Tag Archives: Rurality

Gender and Space in Rural Britain, 1840-1940

This one has been a bit quiet for a while as I’ve been busy with a couple of other publications since, but my first edited collection Gender and Space in Rural Britain, 1840-1940 which I co-edited with Dr Gemma Goodman (Warwick), is now available in paperback for £34 from Routledge.

The collection was generously reviewed earlier this year by Josephine McDonagh in Victorian Studies 58.2 (pp. 383-385).

At a glance, the contents are as follows:

Introduction: Gender and Space in Rural Britain, 1840-1920, Gemma Goodman and Charlotte Mathieson

  1. ‘Women in the Field’, Roger Ebbatson
  2. ‘Between two civilizations”: George Sturt’s constructions of loss and change in village life’, Barry Sloan
  3. ‘At Work and at Play: Charles Lee’s Cynthia in the West’, Gemma Goodman
  4. ‘“Going out, Going Alone”: Modern Subjectivities in Rural Scotland, 1900-1921’, Samantha Walton
  5. ‘“Drowned Lands”: Charles Kingsley’s Hereward the Wake and the Masculation of the English Fens’, Lynsey McCulloch
  6. ‘“Wandering like a wild thing”: Rurality, Women and Walking in George Eliot’s Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss’, Charlotte Mathieson
  7. ‘“I never liked long walks”: Gender, Nature, and Jane Eyre’s Rural Wandering’, Katherine F. Montgomery
  8. ‘Gertrude Jekyll: Cultivating the Gendered Space of the Victorian Garden for Professional Success’. Exploring the work of Gertude Jekyll (1843-1932)’ Christen Ericsson-Penfold
  9. ‘From England to Eden; Gardens, Gender and Knowledge in Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out’, Karina Jakubowicz
  10. ‘The Transnational Rural in Alicia Little’s My Diary in a Chinese Farm’, Eliza S. K. Leong

“A fiery devil, thundering along”: HS2 and the Victorians

Over the last few months, debates over the High Speed 2 railway line have been mounting, with a succession of reports on the future of the line following the submission to Parliament of the HS2 bill back in November 2013. I’ve followed with interest the development of the planned line over the last few years, with a focus on two areas that will be affected if the HS2 line goes ahead: where I currently live in Warwickshire, the HS2 line will pass about a mile from the University of Warwick’s campus, cutting across the Kenilworth fields and passing  just north of Leamington Spa; and then further down the route passes a few miles from my hometown in South Bucks, where there remains a campaign to further protect the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), including ancient woodland, which the line traverses. HS2 Studying as I do the Victorian railways, it’s been interesting to see the resonances in response to the HS2 line in the context of arguments surrounding the “coming of the railway” in the 1840s. In particular, it’s been indicative to identify a reiteration of ideas around the railway as a symbol of modernity. For the Victorians, the railway was the most evocative symbol of a new, modern era, often depicted as a “fiery devil, thundering along” (Dombey and Son) that seemed to come from another age and was pernicious in its spread into the furthest corners of the country that had yet been (seemingly) untouched by modernity. In George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1874 – but set earlier in the century), the “projected line was to run through Lowick parish where the cattle had hitherto grazed in a peace unbroken by astonishment” (chapter 56); in Bleak House (1852-53) Dickens depicts an era pivoting on the edge of the railway era, contrasting the rural quietude of a place that is thus far beyond the reach of modernity – “the post-chaise makes its way without a railroad on its mind” – with the anticipation of the coming railway line which will soon change this: “with a rattle and a glare the engine and train shall shoot like a meteor over the wide night-landscape, turning the moon paler” (chapter 55). Wherever it went, the railway decisively announced that modernity had arrived, and had irrevocably changed the landscape: Dombey and Son shows us a landscape literally torn apart by the new railway line, Staggs’ Gardens “rent to its centre” and in a mess of chaos and confusion as the building of the railway tears houses to dust and creates a chasm in the city landscape.  HS2 sign HS2 poses much the same problem: as in the Victorian period, the requisite of the railway track to follow as straight a line as possible necessitates that everything in the projected path is demolished, moved or transported in order to make way for the tracks. There are countless areas where housing will be knocked down: in Burton Green, the track will cut through “straight as a ruler” and “slice” the village in half; in the Chilterns, the line will “bisect” the AONB although this has been avoided in plans for the northern phase 2 of the route. In this recent episode of Countryfile, farmer Robert Brown is among those to speak of the impact that the line will have on farmland (from c.17 mins in): running through the existing field layout, the route will change the way in which the land is managed and accessed, severing an existing field in two. It’s the same problem faced by the farmers of Middlemarch, who are occupied by “the vivid conception of what it would be to cut the Big Pasture in two, and turn it into three-corned bits, which would be ‘nohow’” (553). Railways don’t just destroy spaces, they change the organisation of space and restructure how it can be moved around.

