There’s rarely a subject manga refuses to tackle, so a manga about Florence Nightingale’s encounter with the Man in Grey is totally doable. But to read about her history from the creator of Ushio and Tora? Yes, that sold me when I learned this about The Black Museum: The Ghost and The Lady.
Though already there’s one thing to establish — The Black Museum by Kazuhiro Fujita is a three volume set, but Kodansha only translated the second arc, which is all about Florence Nightingale. You probably might’ve read about her in school, but if nothing else, most have heard of her. This tells her story from the perspective of the Man in Grey, who is explaining this to the Madam Curator of The Black Museum. He wishes to retrieve the colliding bullets, but while doing so, he tells not only his story, but of how his life essentially changed when he met a girl who asked for him to take her life.
A general summary aside from looking at this as a history lesson in manga form is the ghost Grey recounting not only how he passed on and his attachment to the famed Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, but his documentation of Florence Nightingale. How could a girl who had it all — prestige, money, admirers, skills, training, almost everything — choose to toss it all away and desire death? Normally for Grey, he would have brushed her off or granted her request with ease. But something about her made him think it would be a waste to end her life so quickly. So he declares that he will kill her when she despairs the most.
Thankfully for him, there’s a ton of that, as numerous challenges test Nightingale in horrible ways. It first starts with her simply picking up her emotional pieces when her parents reject her desire to become a nurse and ends with a fated encounter with a long-time enemy. From choosing to enter the Crimean War and witnessing not only the atrocity of battle but where pride, sexism, and lack of empathy are on full display, the times she falls apart are plenty, though her actions impact Grey in ways he couldn’t have seen coming.
As someone that watched Ushio and Tora it’s almost crazy how similar Fujita made Grey and Nightingale personality-wise. Of course the age gap and gender play a part, but the cold personality Grey sometimes has with her always makes me think back to when Tora made empty threats that he was going to eat Ushio eventually. Needless to say, if you watched that show, you’ll feel right at home with this one.
The big distinction is seeing the journey Nightingale goes through just to merely help the sick and wounded. During those times being a nurse was super low class, and for Nightingale to throw her status away was foolish in most people’s mind. Combine that with her supposed craziness in seeing shadows (called Eidolons) within people since she was a kid, and this left her in a poor state.
The crazy thing is how it all changes when she decides to meet the ghost. For Grey, he’s been dead for nearly a century, and he has had to admire a countless amount of plays (hence when you read this Grey will make a decent amount of Shakespeare references). If I was a ghost that had to watch plays all the time despite the silence I would either lose my mind or be bored. Grey was in the bored camp, but Nightingale managed to get him interested.
The manga does a really nice job exploring not only how religion impacted her, but also how she was determined to not be put in a box, or that she had to be an upper-class person or betrothed to a rich man, etc. It also does tell Grey’s tale as well, as he lived a life where every moment could’ve been his last, and when it was, he took to admire the stage; the performers who played numerous characters in Shakespeare; and documented his impact and lore of the ghost in that era.
Another standout is the supporting characters, as some turned out to be well developed and a major impact on the story. From a war journalist to a famous chef to even a kid drummer (who also impacts this story in a way), the roles played are told well, and manage to stand out over the two volumes. The drawings by Fujita work really well, especially whenever he’s describing the morbid state of the soldiers dying due to horrible living conditions. Ranging from drawings of Nightingale being taken aback to the fights Grey gets into, it’s generally satisfying and a page turner.
I think the only issue I have with the manga is the tease of Nightingale’s other side — towards the end there was a drawing of her where she looks like she’s become tyrannical. Exaggerated or not, it made me think there was a side to her that wasn’t as pure as the manga led on to be. And if it’s going for historical accuracy, be accurate all the way.
Though honestly, if that’s the worst thing to come out of this manga, then I don’t know what to tell you except this: The Ghost and The Lady came out last year, and man, it was definitely one of the best reads of 2016. From its historical accuracy (while some liberties are taken, you can find the characters and events online) to the enjoyable personalities to its engaging twist and turns, you’d be hard pressed to find a better way to spend $40 for the two volumes Kodansha released. It’s almost a shame it ends so quickly, but it’s definitely a wonderful journey for sure.
There’s a number of manga out there that are looked over for quality control. For Kazuhiro Fujita’s The Black Museum: The Ghost and The Lady, this needed a language quality control person. But not in Japanese.
