All entries for September 2008

September 13, 2008

'Great Expectations: An Introductory Day for Postgraduates Beginning English Teaching'

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I attended this event at the Higher Education Academy's English Subject Centreand found it an extremely useful introduction for beginning to prepare for taking seminar classes for the first time. The day was structured into 4 sessions, starting with Ben Knight's "The Life of the Seminar" which got us thinking about the purpose and function of seminar teaching, the role of the tutor within this, the most important factors involved in good seminar teaching, and creating a positive seminar environment in which students learn and develop as a group and independently. Morag Shiach and Sally Mitchell lead a session on the student experience of assessment, thinking about the question "what do essays ideally demand, teach, and test?" as well as raising the issues and problems that can be involved for students adapting from school to university teaching, learning, and assessment. The most useful part of the day from a practical point of view was Peter Howarth and Jonathan Gibson's "Planning innovative seminars and weekly tasks" which gave many suggestions for different approaches to seminar discussion and encouraged us to think about how to think about seminars in long- and short-term blocks. The day drew to a close with a panel on "Nightmare scenarios", in which the presenters from throughout the day responded to questions from the attendees, offering useful suggestions and words of advice on the more daunting aspects of first-time teaching.

I'd highly recommend this day to anyone starting postgrad teaching (especially as it was free), as I feel much more prepared for the fast-approaching academic year. There are also some useful resources on the website, such as the T3 pages.

September 07, 2008

Arts Faculty Postgraduate Seminar Series

Arts Faculty Postgraduate Seminar Series, 2008–9

*** EXTENDED DEADLINE: 1st October 2008***

The programme is now being compiled for the 2008-2009 Arts Faculty Seminar Series.

The Arts Faculty Postgraduate Seminar will meet at 17.00 on the third and seventh Wednesdays of each term in the Graduate Space on the fourth floor of the Humanities Building. The first presentation will start at 17.30, with each lasting no longer than twenty minutes. Chairs need not prepare questions in advance of presentations.

Postgraduate research students from all Departments within the Arts Faculty are invited to present papers of 20 minutes. Each seminar will consist of two/three presentations followed by a question and answer session facilitated by a panel chair. Refreshments will be provided.

This is a relaxed, informal environment in which to present and discuss your research. Works in progress and drafts of conference papers are especially welcome; the seminar series is an extremely useful opportunity to gain experience in giving a conference paper and chairing a panel as well as to engage in academic discussion about your research with postgraduates across other disciplines. If you are interested, please contact the organisers indicating the subject area of your research and/or a provisional title (we recognise that this will be subject to change at this stage).

If you know others working in similar research areas, you may wish to put together a panel.

Please email the organisers by 1st October:

Adam Putz,

Charlotte Mathieson

Jeanine Tuschling

"A Story of Indian Life: The Story of a Child's Life in India During the Mutiny" by Grace Ogilvie

Besides hearing about new research and meeting other people working in similar areas, if there's one thing conferences are good (or dangerous!) for, it's the book stalls. In addition to a number of journal publishers at the BAVS conference, there was also a second-hand book stall with a number of Victorian editions- which is how I came across "A Story of Indian Life: The Story of a Child's Life in India During the Mutiny" by Grace Ogilvie. I've never heard of the author before -and a bit of internet searching hasn't revealed much either, this looks like her only story and I have no idea where she's from or why/how/when she travelled to India - but when it comes to beautiful old books I have very little willpower, and was willing to part with £20 for a copy of this book. The book was published by The Religious Tract Society in London, and there's no date of publication, just a hand-written inscription inside the cover which reads "Clara A.M. Hadgrove(?). Awarded for good conduct and general improvement, June 16th 1876. Miss Lowley's (?). St Albans Place".