There are of course crucial differences with the Victorian period, but what is interesting is the perception, as in the Victorian period, that this represents the onset of modernity for rural regions. HS2 does, of course, entail hardhitting and forceful destruction; but at the same time, HS2 is just one component of contemporary modernity’s impact upon the land. Every day, rural (and urban spaces) are being reshaped by the demands of new (and often contested) structures and it can no longer be said (if it could even of the Victorian period) that there are areas “untouched” by modernity: the rural areas through which HS2 travels are no less “modern” than the cities where it originates; modernity is here, now, in the machines that work the land, in the fibre-optic broadband cables that run beneath it, and in the planes that fly overhead. But as in the Victorian era, there is something about the railway that generates a more resonant and deeply felt response: then as now, the railway seems to stand for something more than the sum of their parts, forming an evocative site around which these other ideas about space and modernity coalesce. Railways make visible the latent structures that already permeate and produce the landscapes of modernity: as in the instances above, railways have a tangible impact on the organisations of locales and regions; in the railway network, uneven development becomes visible as those “off the railway” lose out; and in some iterations, the railway even becomes placed as the Moloch-like god of capitalism, which we are asked to view as an “act of faith“.

How the HS2 plans play out in practice has yet to be seen, and there is still time in which some of these impacts can hopefully be reduced, if not averted altogether: the next round of petitioning starts in July, and with near-daily news reports on the case against HS2, it can but be hoped that the government will reassess the situation; meanwhile attention is beginning to turn to phase 2 which will continue the line from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester, and it will be interesting to see how the impact is perceived in these regions too.

“A group of true peasantry?”; Rural Realism and The Village

Peak DistrictI’ve been watching with interest the new BBC series The Village that follows the life of a rural Derbyshire community in the early 20th century. Among the most common response to this seems to be that the series is too depressing and bleak in its portrayal. Now admittedly with at least one death per episode, the background of World War I, and the on-going themes of poverty, domestic violence, criminality and injustice, set against a landscape that is not so much idyllic rolling hills but rather rugged, bleak, and by the looks of things, darned windy… it does not make for cheery Sunday night viewing. But I’m finding it enjoyably refreshing to see a series portray rural life without the twee gloss of rose-tinted nostalgia for an idyllic English past, and instead approaching something closer to the “rural realism” as described by George Eliot.

George Eliot’s early works – Scenes of Clerical Life (1857), Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), and Silas Marner (1861) – all focus around rural Midlands locales in the early part of the nineteenth century, and in doing so address a key problem that Eliot had earlier noted as dominating over typical representations of rurality. In 1856, writing in the Westminster Review on Riehl’s Natural History of German Life, Eliot argued that the true condition of the rural classes had been obscured from view:

How little the real characteristics of the working-classes are known to those who are outside them, how little their natural history has been studied, is sufficiently disclosed by our Art as well as by our political and social theories.  Where, in our picture exhibitions, shall we find a group of true peasantry?

There are, she notes, certainly many depictions of the rural peasantry, but these show “the imagination of the cultivated and town-bred”, rather than “the truth of rustic life”:

The notion that peasants are joyous, that the typical moment to represent a man in a smock-frock is when he is cracking a joke and showing a row of sound teeth, that cottage matrons are usually buxom, and village children necessarily rosy and merry, are prejudices difficult to dislodge from the artistic mind, which looks for its subjects into literature instead of life. The painter is still under the influence of idyllic literature, which has always expressed the imagination of the cultivated and town-bred, rather than the truth of rustic life. Idyllic ploughmen are jocund when they drive their team afield; idyllic shepherds make bashful love under hawthorn bushes; idyllic villagers dance in the checkered shade and refresh themselves, not immoderately, with spicy nut-brown ale.