As The Ghost and The Lady is set in the Victorian era, needless to say regular English won’t cut it. So if you look in the back of the book of Ghost and The Lady, in the credits you’ll see cultural consultation Finola Austin, with Secret Victorianist listed.
For most manga, this is usually never seen. Or if anything, it’s usually credited with a Japanese association or person familiar with the text. That’s why I was curious as to how this encounter happened.
In speaking with Finola Austin, who works in advertising during the day but blogs about the Victorian period at night, for someone who knew of manga but had the somewhat typical conception of it, it all involves relationships and knowing someone.
Finola Austin: So I have a job in advertising and I’ve been working in advertising for three and a half years now. But prior to that I was doing a Masters degree in Victorian literature back in England at Oxford.
Why I did that, it was just the type of literature I liked best. I’ve done Latin and English Literature as my undergraduate degree at Oxford, and I wanted a year to do a Masters and specialize on Victorian Literature. It was absolutely far and away my favorite thing.
Yep. When I was in my early teens I read a lot. Even when I was 9, 10, 11 I started reading Dickens, all the classic novels that my mom had in her house. I did a lot of Hardy throughout my high school years, and then when I got to Oxford I discovered this whole other realm of Victorian novels…on the slightly trashier side I’d say–
There’s something called Victorian sensation fiction. So sensation fiction kind of comes out of Gothic fiction, which is the early scary stuff…the stuff that’s kind of mocked in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. And it comes before and it splits later into horror fiction, and detective fiction comes out of it as well.
Like the first ever detective novel was called The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, and that was part of this genre of sensation fiction. And what they meant by sensation was something that played on the sensations of their readers. So “made them scared!” or “Excited!” or “Oh, what’s gonna happen next?”
And these were all serialized, so they were the most scandalous things to read, and there were cliffhangers at the end of every chapter. What I was interested in is they had really strong female characters. There’s particularly a couple of examples, especially Lady Audley’s Secret which is about this woman who’s a bigamist, and she marries her second husband who’s richer while still legally married to her first husband, and pushes the first down the well. And I felt this was really interesting.
So when I got the funding to do my Masters and my scholarship I spent a year specializing in that. What I kind of looked at was the intersection of domesticity and theatricality in Victorian sensation novels. What I mean by that is — a lot of critics previous to my research thought that’s what the sensation novel was about, especially when it came to women, were women was the evil actress infiltrating the nice middle-class folk. So someone from the outside who’s really good at pretending, being manipulative, and she comes in and ruins everything.
And I kind of rejected that reading because I thought what it actually exposed was to be a good middle class wife since back then you kind of had to be a really good actress. Always put on a show, repress your emotions, be the perfect hostess, the perfect mother, the perfect wife. And why these novels were so subversive was it exposed that. It said, “well actually, you’re a bit of a sociopath if you can do that!”
So the same skills that would make you a good middle class wife are the same skills that would make you a good actress, con artist, prostitute was a comparison made as well, because you’re pretending to make someone else happy. And ultimately it would make you a better murderess.
So I compared the novels to a lot of crime cases at the time and talked about, like a lot of the time women were incarcerated into lunatic asylums versus being put on the witness stand because they thought women were so persuasive, so manipulative and so beautiful that even if she’s clearly committed murder she might get off. One case in particular: a women named Madeleine Smith in Edinburgh — she had one lover, she was an upper middle class woman, she was meant to be a virgin — she took a lover who was poorer than her, and when she wanted to marry a rich man, she killed the first with arsenic. And there was so much evidence against her yet when she got into the witness stand and cried, they acquitted her. So a lot of novels kind of played around with contemporary court cases like that and exploring those themes.
So when I finished my Masters and entered the world of work, I got this job in advertising and I didn’t want to just forget about all that stuff? Like it could be really interesting for me and I didn’t want to do a PhD and become a professor but it was still something I was interested in. And I also really believe in keeping information, scholarships, etc., open access. A lot of stuff is hidden behind paywalls, so something like a J-store, only people who are currently at school have access to journals. A lot of things are kept in dusty libraries and I realized I had so many essays I’ve done and so many books I had, and so much stuff I never even written about because I just read it, but I was like, “Oh, I should just start a blog.”
So I started this blog which I called The Secret Victorianist. Initially I kept it totally separate from my identity so that’s why it was called secret. Now once it became a bit more established, I now mention it on my LinkedIn, but still on all the Secret Victorianist stuff it doesn’t say my name. I keep it like it’s my secret second life.
