Category Archives: News

New book series – Studies in Mobilities, Literature and Culture with Palgrave Macmillan

I am pleased to announce the launch of a new book series Studies in Mobilities, Literature and Culture with Palgrave Macmillan, edited by Marian Aguiar, Lynne Pearce and myself. Please feel free to get in touch directly if you would like to discuss potential submissions.

About the series:

This series represents an exciting new publishing opportunity for scholars working at the intersection of literary, cultural, and mobilities research. The editors welcome proposals that engage with movement of all kinds – ranging from the global and transnational to the local and the everyday. The series is particularly concerned with examining the material means and structures of movement, as well as the infrastructures that surround such movement, with a focus on transport, travel, postcolonialism, and/or embodiment. While we expect many titles from literary scholars who draw upon research originating in cultural geography and/or sociology in order to gain valuable new insights into literary and cultural texts, proposals are equally welcome from scholars working in the social sciences who make use of literary and cultural texts in their theorizing. The series invites monographs that engage with textual materials of all kinds – i.e., film, photography, digital media, and the visual arts, as well as fiction, poetry, and other literary forms – and projects engaging with non-western literatures and cultures are especially welcome.

 

FWSA Student Essay Competition

There’s 1 month to go until the deadline for the 2016 Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (UK & Ireland) essay competition.

To encourage a new generation of feminist scholars, the FWSA sponsors an annual student essay competition for work which is innovative, interdisciplinary and grounded in feminist theory and practice. The top seven entries will be judged by our judging panel and will be published in the Journal of International Women’s Studies (see here for the 2015 issue). In addition, the winner will receive a year’s free FWSA membership and a publisher’s prize.

Students at any stage of their studies at a British or Irish university are encouraged to submit work that has not been previously published and is not currently under consideration for publication, or for competitions which result in publication elsewhere. Essays should be 6,000 – 7,000 words (including footnotes and bibliography).

The deadline for this year’s competition is Monday 2nd May 2016.

Full details including coversheet and submission instructions are available at http://fwsablog.org.uk/prizes-and-grants/student-essay-competition/

Please direct any queries to fwsachair@gmail.com or to me, the competition officer at charlotte.mathieson@ncl.ac.uk

 

 

The challenges facing ECRs: Taylor & Francis Conversazione Dinner, December 2015

Back in December, I was invited to participate in a Taylor and Francis Conversazione on the issues and challenges facing early career researchers. As this overview of the event details, the evening covered a wide range of issues that impact upon ECRs – many around the job market and the challenges of getting published and remaining employable when under the pressure of working on short-term contracts, as well as balancing different elements of career development (teaching/research/professional development), and building up an academic profile. My perspective drew upon the work I have done around the REF and early career researchers, explaining how the REF impacts upon ECR publishing decisions and what other challenges this raises for ECRs.

While many of these issues are currently much-discussed and inevitably tend towards the negative, it was really encouraging to see the evening focused on new ways and avenues through which to support ECRs around these issues, with suggestions of support from the senior academics in attendance, to initiatives by publishers such as T&F. T&F’s blog is providing a useful space for some of these discussions to continue, while Palgrave Macmillan have an Early Career Researcher hub with advice from published authors and detailed guides on writing a proposal, peer review and more. Universities seem to be taking note too; I’ve got two similar talks lined up in coming months, where I’ll be speaking to ECRs about publishing in the context of the REF and career development more broadly. It’s positive to see the processes being demystified and made clearer to those starting out in academia and I’d be interested to hear of any more initiatives in this vein.

New Writings in Feminist Studies: Journal of International Women’s Studies

Although a little late in writing about this, I’m very pleased to present the winning and shortlisted essays from the 2015 Feminist and Women’s Studies Association essay competition, published in the Journal of International Women’s Studies (17.2). As essay competition officer I had the wonderful job of editing the special issue, and it was a pleasure to work with emerging feminist scholars. The essays cover a fantastic range of issues, from new perspectives on historical writers like Poe, Murdoch and Beckett, to research that responds to recent issues such as same-sex reproductive law or the 2012-13 anti-rape demonstrations in Delhi. The essays are well worth a read – I learnt a lot in editing the issue, and hope others enjoy the finished result as much as I enjoyed working on it.

