Neo-Victorianism is an aesthetic movement that features an overt nostalgia for the Victorian period. It is also likened to other "neos" (e.g. neoconservatism, neoliberalism), which do not simply look back to the past but also reiterate and replay it in more diverse and complicated ways. This characteristic makes neo-Victorian art difficult to define conclusively.
Many neo-Victorian novels have reinterpreted, reproduced and rewritten Victorian culture. Significant texts include The French Lieutenant’s Woman (John Fowles, 1969), Possession (A. S. Byatt, 1990), Arthur and George (Julian Barnes, 2005), Dorian, An Imitation (Will Self, 2002) Jack Maggs (Peter Carey, 1997), Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys, 1966). Recent neo-Victorian novels have often been adapted to the screen, from The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Karel Reisz, 1981) to the television adaptations of Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet, BBC2, 2002, Fingersmith , BBC1, 2005, Affinity ITV, 2008) and Michel Faber (The Crimson Petal and the White, BBC 1, 2011). These narratives may indicate a 'sexsation' of neo-Victorianism (Kohlke) and have been called "in-yer-face" neo-Victorianism (Voigts-Virchow).
Recent productions of neo-Victorianism on screen include Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films and TV series such as Sherlock, Ripper Street, Whitechapel, Murdoch Mysteries and Penny Dreadful . The neo-Victorian formula can be expanded to include Edwardian consumer culture (Downton Abbey, The Paradise and Mr Selfridge).
In September 2007, The University of Exeter explored the phenomenon in a major international conference titled Neo-Victorianism: The Politics and Aesthetics of Appropriation. Academic studies include Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century, 1999–2009. Other foundational texts of neo-Victorian criticism are Kucich and Sadoff (2000), Kaplan (2007), Kohlke (2008-), Munford and Young (2009), Mitchell (2010), Davies (2012), Whelehan (2012), Kleinecke-Bates (2014), Böhm-Schnitker and Gruss (2014), Tomaiuolo (2018), and others.
In arts and crafts
Examples of crafts made in this style would include push-button cordless telephones made to look like antique wall-mounted phones, CD players resembling old time radios, Victorianesque furniture, and Victorian era-style clothing.
In neo-romantic and fantasy art one can often see the elements of Victorian aesthetic values. There is also a strongly emerging genre of steampunk art. McDermott & McGough are a couple of contemporary artists whose work is all about a recreation of life in the nineteenth century: they only use the ultimate technology available, and since they are supposed to live anachronistically, this means the use of earlier photographic processes, and maintaining the illusion of a life stuck in the ways of a forgotten era.
In dress and behaviour
Many who have adopted Neo-Victorian style have also adopted Victorian behavioural affectations, seeking to imitate standards of Victorian conduct, pronunciation, interpersonal interaction. Some even go so far as to embrace certain Victorian habits such as shaving with straight razors, riding penny farthings, exchanging calling cards, and using fountain pens to write letters in florid prose sealed by wax. Gothic fashion sometimes incorporates Neo-Victorian style.
Neo-Victorian aesthetics are also popular in the United States and United Kingdom among cultural conservatives and social conservatives. Books such as The Benevolence of Manners: Recapturing the Lost Art of Gracious Victorian Living call for a return to Victorian morality. The term Neo-Victorian is also commonly used in a derogatory way towards social conservatives.
The cultural social attitudes and conventions that many associate with the Victorian era are inaccurate. In fact, many of the things that seem commonplace in modern life began in the Victorian era, such as sponsorship, sensational journalism and popular merchandise.
In popular culture and literature
Neo-Victorianism can also be seen in the growing steampunk genre of speculative fiction and in music performers such as Emilie Autumn. Neo-Victorianism is also popular with, and in many ways prefigured by, those who are interested in Victoriana and historical reenactment.
Carnival Diablo is a Neo-Victorian circus sideshow that has been touring North America for 20 years.
Unhallowed Metropolis is a roleplaying game based in a Neo-Victorian setting.
- Heilmann, Ann; Llewellyn, Mark (2010). Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century, 1999-2009. New York: Springer. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-349-31685-4.
- Ho, Elizabeth (2012). Neo-Victorianism and the Memory of Empire. London: A&C Black. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-4411-6155-0.
- Boehm-Schnitker, Nadine; Gruss, Susanne (2014). Neo-Victorian Literature and Culture: Immersions and Revisitations. New York: Routledge. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-134-61469-1.
- Voigts-Virchow, Eckart (2009). "'In-yer-Victorian-face: A Subcultural Hermeneutics of Neo-Victorianism". LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory. 20 (1–2): 108–125. doi:10.1080/10436920802690604. S2CID 144373988.
- "CFP | call for papers".
- Heilmann, Ann; Llewellyn, Mark (2010). Neo-Victorianism : the Victorians in the twenty-first century, 1999-2009. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-24113-8.
- McDermott, David; McGough (1998). & :A History of Photography (1st ed.). Santa Fe: Arena Editions. ISBN 978-0965728027.
- "Is This a "Victorian" Site?". Ladiesagainstfeminism.com. Archived from the original on 2013-09-28. Retrieved 2013-04-03.
- Lichter, Linda S. (1999). The Benevolence of Manners: Recapturing the Lost Art of Gracious Victorian Living (1st ReganBooks/Harper Perennial ed.). New York: ReganBooks. ISBN 978-0060987459.
- Nicky Rossiter (2003-03-08). "Matthew Sweet: Inventing the Victorians". Rambles.net. Retrieved 2013-04-03.
- Sweet, Matthew (2001). Inventing the Victorians (1st U.S. ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312283261.
- Stephenson, Neal (2003). The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (Bantam trade pbk. reissue. ed.). New York: Bamtam Books. ISBN 978-0553380965.
- Chrisman, Sarah Waisted Curves: My Transformation Into A Victorian Lady 2010. Aegis & Owl Press
- Neo-Victorian Studies (peer-reviewed web journal)
- Primorac, Antonija. Neo-Victorianism on Screen. Postfeminism and Contemporary Adaptations of Victorian Women. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.
- Heilmann, Ann; Llewellyn, Mark. Neo-Victorianism : the Victorians in the twenty-first century, 1999-2009. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
- Special issue on neo-Victorianism. LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory. 20 (1–2)
- Tomaiuolo, Saverio. Neo-Victorian Deviance. Canon, Transgression, Innovation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.