Yet, Eliot counters, “no one who has seen much of actual ploughmen thinks them jocund; no one who is well acquainted with the English peasantry can pronounce them merry”; if we look more closely, we find that

The slow gaze, in which no sense of beauty beams, no humor twinkles, the slow utterance, and the heavy, slouching walk, remind one rather of that melancholy animal the camel than of the sturdy countryman, with striped stockings, red waistcoat, and hat aside, who represents the traditional English peasant.  

The rural scenes of Eliot’s early fiction therefore move away from the idyllic towards a closer observation of the conditions of rural life and people. There are certainly instances where we find nostalgia for the rural past creep in as rebuttal to the forces of modernity, most famously in the “old leisure” passage of Adam Bede which looks fondly back on “those old leisurely times” that have gone, “gone where the spinning-wheels are gone, and the pack-horses, and the slow waggons, and the pedlars”, and replaced by the steam-engine that “only creates a vacuum for eager thought to rush in” (AB chapter LII).

But Eliot also complicates this with the harsh realities of rural life, particularly with regards to the moral codes of the community: as she points out in the essay on Riehl, rural simplicity does not beget intrinsic morality, for “to make men moral something more is requisite than to turn them out to grass”. Accordingly, her fiction repeatedly shows up the problems of the moral codes of rural communities, from the suspicion with which “settlers from distant parts” are regarded by a community for whom “the world outside their own direct experience was a region of vagueness and mystery” (Silas Marner, chapter 1), to the stringent gendered codes that operate to exclude sexually transgressive women whilst giving slight punishment to the men who are responsible for their wrongdoing (as in Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss).

And I think The Village works in this vein of “rural realism”, offering a portrayal that complicates the idyllic simplicity and the intrinsic morality of the countryside with a rather harsher vision of rural life. Particularly notable I’ve felt is this idea of the complicated moral codes that operate within the community: social relations continually shift from a sense of a closely bounded community within the village, to the familial isolation upon the farm, and there’s a similar sense of unstable social codes operating in the shifts between exclusion and inclusion of individuals based on moral judgements that are at times dubious or wrongly biased. In last week’s episode, Grace Middleton’s internal struggle at the religious salvation of her previously violent drunk husband nicely pulled out the complexity of individual emotional responses vs the wider sense of what is “right” in the community, in a way that nicely captured the moral tensions and individual difficulties faced. Throughout, the harsh realities of rural life continually intersect with these themes, coming back to the basic facts of life and death on the farm, whilst recognising the wider forces that are shaping, and shaped by, the rural landscape.

The Village isn’t without its problems – it’s taking me a while to get on board with the Big House family and the obvious move to the “all is not as grand as it seems” theme that seems to preside over most of their story-lines – and it’s not without the occasional vision of “cheery villagers on the green”. But it’s nonetheless an important shift in the representation of rurality, and a welcome turn away from the simplified idyllic vision of the rural past towards something more closely evoking Eliot’s call for a vision of rural realism.

Locating the local in William Cobbett’s Rural Rides

Over the past few weeks I’ve been working on the revised proposal for a co-edited collection on gender and rurality in the long Victorian period – the book, now titled Gendered Ruralities: Gender and Space in Britain, 1840-1920, emerged out of the Rural Geographies symposium held last year at Warwick. The essays cover a wide range of rural locations throughout Britain, exploring the particular ways in which gender is played out in rural environments – both shaping and shaped by the specific contexts of rural locations. Throughout the wide range of rural locations covered, in Britain and abroad, the collection builds up a multifaceted concept of rural gender identities, moving away from a static concept of “the rural”. A diverse set of perspectives on the relationship between rural and national identities also unfold, revealing rural places as points of negotiation between local, regional, national and international identities.

View of Dover in 1804; from http://www.dover-kent.co.uk/words/cobbett.htm
View of Dover in 1804; from http://www.dover-kent.co.uk/words/cobbett.htm

It seemed like a good time, then, to finally read the copy of William Cobbett’s Rural Rides (1830) that’s been sitting on my shelf for a few months. If you’re not familiar with the text, it’s a series of accounts of Cobbett’s rides through rural Southern England in the 1820s, charting the rapidly changing rural landscape as the effects of the agricultural revolution, urbanization and industrialization take hold. The writing moves between the detailed agricultural understanding of a rural labourer, the newness of a traveller’s perspectives, and the political outporings of one incensed at the government’s injustice towards rural communities.