“A fiery devil, thundering along”: HS2 and the Victorians

Over the last few months, debates over the High Speed 2 railway line have been mounting, with a succession of reports on the future of the line following the submission to Parliament of the HS2 bill back in November 2013. I’ve followed with interest the development of the planned line over the last few years, with a focus on two areas that will be affected if the HS2 line goes ahead: where I currently live in Warwickshire, the HS2 line will pass about a mile from the University of Warwick’s campus, cutting across the Kenilworth fields and passing  just north of Leamington Spa; and then further down the route passes a few miles from my hometown in South Bucks, where there remains a campaign to further protect the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), including ancient woodland, which the line traverses. HS2 Studying as I do the Victorian railways, it’s been interesting to see the resonances in response to the HS2 line in the context of arguments surrounding the “coming of the railway” in the 1840s. In particular, it’s been indicative to identify a reiteration of ideas around the railway as a symbol of modernity. For the Victorians, the railway was the most evocative symbol of a new, modern era, often depicted as a “fiery devil, thundering along” (Dombey and Son) that seemed to come from another age and was pernicious in its spread into the furthest corners of the country that had yet been (seemingly) untouched by modernity. In George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1874 – but set earlier in the century), the “projected line was to run through Lowick parish where the cattle had hitherto grazed in a peace unbroken by astonishment” (chapter 56); in Bleak House (1852-53) Dickens depicts an era pivoting on the edge of the railway era, contrasting the rural quietude of a place that is thus far beyond the reach of modernity – “the post-chaise makes its way without a railroad on its mind” – with the anticipation of the coming railway line which will soon change this: “with a rattle and a glare the engine and train shall shoot like a meteor over the wide night-landscape, turning the moon paler” (chapter 55). Wherever it went, the railway decisively announced that modernity had arrived, and had irrevocably changed the landscape: Dombey and Son shows us a landscape literally torn apart by the new railway line, Staggs’ Gardens “rent to its centre” and in a mess of chaos and confusion as the building of the railway tears houses to dust and creates a chasm in the city landscape.  HS2 sign HS2 poses much the same problem: as in the Victorian period, the requisite of the railway track to follow as straight a line as possible necessitates that everything in the projected path is demolished, moved or transported in order to make way for the tracks. There are countless areas where housing will be knocked down: in Burton Green, the track will cut through “straight as a ruler” and “slice” the village in half; in the Chilterns, the line will “bisect” the AONB although this has been avoided in plans for the northern phase 2 of the route. In this recent episode of Countryfile, farmer Robert Brown is among those to speak of the impact that the line will have on farmland (from c.17 mins in): running through the existing field layout, the route will change the way in which the land is managed and accessed, severing an existing field in two. It’s the same problem faced by the farmers of Middlemarch, who are occupied by “the vivid conception of what it would be to cut the Big Pasture in two, and turn it into three-corned bits, which would be ‘nohow’” (553). Railways don’t just destroy spaces, they change the organisation of space and restructure how it can be moved around.

There are of course crucial differences with the Victorian period, but what is interesting is the perception, as in the Victorian period, that this represents the onset of modernity for rural regions. HS2 does, of course, entail hardhitting and forceful destruction; but at the same time, HS2 is just one component of contemporary modernity’s impact upon the land. Every day, rural (and urban spaces) are being reshaped by the demands of new (and often contested) structures and it can no longer be said (if it could even of the Victorian period) that there are areas “untouched” by modernity: the rural areas through which HS2 travels are no less “modern” than the cities where it originates; modernity is here, now, in the machines that work the land, in the fibre-optic broadband cables that run beneath it, and in the planes that fly overhead. But as in the Victorian era, there is something about the railway that generates a more resonant and deeply felt response: then as now, the railway seems to stand for something more than the sum of their parts, forming an evocative site around which these other ideas about space and modernity coalesce. Railways make visible the latent structures that already permeate and produce the landscapes of modernity: as in the instances above, railways have a tangible impact on the organisations of locales and regions; in the railway network, uneven development becomes visible as those “off the railway” lose out; and in some iterations, the railway even becomes placed as the Moloch-like god of capitalism, which we are asked to view as an “act of faith“.

