Category Archives: Podcasts

2011 round–up

2011 saw a bit of a change in direction for this blog, reflecting my change in position: back in April I was awarded my PhD, meaning a shift in my status as a researcher and less consistency to my research activity. I’ve been working on lots of smaller research projects, and have been adapting to fitting research into a busy teaching schedule accompanied by a part-time job. As well as the time taken by these activities, I now run 3 other blogs – 2 for my students on The English 19th-century novel and Modes of Reading, and 1 through my role as ECR project officer in the Research Exchange – so research blogging is often not a priority in my limited “spare” time.

Having said that, all of this has been productive for my blog – in fact, only in 2008 did I write more posts than this year! Multiple smaller projects simply means that there are more bits and pieces to blog about, and it’s been a busy year for Victorianists thanks to a certain birthday approaching next year. Joining the academic community on Twitter has also proved stimulating and further increased the interactivity and enjoyment of blogging – for example, leading to some cross-referencing in blogging as well as the discovery of several new Victorianist blogs to read (see the recently updated sidebar).

So to wrap up the year, here are my favourite and most-read posts of 2011:

1. “Moving on and moving on”: Mobility in Bleak House; written 10 days before my viva, this post is a good example of the uses of academic blogging: this blog provided the starting-point for ideas that grew into one of my most enjoyable and productive pieces of research. I’ve since presented a paper, written an article, and am now formulating my monograph proposal around this research.

2. Old and new; reflections on the past, present and future of new media drawing together the iPad and Victorian periodical publication. I also wrote two other posts on Victorian studies and new technology: reviews of The Waste Land appand the Dickens’s Dark London app.

3. “What connection can there be”: the Great Exhibition of 1851; some research on the Bleak House paper led me to read more about the Great Exhibition, and here I blogged about the images that accompany Henry Mayhew’s comic novel 1851 – I still find these images fascinating.

4. “Can you shew me the places?” Dickens 2012 and Literary Tourism; one of my bicentenary reflections, using the urban tour of Bleak House to offer perspectives for interpreting the popularity of Dickens walking tours.

5. Wuthering Heights: it’s not all about Dickens! This is my initial response to the recent film of Wuthering Heights.

That’s my top 5, but also noteworthy are the posts about 3 excellent conferences I attended: Modes of Transport at KCL in May, Travel in the 19th Century at Lincoln in July, and (if I may say so myself!) the symposium Rural Geographies of Gender and Space, Britain 1840-1920 that I organised in September.

Looking ahead to 2012 I expect there will be the odd Dickens post or two (!), but my latest emerging projects are diverging into some different directions: I’ll be revisiting my work on George Eliot’s Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss in preparation for a paper to be presented at Moving Dangerously in April; the work on Rural Geographies is continuing with plans for a publication of papers from the conference; and I’m looking into developing a research network on 19th century mobility with another Warwick post-doctoral researcher. I’ll also be contributing soon to Warwick’s Celebrating Dickens 2012 website.

I’ll be back in the new year with posts on all of these activities; until then, have a happy new year!

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Wuthering Heights

“With regard to the rusticity of Wuthering Heights, I admit the charge, for I feel the quality. It is rustic all through. It is moorish, and wild, and knotty as the root of heath.”

In Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights,these reflections by Charlotte Brontë on her sister Emily’s novel become more pertinent than ever: not so much in that it is moorish, wild, knotty, rustic, but in the suggestion that we “feel the quality”. In Arnold’s stripped-bare adaptation it is feeling, both physical and emotional, that dominates this Wuthering Heights.

It is, from the start, a violent film: raw and bleak, muddy and bloody. The film doesn’t shy away from a brutal violence either amongst its characters, or in its depictions of rural life. The landscape is, throughout, prominent – more so, perhaps, than in Brontë’s novel – but not sentimentalised, idealised or romanticised. Here, the landscape simply is; through camera-angles burrowing through the heath or focusing on a grub, the land is left to speak for itself. The absence of music – or even much speech –contributes to this: detailed sights are accompanied by sharply focused sounds that further add to the effect of not just seeing, but really feeling the landscape.

Likewise, the emotions here are raw, bleak, simple; characters simply are rather than given the feeling of being “interpreted” or presented. They are left largely unexplored in terms of psychological depth, driven by emotion – not so much in terms of there being explicit, recognisable forces or motivations, but that there is little other than response and feeling behind each action and movement. Interpretation seems to take a back seat for both actors and viewer; it’s a strange experience to watch this film, as we’re not asked to interpret, question or even engage in the way we might usually with a film or text. It’s a form of realism which, whilst appearing to strip back technique, or mediation simultaneously persists in making us aware of the process of viewing.

Wuthering Heights

As a result, the film seems to resist much of what we might want to read into it in terms of its depiction of gender and race. In the first half of the film the young Cathy and Heathcliff, both individually and together, resist being interpreted as raced/ gendered types and, as with the rest of the text, simply exist in and of themselves; individual mannerisms, behaviours, emotions surface here.

