Publication: “A brown sunburnt gentleman”: Masculinity and the Travelling Body in Dickens’s Bleak House

My article “A brown sunburnt gentleman”: Masculinity and the Travelling Body in Dickens’s Bleak House is now available online in the new issue of Nineteenth-Century Contexts (36.4) – a special issue on the Male Body in Victorian Literature and Culture, edited by Nadine Muller and Jo Parsons.

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Living history: Downton and Talking Statues

The last week or so has seen several news stories on the theme of heritage and tourism in the news that I found intriguing from the work I’ve been doing on “locating the Victorians” recently.

The first was this story about the opportunity to “live like the Crawleys” by bidding for a Downton Abbey experience involving an overnight stay and dinner at Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed; alternatively, guests could enjoy some of the “downstairs” experience with lessons on table-laying from a butler. In light of a recent resurgence of tourism oriented around the idea of ‘re-living history’ the Downton experience is doubly interesting, both taking the idea of ‘re-living history’ one step further than the usual historical tours and trails, but also re-figuring what is ‘historical’ about the history that is being re-lived: Downton is of course a fictionalised history that both plays on and departs from the popularity for adaptation of Victorian and early 20th century, so the idea of “living like the Crawleys” takes on an interesting inference in its purporting to be a ‘historical’ experience in any sense – and, in turn, raising questions about what’s ‘real’ about ‘re-living history’ anyway.

Another story this week raised a different perspective on engaging with historical spaces. The Talking Statues project has given voice to a selection of statues in London and Manchester, allowing visitors to use their smartphones to access audio recordings of the statue figures talking. It’s an interesting development in digital heritage models which have used similar initiatives to bring heritage or historical sites “to life” through audio tours and trails, which until now have typically used mobile apps or websites (see my locating Dickens post for examples). These apps and podcasts have proved successful in opening up new perspectives on places and engaging people in looking more closely at the urban landscape, but they depend upon the intention of the user to find out about the tour, download the app or audio, and then visit the sight as a planned activity. What’s interesting and different about Talking Statues is that it takes the onus off the user to know in advance about a tour or trail and instead can capture the unintentional passer-by, thereby potentially creating whole new audiences for heritage tourism (even if only on a micro-scale) who may never have thought to engage in such activities before. As with the Downton experience, though, this also raises questions about the ‘history’ that is being accessed through the (fictionalised) first-person narratives written by contemporary writers.

On a quick final note, it was good to see this news of an industrial heritage trail linking five sites across South and West Yorkshire – it’s great to see the working sites of the industrial revolution gradually gain heritage prominence next to the Downton-style houses.

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Coming up: Border Masculinities and special issue publication

September brings a second invitation to a symposium at Lancaster University – I’ve already mentioned Mobility Cultures, which will be followed two weeks later by Border Masculinities on 19-20th September.

Border Masculinities will bring together scholars from a wide range of specialisms to discuss spatial and conceptual borders with regard to the representation of masculinities.

I will be presenting on masculinity and the travelling body in Victorian literature, focusing on the figure of the sunburnt gentlemen traveller and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.

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Incidentally, September will also see the publication of my article on the sunburnt gentleman in Dickens’s Bleak House, in a special issue of Nineteenth-Century Contexts on “the male body in Victorian literature and culture”. The editors Nadine Muller and Joanne Ella Parsons have made the first draft of their introduction available online, so you can get a taste of what looks to be an excellent issue!

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Dickens apps, maps and more

This week I’ve been finishing an essay on Dickens 2012 and ‘locating the Victorians in the bicentenary year'; although I’ve written and spoken about this work quite a few times now (including an essay in this forthcoming book), this piece has given me the opportunity to focus on more detailed analysis of content included in Dickens apps, maps, podcasts and films. It’s led me to discover some great resources on the theme of Dickens and London, so I thought I’d collect these together into a blog post with a brief review of each.

Apps and audio podcasts

  • The Guardian audio walks; this five-part series of walks around Dickens’s London, Rochester and Portsmouth by The Guardian are excellent: informative, engaging, and lively discussion, interspersed with readings from the text. In 2012 I tried out two of the walks – The Heart of the City and David Copperfield – and wrote about them for JVC Online.
  • Dickens in Southwark; I haven’t had the chance to do these walks myself, but I’ve been greatly impressed just using the app and listening to the audio of this walk. The core content is lively and informative, while there is extra audio on the map that was developed from a creative project involving Southwark residents. The app is easily navigable, has a well-functioning map, and with a total of 25 ‘stops’ there is lots of content to explore.
  • Dickens Trail, Charles Dickens Museum; this app uses Dickens’s characters as a guide to his London locations, with four themed walks following Magwitch, Lady Dedlock, the Artful Dodger, and Samuel Pickwick. The real shame of this app is that there is no audio content, only text on a map, which makes for a much less engaging experience.mzl_xswkqymm_320x480-75
  • Dickens Dark London; this was one of the first Dickens apps that I came across and reviewed, a little harshly perhaps. The idea of the content is nice, with illustrations accompanying a reading of extracts from Dickens’s works, themed around his night walks, but it’s a shame there is so little free content – only one serial installment is provided and the rest are priced at £1.49 each. The best thing about this app is its map feature, which combines an 1862 map with a map of contemporary London, and allows you to scroll between each or view a composite image of the two – great for easily viewing structural changes to the city.
  • Celebrating Dickens; the University of Warwick’s Dickens offering includes a wealth of material from researchers and students at the University of Warwick on many aspects of Dickens’s life and writing, and the app features a navigable map of Dickens locations not just in London but also in East Anglia, Kent and the Midlands. Highly recommended, of course!