And the types of content on it since I started really changed. At the beginning I wrote mainly sections from essays that I’d already did so it was more on the academic and going in-depth with certain text. But as I’ve gone on I’ve started getting more and more interested in how Victorian culture impacts modern culture right now. I’m writing a series called Neo-Victorian Voices, and by that I mean stuff that’s being written now but is set then.
So you have different types of literature coming out, like Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, about what was it like to be a lesbian in the Victorian period. That could never have been written then but it’s written now. Books that kind of mix parts of other genres, like magic realism. Like this book I read recently which is kind of about a magical watchmaker set in Victorian London.
So it’s bringing in modern genres, whether that’s Sci-Fi or Erotica, and bringing it back to that period. I might also review not just books. If there’s a play set in the Victorian period, an art gallery, an exhibition that touches on that…so again on the Neo-Victorian theme, I went to a super interesting exhibit in London before I moved from there, which was on the Neo-Victorian arts. It was very steampunk, lot of contraptions, lots of people playing on morbidity, and all that kind of stuff.
Steampunk’s got such an important role in our culture that there was a reality TV show called “Steampunk’d” where there were different artists who were fighting it out to become the best steampunk artist. It ran for one season but it had a niche following of people where steampunk definitely influences fashion, movies had that type of aesthetic like…oh what was that movie set in the desert…Mad Max? Like the costuming comes out of steampunk, so half-mechanical, half steam powered, lots of cogs, harking back to a mechanical industrial revolution era versus a digital revolution. So imagining what if we had more advanced technology, but everything was powered by carbs and steam and buttons.
So yeah, that’s kind of how the blog has gone and I try and do it every week, though some weeks I slip up because I’m busy with work.
I think the thing I didn’t know was how much interest was out there for the communities that already existed. What I did know is the basic fundamentals of social media for my job. So I had faith in myself that I could do those things and make the best shot at it. But what I discovered along the way was the different groups I could tap into.
Initially I started with academics, so people who specialize in the Victorian period and who are getting PhD and are professors all of them have Twitter, but for professional relationships. Then I started discovering Jane Austen superfans which is a little earlier than Victorian literature but I fudge it by saying 19th century. Jane Austen has such a huge following, books are written every year which is set in her world, and loads of people are twitter obsessed. Like fangirlish, insanely so like One Direction.
So to attract them one of the first things I did was a quiz about which 19th century heroine would you be? And I actually eschewed it so more people would get Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, I made that the most likely result for the algorithm. Because I knew so many people would love that, would share it, and I specifically targeted it to those communities. So it’s been interesting to see where I can take it.
So yeah, this is a very bizarre project that I’ve gotten involved in but that has opened up a whole other community like manga and that’s an interest as well because it was something I knew less about.
This actually came from personal relationships! Ajani Oloye knew as an editor he can make something into good English, but Ghost in the Lady was not only about British English but also Victorian British English, and he had all sorts of questions about that.
So he asked one of my personal friends who happens to be British and said, “Is this something you can look over,” and my name came up naturally during the conversation. My friend said, “I don’t think I can do it but I do know someone who could be. She works in advertising but she does this bizarre blog on the side. She has a Masters degree in this–” and so he put us in touch.
What I essentially did was I got sent the drafts and after going through it I made suggestions or asked questions or flagged when things seemed bizarre to my ear.
I know what it is from my general knowledge but I’ve never read one before, and Ghost and The Lady remains the only one I’ve read. So that was interesting as well because that’s why I everything I would send back to Ajani were questions. Sometimes I would be like, “This seems weird to me for this reason, but do of it what you will.” Everything basically was suggestions, like “This is bizarre I might do something like this,” but obviously he had knowledge of the world within Ghost and The Lady and manga editing.
So it was a really interesting collaboration and I think some interesting things came out of it — one of them for me was the brevity. Because when you’re writing in speech bubbles shorter is better.
But on the other hand Victorians can be quite long-winded with the way they spoke. So my impulse was to be saying things in a more roundabout way because that sounded more natural than how it would appear in a Victorian novel *laughs*.
So having to check myself and say, “How can you get a little of that feeling without it ruining the way it looks on the page, or making this too difficult” for Ajani and his team.
This happened all in 2016, in August. August was when I worked on the 1st one, the 2nd one must have been a couple months later.
