All entries for October 2010

October 29, 2010

Arts Faculty PG Seminar Series


"Madness and Midwifery"


  • Francesca Scott: ‘By art and not by force.’ Man-midwives, old women, women writers and the case of nature versus medicine.

  • Joseph Jackson: ‘Fanonian Antisyzygy Madness and Dualism in Suhayl Saadi's Psychoraag

Chair: Charlotte Mathieson

Wolfson Research Exchange, 4.45pm - papers start at 5

Wine and refreshments will be provided

Further information:

October 23, 2010

Nineteenth Century Seminar @ IES

The London 19th Century Studies Seminar's theme for the term is "Novel Spaces", which kicked off this morning with two fascinating papers. Whilst I found Andrew Thacker's "Rhymers on Fleet Street" to provide a stimulating continuation of his other work on modernism*, it was Josephine McDonagh's paper "Provincialism: Affect and Mobility in Our Village and elsewhere" on which I want to focus some thoughts on, as it was this that was more pertinent to what I'm working on now.

McDonagh's discussion of provincial writing focused in particular on Our Village, Mary Russell Mitford's series of sketches of life in a Berkshire village, published throughout the 1820s-30s. The paper began with an indicative contextual setting, situating provincial writing within a global context as McDonagh identified how the provincial "place-writing" of the 1820s was popular with emigrants and settlers abroad. Centring upon the question of "what kind of space does provincial writing produce?", the early part of the talk considered the differentiation between regionalism and provincialism through reference to Ian Duncan's 2002 essay on the subject: in particular drawing out Duncan's assertion that the provincial place is defined specifically against the metropolis (over 150 miles becomes regionalism), and that any provincial location is substitutable for any other, whereas regionalism is sustained by the specifics of its particular region. McDonagh also noted the critical concern with provincial writing as, consequently, a static and nostalgic genre, but argued instead for reading provincial writing as necessarily engaged with modernity, produced in and by cultures of mobility. This is a literature in which mobility is central to the narratives, in which the process of place-making, constructing a "sense of place", is key; thus, the appeal to settlers and emigrants elsewhere, involved as they were in the practice of producing space.

The paper raised some fascinating insights for my own work; to go back to that initial wider context, I was especially interested in this situating of place-making literature within the global context of mobilities, resonating as this does with David Harvey's assertion that in an era of space-time compression and global expansion, place becomes increasingly important. The increasing importance of place can be easily supported by turning to, say, regional literature and the way in which it asserts, in this era of global expansion, specific (British) places as unique, identifiable, and important. But what I was getting from Jo McDonagh's ideas here is that in provincial literature there's a further, more complex, process going on, which is that not just specific places but rather a "sense of place", an idea of what place is as a more abstract concept, is also being worked out. The emergent spatial consciousness of what space "is" is accompanied by a similar process occuring on the level of place, in which place, too, is becoming more abstractly conceptualised.  And, perhaps more crucially, this "sense of place" seems to be one in which mobility, movements within places as well as mobile connections with wider surrounding networks of spaces, is centralised, perhaps suggesting that what's forming here is something like Doreen Massey's idea of place not as a bounded and distinct entity but rather as "articulated moments in networks of social relations and understandings" (Space, Place and Gender). The assertion of place isn't just part of the process of nation-building etc. but also something on a more complex conceptual level, and something which recognises the impossibility of statis as a foundation for the solidity of place in the mobile, modern world.

* ( - as an aside, it was his Moving Through Modernity that sparked my initial interest in my phd topic, provoking the necessary combination of agreement and contention that gave me the first roots of a thesis idea... so it was great to finally see/hear the person with which this all began),

October 04, 2010

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Following the Eliot novels I blogged about earlier in the summer, my progression through re-reading all the novels of my thesis slowed somewhat as I reached the final stages of writing up my full draft- long working days left me with little time to do anything much else, let alone read David Copperfield at any great pace (in retrospect, at 900 pages of cramped tiny font, this was not a wise choice to accompany the stressful writing phase. But at least there was Dickens' humour to maintain my enjoyment of the novel and spur on my, at times somewhat flagging, motivation). The blog too has also taken a little longer than usual to write up, but here are a few notes on the novel.

dc2.jpgDavid Copperfield (1850) is a very mobile novel, with almost all characters taking, at one point or another, a substantial journey that sees them uprooted from one permanent location to another. David's own movements set out the typical structure which the mobility of most of the other characters follows, in particular delineating the geographical scope of the novel from Suffolk to London to Kent. These three locales - the only British places in the novel - form a microcosmic world within which David and the other characters move: that Yarmouth and Dover are situated at the ends of David's earth is nicely alluded to when the young David first travels to Yarmouth and is surprised at the flatness of the landscape, wondering as he does, if "the world were really as round as my geography-book said, how any part of it came to be so flat. But I reflected that Yarmouth might be situated at one of the poles; which would account for it" (p. 27)*. London features as the centre-point to this world: all journeys are either to, or pass through, London, and all characters, whether they start out either South or North of the city, eventually migrate, through the culmination of various circumstances, to London; meanwhile those who start out in London, the Micawbers, follow the opposite pattern, ending up in Canterbury.