Written just before the Victorian years, on which my research and the book collection focus, it’s been interesting to see how certain elements are anticipated and to get a detailed sense of the changes taking place in agricultural communities in these years. One thing that’s particularly interesting me thus far in my reading is the way in which Cobbett moves frequently between different points of perspective. His rides often move quickly through a succession of named places before arriving at a stop or point of interest that will prompt a longer observation, drawing the particularities of individual rural communities into a wider picture of the rural South, Cobbett using his perspective as an outside observer to make sense of the landscape as a whole.

In a similar vein, Cobbett frequently reaches viewpoints that afford a wider perspective on the surrounding landscape – I’ve come across 5 such instances just in the first 100 or so pages:

“we, having seen enough of the streets and turnpikes, took across over Merrow Down, and then mounted the ‘Surrey Hills’ so famous for the prospects they afford. Here we looked back over Middlesex, and into Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, away towards the North West, into Essex and Kent towards the East, over part of Sussex to the South, and over part of Hampshire to the West and South West” (p. 35)

“that chain of hills, which, in this part, divide Hampshire from Berkshire […] from which you can see all across the country, even to the Isle of Wight, are of chalk” (p. 65)

“[Beacon Hill] is one of the loftiest hills in the country. Here you can see the Isle of Wight in detail, a fine sweep of the sea; also away into Sussex, and over the New Forest into Dorsetshire” (p.77)

“the ground is pretty much elevated, and enables you to look about you. You see the Surrey Hills away to the North; Hindhead and Blackdown to the North West and West; and the South Downs from the West to the East” (p. 113)

“there is a hill which I came over, about two miles from Petworth, whence I had a clear view of the Surrey chalk-hills, Leith-hill, Hindhead, Blackdown, and of hte South Downs” (p. 116)

Each time the observation is focused not so much on the view, but on naming the counties or places that can be seen; only in a few instances does Cobbett give an impression of the landscape’s appearance or any indicators of aesthetic appreciation, instead focusing on giving a description which gives distinct, identifiable markers of place – names and directions. It serves to map out the surrounding area, almost plotting the coordinates so that we specifically locate each place and get a sense of its relational context to the surrounding area. These instances ensure that the wider perspective of the region, and nation, is always maintained, but they also focus on giving a very specific, relational sense of how each place is situated so that the view is at once broad and distinct.

The frequency with which these instances occur means that the reader is constantly called on to keep the wider map in view, repeatedly reiterating that the concerns of the rural locale are at once local, regional, national and even international – something very much at the heart of Cobbett’s writing, and indeed indicative of the way in which many rural contexts can most productively be understood.

Wuthering Heights

“With regard to the rusticity of Wuthering Heights, I admit the charge, for I feel the quality. It is rustic all through. It is moorish, and wild, and knotty as the root of heath.”

In Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights,these reflections by Charlotte Brontë on her sister Emily’s novel become more pertinent than ever: not so much in that it is moorish, wild, knotty, rustic, but in the suggestion that we “feel the quality”. In Arnold’s stripped-bare adaptation it is feeling, both physical and emotional, that dominates this Wuthering Heights.

It is, from the start, a violent film: raw and bleak, muddy and bloody. The film doesn’t shy away from a brutal violence either amongst its characters, or in its depictions of rural life. The landscape is, throughout, prominent – more so, perhaps, than in Brontë’s novel – but not sentimentalised, idealised or romanticised. Here, the landscape simply is; through camera-angles burrowing through the heath or focusing on a grub, the land is left to speak for itself. The absence of music – or even much speech –contributes to this: detailed sights are accompanied by sharply focused sounds that further add to the effect of not just seeing, but really feeling the landscape.

Likewise, the emotions here are raw, bleak, simple; characters simply are rather than given the feeling of being “interpreted” or presented. They are left largely unexplored in terms of psychological depth, driven by emotion – not so much in terms of there being explicit, recognisable forces or motivations, but that there is little other than response and feeling behind each action and movement. Interpretation seems to take a back seat for both actors and viewer; it’s a strange experience to watch this film, as we’re not asked to interpret, question or even engage in the way we might usually with a film or text. It’s a form of realism which, whilst appearing to strip back technique, or mediation simultaneously persists in making us aware of the process of viewing.

Wuthering Heights

As a result, the film seems to resist much of what we might want to read into it in terms of its depiction of gender and race. In the first half of the film the young Cathy and Heathcliff, both individually and together, resist being interpreted as raced/ gendered types and, as with the rest of the text, simply exist in and of themselves; individual mannerisms, behaviours, emotions surface here.

