelings of love, friendship, and kinship?
Moto, Naoko. Lady Victorian [Redii Vikutorian]. Vol. 5. Tokyo: Akita Shoten, 2001.
James, E. L. Fifty Shades of Grey. London: Arrow Books, 2012.
Assorted Gems [Boseok bibimbap] (2009-2010)