How the HS2 plans play out in practice has yet to be seen, and there is still time in which some of these impacts can hopefully be reduced, if not averted altogether: the next round of petitioning starts in July, and with near-daily news reports on the case against HS2, it can but be hoped that the government will reassess the situation; meanwhile attention is beginning to turn to phase 2 which will continue the line from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, and it will be interesting to see how the impact is perceived in these regions too.

Placing Dickens at 202: the Portsmouth statue

Today is the 202nd birthday of Charles Dickens, and has been marked by the unveiling of a statue of the author in Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square. The statue has attracted attention not just because of the on-going interest in Dickens since his bicentenary, but also because it’s marked by a degree of controversy over whether it should have gone ahead. Dickens’s will indicated his wish that no such public memorial be constructed of him:

“I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious and strictly private manner…that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial … I conjure to my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial or testimonial whatsoever. I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works.”

It’s a pretty clear statement of the author’s wish not to be remembered in this public way either immediately after his death, or at a future time. In an article on the BBC about “why was Dickens’s dying wish ignored?“, one relative suggests that his words above have been taken out of context, and it is implied that if he could have foreseen his popularity, he may have felt differently about memorialisation. However, Dickens’s statement in his will reflects similar feelings that he expressed upon the memorialisation of Shakespeare. In 1863-4, Dickens was involved with the Shakespeare Tercentenary Committee, one of the aims of which was to raise funds for a memorial to Shakespeare: Dickens was not in favour of building a statue, however, maintaining that “his best monument is his works”. It’s a sentiment that resonates throughout his reflections in his will, which similarly asks that his published works remain the focus of his legacy and remembrance.

Whether or not it should have gone ahead, the statue is fitting in the context of Dickens’s cultural legacy in the last couple of years. For a start, the statue seems to keep in mind the importance of his literary legacy, depicting Dickens sitting atop a pile of books* and holding one half-read: this is Dickens the reader not writer, situating him, like us today, as consumer of his works. And the work of locating Dickens in statue form draws together several strands of contemporary interest. As I’m currently writing about in a piece on neo-Victorian spaces, place has played a central role in the growing popularity of all things Victorian in recent years. The tangible presence of the Victorians in our urban spaces today – in buildings, streets, and public spaces dating to the Victorian era, and in the lasting legacy of the Victorians’ own place-making processes –  is often cited as one facet in the contemporary appeal of the Victorians over other historical periods. And in Dickens 2012 in particular, there was a repeated recourse to the places of his life and literature that shaped many of the bicentenary activities. It seems fitting then that Dickens’s memory is, literally, located as part of this neo-Victorian geography, the statue creating a tangible physical presence of Dickens’s place in a cultural landscape in which location so often features as a mode through which to make sense of the relationship between past and present, and the interactions between life and literature, that have been at the forefront of contemporary preoccupations. If nothing else, the statue is a fitting memorial to the forms of memorialisation that have been prominent since 2012, and a reflection of what Dickens 2012 meant as part of a longer trajectory of Dickensian celebrations and memorialisations.

*Are these his books? I can’t find out, or tell from the photos, if the books are inscribed with Dickens titles.

From year to year 2013-14

A quick end-of-year round-up of my blogging and reviews from 2013, starting with my favourite and most-read pieces from this blog:

Mapping the Past, today: TVs trend for treading the historical beaten track: early in the year I was thinking about the TV trend for series that retrace historical routes – whether it’s railway lines, canal routes, or guidebook tours – but always with a view to capturing the idea of treading in a predecessor’s footsteps.

