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July 18, 2011

Travel in the 19th Century (2): Intra–national mobilities

This is the second of two posts on the conference Travel in the 19th Centurywhich I attended at the University of Lincoln, 13-15th July 2011; in part 1 I focused on European travel, here I discuss papers on intra-national mobilities.

The effects of mobility in reshaping the relationship between space and time were a key theme of the European discussions throughout the conference but this also came up in the context of intra-national mobilities, most particularly in reference to railway journeys. Thursday morning saw a fascinating panel on Railway Travel, including Matt Thompson's (University of York) paper on a brilliant set of cartoon illustrations of the railways from the early 1840s, as well as Kara Tennant's (University of Cardiff) "A Restricted Ideal: Female Beauty in Transit" which focused on fashion and femininity in the railway carriage. I was most interested, though, in Di Drummond's (Leeds Trinity) paper on "Complimentary and Competing constructs of modernity in British and Indian narratives of the railway" which opened up an area of research I've long been interested in but haven't yet explored, the building of railways in 19th century India. Drummond's work on British railways has previously been of interest to me, exploring as it does concepts of space-time compression and the creation of new concepts of national space in Victorian Britain. Here a focus on India drew out similar issues to the spatial impact of British railways, which Drummond began by discussing through the intersection of modernity with colonial rhetoric, discourses which work to reinforce one another: the uneven development of India through the railway's spatial impact - an Old/New India - and a temporalised discourse around this solidified the modernity-imperial intersection. Drummond also looked at how national identity and the construction of national space were impacted by the railway: the extensive railway network suggesting the idea of an integrated and unified nation-space, whilst in Indian narratives discussions about national identity were generated through responses to the railway.

On the subject of intra-national mobilities, for me one of the key themes running throughout the conference was the need to expand the idea of what we think of as "travel" towards a concept that incorporates more diverse practices of mobility. This is a subject that remains central to the theoretical frameworks of my research; my thesis entered into debates around mobility theory, supporting the need for a conceptual shift from "travel" to "mobility" - a term that encompasses any form of movement through, and interaction with, socio-spatial contexts, thus situating the "production of meaning" of a subject-space interaction as the defining factor for what "counts" as a journey, rather than more arbitrary factors such as distance travelled or type of journey (leisure/pleasure) undertaken. Papers on the governess-traveller (Jenny Pearce, University of Hull), tramps (Ashley Fisher, University of Hull), and rambling clerks (Nicola Bishop, University of Lancaster) all pointed to the diverse forms of travel practice in the nineteenth century - particularly the value of what we might term "necessary" mobility - and the importance of expanding discussions to incorporate these practices; the representations such narratives produce are both significant in their own right, and in contributing to/working within the wider discourses about travel and transport in the nineteenth century. As my doctoral thesis sought to demonstrate, shifts in travel practice and the changing meanings this produced are manifest throughout all levels and scales of travel context, not just in those we might typically designate as "a journey", and it was encouraging to see others working from such a perspective and to learn more about the value of such narratives.

James Buzard's keynote paper offered an interesting perspective to these debates, bringing in another facet of expanding travel theory that has also been essential to my work: recognising that fictional narratives - particularly 19th century realism - contribute to, and work in the context of, discourses of travel. Centring his discussion around Madame Bovary, and building on the approaches of his Disorienting Fiction, Buzard offered an incisive and compelling reading of the relationship between travel, the novel, and ethnography which culminated in a renewed understanding of narrative technique in the realist text and the suggestion of free indirect discourse as the "stylistic variant of travel ethnography". In the wider context of his arguments, Buzard was, like the preceding papers, also thinking about the question of "what counts as travel" through looking at the discursive interactions of the novel with travel (Emma Bovary's imaginary wanderings - "with him she might have travelled all over the kingdom of Europe, from capital to capital" - provided the starting-point for discussion) and taking the 19th century text as an auto-ethnographic project. The role of the novel in wider travel cultures and discursive contexts is central to my research which takes a similar perspective in analysing fictional travel narratives as actively participating in 19th century travel culture.

But in light of the previous discussion about more inclusive mobilities, Buzard's approach distinctly differs, for he was dismissive of reading these travel practices as they appear in the novel: in setting out the context for discussion, he outlined the many and varied forms of movement in the novel and argued that these aren't really travel, not part of the same idea of travel culture with which the novel is interested. It's a point which stands in terms of his discussion of the relationship between narrative technique and travel culture, and the sophistication of this argument is not to be understated. But to me it seems to neglect the hugely important role that mobility does play in the novel and the perspectives on issues surrounding/emanating from travel culture that such movements offer - from the small-scale travels of characters through and between different places, to the wider-scale view of a novel's movement between geographical locations. These "actual" mobilities and the spaces they occupy play a different but nonetheless significant role in shaping narrative form, and reading through these movements and spaces offers a new perspective on how narratives might be seen to operate in the context of travel cultures. These journeys offer a rich and varied resource for developing further the relationship between travel and the novel. That aside, though, Buzard's paper offered some insightful new perspectives and I'll be thinking about this more as I revisit work on Dickens in the coming weeks.

As a final note on intra-national mobilities, we conference delegates were able to escape the confines of the campus to take a tour of Lincoln Cathedral, led by Jim Chesire, with focus on the Victorian stained glass of the cathedral. It was lovely to see more of the city, learn about the glorious cathedral and to have a shift in perspective - one which, quite aptly, positioned us as tourists!

