September brings a second invitation to a symposium at Lancaster University – I’ve already mentioned Mobility Cultures, which will be followed two weeks later by Border Masculinities on 19-20th September.
Border Masculinities will bring together scholars from a wide range of specialisms to discuss spatial and conceptual borders with regard to the representation of masculinities.
I will be presenting on masculinity and the travelling body in Victorian literature, focusing on the figure of the sunburnt gentlemen traveller and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.
Incidentally, September will also see the publication of my article on the sunburnt gentleman in Dickens’s Bleak House, in a special issue of Nineteenth-Century Contexts on “the male body in Victorian literature and culture”. The editors Nadine Muller and Joanne Ella Parsons have made the first draft of their introduction available online, so you can get a taste of what looks to be an excellent issue!
The programme for the next Midlands Interdisciplinary Victorian Studies Seminar is now available, taking place on Thursday 16th January at the University of Nottingham. The theme is Victorian Masculinities and I’m presenting a paper titled “‘A brown sunburnt gentleman’: the travelling male body in Victorian literature”. By happy coincidence, I’m presenting a (longer) variation of this paper the day before, Wednesday 15th January, at a research seminar at Nottingham Trent University. The research looks at the return of male travellers from hot climes, focusing here on Woodcourt’s return in Bleak House to examine the class, race and gender implications of his becoming ‘a brown sunburnt gentleman’. This is drawn from work in my current book which I’m starting to extend in a couple of new pieces that will develop these ideas further.
I’m very pleased to feature today on The Daily Dose, the excellent blog series run by Dr Brandy Schillace on her fabulous blog. Brandy Schillace is a medical humanities scholar working at the intersection between medical history and literature, and The Daily Dose provides regular features on scholars working in these areas. Although I’m not strictly a medical humanist I do have a keen interest in literary bodies, and in my guest post I talk about some of the travelling bodies that I investigate in the Victorian novel, giving a brief glimpse into my sunburnt travellers that will be the focus of a chapter of my monograph. My piece is here, you can find the rest of the series here, and you should also explore the fantastic “Fiction Reboot“!
This year’s Dickens Day, held at the Institute of English Studies on Saturday 13th October, was the last in what has been a very full year of Dickens conferences, exhibitions and other celebrations, and it made for a wonderful end to a year of Dickens celebrations. Befitting the bicentenary year, the theme of Dickens Day 2012 was “Dickens and popular culture”, a topic which invited a diverse range of responses to Dickens’s popularity both then and now.
The day opened with a plenary panel that brought together Malcolm Andrews (University of Kent), Jenny Hartley (University of Roehampton), and Paul Schlicke (University of Aberdeen), to explore the resonances of Dickens in popular culture through the lenses of laughter and vulgarity (Andrews), public speaking (Hartley), and the circus (Schlicke) – I particularly enjoyed Schlicke’s discussion of circus performances of various Dickens novels, which saw characters like Pickwick and Sam Weller set on horseback performing in the circus ring.
In the following panel, “revolting bodies” were the theme. Helen Goodman (Royal Holloway, University of London), presented on ‘Dickens, Lunacy and Asylums in Early-Victorian Popular Culture’, looking at Dickens’s conflicted relationship with popular culture in the context of shifts in understandings of mental health in the early Victorian period, particularly around the notion of lunacy as spectacle, and exploring Dickens’s handling of mental illness in characters such as Mr Dick in David Copperfield. Joanne Ella Parsons (University of the West of England) took us from mental to physical health with her paper ‘Dickensian Appetites: The Influence of Dickens’s Monstrous Meals’, exploring how Dickens uses food to convey aspects of character and examining the ways in which this interacts wtih wider Victorian discourses of food. Parsons focused particularly on Miss Havisham’s non-consumed feast in Great Expectations – with some interesting discussion of the different types of wedding cake that evolved throughout the early 19th century – and the vulgarity of food in relation to Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop. She also considered the centrality of food in one of Dickens’s most prominent afterlives, the idea of the Dickensian Christmas.