This in turn complicates how we read what has become the most talked-about aspect of the film, that this Heathcliff is the first non-white Heathcliff; but how significant is this in the film’s presentation? The problem with so much critical interest in this aspect of the film is that the viewer goes in with an expectation and, perhaps, an agenda to focus on the portrayal of race and what interpretation this lends to the text. This is, to an extent, always true in so far as a film of Wuthering Heights has to take a critical judgement on the most interesting ambiguity of the text, Heathcliff’s unknown origins. One of the most interesting and anxiety-ridden elements of the text is that the question of Heathcliff’s origins resist interpretation: it’s the fact that Heathcliff could potentially be from anywhere that lingers as the text’s most pervasive yet unspoken fear.

Equally, it isn’t impossible that Heathcliff “could” be black: his origins are unknown and he is variously read as being Chinese, Indian, Spanish, American, or African. As critics such as Susan Meyer have argued, regardless of his “actual” origins, Heathcliff is read by others in the text as “black”, positioned as the black subject through the treatment by other characters who subject him “to the potent gaze of a racial arrogance derived from British imperialism” (Imperialism at Home).

Here, Heathcliff’s origins remain a subject of some doubt: the film retains lines in which he’s referred to as a “little Lascar”, or speculating that he might be “the son of an African prince or Chinese queen” (slightly altered from “your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen” in the text). This brings to the surface the nineteenth-century Imperial perspective in which all non-white subjects are collectively grouped together as “black”, regardless of actual origins; the brutality of violence enacted on Heathcliff here served to reiterate the power dynamic within this. But beyond this, it didn’t feel as though the film was working to make a particular point “about” race and the nineteenth century; the violence extends throughout all characters and, as with other elements of the text, his race is presented in a matter-of-fact manner.

If the film does anything to make this about Heathcliff, it’s that it centres him as narrative perspective. This gives more structure and coherence to a text which is notably unstable in its narrative perspective, and for that reason this becomes a narrative of Heathcliff. Perhaps as a result of this, the blurred relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff felt less prominent and less intense; and of Cathy’s most famous lines “he’s more myself than I am” and“Nelly, I am Heathcliff”, the first is cut short and the latter omitted. Interestingly, this therefore serves to break what Susan Meyer notes as a recurrent motif in the nineteenth-century novel of a representational yoking of white women with people of non-white races.

In terms of structure, the film follows most other adaptations in only focusing on the first half of the novel. Having said that, it’s still very much a film of two halves, with the switch in actors when Cathy marries and Heathcliff leaves and then returns. As others have noted, whilst Solomon Grave and Shannon Beer are excellent, the second pairing of James Howson and Kaya Scodelario doesn’t maintain much of what the younger actors achieve so well, and the relationship lacks the earlier chemistry; but in some ways, this discontinuity and jarring seemed right to me. Heathcliff returns changed by his journey away, and to find Cathy socialised as Edgar’s wife; the connection of their youth is clearly lost, and the stilted atmosphere that now existed between the two reiterated the inability to recapture what had been lost and the new maturity of the characters. There’s a commentary here, too, about the social impossibility of their relationship, something the text doesn’t engage so much with in its focus on the passion between them. This half of the film therefore operates in the way that the second half of Bronte’s novel does, holding up the first half to scrutiny.

These are just some initial reflections on a film that offers much both in terms of its interpretation of Bronte’s text and in terms of wider ideas about adaptations of nineteenth-century texts; but I’ll be thinking more about both the film and adapations of nineteenth-century texts in general in a piece for the Knowledge Centre with Francesca Scott.

Rural Geographies of Gender and Space, Britain 1840-1920

Rural Geographies of Gender and Space, Britain 1840-1920 brought together researchers from literature, history and geography to discuss gender-space intersections in rural contexts in the long Victorian period. The symposium theme had emerged from points of cross-over between my work -particularly my studies of women walking- and that of Gemma Goodman, who researches gender and rural space in the context of Cornwall. We found that whilst “women and the city” is a much covered theme in gender-place/space discussions, rural environments are less frequently taken as a specific context in their own right. We thought that the rural offered an equally productive site for discussions and hoped that the symposium would bring to the fore the different types of rural experiences in this period, and diverse approaches to theorising rural spaces.