The book is a piece of travel writing for children, with a very simple story but interesting narration that uses many of the tropes familiar to travel writing of the period. The narrator is the aunt of the central character, a little girl named Grace Ogilvie, born in India to English parents- her father is a Colonel. The first half of the novel establishes the peaceful and idyllic life of the young Grace in the family's large white house in colonised India; the second half charts the disruption to this order with the breakout of the mutiny of 1857, forcing the family into hiding in the depths of forests, through which they travel to reach Calcutta. The flight from the Edenic land of plenty into the uncivilised wilderness of the country has clear religious parallels, and the book indeed seems to have primarily been written as an instruction book to teach young girls how to be good Christians: there is much explanation of the ways of God, the importance of prayers and Bible-reading, and the aunt-narrator figure frequently reminds Grace of her religious duty. Grace is depicted as the perfect child, good, virtuous, and with "a higher love for all things holy and good"; her teaching of Christianity to the native servants and her early death, following the suffering of illness, at the age of twelve, locate her as a saintly, even Christ-like, figure in the text who remains eternally pure and virtuous through her death. In this, the text strongly resonates with the Eva St. Clare narrative in Uncle Tom's Cabin, which similarly depicts a young girl as the epitome of religious faith, finding redemptive power in her early death.

As is to be expected from travel writing of the period the novel is imbued with colonialist discourse, constructing India as an "other" space which, by strongly contrasting with the British ideal of "civilisation", providing a testing-ground in which the ideologies of imperialism are challenged, but ultimately strengthened through this testing. This is most noticeable in the portrayal of religion; India figures in this Christian narrative as an "othered" space in which the ideals of religious purity are emphasised against a backdrop of "heathen" behaviour: Chapter 3 depicts a "frightful" festival of "heathen gods", the idols of which are "hideous, terror-inspiring creaters adored and venerated by the Hindoo". Against this "darkness" and evil, Grace's purity stands out as all the more virtuous through the contrast: the narrator notes of Grace standing next to the servants that their "dark complexions and jet-black hair formed a strange contrast to the little golden-haired fairy before them". The descent into the wilderness of the jungle is not only a religious parody but a challenge to colonial order, challenging imperial values to withstand a journey through the uncivilized jungle- in which the darkness becomes "deeper and deeper" until the tall trees are "like shades of evil". That the family come through this symbolises the ability of "Britishness" to uphold such testing (a recurrent feature of travel writing). However, the mother dies as a result of exposure in the jungle, suggesting the danger, disease and contagion associated with uncivilised spaces, as well as the weakness of femininity to withstand physical ordeal. With the exception of the narrator/aunt, only the Colonel remains alive at the end of the book, thereby re-asserting the ideal of civilisation with the white, male, British, imperial subject as the sole survivor of the trials of the book. The closing lines also reiterate the strength and importance of the family unit, with Grace's gravestone inscription joining "Grace, child of Robert and Annie Ogilvie".

There's a lot more to say about this narrative in the context of Victorian travel writing, and it provides an insightful supplement to the texts I've read thus far as it is written for children- specifically girls, as the narrative reiterates the importance of being a "good girl" several times and appeals to Victorian discourses on femininity with emphasis on beauty, purity, and the family. It would be interesting to think more about how travel writing has been aimed at children and how this goes about reinscribing colonial discourse for a younger generation.

September 05, 2008

"Victorian Feeling: Touch, Bodies, Emotion": 1st–3rd September, University of Leicester

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The ninth annual conference for the British Association of Victorian Studiesfocused on the theme "Victorian Feeling", bringing together Victorianists from a range of disciplines to explore both physical and emotional experience in the nineteenth century.

The conference opened with a panel on "Victorian Feeling" in which papers by Paul White, Samantha Matthews, and Michael Roper provided an interesting starting point for the papers that followed over the next two days, prompting an array of ideas surrounding the conference's theme- physiology, emotional expression, cultural influence, sincerity, lyrical expression, materiality and immateriality, and the inscription and re-inscription of emotion were just some of the topics that emerged in the opening session. Three other plenary lectures were given throughout the conference; I was particularly interested by William Cohen's talk "Hopkins Among the Materialists" which discussed embodiment in the writing of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Cohen explored perception as physical encounter in Hopkins' work, identifying connections with the twentieth-century philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Georges Bataille who conceptualised knowledge as rooted in the body, in a way that re-thinks the mind-body dichotomy. I was particularly interested in this as in my work I frequently refer to Elizabeth Grosz's re-theorising of the mind-body dualism, which is based on Merleau-Ponty's work. It was useful to hear about the prominence of embodiment in Hopkins' writing and I hope to research this further in the future, although I doubt that I will have the space (or time) to do so in my thesis!