Curiously brought together” or “travelling strangely hither“?: inspired by some research I was working on, a quick snippet looking at the idea of connections in Dickens’s Bleak House and Little Dorrit. Dickens was also present in my most-read post of this year: a 201st birthday reflection on the bicentenary year.

“A group of true peasantry”? Rural realism and The Village: I enjoyed the BBC’s series The Village, set in rural Derbyshire in the early 20th century, but many viewers found it too bleak. In this post I reflected, through George Eliot’s writing on rurality, on why a little ‘rural realism’ was in fact rather refreshing.

You are now entering the Big Brother House”: Heritage, houses and the location of cultural value: one of my personal favourites to write – in response to the National Trust temporarily taking over the Big Brother house as a heritage site, I reflected on why this seemed to touch such a nerve with some opponents, and argued that it represented an interesting move in light of Britain’s heritage houses

A new Crystal Palace?: following the announcement of plans to rebuild the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, I wrote about the history of the building and posed the question of whether there is any value, from a Victorianist’s perspective, in this move.

'View in the West Nave' by Henry Clarke Pidgeon, 1851
‘View in the West Nave’ by Henry Clarke Pidgeon, 1851

I continued blogging for a number of other sites, including the Journal of Victorian Culture online. I especially enjoyed the public history series earlier this year, and wrote about my experience of public engagement with Dickens 2012 and how it had been both fun and intellectually stimulating for my research. It was also for JVC that I wrote about two great events that I attended this year: the London Transport Museum’s Lure of the Underground – Tube at 150 exhibition and a production of the play Brontë by Polly Teale – the latter was a fun departure from my usual blogging, recorded as a skype conversation between myself and fellow Victorianist Amber Regis and covering topics including femininity, life-writing, the Brontë sisters’ afterlives, and more.

I also guest blogged for Brandy Schillace’s blog The Daily Dose on the subject of travelling bodies in the Victorian novel, and was pleased to contribute to the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association series of ‘historical groundbreakers’ with a piece on George Eliot as a complex historical feminist figure.

The Victoria regia

It was for the FWSA that I reviewed two recent studies on women’s travel writing: Judith Johnston’s Victorian Women and the Economies of Travel, Translation and Culture, 1830-1870, and Churnjeet Mahn’s British Women’s Travel to Greece, 1840-1914: Travels in the Palimpsest. I was also pleased to review again for Open Letters Monthly, especially as Tatiana Holway’s The Flower of Empire: An Amazonian water lily, the quest to make it bloom, and the world it created was a fascinating and enthralling read. Also available for reading online is the issue of Victorian Network that I guest edited, on the subject of Sex, Courtship and Marriage in Victorian Literature and Culture.

Finally, the year was a busy one for conferences and trips. I was lucky to have two journeys to Italy earlier this year, first to Sardinia as visiting lecturer at the University of Cagliari (lecture images and further reading for which I blogged here), and then to Venice for the NAVSA/BAVS/AVSA conference in June: I wrote about the Dickens: Local and Global seminar I participated in for JVC online. Travel was also the subject of Contact and Connections, the first symposium of the Travel and Mobility Studies network that I co-run at Warwick; we were delighted to have Tim Youngs and Cathy Waters as keynote speakers, and the whole day provided a fascinating array of papers around the theme.

Victorians at the Olympic Opening Ceremony
Victorians at the Olympic Opening Ceremony

Over the summer, I went to Liverpool for Neo-Victorian Cultures: the Victorians Today, and had a very enjoyable time rediscovering my love of neo-Victorian fiction! In light of this, Rethinking the Nineteenth Century at the University of Sheffield provided some interesting reflections on 19th-century and Victorian studies today, and in addition to my conference write-up I wrote a follow-up piece for JVC on Victorian or Nineteenth Century: definitions and positions. I finished the year with, predictably, some Dickens and Shakespeare: there was the annual Dickens Day in London, this year on the theme of Dickens and History, and Shakespeare On the Road, a symposium in Stratford-upon-Avon launching an exciting collaboration between the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the University of Warwick.

