By Alison Byerly
Are We There Yet? Virtual Travel and Victorian Realism connects the Victorian fascination with "virtual travel" with the rise of realism in nineteenth-century fiction and twenty-first-century experiments in virtual reality. Even as the expansion of river and railway networks in the nineteenth century made travel easier than ever before, staying at home and fantasizing about travel turned into a favorite pastime. New ways of representing place—360-degree panoramas, foldout river maps, exhaustive railway guides—offered themselves as substitutes for actual travel. Thinking of these representations as a form of "virtual travel" reveals a surprising continuity between the Victorian fascination with imaginative dislocation and twenty-first -century efforts to use digital technology to expand the physical boundaries of the self.
Byerly’s work is unusual in approaching a Victorian phenomenon through the lens of contemporary conceptualizations of media and its effects. Other critics who have applied current theories about media to nineteenth century cultural forms have generally focused on the social or economic dimensions of these forms in order to examine topics like representations of empire, ideas about gender, or the development of consumer culture. This book places cultural studies into dialogue with an aesthetics that is re-energized by engagement with contemporary debates about virtual reality. It is a foundational work in the emerging field of Victorian media studies.
"Byerly is chock-full of new materials brought into view through a fresh perspective straightforwardly grounded in the network-computer concerns of our present. It feels both intuitively right and brilliant."—Jonathan H. Grossman, University of California, Los Angeles, author of Charles Dickens’s Networks