Yes *laughing* …Initially, when I looked at the text I was surprised because of some of the aspects of it. You know like when you’re flicking through it and the pictures like, “Florence Nightingale is naked?” That’s so outside the realm of where I would consider Florence Nightingale and what I know of her culturally and historically and how she was seen.
So I think initially I was quite distracted by the fantastical elements and the Eidolons and the fighting. Initially I thought this was crazy, I’m gonna do my job and get out. But as I got into it, I was like, “whoa…this is really fascinating.” There’s an audience out there who want to learn about the Crimean War, and there’s a level of historical accuracy where these people are being featured and it’s actually asking interesting questions. Like what would make someone from a middle-class background give up their nice, comfortable life for something that’s…definitely less pleasant *laughs*
Yeah, it has people dying, arguing with men who are in authority over women and opposition from her family, and then of course it brings it to her inner turmoil psychological place, which struck me as quite a modern thing to think about. I don’t think Victorians were necessarily concerned about mental health when they were locking people up in mental asylums to get rid of them in sensational levels.
So this idea of inner demons that you have to tackle…it all struck me as a modern take, but still with that historical background of accuracy and I thought it was really interesting.
Another thing that struck out to me was the theater context. As I said when I worked on Victorian fiction I was very interested in the theatricality of the novel, using framing devices, using the idea of a play, actors and actresses, so I guess having a ghost be obsessed with that and all of the action and frame narratives set in the theater and having a frame narrative at all actually in some ways seemed to resonate some things Victorians cared about, even while a lot of it was modern or quite alien to me.
I think what was interesting was the role the British press played. So I’m not an expert on Florence Nightingale and the history around that period, but that was something I did have some knowledge of. The media was putting a lot of pressure on army generals to do the right thing, to look after the soldiers properly, and she was instrumental with having that relationship with journalists. So I like having that journalist character there.
I loved it especially for me, they quote actual documents from the times. So some of the quotes you read are real and are from what newspapers were saying, and that was really interesting, to have verbatim stuff from the period inserted into this narrative. I thought it was cool.
Well I didn’t fact check much in terms of the historical stuff and kinda assumed some of that had already been done. I was looking at it mainly from a language standpoint to how the characters addressed each other rather than changing the narrative. I’m like, “Ok this is the story, now how Victorian does it sound or is there anything they’re saying that’s not Victorian.” And I think another challenge of that was that Grey is actually earlier than Victorian. And I didn’t know that when I took on the project. Working on how he should speak was very hard.
So when I first came back to Ajani with my edits, I made Grey sound very formal because I hadn’t seen the Japanese. And apparently he was meant to be a bit more colloquial, to show that he wasn’t very respectful.
So I had to balance how to get that colloquialism across without it coming across as modern? How do I get that he’s earlier than Florence? So this might be even more old-fashioned than archaic. So he uses more “thou’s” than a Victorian would. That was a really interesting balancing of different registers that people were talking within the text.
Honestly I locked myself up over the weekend for hours straight and did it both times *laughs*
Yeah, if I could be of help. So the thing is I feel like I had a little bit of imposter syndrome on this one because it was something that so alien to me, and it made me second guess my calls a little bit.
But it’s great that they think I provided value and asked me do the second volume. That gave me a little more confidence so clearly while he disagreed with some of the stuff I said though that’s because of the Japanese I hadn’t seen or from the genre, I provided some layer of value where they were like, “so let’s do that again and help make this read better.”
Ok, I hope this doesn’t sound super ignorant, but I was expecting it to be quite sexist. And especially from that first reaction flipping through the text with the female nudity and all. Like the piercing through the nipples with random spears and I’m like, “of course, that was the first thing.”
But then Florence Nightingale is the main character of Ghost and the Lady. So that made me step back and say, “Well they’re interested in her as a person and it’s actually about the internal. And even when she’s naked that’s to show her being exposed and vulnerable,” so that did make me re-assess a little bit.
Also I had no idea historical manga was a thing or they’re interested in British or European history. Like I guess I thought of it as distinctly Japanese, that manga wasn’t necessarily looking at other cultures. So it was really interesting to hear that’s part of it and there are other writers out there in that genre who are looking into these places for inspiration.
And it makes me wonder for a Japanese reader, how much did they know about Florence Nightingale already or Drury Lane Theater? How recognizable these names are or is super exotic in some ways Japanese culture are when they’re imported to our cultural outputs. So it was fascinating.
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