The start of 2014 is a busy one, and I’m most excited about the upcoming publication of Gender and Space in Rural Britian, 1840-1920 in a month or so. A co-authored piece on Dickens and Shakespeare in 2012 is also out soon, as well as two reviews for Studies in Travel Writing. I’m tying up a lot of loose ends at the moment in my research, with work on Mayhew and the Great Exhibition, Europe in Dickens’s Little Dorrit, male travelling bodies in the Victorian novel, neo-Victorian spaces in Lynn Shepherd’s Tom-All-Alone’s and, of course, the book on Journeys in the Victorian Novel all nearing completion in the next few weeks (or so). I’ll also be taking a trip to Brussels and then Haworth in March as research for a piece on Charlotte Brontë and then hopefully getting started on what may well be the next book-length project over the summer.

Thank you for reading my blog over the last year, and a very happy new year to all!

A new Crystal Palace?

It’s a couple of months now since the first press release announcing plans to rebuild the Crystal Palace. My initial response was amazement that it may be possible in coming years to see the rebuilding of one of the most important buildings of the nineteenth century; but as further details unfurl I, like many others, am increasingly ambivalent about the project, which would see a £500 million investment by a private Chinese corporation into the building and surrounding parkland. While the regeneration of the park seems long-overdue and supported by the local community, the corporation currently have an exclusivity agreement with the local council that prevents other proposals for the site’s development to be submitted until February 2015; during this time there is a call for the community to express their feedback on the scheme but it seems this has come rather late in discussions and from what I’ve read of the news articles, local people are unconvinced that this is the right sort of investment for the park. I’m not familiar with the area to comment further on the local impact of the project, but have been wondering from a Victorianist’s perspective what would be the value in rebuilding the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

Aeronautic view of The Palace of Industry For All Nations, from Kensington Palace by Charles Burton, England, 1851 - 1852 (courtesy of V&A Museum)
Aeronautic view of The Palace of Industry For All Nations, from Kensington Palace by Charles Burton, England, 1851 – 1852 (courtesy of V&A Museum)

It’s easy to say that the Crystal Palace was one of the most iconic building of the Victorian age, but its history is much more complicated and complex than that: its a story of two phases, and the symbolic meaning of the building changed over the years. In its first incarnation, the Crystal Palace was built in Hyde Park in 1851 to house the Great Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations: the first international Exhibition of its kind, showcasing over 100,000 objects from all over the world. The Exhibition organising committee ran a public call for proposals for the design of the building, and after many unsuccessful suggestions it was Joseph Paxton’s design that caught the imagination of the organisers. Paxton had long been designing specialist greenhouses made from glass and iron for the large collection of exotic plants at the Chatsworth estate (including the famous giant Victoria Regia water lily). His design for the Exhibition space replicated the basic principles of these glasshouses, but at 562m long, 124m wide, and with an interior height of 39m, the building was by far the largest structure of its kind, and required sheets of glass bigger than any produced before. It was a piece in Punch that saw the building christened “the Crystal Palace”, a name that captured the semi-mythical, iconic status of the new building.

"The Dispersion of the Works of all Nations" by George Cruikshank, 1851
“The Dispersion of the Works of all Nations” by George Cruikshank, 1851

The Crystal Palace inspired mixed responses, ranging from hyperbolic praise at the wonder of its design, to ridicule that it was simply a very large greenhouse. So too was it site of contestation: as one Household Words article points out, not so far away from the great building lay “our over-crowded burial grounds, generating a poisonous atmosphere in the thick of the living and loathing people! There, runs the polluted Thames, of which we are compelled to drink!” (Richard Horne, 22/03/1851). Once filled with the exhibits, the wonder of its design was that although the structure was such a spectacle in and of itself, it receded into the background as a translucent space in which the objects on display could take centre-stage – as the colourful “Watercolours of the Great Exhibition” nicely demonstrate.