I attended a number of panel sessions over the three days. 'Staging Bodies and Emotions' looked at the representation of emotion on the Victorian stage; I was particularly interested by Viv Gardner's paper on the construction and performance of the healthy female body in fin de siècle musical comedy. Gardner discussed how the bodies of female performers in musical comedy (a genre in which women dominated the stage) were fashioned by contemporary discourses on health and exercise, exploring the tensions between these newer ideas of the "healthy" female body and the older ideals of femininity which remained present in the restrictive dresses and corsets worn by the performers to maintain the fashionable figure.

A panel on Emily and Charlotte Brontë raised ideas pertinent to the work I was presenting at the conference (my paper on Charlotte Brontë's Villette was in the 'Urban Vibes' panel). Jo Waugh talked about Charlotte Brontë and the weather; Brontë was deeply anxious about the weather and its effects on mental and physical health. Waugh demonstrated how Brontë's reading of the weather was influenced by, and questioned, contemporary commentaries on the weather, some of which perceived an integral relationship between the body and weather, with physical health constantly vulnerable to changes in temperature, humidity, precipitation and so on. A reading of Villette drew attention to how disruptive a force the weather is in the novel, continually feared as a source of mental and physical disruption. This was followed by another paper on Villette by Rosemary Dunleavy who spoke about sugar in the novel, positing that female virtue is constructed through characters' relationships to sugar throughout Villette. Dunleavy drew on Victorian medical discussions that were beginning to establish the relationship between sugar and fat production, and of the socio-cultural meanings of fat, particularly in relation to femininity, in the period. Dunleavy argued that Lucy's desire for the sweet things given to her by Monsieur Paul validates her desire for him, and anticipates her becoming a wife and mother, i.e. a socially acceptable depiction of femininity. I'm not sure I entirely agreed with this reading as I don't think Lucy reaches a position of accepting normative modes of femininity by the end of the novel, her anticipated marriage to M.Paul is so satisfying because she does retain such a sense of independence. However, the reading of sugar offered an insightful approach to analysing the female bodies and I found it useful in the context of my previous work looking at constructions of femininity in the novel.

A panel on Dickensian Bodies provided further interesting approaches to the theme of the conference. Kim Edwards spoke on blushing between women in Dickens' novels, revealing through analysis of instances of blushing women the presence of unspoken homosexual desire between female characters. Madeleine Wood's paper looked at disintegration of the maternal ideal in Dickens' Dombey and Son, exploring the symbolic and material breakdown of motherhood. Jessica Groper's paper analysed instances of epileptic fits in Bleak House, whilst James Arnett offered another paper on Dombey and Son, this time considering how theories of abjection, pain, and affective transfer are played out on the site of the body.

I came away from the conference with many interesting perspectives pertaining to my own research, and lots of ideas for novels to read. I also found that presenting my own paper, "Embodying the City in the Victorian Novel: 'the heart of city life' in Charlotte Brontë's Villette", was very useful for my research; I was pleased with the positive reception of my paper and an interesting discussion followed, prompting lots of stimulating ideas about my reading of the novel which I will keep in mind when I come to develop the paper into a chapter of my thesis.

September 04, 2008

'The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting" at Tate Britain

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Arthur Melville, An Arab Interior

It's taken me a while to blog about this so I'll just say a few words about what was a thoroughly enjoyable exhibition at the Tate gallery in London. The exhibition brought together paintings by British artists of the "Orient" - eastern Mediterranean countries under the control of the Ottoman Empire- from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, although most of the paintings were nineteenth century. A number of themes structured the exhibition: Orientalist portraits demonstrated the fashion for adopting the dress of foreign countries by travellers like T.E. Lawrence; 'genre and gender' explored the gendering of public and private spaces, although I felt this was more fully covered in the section on 'home and harem' which drew attention to female travellers who could, unlike their male counterparts, access exclusively female places like the harem. Throughout the exhibition, the informative displays and audio guides made much use of travel writing to supplement factual information- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's writing featured particularly prominently. A section on 'mapping the orient' was useful in depicting the shifting boundaries of the Ottoman Empire throughout the period covered by the exhibition, and in detailing the changes in journeys undertaken as transport developments progressed to enable easier access to the region.

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