The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins


copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

Hello, and welcome to the online edition of the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, what can be considered edition 2.5 after the first edition in 2005 and the second edition in 2019. My purpose in writing the Encyclopedia back in the early '00s and in revising it for the electronic edition now has been to shine a critical light on those works who have traditionally been excluded from the literary canon: science fiction, fantasy, horror, mysteries, Westerns, historical novels, dime novels, penny dreadfuls, and story papers. For the second edition I included some canonical works in the Encyclopedia, and in this online edition I've included half a dozen more, because those canonical works were great fun and good quality--and one of the raison d'etre of the Encyclopedia is to advertise the length and breadth of genuinely good works published in the Victorian Era specifically and during the Long Nineteenth Century more broadly. 

This Encyclopedia is subjective, not objective, although I tried to make my subjective judgments as objective as possible, if that makes any sense. I could have written dry plot analyses and dispassionate character descriptions, but books like Richard & E.F. Bleiler’s Science Fiction: The Early Years and the Trouser Press Record Guide are always the most fun when the authors laud the worthy and savage the vile, and that is what I have tried to do.

This Encyclopedia is prescriptive rather than descriptive. I’m attempting simultaneously to be critic (and explain why a book or story is good or bad) and reviewer (and explain why you should or shouldn’t read it) and historian (what the book or story's place in the context of its genre or history is). Like any critic, I have biases. My tastes are idiosyncratic and perhaps not always defensible (for example, I think Stanley J. Weyman is a better writer of historical novels than Walter Scott). I couldn’t write otherwise and haven’t bothered to try.

This Encyclopedia is not exhaustive. I realize that by calling this site an “encyclopedia” I am in some way laying claim to thoroughness. Much as I’d like this to be the case, it simply isn’t possible. There is too much material out there, in too many genres and media, for any one Encyclopedia to cover to any degree of exactitude. Several web sites, each with the number of pages of this one, might suffice to exhaust all of Victorian mystery fiction, but that would exclude science fiction, and historical romances, and the other genres I’ve included here. So, no, this site is not exhaustive. It couldn’t be. What I’ve tried to do instead is strike a balance between the important, the entertaining, and the goofy.

This Encyclopedia is not aimed at specialists, although I hope that there is information in these webpages which will surprise and inform them. This Encyclopedia is aimed at people like me, who are intelligent and well-read but who have not, for whatever reason, read widely in the Victorians.