Are We There Yet?: Virtual Travel and Victorian Realism by Alison Byerly

By Alison Byerly

Are We There but? digital go back and forth and Victorian Realism connects the Victorian fascination with ''virtual travel'' with the increase of realism in nineteenth-century fiction and twenty-first-century experiments in digital fact. at the same time the growth of river and railway networks within the 19th century made trip more straightforward than ever sooner than, staying at domestic and fantasizing approximately commute become a favourite hobby. New methods of representing place—360-degree panoramas, foldout river maps, exhaustive railway guides—offered themselves as substitutes for real shuttle. considering those representations as a sort of ''virtual travel'' unearths a stunning continuity among the Victorian fascination with imaginitive dislocation and twenty-first -century efforts to exploit electronic expertise to extend the actual limitations of the self.

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In a sense, Ryan is arguing not that virtual reality resembles fiction, but that fiction resembles virtual reality in its depiction of possible worlds. Nevertheless, when the makers of World of Warcraft assert in their advertisements, “It’s not a game. It’s a world,” they are underlining the degree to which successful immersion requires that the medium itself become invisible. I will suggest here that the preoccupation with virtual travel we find in Victorian fiction demonstrates that the reader’s feeling of transportation is not a by-­product of narrative world-­making, but a fundamental step in the process.

27 One might expect that by now the Internet would be fully populated with holodeck-­style fantasy sites, but in fact “virtual tours” of real places are among the most popular experiences available on the Internet. Many tourist sites now have electronic equivalents that combine textual description with plentiful, high-­quality images or streaming video that convey a sense of the visual landscape. Some offer 360-­degree panoramic views that allow the user to navigate an independent pathway. Many sites are designed to entice visitors, of course, by whetting their appetite for the real thing.

The reader, who is not simply the person holding the book but the ideal reader conjured by Brontë’s narrative, cannot refuse this gesture of recognition, and thus is born a relationship that makes the reader a participant in the storytelling activity and a visitor to the world it describes. Given the power of virtual reality technology to “realize” a place and give it a sense of presence, it seems surprising that the vast majority of virtual environments do not create exciting new worlds, but reproduce places that already exist.

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