The programme is now online for this term’s Transport and Mobility History seminar at the Institute of Historical Research. It promises to be an excellent term with a fascinating range of papers lined up, covering African railways, women at sea, and Napoleonic prisoners of war, from Di Drummond, Jo Stanley and Elodie Duche. Full details including times and location are on the programme, hope to see some of you there.
I reviewed the exhibition “Victorians Decoded: Art and Telegraphy” at Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London, for the Journal of Victorian Culture Online. I very much enjoyed the exhibition and it runs for a few more days, so do catch it if you can.
I’m very pleased to be co-convening this new research seminar on Transport and Mobility History at the Institute of Historical Research, along with David Turner (York), Tamara Thornhill (Transport for London), Christopher Phillips (Leeds), Oliver Betts (National Railway Museum), and Mike Esbester (University of Portsmouth).
The seminar starts next term with the schedule as follows:
19/01/2017: Dr. David Turner (University of York) – Paddling with partners: British railways, resort authorities and the promotion leisure travel, 1909-1914
16/02/2017: Dr. Rudi Newman (Independent) – From Stephenson to Suburbia: the Socio-Economic Impacts of the Coming of the Railways to the Chilterns.
16/03/2017: Dr. Chris Philips (Leeds Trinity) – “Privileged Greatly to Serve his Nation in Days of Mortal Danger”: Sir Eric Geddes and transport management on the Western Front.
All events are at 5.30pm on Thursdays in the Pollard Room N301, 3rd floor, IHR, North block, Senate House. We can be contacted at IHRtransportseminar@gmail.com and details are also posted here.
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.
- 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!
- “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
As part of my visit to Brussels I attended the events organised by the Brussels Brontë group, who hold an annual Brontë weekend in March/April. This year the speaker was Dr Nicholas Shrimpton from the University of Oxford, and his subject was Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley (1849).
It’s fair to say that this is the least favourite of Charlotte Brontë’s novels, among readers and critics alike, and from the time of its publication to the present day has attracted far less interest than Jane Eyre and Villette. I’m in the minority who find the novel both enjoyable and of academic interest, and having taught Shirley a couple of times on The English Nineteenth-Century Novel I’ve definitely gained a much greater appreciation of it – it’s a pleasure to teach as there is simply so much to say, and the novel is rich with interesting scenes to analyse in light of gender and political debates (it’s also one of the few novels where I find myself wanting to really persuade students of how much they should love it, something I usually try to resist!).
But it has to be said that much of this interest, and indeed the novel’s scope for analysis, comes from its problematic nature in terms of thematic and structural integrity. It this that formed the basis of Nicholas Shrimpton’s talk, in which he assessed the case for and against Shirley, exploring in detail both the novel’s problems and its possibilities. Most interesting was that Shrimpton made the case for Shirley as a ‘panoramic’ novel on a par with Thackeray’s Vanity Fair: we know that Charlotte Brontë greatly admired Thackeray’s work, and Shirley, he argued, is her attempt at undertaking a novel of such scale and scope. Ultimately, it is hugely flawed, but it is also hugely ambitious. Shrimpton really captured that what makes the novel so exciting is the many fractures and disjunctures that occur throughout the text. The text’s handling of the “woman question”, and its eventual ‘failure’ at sustaining proto-feminist arguments, is an apt case in point: while on the one hand, the final marriages of Caroline and Shirley come as a disappointment after the novel’s earlier promise in questioning and challenging gender conventions, at the same time it is here that Brontë most usefully illustrates the strength of such conventions and the need for change – for both the women in the story, and for the woman writer, there simply is no other realistic option but to end with a marriage.
Shrimpton also highlighted other contextual issues that are illuminating on how we read it – he focused particularly on the Luddite/Chartist conflation (or not), and also spoke of Brontë’s worry that the text would be read as too similar to Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, published the year before. It was also interesting, in light of my literary geography excursion that weekend, to hear Shrimpton discuss the idea of ‘Shirley country’ (as distinct from ‘Brontë’ country’) as well as talking about the novel’s continental connections. The talk was an excellent reminder that Shirley deserves more attention as perhaps the most interesting, and certainly illuminating, of Charlotte Brontë’s works.
