Shakespeare on the Global Stage: Performance and Festivity in the Olympic Year, edited by Paul Prescott and Erin Sullivan, has just been published by Bloomsbury’s Arden Shakespeare series. The collection takes a range of perspectives on Shakespearean performance in 2012, emerging from the Year of Shakespeare project on the World Shakespeare Festival. I am pleased to have contributed a co-written essay, with Dr Peter Kirwan (Uni. of Nottingham) on “A Tale of Two Londons: Locating Shakespeare and Dickens in 2012”, which parallels the Shakespeare Festival and the Dickens bicentenary to explore the cultural politics of locating authors within national literary landscapes, and how this plays out within an international cultural context.
This week I’ve been finishing an essay on Dickens 2012 and ‘locating the Victorians in the bicentenary year’; although I’ve written and spoken about this work quite a few times now (including an essay in this forthcoming book), this piece has given me the opportunity to focus on more detailed analysis of content included in Dickens apps, maps, podcasts and films. It’s led me to discover some great resources on the theme of Dickens and London, so I thought I’d collect these together into a blog post with a brief review of each.
Apps and audio podcasts
- The Guardian audio walks; this five-part series of walks around Dickens’s London, Rochester and Portsmouth by The Guardian are excellent: informative, engaging, and lively discussion, interspersed with readings from the text. In 2012 I tried out two of the walks – The Heart of the City and David Copperfield – and wrote about them for JVC Online.
- Dickens in Southwark; I haven’t had the chance to do these walks myself, but I’ve been greatly impressed just using the app and listening to the audio of this walk. The core content is lively and informative, while there is extra audio on the map that was developed from a creative project involving Southwark residents. The app is easily navigable, has a well-functioning map, and with a total of 25 ‘stops’ there is lots of content to explore.
- Dickens Trail, Charles Dickens Museum; this app uses Dickens’s characters as a guide to his London locations, with four themed walks following Magwitch, Lady Dedlock, the Artful Dodger, and Samuel Pickwick. The real shame of this app is that there is no audio content, only text on a map, which makes for a much less engaging experience.
- Dickens Dark London; this was one of the first Dickens apps that I came across and reviewed, a little harshly perhaps. The idea of the content is nice, with illustrations accompanying a reading of extracts from Dickens’s works, themed around his night walks, but it’s a shame there is so little free content – only one serial installment is provided and the rest are priced at £1.49 each. The best thing about this app is its map feature, which combines an 1862 map with a map of contemporary London, and allows you to scroll between each or view a composite image of the two – great for easily viewing structural changes to the city.
- Celebrating Dickens; the University of Warwick’s Dickens offering includes a wealth of material from researchers and students at the University of Warwick on many aspects of Dickens’s life and writing, and the app features a navigable map of Dickens locations not just in London but also in East Anglia, Kent and the Midlands. Highly recommended, of course!
- “The Houseless Shadow“; directed by William Raban, this is a short version of the full film installation that was commissioned by the Museum of London for their Dickens and London exhibition. The piece uses a reading from Dickens’s essay “The Night Walks” with images of the contemporary city. Raban discusses the aims behind the piece in this conversation recorded at the BFI.
- The Uncommercial Traveller; this project by the British Council created a series of theatrical audio guides to Penang, Melbourne, Singapore and Karachi. The audio aims at creating a really evocative experience of each city and makes for interesting listening even if you aren’t in the relevant city.
- Sketches by Boz: Sketching the City; another British Council project that developed written and artistic creative responses to cities around the world through a Dickensian lens
- Dickens and London film; the British Council produced a collection of teaching resources on Dickens 2012 and I particularly enjoyed this short piece on Dickens and London
My visit to Liverpool this week for the Neo-Victorian Cultures conference signalled a bit of a change in direction from my usual research interests. Although I’ve long had an interest in neo-Victorian fiction and enjoy reading it in my spare time, my research has stood firmly in the Victorian period since the start of my PhD. Over the last year, however, I’ve become increasingly interested in the ways in which the Victorians are situated in contemporary culture and how these engagements with the Victorian past are put to cultural work. This stemmed, of course, from the Dickens bicentenary which I’ve written about frequently on this blog, and I’d also begun to explore the intersections of place, nation and mobility in some of the bicentenary celebrations that focused on “Dickens and London” in a couple of recent papers.
I felt, though, that it would be beneficial to put this research into a slightly different context and to consider the ways in which the issues around place and nation intersected with debates and trends in neo-Victorian culture more widely, and to think about what these cross-currents might offer both areas of the field. So my paper “Locating the Victorians: Mobility, place and the past in neo-Victorian culture” was something of an exploration in this line, testing the neo-Victorian waters to see how these conversations might take shape. While in previous work I’ve focused on the local-global iterations of Dickens and London in the 2012 context, in this paper I considered literary tourism as a negotiation between past and present, seeking to understand the ways in which it might fit within neo-Victorian frameworks of reinterpretation and rediscovery. The panel proved to be both interesting and helpful, and I was grateful to the very engaged audience who asked interesting questions about the bicentenary, different forms of exploration of Victorian places, and authenticity of experiences. I also very much enjoyed fellow panellist Ben Poore’s paper about three Victorian spaces that have been restored in recent years – and if you’re in London this week looking for something to do, consider going to the Dalston House art installation which looks like a lot of fun!
The rest of the conference was highly stimulating and enjoyable. Margaret Stetz’s keynote looked at laughter in neo-Victorian fiction, questioning when did we begin to laugh at the Victorians, and would that moment constitute the moment at which we can define “neo-Victorianism” coming into existence? Helen Davies’ keynote on sex and the neo-Victorian freak show looked at the way in which conjoined twins Chang and Eng were interpreted in their own day and retrospectively, focusing on how issues around sex and morality are handled both in Victorian discourses and in neo-Victorian reinterpretations of these.
The panel on rewriting Jane Eyre raised some interesting questions about the cultural afterlives of the Brontë’s: why always Jane Eyre, and Charlotte Brontë, as the focus of interest? Do we need to know the Brontës before we understand the fictions they inspire – how would Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea read without prior knowledge of Jane Eyre? A panel on Neo-Victorian Geographies explored the use of space in neo-Victorian fiction, film and TV, from the labyrinthine underground spaces of horror films such as Death Line and Creep (Paul Dobraszczyk), to the (overground) railways as spaces evocative of Victorian criminality (Joanne Knowles). Material culture was also well represented in a panel about authenticity and neo-Victorian fiction: Kym Brindle’s discussion of A.S. Byatt’s Possession looked at the novel’s fascination with material texts – bundles of letters, for example – as fetishized, desired objects that summon up ideas around the authenticity of the past. Joanne Ella Parsons explored the meanings of different foods in Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet, taking us through discussion of oysters, chocolate and watercress to consider why food remains such an evocative symbol in the neo-Victorian novel.
The final part of the conference (for me) was the roundtable on Global NeoVictorianism with Ann Heilmann, Kate Mitchell, Rosario Arias, Monika Pietrzak-Franger and Patricia Pulham. The papers set in train some indicative ideas around the global manifestations of neo-Victorian culture: what counts as neo-Victorian fiction, and how much validity does “neo-Victorianism” have in a global context’ – should we move to think about “neo-nineteenth-centuryism”? What engagement is demonstrated with British Victorianisms in other global contexts – such as Australian writing about nineteenth-century Australia? And how do we define Victorian, let alone neo-Victorian?
Sadly I had to leave at this point in the conference, but the roundtable took me full circle to my paper and the negotiations between past-present in a local-global context that I had started to tease out, so I left with a head full of ideas for future directions. I thought the conference was an excellent forum for debate, well attended with a lively and enthusiastic audience, and I’m sure much of this was thanks to the fabulously hard-working team behind the conference, so thank you for putting on such an enjoyable few days!
I’m not long back from the BAVS/NAVSA/AVSA conference The Global and the Local held in San Servolo, Venice from 3rd-6th June. There were so many fascinating papers over the few days, but the highlight for me was the excellent range of Dickens papers presented, and in particular the Local/Global Dickens position-paper seminar that I participated in. I’ve written more about this in a post for the Journal of Victorian Culture online, which you can read here.
For students at the University of Cagliari who attended my classes this week, here are some images and further reading that I referred to.
These two images are watercolours of the Great Exhibition by Henry Clarke Pidgeon, that I have written more about here:
You can read a contemporary response to the Great Exhibition here, and the full text of Dickens’s “The Last Words of the Old Year” (quoted on the handout) can be read online here. I have also written about the ideas of “people and things” at the Exhibition in the context of Henry Mayhew’s novel 1851 and Bleak House.
This image of the London slums is taken from this website on Victorian London where you can find some more contemporary writing about the slums and related issues.
Dickens’s writing on the Niger expedition is discussed in the book by Tim Carens cited on the handout, plus a number of others including Grace Moore’s Dickens and Empire (2004).
Finally, this podcast that I recorded for the University of Warwick’s Celebrating Dickens project is of relevance to some of the issues raised, and on the Celebrating Dickens website you will find many other podcasts and videos of interest to Charles Dickens’s life and times.
A musical diversion for this blog, although not the first of my visits to Spitalfields.
The Spitalfields Music Winter Festival is currently running and last Sunday I went to In the House, a series of mini-concerts performed in the drawing rooms of Georgian Spitalsfields houses. The houses, all in the vicitiny of Christ Church, had been selected for their beautiful restoration back to Georgian glory (some with a contemporary twist or two); the music was a mixture of pieces chosen to match the location, along with four new works that had been specially commissioned for the event. The musicians and composers were all students from the Royal Academy of Music, and our guide for the evening taking us between each location was one of the excellent Spitalfields Music team who do a fantastic job of running this informative and enjoyable variety of events.
We started at 20 Fournier Street where Raphael Lang performed cello pieces by JS Bach and George Crumb, followed by a new composition by Freya Waley-Cohen. The house has a fascinating history, and in the last 280 years has been home and workplace to hatters, tailors, cutlers, tobacco manufacturers, handbag makers and more; the looms of silk weavers once filled the attics, while at other times the house served as a Wesleyan Chapel and Rectory. The restoration project had uncovered remnants of the original Georgian patterned wallpaper hidden under many layers of papering, and this has been replicated to adorn the walls of the room where we enjoyed the performance of some rather haunting cello music.
From there it was onto our next location, just down the road to 7 Fournier Street, a 1722 silk weaver’s house overlooking Christ Church and typical of the finer houses of the region, which moved from prosperous desirable locations in the 18th century to declining fortunes in the 19th century. Wallpaper again featured as important in this restoration, which uncovered fragments from 1690 through to the 1960s, including designs by William Morris. The star of this evening was, however, the harpsichord, played by Nathaniel Mander. Mander’s choice of pieces was in keeping with the French history and salon atmosphere of the rooms in which we sat, reflecting the salon recitals of 18th-century Paris in which such pieces would originally have been perfomed. Baroque compositions by Jaques Duphly and Claude Balbastre showcased the vivacity of the instrument and technical command of the musician, whilst an original piece by Grigorios Giamougiannis drew on a range of musical influences to experiment with the harpsichord’s capabilities.
In our next stop at 24 Hanbury Street, Thomas Hancox gave a flute recital of works by Telemann, JS Bach and Michel Blavet, along with Angell Lin’s Cocoon – a piece that took the silkworm as its inspiration and created the idea of thread being spun into a cocoon, a wonderfully evocative image for the sound of the flute. This house had predominantly been inhabited by silk weavers, as well as being converted into a shop and later a cigar factory and furriers’ workshop. It was certainly a cosy setting, and one which took us through more of the Spitalfields streets, ever varied and contradictory in the meeting of old and new.
The final location 1 1/2 Fournier Street (yes, that is one and a half!) involved some interesting music history, as Victoria Rule began her trumpet performance with a replica of a much older style of trumpet, which originally had only holes rather than valves and therefore a more limited range. Rule began on this trumpet with the Trumpet Call from Beethoven’s Leonore and later talked us through the history and different capabilities of the varieties of the instrument which made for a very interesting end to the evening. She also performed JS Back’s Goldberg Variations – written for keyboard so again this made for an entertaining performance – and a new composition by Alice Beckwith, both of which impressively showcased the solo trumpet as a more versatile instrument than perhaps often thought.
This was a really unique way to experience live music and historical walking tour, and I really enjoyed the interesting variety of the houses and musical performances, presented with great and engaging enthusiasm by the musicians involved. If you’re in London and looking for a different diversion then do take a look at the Festivals as a fascinating way into experiencing the diversity and creativity of Spitalfields life.
I’m very pleased to have been invited to join the Journal of Victorian Culture Online blogging team as a regular contributor, having previously written some guest blog posts for the site. The first of my regular posts on “Walking ‘Dickens’s London‘” was published this morning, and is a review of The Guardian’s Dickens audio walks. From now on I’ll be writing twice a month on all things Victorian, with a range of research-related and some more fun posts on museums, talks, and so on – current ideas in the works include some George Eliot literary tourism, a visit to Cromford Mills, and Simon Callow’s take on Dickens.
Also, JVC Online is searching for more bloggers to contribute to the site – either as a one-off blogger, or by entering the competition to become a regular contributor. Being part of a multi-authored blog is an excellent way to gain blogging experience, and if you’re a Victorianist then there’s no better place to do so than JVC Online. The site is becoming an exciting hub of online activity for Victorianists, and I’m certainly proud to be part of its on-going expansion and very much looking forward to seeing how it grows in coming months.