The symposium proved to be productive and stimulating in both of these respects, not least because this was a truly interdisciplinary day: presenters from history, geography and literary studies took us through the spaces of Britain’s farms, country houses, gardens, and out to the rural spaces of the empire, from the perspectives of writers, geographers, designers, artists. The day began with a keynote presentation from Jo Little, who is Professor of Gender and Geography at the University of Exeter. Her paper “Feminist Rural Geography: The Development of Approaches to the Study of Gender, Identity and the Countryside” began by outlining the development of gendered rural geographies before focusing on the key areas involved in this study, raising themes that remained prominent throughout the rest of the day. What came through in particular was the importance of the rural in constructing gender identity, particularly due to the stringently traditional, heteronormative values that continue to preside here. This was encapsulated in discussion of the campaign “The farmer wants a wife” which ran in the early 2000s, in which (male) farmers particularly sought women who would understand and were suited to the rural “way of life” – urban, fashionable, made-up women need not apply, as this suggested “flighty” notions incompatible with rural life. The sense of the rural as a “special” space away from the city emerged here too, also explored in Jo’s research on “the rural body” which looks at the idea of the rural “transformative” holiday in which mind and body are restored to a “natural” healthiness through health and fitness activities in rural locations. What interested me here was that this “rural body” was a construct for the (urban) outsider entering into this space, a touristic notion to be appropriated rather than a term to describe the bodies of the rural inhabitants themselves.farmerwife

Professor Little’s work is on contemporary rural spaces, but these ideas resonate strongly with our study of nineteenth-century ruralities: the beginnings of rural tourism as a return to nature, the strong sense of traditional gendered roles and heteronormative sexual identities, and the importance of rural labour and class in defining identity, all came through in other papers throughout the day, and, to me, recalled my work on George Eliot’s earlier novels. But we also saw ways in which women challenged some of these assumptions and worked to shape their own rural spaces; in the first panel on “Cultivated Ruralities”, Emma Gray (University of Bristol) spoke about women’s roles in the rebuilding of the country houses Tyntesfield and Dartington Hall, and Christen Ericsson (University of Southampton) discussed Gertrude Jekyll’s designing of flower gardens – both occupations were considered outside of the female sphere, and in their undertakings these women could take command over their rural environments and forge an autonomous identity. Di Drummond’s (Leeds Trinity) paper on Flora Annie Steel’s writing on India moved us beyond British borders, but brought out a similar theme in identifying how Steel’s writing shows a different vision of rural India to the male imperial writing of rural space; although often coinciding with masculine perspectives, her writing, such as In the Permanent Way, incorporates the perspectives of Indian inhabitants, producing a variegated vision of rural space. In the same panel, Karina Jakubowicz (UCL) also discussed how rural spaces beyond Britain enable the development of female autonomy, taking an ecofeminist perspective on Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out which uses rural South America as a space in which the boundaries of gendered roles and sexualities become broken down. Kitty O’Connor also took challenging binaries as her theme in discussion of gender and geography in Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native and The Woodlanders, terming this a “geography of gender mulitiplicity”.

countrygirlThe third panel, “Gender in the Field”, returned us to British farms and fields. Maija Kuharenoka (de Montfort University) discussed masculinity in Mathilde Blind’s “The Teamster”, whilst Roger Ebbatson’s analysis of Hardy’s “Tess’s Lament” looked at the portrayal of women in the field – I was taken with a quote describing rural women workers, which stated that “the language of the hay field is not that of pastoral poetry”, again conveying this sense of discrepancy between internal and external perspectives on the countryside. Finally, Frances Richardson (Oxford) spoke about women farmers in Nantconwy, looking at the changes in farming practice in this region of Wales throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.

The day concluded with a roundtable discussion in which we drew together – or rather, opened up!- some of the recurrent themes; classed perspectives were of particular interest, with the question of where/whether there is space for the middle class in the countryside, and I was also interested in where/whether there is space for alternative gendered identities and sexualities. These are issues which I’m sure I’ll keep on thinking about over the coming weeks; as far as my research was concerned, this provided a welcome change from my current focus on mobility and Dickens, and opened up new ideas for how I can develop some of my thesis work on rural environments. I hope the day was as interesting and productive for those who attended; our next step is to work the papers into a proposal for an edited collection on Rural Geographies, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from our participants in the future.