Yesterday (31st March) marked the anniversary of the death of Charlotte Brontë, and it is fitting that I have just returned from a weekend exploring an oft-overlooked part of her life: Charlotte Brontë’s time in the city of Brussels. Although it is well known that two of her novels, Villette (1853) and The Professor (published 1857) are based on her time as a student and teacher in the Belgium capital, the importance of Brussels is typically given less attention other than as a topographical reference-point for her novels. In my research I’m exploring the legacy of Charlotte Brontë in Brussels over the past 150 years, and this visit was the first step in seeing the sites for myself and meeting the Brussels Brontë Group: the group’s regular events and tours bring together people of all nationalities who are united by their love of the Brontës, with a special interest in Emily and Charlotte’s time in the city. I had a wonderful time attending a lecture (more of which in the next post), having dinner with the group to talk all things Brontë and Brussels, and then going on a walking tour of Brontë locations. I also retraced the route alone, and what follows here is a photo-essay of my journey around this lesser-known “Brontë country” – if you’re unfamiliar with the Brontë story, you can start by reading more about what brought the sisters to Brussels, and how it influenced their work, here.
Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.
– Derek Walcott, ‘The Sea is History’
This symposium aims to provide a forum for an interdisciplinary exchange on the theme of ‘sea narratives’, looking at how the sea has figured as an important site in different cultural and geographical contexts. We are interested in how humans have interacted with the sea through trade, labour, migration, leisure and exploration; how it has figured in national contexts as a site of geopolitical control; and how it has featured in the cultural imagination as a space of danger and the unknown, but also as a source of inspiration. Derek Walcott constantly returns to the sea in his poetry, linking it powerfully with a colonial history and struggles with the difficulty of retrieving the stories it holds. The artist Paul Morstad uses old maps for his canvases, on which fantastic creatures hover over geographic boundaries, raising questions about mapping the water world. This symposium takes these varied, contested and provocative ways in which the sea has been chronicled as its beginning and invites its speakers to present their own critical perspectives.
Jon Anderson (Cardiff) ‘Exploring the space between words and meaning: knowing the relational sensibility of surf spaces’
Will Wright (Sheffield) ‘Encountering the tsunami: the sea, memory and communities of practice in south-eastern Sri Lanka’
Emma Spence (Cardiff) ‘“You can’t be on a boat and not explode when you get to land”. A study of maritime mobility in the South of France’
Michael Harrigan (Warwick) ‘Narrating the early modern French sea voyage to Asia: trajectory and text’
Elodie Duché (Warwick) ‘“A Sea of Stories”: Narratives of Capture at Sea During the Napoleonic Wars’
Barbara Franchi (Kent, ‘Travelling across Worlds and Texts in A. S. Byatt’s Sea Narratives’
The symposium will be held at the University of Warwick on Friday 24th January, at the Institute of Advanced Study. See the event webpage for full details and registration (free, including lunch, but please fill in the online form for our records).
In a quick break from normal service, I thought I’d take a moment to mention the University of Warwick Book Festival, which is taking place at Warwick Arts Centre on Saturday 15th June 2013. Organising the Festival has been my main project this year as Research Fellow at the IAS, and it’s been quite an undertaking (a very interesting one at that!) to work on a large-scale public engagement project. We’ve drawn together authors whose works fit broadly around the theme of history – lots of literature, biography, politics, art, and more – and hope it’ll be a really exciting and varied day for audiences.
Of course the only downside to organising the Festival is that I’ve lined up a day of fascinating speakers that I’m not going to get a chance to see myself! But if you’d like to go to any of the talks then, for a mere £5.50 per event, you can book on the Arts Centre website.
The next meeting of the Travel and Mobility Studies Research network will take place on Wednesday 27th February. I’m delighted that we will welcome Professor Tony Seaton (Emeritus Professor of Tourism, University of Bedfordshire) to discuss his recent work on art and travel in a paper titled “The tourist experience in graphic humour, 1796-1914”. In this paper, Professor Seaton argues that graphic humour, rather than high art, provides the most important visual record of the psycho-social impacts of travel and tourism in the long nineteenth century. He exemplifies this using four psycho-social categories as a basis for analysing a range of graphic, caricature exhibits.
The seminar will commence at 1pm in the IAS seminar room (Millburn House), with lunch provided from 12.30pm. All welcome, but please contact the organisers in advance if you wish to attend.
It wouldn’t be the new year without a traditional round-up reflecting on blogging and research activity, so in this post I thought I’d pick out some of my blog highlights of the year (both most-read and personal favourites) and look at how 2013 is starting to shape up.
2012 was of course the year of Dickens, and this blog has seen more than it’s fair share of Dickens posts this year (by March I was considering renaming the blog accordingly!) and as such I’m giving Dickens a round-up of his own:
1. Happy Birthday Dickens! On the day of the bicentenary I spoke on BBC Coventry & Warwickshire radio about Dickens’s connections to the Warwick and Coventry area, which I picked up on in this birthday blog post about Dickens and Leamington Spa.