Creative projects

  • The Houseless Shadow; directed by William Raban, this is a short version of the full film installation that was commissioned by the Museum of London for their Dickens and London exhibition. The piece uses a reading from Dickens’s essay “The Night Walks” with images of the contemporary city. Raban discusses the aims behind the piece in this conversation recorded at the BFI.
  • The Uncommercial Traveller; this project by the British Council created a series of theatrical audio guides to Penang, Melbourne, Singapore and Karachi. The audio aims at creating a really evocative experience of each city and makes for interesting listening even if you aren’t in the relevant city.
  • Sketches by Boz: Sketching the City; another British Council project that developed written and artistic creative responses to cities around the world through a Dickensian lens
  • Dickens and London film; the British Council produced a collection of teaching resources on Dickens 2012 and I particularly enjoyed this short piece on Dickens and London

 

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Travelling between the Centre and Periphery: Creating a Feminist Dialogue for the Diaspora

On Friday 11th July 2014 the IAS Travel and Mobility Studies Research Network held its second annual conference, “Travelling between the Centre and Periphery: Creating a Feminist Dialogue for the Diaspora”. With the aim of developing discussions of diasporic writing and the centre-periphery framework through a focus on feminism in travel narratives, the one-day event included a keynote presentation by the acclaimed Professor Miriam Cooke (Duke University) as well as ten presentations by academics working on contemporary and postcolonial literary studies, migration studies, history of art and contemporary art theory. The day produced rich and interesting discussions on centre-periphery frameworks, theories of the diaspora, transnationalism, mobility and gender, generating a diverse set of feminist perspectives on these themes.

The day commenced with Professor miriam cooke’s keynote on “Women and the Arab Spring”. miriam cooke provided an overview of the role of women during and after the Arab Spring. She argued that Arab women have a century-long history of participating in their countries’ revolutions, irrespective of attempts to remove them from the public sphere. She provided examples of women who have been forced into exile, and thus continue their activism using social media.

The first panel of the day, “Bodies and Flight”, provided three perspectives on the intersections between gender, mobility and diasporic theories. Lindsey Moore discussed Camilla Gibb’s Sweetness in the Belly (2005) to open up wider questions of female identity formation and travel; exploring issues around the representation of religion and spirituality, literacy and reading, and different spaces, Moore ended by suggesting that the text reiterates travelling across boundaries as productive to the identity of the female traveller. Max Andrucki and Jen Dickinson’s paper argued that while economic models are typically privileged in discussions of the centre-periphery framework, a more diverse and mobile concept of centrality and marginality might be posited as a productive theoretical model; two case studies of migrant experiences demonstrated how a ‘performative’ idea of the diaspora could be conceptualised. Anna Ball looked to challenge centre-periphery frameworks through an exploration of bodies in flight, reading three cinematic works that portray Afghan women’s flight to propose the concept of a ‘mobile periphery’.

In “Transnational Travel Narratives”, Ester Gendusa offered a reading of Bernardine Evaristo’s Soul Tourists (2005) that raised questions of identity and belonging, suggesting that diasporic belonging can be perceived as an issue of self-identification with particular groups, communities or identities. Maryam Ala Amjadi’s paper explored gender and mobility in the Safavid world, analysing the writing of a female traveller who travelled from Persia to Mecca in the late seventeenth century. Demystifying the figure of the Safavid female traveller, Amjadi drew links with contemporary representations of Persian/ Iranian women and explored the historical implications of these ideas.

Panel C on “Feminism and the Diaspora” endeavoured to examine the impact migration has on women. Latefa Narriman Guemar shared her research into highly skilled Algerian women who emigrated during the 1990s. Dr Enaya Othman focused on Palestinian immigrant women and the meaning ascribed to their choice of dress, which is often used to demonstrate belonging and affiliation.

In the final panel on “the Diaspora in Visual Arts” both papers explored the feminine visual diaspora; art reflecting interactions with place and the effects of diasporic movement. Kuang Sheng began the panel by showcasing the artworks of a Chinese female artist Yin Xiuzhen who creates ‘Portable Cities’, unfolded suitcases full of manipulated second hand clothes designed to emulate different geographical places. Dr Maria Luisa Coelho focuses on the Portuguese female artist Maria Lusitano who tries to recreate the experience of being torn between home and abroad through her autobiographical visual work.

The organisers would like to thank the Humanities Research Centre, Institute of Advanced Study, Faculty of Arts and Connecting Cultures Global Research Priority for their support.

Roxanne Bibizadeh and Charlotte Mathieson

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Joining the FWSA executive committee

I’m very pleased to be joining the Executive Committee of the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association, where I’ll be taking the post of Essay Competition Officer. I have written an introductory post on the FWSA blog; this year’s essay competition winners have also just been announced.

The next FWSA event is the Rethinking Sisterhood conference in Bristol in September, programme and registration are available now.

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