Two further papers on this panel drew mobility and space into their discussion of “revolting bodies”. In Emma Curry’s (Birkbeck College, University of London) paper, the embodied mobility of the revolting body was central to a discussion which focused on ‘Legends and Leg-Ends: History, Feet and Mass Movement in A Tale of Two Cities’. The idea of the revolting, revolutionary body is central to the text’s handling of the French Revolution, but Curry identified that within this the novel repeatedly draws attention to representations of feet and shoes, taking us down to the material motivations and consequences of the mob. Curry explored the dynamics of materiality and embodiment, the mobility of the mob, and notions of history and intellectual thought, suggesting ways in which representations of feet contribute to a reading of the novel’s handling of revolution and historical events. Matthew Ingleby’s (University College London) paper also (sort of!) took feet as its theme, looking at ‘Dickens’s Boot: Popular Violence, the Public House, and the City’s Limits’. Ingleby looked at the urban-rural interactions of Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge, locating the pub “The Boot” – a real pub in London which becomes fictionalised as a rural pub in the novel – as central to the delineation of urbanization (or (pub)urbanization as Ingleby neatly coined it), marking as it does the rapid spread of London in the period between the novel’s late-18th century setting and Dickens’s time of writing. Further interesting was discussion of the afterlives of Barnaby Rudge, in which Ingleby noted that a new development in Birmingham, Alabama called “The Preserve” specifically draws on “Dickensian” tropes in its advertising material and has replicated a pub named “The Boot”, and yet in doing so somewhat confuses the urban/rural discourses that surround the pub in the novel.
In the afternoon, I spoke on a panel which looked at Dickens’s influence and afterlives. Karen Hornick’s (New York University) paper on ‘Popular Critical Discourse and “The Dickensian Aspect”’ looked at critical discourse around The Wire as “Dickensian”. Although it’s become something of a (misused) commonplace to refer to the series as “Dickensian”, often used in ways that overlook the complex dynamics of race, class, economics etc that the series explores, Hornick suggested more critical ways in which the term applies, identifying the totalizing social vision, absence of any solution, and lack of a final “installment” as key to both. Hornick also discussed the awareness of the writers themselves at their handling of this term, particularly in the focus on journalism in the final series (and the conscious play on “The Dickensian Aspect” in one of the later episodes). I was very interested to see that Down in the Hole: The Unwired World of H.B. Ogden, a faux-Victorian serial novel of The Wire, has been released in full form (following the initial mock-up article last year). I followed this with a paper on ‘“Something in the Place”: Dickens 2012 and Literary Tourism’, themes that will be quite familiar to readers of this blog and which I’ll follow up with a few more thoughts in another post. Finally, in an impressive technological move, Tom Ue (University College London) skyped in from the USA with his paper on ‘Dickens, Gissing, and the Life of Writing’, an indicative exploration of the relationship between the two authors.
The day ended with Juliet John’s (Royal Holloway, University of London) keynote presentation on ‘Things, Words and the Meanings of Art’. John was a highly fitting keynote for the conference theme given her recent Dickens and Mass Culture (2011) which informed many of the papers throughout the day, and her keynote opened up some indicative new directions in its exploration of things in Dickens’s writing. Her paper is available as a chapter in the very recently published collection Dickens and Modernity and I therefore won’t detail too much here – suffice to say that John suggested more attentiveness to the relationship between words and things not just as semiotic systems but within representational frames, and then took us through a fascinating discussion which ranged across commodity culture in Household Words, money as “thing”, Dickens and celebrity, statues (the celebrity author as thing), and the afterlives of Dickensian things.
Once again the organisers put together an excellent day that prompted some fruitful discussion, and I’m very grateful that I had the chance to be a part of another Dickens Day. Also worth noting is that papers from last year’s Day on Dickens and Travel are to be published in the next issue of English, and should very soon be available via advance access on the website.
Travel in the Nineteenth Century: Narratives, Histories and Collections proved to be a highly enjoyable conference, really demonstrating the true value of interdisciplinary interactions: papers covered a diverse range of travellers, travel narratives and research approaches, whilst threads of continuity came through in intersecting themes, contexts, paradigms and questions that opened up often unexpected areas of discussion.
