Kali Israel offers much more than a traditional biography of an eccentric Victorian in Names and Stories. Instead, Israel, an associate professor of history at the University of Michigan, uses her subject--art historian, writer, and socialite Emilia Dilke--as the focus of a well-researched analysis of 19th-century Britain. Israel examines the stories by which Emilia Dilke is made known to us today, and how those create, contain, extend, and multiply the subject. Forgoing the traditional historian's tendency to sort through texts--judging them as more or less truthful reflections of a "real," retrievable person--she critically examines the texts themselves, and in relationship to each other, then uses them to delineate multiple representations of Dilke.
Each of her seven chapters focuses on a particular period of Dilke's history. There are stories about families that circulate around Dilke's childhood, stories about her making (and being made into) pictures, about both her marriages, and about her life at Oxford. Israel also offers compelling readings of Dilke's own texts about sex in marriage and the "adulterous" texts and tales by and about Dilke and each of her two husbands. Although frequently academic, Israel's prose remains tightly focused around her subject, and her argument unfolds logically. Names and Stories offers an insightful examination of the relations and contradictions of diverse political, intellectual, social and aesthetic histories of Victorian England. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack