Tag Archives: Place

Forthcoming publication: Mobility in the Victorian Novel: Placing the Nation

I’m very pleased to say that my monograph Mobility in the Victorian Novel: Placing the Nation is scheduled for publication with Palgrave Macmillan in September 2015, and a short blurb and contents can now be found on the publishers’ website.

And here’s a quick preview of the various novels discussed in chapter:

Chapter 1: ‘Wandering out into the World’: Walking the Connected Nation

Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop

George Eliot, Adam Bede

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Chapter 2: ‘Flying from the grasp’: Embodying the Railway Journey

Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton

Charles Dickens, Dombey and Son

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret

Chapter 3: ‘It’s all one’? Continental Connections

Charlotte Brontë, The Professor and Villette

Charles Dickens,  Little Dorrit

Chapter 4: ‘The distance is quite imaginary’: Travelling beyond Europe

Charles Dickens,  David Copperfield

Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford

Conclusion: The Mobile Nation of The Moonstone

The Moonstone

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Upcoming talk: Texts in Place/ Place in Texts symposium at Royal Holloway, 21st May 2015

I’m very much looking to speaking at the symposium Texts in Place/ Place in Texts at Royal Holloway on 21st May 2015, which brings together geographers and literary scholars to discuss their understandings of the relationship between texts and places.

My talk is titled “’The distance is quite imaginary’: locating the nation and the world in Dickens’s David Copperfield” and is drawn from a section of my forthcoming monograph which explores the representation of national and global spaces/places in the Victorian novel. Full abstract as follows:

“It is merely crossing,” said Mr. Micawber, trifling with his eye-glass, “merely crossing. The distance is quite imaginary.”

Mr Micawber’s humorous denial of the distance between Britain and Australia provides a comic strain to the emigration story of Dickens’s David Copperfield (1849–50), but its comedy belies an important point about the representation of place, and especially the national-global politics of representation, in the Victorian novel. In this paper, I will use David Copperfield to think about the representation of place in terms of narrative structure: how much narrative space is afforded to different places, how places are made more or less present through various representational modes, and how structures of nation and world intersect. I will suggest that David Copperfieldprovides an exemplary model of the structural delineation of place in the Victorian novel: a tight yet protracted core of the nation-space is set against an absent, often “imaginary”, world at large. Yet David Copperfield also calls for a closer reading of this structure, and I identify a paralleling of national and global places in the narrative to suggest how we might read for more subtle inferences of global resonances in the spaces of the Victorian novel.

New publication: “A Tale of Two Londons: Locating Shakespeare and Dickens in 2012”

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.

Dickens apps, maps and more

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.mzl_xswkqymm_320x480-75
  • 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!

Creative projects

  • 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

 

Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels

Yesterday (31st March) marked the anniversary of the death of Charlotte Brontë, and it is fitting that I have just returned from a weekend exploring an oft-overlooked part of her life: Charlotte Brontë’s time in the city of Brussels. Although it is well known that two of her novels, Villette (1853) and The Professor (published 1857) are based on her time as a student and teacher in the Belgium capital, the importance of Brussels is typically given less attention other than as a topographical reference-point for her novels. In my research I’m exploring the legacy of Charlotte Brontë in Brussels over the past 150 years, and this visit was the first step in seeing the sites for myself and meeting the Brussels Brontë Group: the group’s regular events and tours bring together people of all nationalities who are united by their love of the Brontës, with a special interest in Emily and Charlotte’s time in the city. I had a wonderful time attending a lecture (more of which in the next post), having dinner with the group to talk all things Brontë and Brussels, and then going on a walking tour of Brontë locations. I also retraced the route alone, and what follows here is a photo-essay of my journey around this lesser-known “Brontë country” – if you’re unfamiliar with the Brontë story, you can start by reading more about what brought the sisters to Brussels, and how it influenced their work, here.

Parc de Bruxelles
Parc de Bruxelles

Continue reading Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels

Placing Dickens at 202: the Portsmouth statue

Today is the 202nd birthday of Charles Dickens, and has been marked by the unveiling of a statue of the author in Portsmouth’s Guildhall Square. The statue has attracted attention not just because of the on-going interest in Dickens since his bicentenary, but also because it’s marked by a degree of controversy over whether it should have gone ahead. Dickens’s will indicated his wish that no such public memorial be constructed of him:

“I emphatically direct that I be buried in an inexpensive, unostentatious and strictly private manner…that no public announcement be made of the time or place of my burial … I conjure to my friends on no account to make me the subject of any monument, memorial or testimonial whatsoever. I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works.”

It’s a pretty clear statement of the author’s wish not to be remembered in this public way either immediately after his death, or at a future time. In an article on the BBC about “why was Dickens’s dying wish ignored?“, one relative suggests that his words above have been taken out of context, and it is implied that if he could have foreseen his popularity, he may have felt differently about memorialisation. However, Dickens’s statement in his will reflects similar feelings that he expressed upon the memorialisation of Shakespeare. In 1863-4, Dickens was involved with the Shakespeare Tercentenary Committee, one of the aims of which was to raise funds for a memorial to Shakespeare: Dickens was not in favour of building a statue, however, maintaining that “his best monument is his works”. It’s a sentiment that resonates throughout his reflections in his will, which similarly asks that his published works remain the focus of his legacy and remembrance.

Whether or not it should have gone ahead, the statue is fitting in the context of Dickens’s cultural legacy in the last couple of years. For a start, the statue seems to keep in mind the importance of his literary legacy, depicting Dickens sitting atop a pile of books* and holding one half-read: this is Dickens the reader not writer, situating him, like us today, as consumer of his works. And the work of locating Dickens in statue form draws together several strands of contemporary interest. As I’m currently writing about in a piece on neo-Victorian spaces, place has played a central role in the growing popularity of all things Victorian in recent years. The tangible presence of the Victorians in our urban spaces today – in buildings, streets, and public spaces dating to the Victorian era, and in the lasting legacy of the Victorians’ own place-making processes –  is often cited as one facet in the contemporary appeal of the Victorians over other historical periods. And in Dickens 2012 in particular, there was a repeated recourse to the places of his life and literature that shaped many of the bicentenary activities. It seems fitting then that Dickens’s memory is, literally, located as part of this neo-Victorian geography, the statue creating a tangible physical presence of Dickens’s place in a cultural landscape in which location so often features as a mode through which to make sense of the relationship between past and present, and the interactions between life and literature, that have been at the forefront of contemporary preoccupations. If nothing else, the statue is a fitting memorial to the forms of memorialisation that have been prominent since 2012, and a reflection of what Dickens 2012 meant as part of a longer trajectory of Dickensian celebrations and memorialisations.

*Are these his books? I can’t find out, or tell from the photos, if the books are inscribed with Dickens titles.

Dickens and History: Dickens Day 2013 @ IES London, 12th October

This was my third Dickens Day and the first where I wasn’t presenting a paper, so it was good to sit back and enjoy what is always a stimulating day among the Dickens community. This year’s theme of Dickens and History elicited some interesting responses on a good range of Dickens’s novels, including some that tend to receive less attention – Michael Slater’s plenary paper on A Child’s History of England was one example of this, opening the day with illuminating discussion of how Dickens handles historical themes and subjects in this work. Ruth Livesey followed with a very interesting reading of place and the past in Martin Chuzzlewit, exploring how different spaces and sites are employed in the novel’s central handling of the pull between past and present.

Eden - illustration by Phiz from Martin Chuzzlewit

Papers in the panel sessions opened up various lines of enquiry into how Dickens understood history and how we situate Dickens as historical figure today. Emily Bowles explored Dickens’s handling of personal history in the later journalism which demonstrates a complex and often peculiar narrative voice that can’t easily be categorised, her reading drawing out indicative perspectives on the pursuit of self-knowledge and Dickens’s sense of his own history in these writings. Hadas Elber-Aviram’s paper on the “alternative histories” of  Little Dorrit and David Copperfield looked at how the narratives pose a series of undeveloped relationships that present an on-going sense of “what might have been” that becomes central to the idea of history and the present in these novels. The making of “Dickens and history” in the contemporary moment was the subject of Claire Wood’s paper about the archiving of Dickens 2012 activities; I was especially interested in how 2012 was positioned in relation to previous Dickens celebrations, which Claire defined as moving from “reverential” in 1912, “faithful recreation” in 1970, to “rediscovery” in 2012. It will certainly be indicative to see how the bicentenary continues to be discussed as it becomes part of recent history (I’m aware already from writing about it of the potential impulse to mythologise or over-emphasise certain aspects of that year), and the papers here on Dickens and History provided some thoughtful issues to consider in both the crafting and interpreting of histories of Dickens.