My write-up of the conference became rather long, so I’ve split this into 2 parts: this post focuses on the issues surrounding Europe, whilst in part 2 I look at discussions of intra-national mobilities and the novel.
The value of the interdisciplinary context were for me drawn out right from the very beginning of the conference in the panel “The Idea of Europe” in which I presented along with Paul Stock from LSE, and we were very fortunate to be chaired by James Buzard (MIT, and keynote presenter). Speaking on European journeys in Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit, I contextualised the fictional travel narrative within the complex and often contradictory relationship between Britain and Europe which is particularly acute in the mid-nineteenth century. I suggested that, along with factors such as imperial rivalry and economic competition, changing travel practices played a huge role in Britain’s tensions with Europe at this time, not just by increasing contact with the foreign “other” but also through the reshaping of global space that travel technologies facilitated: the (perceived) proximity and openness of European space afforded through developments in transport technologies interplayed with existing anxieties about cultural difference and national identity, suggesting the potential collapse of the spatial distances that kept the foreign (European) “other” at a safe remove. My discussion centred around the text’s representation of the British body in European space, working out to the wider movements between different locations of the novel: I argued that the novel plays out familiar discourses about Europe through representational modes which also register the encroaching proximity of Europe and the potential for collapse of the certainties of space-time-distance relationships; the British body, surrounded by “a formation of a surface”, provides a representational locus for these concerns in the novel.
This 1820 map by William Woodbridge, “Moral and Political Chart of the Inhabited World”,displays the tensions between Europe as a space unified against “the rest of the world” as well as riddled with internal hierarchies that problematise the coherence of European identity.
In the discussion that followed I also talked about the function of the English Channel as border-zone and its representation in the novel (something I’m currently writing about in research on Bleak House); the problem of definition – “what is Europe?” in the nineteenth century/ Victorian novel?; and how the British-European tensions still resonate in contemporary socio-political debates. I have yet to decide how my Europe chapter fits into the future development of my research but I’ve come away with a renewed interest in pursuing this work into the representation of Europe in the Victorian novel.
This was nicely accompanied by Paul Stock’s paper “Travel on the Edges of Europe: Greece and the Philhellenes in the 1820s”. Stock’s work focuses on the idea of Europe in the early nineteenth century, and in this paper he suggested that debates over Greece’s position on the borders of Europe provide the locus for wider questions about the meanings of Europe in this period. Greece and Europe function as self-reflexive concepts, and Greece forms the site of an idealised Europe and brings into play the problematic impulses surrounding this idealised concept. The overlapping frameworks and ideas of Europe between our papers provided me with some useful context for my research into the later part of the century, and I was particularly interested to learn about Greece’s position in these debates (I’ve previously come across similar mid-Century debates focused around Turkey but not Greece).
Ulrike Spring’s paper “Northern Tours: collecting culture and nature in 19th century Scandinavia” also brought up similar questions in her focus on travel to northern Norway in the period. Norway similarly occupied a border-position on the geographical edges of European space; a North-South divide enabled the southern portion to be more easily ideologically incorporated into Europe (in reverse to the North-South axis of Italy which played a similar role). Spring’s paper focused on the town of Tromso, located in the far northof the country, and discussed how the practice of travel helped to imaginatively incorporate Norway into the idea of Europe. Referring to maps of tours to the area, ideas about linearity were raised: the tours followed a set route visiting coastal ports in quick succession, visually constructing a strictly linear route that stands in stark contrast to the coastal geography of the region, and creates a sequential understanding of places, as well as demarcating only these areas as tourist sites – tours never ventured far inland. This really emphasised the extent to which touristic sites are produced as such through the practices of travel and, in particular, through the spatial selectivity of those practices. By way of this process the North gradually became ideologically encompassed in the idea of Europe because it was produced as a certain kind of “European” site – tellingly, Tromso is known as “the Paris of the North”. There’s also an interesting issue to do with linearity in designating a direct route which plays out a compressing space-time relationship and thus brings Norway into a perceived closer proximity with the “centre” of Europe.