'View in the West Nave' by Henry Clarke Pidgeon, 1851 (V&A Museum)
‘View in the West Nave’ by Henry Clarke Pidgeon, 1851
Crystal Palace Sydenham - photograph by Philip Henry Delamotte
Crystal Palace Sydenham – photograph by Philip Henry Delamotte

But it is arguably in the second phase of the Palace’s life that the strongest ideological meanings became invested in the building itself; the wealth of objects on display at the Exhibition overwhelmed visitors and ultimately preside most strongly in accounts of the Exhibition), but devoid of these things the Crystal Palace was both more open to interpretation, and open to retrospective investment as a symbol of a past era. After the closure of the Exhibition in October 1851, it was decided that the Palace should be rebuilt at Sydenham and, from its construction in 1854, it remained there until 1936. But while retaining the original features of Paxton’s design, this was an altogether different building: shorter in length, but with a much greater footprint (nearly 100 acres more) and rising to six stories (from the initial three), resulting in a much larger capacity than its first incarnation. Just from looking at pictures, it is clearly a much more commanding, overpowering presence as a structure, and I think this is crucial to the way in which the Palace (and, by association, the Great Exhibition) retrospectively became symbolic of a golden age of British imperial superiority to a much greater extent than in its original incarnation at the time of the Exhibition. The new Palace was put to a range of uses as a leisure space, hosting many concerts, events, exhibitions, and surrounded by 200 acres of park land used for recreation and sport. In 1936, the building was destroyed by a fire but the park has remained, and over the years there have been many suggestions for rebuilding or otherwise restoring the site of the Palace.

So what would be gained by rebuilding the Crystal Palace today? I suppose my initial fascination with the idea stems from an inability to quite grasp the scale and size of the building (both the original, and the redesigned version), and particularly the effect of being inside such a large glass structure. To be able to see and experience that wouldn’t be able to recapture the Victorian experience of the building in any real way, but it would provide an interesting exercise in accompanying the interpretation of accounts from the period. Perhaps more indicatively, it would represent a very interesting contribution to a contemporary neo-Victorian landscape which is marked by a fascination with the buildings and places of the past as sites of meaning, and I’m intrigued as to how a rebuilt Palace would play into both public perceptions and contemporary critical responses on these themes.

Because if there’s one thing that’s noticeable about the design (see the brochure download), it’s that the proposed building is evocative of a neo-Victorian aesthetic that befits the contemporary landscape, rather than standing as a monument to the past. While in images of Paxton’s design the iron bars of the structure are heavily visible, the design foregrounding the contrast between glass and iron, light and dark, weight and weightlessness, in the new design this is gone or at least downplayed in the overall visual effect: transparency, light, airiness are the themes of this structure, emphatically a reinterpretation rather than a straightforward homage to the Victorians. At the same time, heritage looms large over the project: “The park will be restored in line with the approved masterplan to create a modern 21st century park of national importance which reflects Joseph Paxton’s original ideas and responds to the needs and aspirations of local residents” (p. 5). It’s a rather empty statement however, with no explanation of what is understood by “Paxton’s original ideas”, and the talk of “originality” is further interesting given the Palace’s two design formulations – the new building uses the second design, not the true original from Hyde Park.

This reinterpretation is also interesting in that it demonstrates the global afterlives of Victorian Britian’s national heritage. The plans have come from the Chinese ZhongRong Group, and in the opening statement Mr Ni states that “the former Crystal Palace is celebrated in China as a building of great achievement. Its ingenuity and scale is magnificent and this project is a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring it back to life […] I have admired the Crystal Palace for many years and am passionate about this project. The Palace’s story is fascinating and I am hoping to add the next chapter by providing a gift to London and the world” (p. 3). It’s a telling statement about the ongoing resonances of the Victorian period and the dis- or re-location of national culture into international contexts, and to see that re-located back into Britain would bring interesting opportunities to analyse these currents further.

As the project gets underway it will be interesting to see how these themes develop; I’m not, from what I’ve heard so far, in favour of the project and hope that the local concerns around it are taken seriously. Insofar as the potential for discussion around the Victorians and their neo-Victorian afterlives goes, though, the project raises some indicative questions and I’d be intrigued to hear more about what other Victorianists make of the proposals as they unfold.