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.
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.
On Wednesday I spent an excellent day at the York Transport Historians workshop “Making the Connections: Transport and its Place in History“. It was a very fruitful day of interesting papers and discussion on everything from canals to Concorde, and every mode of transport in between. I was pleased to get the opportunity to present on some research that I’ve been carrying out on a transport history of the Great Exhibition.
This work emerged from an older paper on Henry Mayhew’s novel 1851: or, the Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys. The paper is on the mobility of material culture, something that Mayhew’s novel quite wonderfully depicts in a succession of comic (often absurdly so) instances. I was writing a footnote, when I found myself needing to cite a comprehensive transport history of the Great Exhibition – something that told me the what, when and where of exactly how 6 million people and 100,000 objects moved across Britain and the world to the doors of the Crystal Palace. As I researched it, I realised that the work I needed to cite was one that needed to be written, and so this paper was born.
It would, of course, be remiss to state that no work on Exhibition transport exists. The symbiotic relationship between the Great Exhibition and the transport revolution has long been acknowledged: to Victorian commentators the Exhibition was the “natural result” of steam technology, a spontaneous outburst of the age of steam:
“The German journals are quite captivated by the idea of the great exhibition […] They regard it as a great step in the progress of different countries towards cosmopolitanism, and treat it as a natural resultof the development of railways, steam communication, the electric telegraph…”
(The Times, 31st October 1849, p. 6)
This has become something of a critical commonplace; but little dedicated attention has been given to detailing a comprehensive transport history of the Great Exhibition. Of course the notable exception is railway passenger travel, studies of which have abounded and become a familiar part of the broader narrative of railway history. But the railways have been studied largely in isolation from the many other modes of transport that were fundamental to passenger travel – steamboats, sail ships, carriages, omnibuses, cabs and pedestrianism. Consideration of the movement of objects to the Crystal Palace has also been a theme in discussions of the emergence of commodity culture, global commodity flows, and the international politics of the Exhibition. Less has been studied, though, of the practical logistics of how things actually travelled from, say, a mine in upstate New Jersey to the doors of the Crystal Palace.
This work started, then, as an enquiry that seeks to create an account that is detailed and nuanced in its understanding of Exhibition mobilities, while working towards an expansive grasp of the range of these journeys. In doing so, I want to both account for the (often fascinating) practicalities of Exhibition transport, and better understand the relationship between the Great Exhibition and the mobile culture of mid-Victorian Britain. By the end of the Exhibition, The Times posed a retrospective question:
“one of the most wonderful facts of the Exhibition is the mode in which its visitors came to it. How did they all get there?”
(The Times, 20th October 1851, p. 4)
It is this question that I seek to answer, as well as to reflect upon the interests, motivations, and cultural contexts that lay behind it.
In the paper I presented yesterday, I traced a brief overview of this work: from the planning and preparation discussions in which transport was a crucial factor in decisions about the location and scope of the Exhibition, through to reflections on the Exhibition’s outcomes in which bold statements about a new mobile culture could be made – “a new phase in the history of the world”, as one piece in The Times put it (Wednesday, June 11th, 1851, pg. 4). I followed the movements of objects as they travelled over land, sea, and across London to reach the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park, and then explored the many and varied ways in which people journeyed to the Exhibition by ship, horse-drawn transport, and even on foot.
My sources thus far have been a variety of cultural documents: novels such as Henry Mayhew’s 1851, as well as poems, plays, diaries, and religious tracts. My focus in yesterday’s paper was the research that has occupied me recently, a survey of 1209 newspaper reports published in The Times from 1st January 1849 to 31st December 1851. The Times survey – while making no claims to comprehensive breadth – has provided a useful lens through which to construct a ground-narrative of Exhibition history as it unfolded across the period. In foregrounding chronology, it has allowed me to perceive the nuanced ebbs and flows in attitudes towards different forms of mobility across the period: to realise, for example, that attention to (and celebration of) the railways comes relatively late in the Exhibition period, and that attention to shipping forms a vast and, to my knowledge, largely unexplored history of the period.
As this starts to make clear, the focus and tone of newspapers reportage also helps us to think about how the Victorians produced and consumed knowledge about transport technologies. What has become most apparent to me through this is the extent to which, I argue, the Exhibition represents the moment when modern mobility became acutely visible to the Victorians for the first time: while the networks that it relied upon had been growing for years, the Exhibition stimulated a rapidly emerging consciousness, accompanied by a great sense of excitement, at what it meant to be living in a newly mobile age. While this is easily equated with “Exhibition fever” as a whole, there is a particular narrative of mobility within this that was important in Britain’s thinking about itself as a nation on the move, and as interested in understanding and, crucially, in charting its own transport history as it was unfolding in the present moment.
In a series of blog posts to follow I will post some of the initial thoughts and findings from this research.
What is the relationship between the sea and culture? In Sea Narratives: Cultural Responses to the Sea, 1600-Present (Palgrave, 2016) , Charlotte Mathieson, a lecturer in English Literature at the University of Surrey, assembles a new collection of essays to explore this question. The book develops the concept of a “sea narrative,” thinking through the connection between this and a variety of forms of cultural production. The essays are eclectic, but unified, reflecting the emerging interest in both the subject and the approach the book uses. The book travels across the globe as well as across the centuries since 1600, taking in French accounts of the Atlantic crossing; prisoners of war; newspaper articles; Soviet technology and propaganda; Irishness and Ireland’s sense of itself; Du Maurier’s understanding of the coast; A S Byatt’s work; the idea of the Anthropocene; and “coastal exceptionalism.” Each essay is fascinating in its own right, but the collection builds to reorientate the study of the sea for historians and literary scholars, as well as any academic interested in how we narrate and culturally produce the sea.
Many thanks to Dave for the opportunity to speak about the book.
I will be speaking next weekend at the Literary Yorkshires workshop, taking place at the University of York on Saturday 21st May 2016. My talk ‘Brontë Countries: The Literary Landscapes of Haworth and Brussels in Charlotte Brontë’s Legacy’ will explore the different ideas that have collected around Haworth and Brussels in Brontë’s legacy, and how Brussels might offer a useful space for re-thinking some of the ideas about Brontë at Haworth.
In honour of Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary later this month (21st April), the Brussels Brontë group are running a series of blog posts throughout April. I have contributed a piece on “Finding Brontë in Brussels – reflections on literary tourism” in which I reflect on the trip I made two years ago as I started to research “Brontë’s Brussels” (full photo-essay here). This research will be published later this year in a collection Charlotte Brontė: Legacies and Afterlives (ed. by Amber Regis and Deborah Wynne, Manchester University Press 2016) and in the blog post I look at how the trip helped me to conceptualise some of the ideas in that piece.
Britain and the Narration of Travel in the Nineteenth Century: Texts, Images, Objects, edited by Kate Hill and published by Ashgate, is out now. The book offers a rich exploration of British travel to Europe, Australia, China and Africa, and looks at encounters through travel writing as well as objects such as guest books, posters, and guidebooks. My essay “‘The formation of a surface’: European travel in Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit” reads the European journey of the Dorrit family through its articulation of borders and boundaries: from the dissolving landscapes of the Alps to the “formation of a surface” by the socially-conscious British abroad.