Victorian Honeymoons: Journeys to the Conjugal - Helena Michie This was much more strangely interesting (and interestingly strange) than expected, for an academic study, and mostly in ways only tangentially related (but no unrelated either) to Victorian Honeymoons.

Michie analyzes dozens of diaries and letters from the period, trying to suss out what the hell actually went on during a Victorian Honeymoon, but the whole thing soon gets tangled up in layers and layers of context and interpretation and historiography. I actually quite appreciated the way she drew attention to the primary sources as written works, and tried to take into account 'genre', as it were. It made conclusions - ie, what happened more difficult (impossible) to draw, but also kind of made the historical personages come alive a bit - we might not really know what they're saying, but we know they thought about the way they said it in ways that are immediate and familiar. Who would read it? What would that reader understand? What could they say outright and what had to stay between the lines? (I pity the researcher of centuries hence who tries to figure out the nuances of some attitude of ours from the subtleties and ommisions of the way we use our Goodreads reviews and Facebook statuse and Twitter feeds...etc)

Theres a bit of geography stuff too, trying to understand how people would have experienced those landscapes as honeymooners and what they would have meant to them, as well as some looking into pamphlets, guides, encyclopedias, etc to try and work through their available sexual knowledge, (conclusion: who knows?) There's also actual literary analysis of Victorian novels that feature honeymoons. I think the assumption is that those novels might have been one of the sources of information and general cultural sense of what was supposed to happen (no, not just that) about honeymoons for the honeymooners (the conclusion is the all literary honeymoons are awful and everyone would have been filled with a terrible sense of foreboding. And death. Because gothic and victorians, yeah.) It's kind of interesting, but at some point loses the plot, so to speak, imo.

And then theres the weird creative writing bit and, well, the author. Basically, Mitchie forms a particular attachment to one particularly meticulous diarist - but one who for all her prolixity is still a frustratingly incomplete and mysterious figure. What drives her emotions during her honeymoon remains resolutely unknowable. So Michie succumbs to temptation and writes her, piecing together clues and making assumptions and guesses to create a bit of narrative fiction - which she cheerfully acknowledges is now victim to it's own problems of being text, and subject to it's own genre limitations.

Anyway, it's just impossible for me not to slather on that extra layer (on the fourteen or so there are already) of reading the researcher. The whole book is concerned with the difficulty and trickery of trying to read primary sources and stripping away our own view, and then the base of this whole thing is honeymoons, which Michie emphasizes must have been all about - especially for the Victorians - getting to know another person and probably failing, negotiating the place they give another person in their conception of themselves, tearing down and rebuilding their definitions of privacy. So, what the hell, I thought - let's join in. Inevitably, Michie became the unreliable narrator of the books she wrote that I read.

It's all ends up being a truly strange, multilayered metafictional thing about trying to know people, about trying to know history, about reading. To top it all off, for me, Michie's favorite diarist was a prolific reader who made snarky comments about the books she read (Dickens - yay, Bulwer-Lytton - not so much) and could have been on Goodreads. I recognize the way she read.(it's impossible to ignore myself as yet another reader here, of course.) It's like reading goddamned Borges with a headache, only having to deal with it as reality. Sort of. Somehow.

But I now know less about what Victorians were like than I did 250 and pages ago, so I guess that's a good thing, overall.