British academy


Awarded to

The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade

Byron, Poetics and History

Professor Wendy Doniger, The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade

It is reliably reported that, a few years ago at the RSC, the cast for Shakespeare's Measure for Measure expressed almost unanimous incredulity at a preliminary meeting that Angelo could conceivably have mistaken Mariana for Isabella in bed. Almost everyone present agreed that bedtricks were patently unrealistic – or they did until an actor in a small part said quietly: 'It happened to me'. That altered the whole nature of the discussion. Wendy Doniger's The Bedtrick: Tales of Sex and Masquerade, has also altered the nature of the discussion, and in far more important and sweeping ways. The scope of her enquiry is astonishing. She not only ranges across the whole spectrum of Western literature but takes in Hindu mythology, Biblical Hebrew texts, and a sufficient number of films to have provided material for a book on its own. The Bedtrick can be read as an anthology of fascinating stories, some of them well-known, others recondite and unfamiliar, but it is far more than that: a work everywhere informed by Professor Doniger's impressive scholarship, by her psychological adroitness, and her ability to analyze without distorting the often bizarre fictions (and facts) with which she deals. What emerges is a major study of human identity, and of the disconcertingly unreliable nature of anyone's knowledge of anyone else, as well as an enormously lively and entertaining one.

Professor K. Flint, The Victorians and the Visual Imagination

This rich and substantial study develops the argument that the Victorians' ‘specularity' and realism have been much emphasized at the expense of their equal and opposite stress on vision, whether imaginative or ‘supernatural'. This major thesis is carried out in detailed studies of the figure of the ‘blind', both literal and figurative, in paintings by John Everett Millais; in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem ‘Aurora Leigh'; in George Eliot's story exploring visionary religious claims, ‘The Lifted Veil'; in the extensive new scientific and popular literature on glaciers and their meaning; and in the social-historical imagery of the ‘underground' or hidden city of London. Two authoritative essays, building on her earlier pioneering work on the reception of French impressionism in Britain, and on the Woman Reader, explore the art critic and the literary critic and their respective roles as intermediaries between the artist and the growing public. Showing her mastery of the many-sided materials bearing on Victorian thought, and convincingly presenting a fresh interpretation, the book is a signal contribution to nineteenth-century studies.