I will be contributing a paper on the perspectives on ocean ecologies afforded by 19th century literature, examining the literary and cultural “becomings” of the sea in the nineteenth century by way of setting up discussion of the contemporary situation. Building on my work in Sea Narratives: cultural responses to the sea, 1600-present, in which I argued for a co-productive relationship between the sea and cultural production, I’m interested in not just what was known, but how that knowledge was brought into being through the cultural sphere; that is to say, less with the details of scientific exploration and study of the oceans in the 19th century, and more with the ways in which that knowledge was mediated, constructed, and relayed through the cultural sphere to the common reader. Moreover, I’m interested in the broader conceptual frameworks within which understandings of the sea as a valuable resource, or “treasure”, are situated; a variety of discursive approaches and understandings of the sea, which inform upon, contextualise, and contour this central theme.
My enquiry thus centres upon understanding what was known about the sea, how it was being made known, and crucially, tracing the co-productive relationship between the sea and cultural production/narrative form, as it impacts upon and resonates through the formation of knowledge about the sea. This paper aims not only to historicise human-marine interactions, but also to think about broader discursive frameworks within which marine resources are situated historically and to the present.
I blogged earlier this year about my emerging research project on sunburn and tanning in nineteenth-century medicine and culture, and this is now the focus of my research activity for the next two years thanks to the award of a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant. I am delighted to have been awarded this funding which will significantly advance the archival work underpinning the project, and contribute to future publications including a planned monograph on the topic.
The archive work focuses on maritime, tropical and military medicine, travel writing, and public health artifacts, bringing these into dialogue with my existing work on literary and cultural representations. I’m starting – tomorrow – with the National Maritime Museum’s archives, and then moving onto a number of others including the National Archives at Kew, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Leeds University Special Collections and Leamington Pump Rooms where I did some preparatory work earlier this year. I’m also going to be developing the conceptual frameworks around this – thinking about developing my previous work on embodied mobilities, networks, and ideas of nation and empire – and I’ll be writing more about this as I go.
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.
My review of Port Towns and Urban Cultures: International histories of the waterfront, c. 1700–2000, ed. Brad Beaven, Karl Bell and Robert James (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) has been published in The Mariner’s Mirror (103.3); if you don’t have access to the journal, 50 free eprints are available here. I very much enjoyed this collection of essays on the history of ports and their cultural interactions, especially the way in which the book moved across a diverse variety of port cultures, while developing a core conceptual idea of “the port” throughout. There were also interesting intersections (including a shared contributor, Isaac Land) with issues raised in Sea Narratives.
More coastal connections await my reading, as Coastal Works: Cultures of the Atlantic Edge, ed. Nicholas Allen, Nick Groom and Jos Smith (OUP, 2017) has just landed in my in-tray and I’ll have a review of this out later in the year.
Having posted already about a new Charlotte Brontë publication at the start of July, the month finished with a second: a chapter in this new book, Charlotte Brontë: Legacies and Afterlives, edited by Amber K. Regis and Deborah Wynne and published by Manchester University Press. The book traces Charlotte Brontë’s legacies from the time she was writing to the present day and I’m delighted to have my work included among a fantastic set of contributors.
My chapter, titled “Brontë countries: nation, gender and place in the literary landscapes of Haworth and Brussels”, looks at how these two locations developed distinctly different Brontë afterlives in the 19th century and beyond. Haworth is familiar to many as a key Brontë location, and the Yorkshire landscape of “Brontë country” is central to the enduring cultural myth of the Brontës. Even before Charlotte Brontë’s death in 1855, intrigued readers had begun to visit the Parsonage, and the publication of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë in 1857 instigated a steady stream of visitors that has continued to the present day, generating a significant tourist industry at Haworth.
Brussels also holds an important place in Brontë’s work (as my last article explores, it afforded Brontë new opportunities for urban wandering that shape her novel Villette) and while on a much smaller scale, generations of readers have gone in search of another “Brontë country” to be traced in the city’s streets (as I have too – I blogged a photo-essay of Brontë’s Brussels here, and reflected on “Finding Brontë in Brussels” here).
In this essay for Charlotte Brontë: Legacies and Afterlives I explore the history of literary tourism in Brussels, focusing particularly on late-nineteenth century accounts. I look at how the unofficial and less scripted nature of Brussels literary tourism – tourists typically make their own way through the streets, a copy of Villette in hand serving as guidebook – allows instead for alternative narratives of Charlotte Brontë to plotted into the cityscape, narratives which especially emphasise connections between gender, identity and place. I suggest that at the moment of her bicentenary, these narratives offer an important complement and counterpart to the dominant cultural image of Brontë as she is associated with Haworth and the Yorkshire landscape, and offer new perspectives from which to consider her works and their afterlives.
My article “‘A still ecstasy of freedom and enjoyment’: Walking the city in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette” has beenpublished online in the Journal of Victorian Culture. In this piece, I suggest that Brontë’s writing of women’s city walking makes a significant contribution to the idea of the flâneuse. Through a reading of Brontë’s letters from Belgium and her 1853 novel Villette, I argue that Brontë writes herself and Lucy Snowe into a growing canon of strolling city women, and that she brings a new perspective to the construct of the flâneuse through an embodied articulation of urban city wandering.