There's a neat, tight structure to the novel's geography, then, a national space that is at once both constricted in its expanse and yet far from static given the constant mobility of even minor characters. As with most novels of the period, though, one or two characters break out of this setting and venture into the wider world beyond southern England. The most substantially detailed of such journeys is that of Mr Peggotty, who goes off to Europe in search of his niece "little Em'ly". Interestingly, considering the tight plotting of English space, his journey to the continent is into a vague and unknown space: no specifics are given as to where he is going to seek her, only that he is going abroad "to seek her, far and wide". the first movement out of southern England is into a vague and undefined foreign space - there's a seeming reluctance here to engage with the specifics of foreign travel, further suggested when Peggotty describes arriving in France as having "landed theer, as if I'd fell down from the sky” (p. 567). In the narration of his cross-continental travels, it is specifically social interactions which form the basis of his narrative rather, and the continental space appears to be a protracted, expansive space: as he approaches the Swiss mountains, he finds that "ever so fur [far] as I went, ever so fur the mountains seemed to shift away from me" (p. 568).

Beyond Europe, two journeys further afield also provide the subject for a more richy imagined geography of other spaces, firstly with Jack Maldon, and later the Mills', journeys to India. The surrounding discussions of these travels mostly focus around the dangers to health that the country's "trying climate" poses - Mrs Markleham is sure that Jack will die there - thus contributing to familiar Victorian discourses about the potential threat that colonial spaces pose to the British body (in other novels of the period many other travelling subjects become visibly marked or ill as a result of their journeys, and India is perceived as an especially dangerous space for the vulnerable (white) British body- think of Jane Eyre, for example, who is warned that to travel to India would be going towards a "premature death"). India also provides a space for the young David's rather imaginative constructions, "floating dreams concerning golden shawls and elephant's teeth", no doubt inspired by the travel stories he reads as a young boy. It is Australia, though, that figures as the space for imaginative freedom in the novel, with the Micawbers, Mr Peggotty and Em'ly setting sail to begin a new life there. Whilst India represents a potential threat to the healthy British subject, Australia is perceived as a space conducive to health - "the climate is healthy ... finest in the world!" - and as a space of opportunity - "no better opening anywhere for a man who conducts himself well, and is industrious". Its potential comes largely from the perception that this is a blank space, unconquered and uncharted, open for the British subject to roam free; the Euroimperialist mindset is nowhere more clearly stated than when Mrs Micawber tells of how she hopes her husband will, as they approach Australia, "'take his stand upon that vessel’s prow, and firmly say, “This country I am come to conquer! Have you honors? Have you riches? […] They are mine!”’" (p.788).

Throughout these other journeys, the movements of little Em'ly thread through somewhat silently; the story of her journey, eloping with Steerforth and then, having escaped, making her way home on her own, is told only through her uncle's narration. Like Hetty and Maggie, Em'ly's story is one of sexuality and wandering- interestingly, there's a similar early set-up of this theme between her and David, for as children they walk together but on David's next visit at a slightly older age ("more of a little woman than I had supposed"), she will no longer walk with him but instead avoids him, running home another way; in this, there's something of a suggestion of female temptation and seduction played with, as David notes "when I went to meet her, [she] stole home another way, and was laughing at the door when I came back, disappointed" (p. 137). Later, though, it is Em'ly who is tempted into straying away from home, seduced into eloping with Steerforth to the continent, thus playing into another familiar foreign trope of the continent as the space of illicit sexuality. Em'ly returns a "fallen woman", emphasised all the more strongly by her returning to the most "sombre" of London streets, a space of "corruption and decay". The strong condemnation of Em'ly is played out through her near-removal from the novel - she is barely glimpsed by the narrating David, only appearing as a shadowy figure in the background as if the narrative can't quite be brought to encounter the wrongdoing she represents. Her fate for this wrongdoing echoes that of Hetty, for though not transport, Em'ly is taken to Australia by her uncle, thus safely displacing her from Britain just as many other novels cast out villainous or disreputable characters to foreign spaces.

David also journeys beyond the borders of Britain, undertaking a continental journey in search of peace and the restoration of his health following the deaths of Dora and Steerforth; but this also operates as something of a Grand Tour for him, giving him the opportunity to see "the novelties of foreign towns" and improve his "store of knowledge". Like many other young men of the period (and earlier), this gives him the freedom to roam and wander before returning to England and settling into his adult, married, life.

*Page numbers refer to the 1999 Oxford World's Classics edition, ed. Nina Burgis.

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