Review of Conjuring the Real: The Role of Architecture in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Fiction
Document Type Article
Published by University of California Press on behalf of the Society of Architectural Historians. Used by permission.
Given how much has been written about architecture and literature over the last few decades, the subtitle of this book might seem to promise a belated subject. The essays collected here are the result of a lecture series held in 2007 at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, though the length and density of some of them suggest versions that preceded their presentation at that conference. This density is in fact one of the strengths of this book, which strays far from its title and announced theme. The other strength is the astounding roster of contributors, many of whom will be familiar to readers of this journal. For those not familiar with them, this volume is valuable as an introduction to some of the leading figures in fields as far apart as literary medievalism, structuralist art history, poststructuralist architectural theory, and Victorian set design. Most of the chapters restate arguments or present evidence that the authors have published in earlier forms. An analogy might be some projects that bring in a team of superstar architects to design separate buildings for what is supposed to be a common project. Rumiko Handa, one of the editors, provides the introduction to the volume, explaining that the lecture series was part of an effort to integrate architecture into the study of the humanities. One aspect of this effort is a database (http://aith.unl.edu) accessible after submitting a copyright agreement with the University of Nebraska. Some of the many buildings, scenes, and illustrations referred to in the text can be found at this site. The representations of the architecture of the past in recent film and popular media functions as a synecdoche for the larger frame of history and a sense of period, she explains, and the chapters in the volume are designed to trace the prehistory of that representation in early cinema, stage design, popular illustrations and literature. The concluding chapter by Nebraska architects Toby Olson and Josh Silvers on buildings and gardens in film versions of Jane Austen are a good exam- ple of her project. The “fiction” in the title thus is a very loose category. So is the “real,” for that matter, gesturing toward a theoretical awareness only briefly demonstrated in most of the following chapters, with one or two exceptions.