I start by looking at the prevalence of travel in Brontë’s letters, locating her within a new wave of women on the move in the mid-nineteenth century. There is a competing tension between the desire for mobility – “such a strong wish for wings” – and the reality of containment within the home, that runs through her letters, and this goes on to shape her fictional writing.* I then turn to her letters from Belgium: the city afforded Brontë new opportunities for “threading the streets”, and she starts to develop an attentiveness to the relationship between body, mobility and space that is developed more substantially in Lucy Snowe’s city encounter in Villette. Here, the thrill of city walking – “a still ecstasy of freedom and enjoyment” – emerges as an acutely embodied experience, and I argue that through this Brontë carves out a new discursive space for her woman walker, shifting from the spectatorship of the flâneur to a more fully sensory experience of the urban environment. This becomes crucial to the strong sense of autonomy and agency that walking affords women; at the same time, Brontë recognises the difficulties of mobility for women, and in the final section I look at how she negotiates this tension through highly embodied accounts of Lucy’s wandering in later sections of Villette.
In this series of posts I am writing about my initial work on the transport history of the Great Exhibition that I presented last year at a workshop of the York Transport Historians. In the first post I wrote about how this project came about, and part II discussed the planning stages of the Exhibition. In this third post, I look at how goods moved across the world into the Crystal Palace.
III. Transporting Goods to the Exhibition
“It seemed as if magic only could have gathered this mass of wealth from all the ends of the Earth – as if none but supernatural hands could have arranged it thus… ruled and subdued by some invisible influence”
Charlotte Brontë, in a letter of 7th June 1851 to her father, Patrick Brontë
Such were Charlotte Brontë’s words upon entering the Crystal Palace in June 1851, the first of 2 visits that she made during her stay in London that year. Her reflections here capture the extraordinary co-ordination of forces that had come together to produce what another contemporary commentator described as a “monument to consumption” (Nikolas Pevsner, 1851).
While evocative, Brontë’s invocation of “the invisible influence” of supernatural hands belies the very visible presence of activity in the lead-up to the Exhibition; whether in the streets of London or in the pages of the press, objects on the move were recorded with intense fascination in the months and weeks leading up to the Exhibition.*
This started with the international packages, sometimes traced right from the point of origin; in one case, the route of a “monster lump of zinc ore” sent from the USA is followed from the mines, over the mountains to Dover, New Jersey, and then on to the coast to be shipped across the Atlantic (see The Times, 16th January 1851, p. 6).
Much of the sea-transportation was undertaken by the steamer ships that had largely outmoded sailing vessels by this point in the century, and Britain’s global network of steamships came into action: the Peninsular & Oriental company shipped items from Middle East and Mediterranean, the East India Company brought goods from India, and regular services between Britain and many ports across Europe served the continental contributors. Some ships were of especial interest, such as the Feiza Baari, the first Turkish steam-ship to ever visit England. The US frigate St Lawrence was also the subject of much anticipation, and for several months there are reports detailing the choice of ship, its fitting up, and then the awaiting of its eventual arrival on British shores, greeted with much excitement:
While the St Lawrence was of particular interest for the eagerly-awaited American contribution to the Exhibition, the attention given here to the packages it contains is not unusual. In the months leading up to the opening, the pages of The Times are filled with numerous such reports recording each arrival at the British docks with meticulous detailing of the number, and often the contents, of packages brought by each ship. As the weeks progress, this turns into something of a growing fixation at the numbers of goods received and the number still to arrive, as in this table from 22nd April 1851 recording the “return of foreign and colonial goods received to April 19 (inclusive):
Such figures are accompanied by frequent expressions of anxiety at the unknown quantities of goods still to be received, and concerns about scant intelligence from some countries: in February The Times writes, “the Executive Committee remain in profound ignorance as to what they may expect from most of the foreign countries” (The Times, 13th February 1851, p. 5) and this anxiety increases as 1st May approaches. Such concerns are a reminder that while it is easy to emphasise the global connectedness that the Exhibition depended upon, it also brought to the fore the realities of disconnection and the persistence of gaps in the networked world.
International goods arrived into either the London Docks, or to other ports such as Southampton (as in the case of the St Lawrence, above), which were connected to London by rail; many of Britain’s contributions also arrived on the railways (hence the importance of the Exhibition’s proximity to mainline stations, as outlined in this previous post). Upon arrival into the city, packages then made their way to the Crystal Palace by road.
Road-congestion around Hyde Park had been the subject of much discussion in the planning stages, but as the Exhibition approached this turned from concern to a source of wonder. The sight of waggons laden with goods arriving and departing at every hour becomes a spectacle in and of itself, one that The Times comments on frequently, and at length:
“waggons laden with every species of commodity have deposited their burdens in the interior… the string of conveyances in waiting often extended down the Kensington-road as far as the end of Sloane-street. Such a spectaclewas probably never witnessed in any thoroughfare of the metropolis before, and passers-by stopped to gaze at that long procession … more wonderful in its character than even the rows of splendid equipages assembled in the adjoining park during the height of the season. On Monday 600 waggon loads were received; yet the whole of this vast consignment was deposited with the utmost regularity, and without any inconvenience to the ordinary traffic of the thoroughfare.”
(The Times, 3rd April 1851, p. 5)
This wonder is not only at the number of things, but also at the movement of things: the “utmost regularity” by which so many packages are moved with order and precision. This sense of the ceaseless, repeated mass movement of items through the streets is evocative of technologized motion; while the waggons are an old form of pre-industrial transport, the consciousness of the railway age here turns them into the mechanisms of a machine-like motion filling London’s streets.
By May 1st 1851, most of the items for display had arrived in the Exhibition – with a few notable omissions, such as “the contributions of native produce from Western Australia, including the newly discovered woods from Shark’s-bay […] which were delayed by an accident to the vessel they were shipped in” (The Times, 8th May 08, 1851; pg. 6). But while a few late announcements of displays follow, attention now mostly turned to passenger transport which will be the subject of my next post.
*my focus here, as in previous posts, is on The Times; I’m currently working through local and regional newspapers to compare with and complement the London focus.