This in turn complicates how we read what has become the most talked-about aspect of the film, that this Heathcliff is the first non-white Heathcliff; but how significant is this in the film’s presentation? The problem with so much critical interest in this aspect of the film is that the viewer goes in with an expectation and, perhaps, an agenda to focus on the portrayal of race and what interpretation this lends to the text. This is, to an extent, always true in so far as a film of Wuthering Heights has to take a critical judgement on the most interesting ambiguity of the text, Heathcliff’s unknown origins. One of the most interesting and anxiety-ridden elements of the text is that the question of Heathcliff’s origins resist interpretation: it’s the fact that Heathcliff could potentially be from anywhere that lingers as the text’s most pervasive yet unspoken fear.

Equally, it isn’t impossible that Heathcliff “could” be black: his origins are unknown and he is variously read as being Chinese, Indian, Spanish, American, or African. As critics such as Susan Meyer have argued, regardless of his “actual” origins, Heathcliff is read by others in the text as “black”, positioned as the black subject through the treatment by other characters who subject him “to the potent gaze of a racial arrogance derived from British imperialism” (Imperialism at Home).

Here, Heathcliff’s origins remain a subject of some doubt: the film retains lines in which he’s referred to as a “little Lascar”, or speculating that he might be “the son of an African prince or Chinese queen” (slightly altered from “your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen” in the text). This brings to the surface the nineteenth-century Imperial perspective in which all non-white subjects are collectively grouped together as “black”, regardless of actual origins; the brutality of violence enacted on Heathcliff here served to reiterate the power dynamic within this. But beyond this, it didn’t feel as though the film was working to make a particular point “about” race and the nineteenth century; the violence extends throughout all characters and, as with other elements of the text, his race is presented in a matter-of-fact manner.

If the film does anything to make this about Heathcliff, it’s that it centres him as narrative perspective. This gives more structure and coherence to a text which is notably unstable in its narrative perspective, and for that reason this becomes a narrative of Heathcliff. Perhaps as a result of this, the blurred relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff felt less prominent and less intense; and of Cathy’s most famous lines “he’s more myself than I am” and“Nelly, I am Heathcliff”, the first is cut short and the latter omitted. Interestingly, this therefore serves to break what Susan Meyer notes as a recurrent motif in the nineteenth-century novel of a representational yoking of white women with people of non-white races.

In terms of structure, the film follows most other adaptations in only focusing on the first half of the novel. Having said that, it’s still very much a film of two halves, with the switch in actors when Cathy marries and Heathcliff leaves and then returns. As others have noted, whilst Solomon Grave and Shannon Beer are excellent, the second pairing of James Howson and Kaya Scodelario doesn’t maintain much of what the younger actors achieve so well, and the relationship lacks the earlier chemistry; but in some ways, this discontinuity and jarring seemed right to me. Heathcliff returns changed by his journey away, and to find Cathy socialised as Edgar’s wife; the connection of their youth is clearly lost, and the stilted atmosphere that now existed between the two reiterated the inability to recapture what had been lost and the new maturity of the characters. There’s a commentary here, too, about the social impossibility of their relationship, something the text doesn’t engage so much with in its focus on the passion between them. This half of the film therefore operates in the way that the second half of Bronte’s novel does, holding up the first half to scrutiny.

These are just some initial reflections on a film that offers much both in terms of its interpretation of Bronte’s text and in terms of wider ideas about adaptations of nineteenth-century texts; but I’ll be thinking more about both the film and adapations of nineteenth-century texts in general in a piece for the Knowledge Centre with Francesca Scott.

The Dickens Bicentenary

dickens birthday book

Victorianists can’t have failed to notice that 2012 marks 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens – there’s been a flurry of conference activity, special issues of English journals, and an increased interest outside of academia too. Today, Guardian Books launched their Charles Dickens at 200 celebration which, as the launch post informs, will commence with podcasts, audiotours, and reviews of new Dickens work. Whilst Dickens is hardly a neglected author, both in academia and popular culture, it’s nonetheless great to see so much interest in his works, not least because I think that one of the interesting things this media attention will generate is questions around the cultural status of Dickens: our “idea” of Dickens, what we invest in the figure of Dickens the author, and issues around symbols of national cultural identity – similar questions to those that arise around Shakespeare. It’ll be good to see if any of the lesser-known works benefit from the increased attention – the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood is to be “given a new ending” by the BBC– and how the collective focus on Dickens’s works enriches understanding of the better-known texts.

At Warwick, the press office is busy pulling together work on Dickens and the Victorian period from researchers across the University: I’ll be contributing two podcasts about my current work, which focuses on various aspects of travel and mobility in Dickens. Further afield, the Dickens Fellowship annual conference is taking place in Portsmouth, which will allow for tours of Dickens-related sites, a Dickens and Birmingham conference will explore the Midlands connections, and Anglia Ruskin University will explore Dickens’s Legacy; overseas, the Dickens Project’s annual conference will celebrate the bicentenary with the conference Dickens!Author and Authorshipbefore spending a week on Bleak House. The Dickens 2012 website details the many other activities taking place – now I just need to work out what to go to!