2. Consequential Ground: Dickens and the Shakespeare birthplace – as a tie-in to Shakespeare’s birthday celebrations we recorded a short film at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust about Dickens’s role in saving the birthplace and Shakespearean influences in his work, which I wrote about in this blog post (and spoke about in the Stratford Observer).
3. Celebrating Dickens – I recorded two further podcasts, on Bleak House and Little Dorrit, for the University of Warwick’s Celebrating Dickens project and wrote a piece about Dickens’s enduring appeal. The app had 10,000 downloads in the first month of release and is still going strong with extra features added later in 2012.
4. Walking Dickens’s London – in a post for the Journal of Victorian Culture Online I took a walk around London following The Guardian’s Dickens at 200 audio walks, and reflected in this post about the value of retracing literary places.
5. Dickens Day 2012: Dickens and Popular Culture – there were many Dickens conferences this year but Dickens Day 2012 was undoubtedly my highlight (I also attended Dickens and the Visual Imagination, Dickens’s World, Dickens and the mid-Victorian Press, and I blogged about the strong Dickens presence at this year’s BAVS conference)
6. Mobility, Space and the Nation in Bleak House – I ended the year with the first of my Dickens publications in print in the winter volume of English, which is packed full of fabulous articles on Dickens and travel.
I also managed the occasional post on other aspects of my research, of which my top picks are:
1. “‘What connection can there be?’: Objects, People and Place c.1851” – in a new direction for my research I explored mobility and material culture in Henry Mayhew’s 1851: or the Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys, a follow-up of a paper I gave at the Midlands Victorian studies seminar.
2. Baedeker’s Southern Italy – a few thoughts on this 1912 edition of the popular travel guide.
3. Great African Travellers: Attenborough on Livingstone – in another travel-related post I reflected on the resonances of 19th century imperialism in Attenborough’s early work.
4. Locating the Local in William Cobbett’s Rural Rides – slightly earlier than my usual research focus but this reading fit nicely with my current work on Gender and Space in Rural Britain in the long Victorian period.
5. Spitalfields Music – I went to events at both the summer and winter Spitalfields’ Music Festivals and thoroughly enjoyed these explorations of urban history through walking tours. I am a Stranger Here: An East End Exploration toured the Spitalfields streets, while In the House took us into the drawing rooms of Spitalfields Houses for an evening of musical performances.
2012 was also a good year for guest blogging. I joined the Journal of Victorian Culture online blogging team as a regular contributor – all of my posts are collected here. I also recorded a further piece for the Knowledge Centre on the Victorian Books that TV Forgot, and wrote a piece on Leah Price’s How to do Things with Books in Victorian Britain for Open Letters Monthly. In my work role in early career researcher support I guest-blogged about “Getting out there with your research” for the Religious Studies Network, and joined the Guardian Higher Education Network as a panellist for a Live Chat on Academic Blogging. I was also very pleased to be featured in this article on “Early Career Victorianists and Social Media” by Amber Regis, in the Journal of Victorian Culture 17.3, and invited to join the panel on a roundtable about academic blogging at the Transforming Objects Conference in May 2012.
Looking ahead to 2013 there are lots of exciting projects in the works. First up, I’ve been invited as guest editor for the next issue of Victorian Network on “Sex, Courtship and Marriage in Victorian Literature and Culture” which will be out in March. Two big publications deadlines are looming: I’m hoping to submit the manuscript of my monograph Journeys in the Victorian Novel: Gendered Mobilities and the Place of the Nation for review in April, and Gender and Space in Rural Britain, 1840-1920 will be submitted to Pickering and Chatto in August, ready for publication in March 2014. I’m writing up a paper on gender and rural mobility in George Eliot’s early works for this, and also planning to write up work on Henry Mayhew’s 1851 in the near future.
And there’s still more Dickens to come! I’m redrafting my paper on Dickens and literary tourism, and working this into a collaborative piece with Dr Peter Kirwan titled “A Tale of Two Londons: Shakespeare and Dickens in 2012” which will reflect on issues of canonicity and the politics of place employed in the parallel celebrations of Dickens and Shakespeare in 2012, exploring how these shaped and located the nation’s cultural capital in the Olympic year. In April I’m heading to the University of Cagliari in Sardinia as a visiting lecturer to teach classes on Dickens and travel, and later in the year there’s a potential Brussels trip which will enable me to get started on some work in preparation for (yes, really) the 2016 bicentenary of Charlotte Bronte’s birth.
Thank you to everyone who has read, commented and tweeted me about the blog this year, and all the best for 2013!