As an author, Paul Thomas Murphy is a strange animal: born, raised, and, for the most part, resident in the United States of America—living most of his early life in and around Lexington, Massachusetts, birthplace of the American Revolution, and living most of the rest in the relentlessly... show more
As an author, Paul Thomas Murphy is a strange animal: born, raised, and, for the most part, resident in the United States of America—living most of his early life in and around Lexington, Massachusetts, birthplace of the American Revolution, and living most of the rest in the relentlessly windswept foothills of the Rocky Mountains outside of Boulder, Colorado—his writings have nothing to do with his surroundings, instead focusing upon Victorian England—focusing, particularly, upon Victorian London. How, exactly, did Murphy become, as one critic put it, an “American Victoriana enthusiast”? Blame Charles Dickens. At some point in the mid-1970s, when Murphy was on the verge of escaping high school and committing himself to college with an undeclared major, he picked up and quickly consumed his first Dickens novel: Hard Times. Instantly addicted, Murphy went back to the beginning and, in order of publication, tore through Dickens’s collected works from Pickwick to Drood. Similar assaults upon the works of Wilkie Collins, the Brontës, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, and William Makepeace Thackeray followed. For his Masters in English Literature at McGill University in Montreal, Murphy wrote about Dickens’s villains; for his doctoral dissertation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he wrote about literary criticism in nineteenth-century British working-class periodicals. (That dissertation was later published by The Ohio State University Press as Toward a Working-Class Canon.) For twenty years after that Murphy pursued an academic career, teaching a variety of courses in a variety of disciplines at the University of Colorado, presenting a slew of academic papers on Victorian subjects at academic conferences, publishing in learned and sententious journals essays on working-class literary criticism, on the magnificent Henry Mayhew, on the Victorian culinary dynamo Alexis Soyer. And during that time, his enthusiasm largely shifted from Victorian literature to Victorian history—or, more accurately, widened to include Victorian history. In 2002, Murphy left off teaching to pursue yet another degree, this time at Merton College, University of Oxford, this time in Modern History. It was at Oxford that he first became interested in the stories of the seven boys and men who attacked Queen Victoria. Those stories became Shooting Victoria, one of the New York Times’s 100 Notable Books for 2012. And it was in the final stages of writing that book that Murphy discovered the subject of his next book a heroine who—besides being Victorian, English, and female—could not be further removed from Queen Victoria, the heroine of the first: Jane Maria Clouson, maid-of-all-work and the victim in Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane. Murphy’s enthusiasm is now directed towards the mid-Victorian world of Fine Art: he is currently working on a narrative history of the great battle of art between two of 19th-century London’s biggest egos: John Ruskin and James McNeill Whistler.