Travel in the 19th Century @ University of Lincoln, 13–15th July 2011 (part 1: Europe)

Travel in the Nineteenth Century: Narratives, Histories and Collections proved to be a highly enjoyable conference, really demonstrating the true value of interdisciplinary interactions: papers covered a diverse range of travellers, travel narratives and research approaches, whilst threads of continuity came through in intersecting themes, contexts, paradigms and questions that opened up often unexpected areas of discussion.

My write-up of the conference became rather long, so I've split this into 2 parts: this post focuses on the issues surrounding Europe, whilst in part 2 I look at discussions of intra-national mobilities and the novel.

The value of the interdisciplinary context were for me drawn out right from the very beginning of the conference in the panel "The Idea of Europe" in which I presented along with Paul Stock from LSE, and we were very fortunate to be chaired by James Buzard (MIT, and keynote presenter). Speaking on European journeys in Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit, I contextualised the fictional travel narrative within the complex and often contradictory relationship between Britain and Europe which is particularly acute in the mid-nineteenth century. I suggested that, along with factors such as imperial rivalry and economic competition, changing travel practices played a huge role in Britain's tensions with Europe at this time, not just by increasing contact with the foreign "other" but also through the reshaping of global space that travel technologies facilitated: the (perceived) proximity and openness of European space afforded through developments in transport technologies interplayed with existing anxieties about cultural difference and national identity, suggesting the potential collapse of the spatial distances that kept the foreign (European) "other" at a safe remove. My discussion centred around the text's representation of the British body in European space, working out to the wider movements between different locations of the novel: I argued that the novel plays out familiar discourses about Europe through representational modes which also register the encroaching proximity of Europe and the potential for collapse of the certainties of space-time-distance relationships; the British body, surrounded by "a formation of a surface", provides a representational locus for these concerns in the novel.


This 1820 map by William Woodbridge, "Moral and Political Chart of the Inhabited World",displays the tensions between Europe as a space unified against "the rest of the world" as well as riddled with internal hierarchies that problematise the coherence of European identity.

In the discussion that followed I also talked about the function of the English Channel as border-zone and its representation in the novel (something I'm currently writing about in research on Bleak House); the problem of definition - "what is Europe?" in the nineteenth century/ Victorian novel?; and how the British-European tensions still resonate in contemporary socio-political debates. I have yet to decide how my Europe chapter fits into the future development of my research but I've come away with a renewed interest in pursuing this work into the representation of Europe in the Victorian novel.

This was nicely accompanied by Paul Stock's paper "Travel on the Edges of Europe: Greece and the Philhellenes in the 1820s". Stock's work focuses on the idea of Europe in the early nineteenth century, and in this paper he suggested that debates over Greece's position on the borders of Europe provide the locus for wider questions about the meanings of Europe in this period. Greece and Europe function as self-reflexive concepts, and Greece forms the site of an idealised Europe and brings into play the problematic impulses surrounding this idealised concept. The overlapping frameworks and ideas of Europe between our papers provided me with some useful context for my research into the later part of the century, and I was particularly interested to learn about Greece's position in these debates (I've previously come across similar mid-Century debates focused around Turkey but not Greece).

Ulrike Spring's paper "Northern Tours: collecting culture and nature in 19th century Scandinavia" also brought up similar questions in her focus on travel to northern Norway in the period. Norway similarly occupied a border-position on the geographical edges of European space; a North-South divide enabled the southern portion to be more easily ideologically incorporated into Europe (in reverse to the North-South axis of Italy which played a similar role). Spring's paper focused on the town of Tromso, located in the far northof the country, and discussed how the practice of travel helped to imaginatively incorporate Norway into the idea of Europe. Referring to maps of tours to the area, ideas about linearity were raised: the tours followed a set route visiting coastal ports in quick succession, visually constructing a strictly linear route that stands in stark contrast to the coastal geography of the region, and creates a sequential understanding of places, as well as demarcating only these areas as tourist sites - tours never ventured far inland. This really emphasised the extent to which touristic sites are produced as such through the practices of travel and, in particular, through the spatial selectivity of those practices. By way of this process the North gradually became ideologically encompassed in the idea of Europe because it was produced as a certain kind of "European" site - tellingly, Tromso is known as "the Paris of the North". There's also an interesting issue to do with linearity in designating a direct route which plays out a compressing space-time relationship and thus brings Norway into a perceived closer proximity with the "centre" of Europe.

May 30, 2011

Modes of Transport: Travel Writing and Form, 1780–1914 @ KCL, 26th May 2011

Writing about web page

This was the first of several conferences focusing on the theme of travel in the coming months, and what a wondefully stimulating start it was. Focusing on travel writing of the long nineteenth century, the conference specifically centred upon the impact of new technologies of movement on writing about travel; taking Franco Moretti's suggestion that "new space gives rise to a new form", the interest was in how new perspectives, markets, and networks enabled by technological developments gave rise to new literary forms and modes of travel writing.

Clare Pettitt's opening keynote presentation, "Travel in Print: Wonders, Miscellanies and News Culture" thoroughly encapsulated these ideas in an exploration of the relationship between print culture and travel writing. Pettitt began by outlining the notion of print culture as an alternative to the usual focus on print production in the period; print culture incorporates the uses and appropriations of print, thus opening up questions about the sociability of print form, the circulation of text and images, and the use of text as a participatory practice that goes beyond individual reading - summed up in the image of the Victorian scrapbook in which odds and ends of pictures and text are patched together to become appropriated into new compositions. In this, reading becomes a more active and participatory process and thus breaks down the distance between text and reader; this, Pettitt suggested, was vital to the changing forms of travel narrative as travel writing becomes a more porous practice, open to new forms of cross-cultural connection.  Questions of fact and fiction, authorial trust, distance, and the gendered reception of travel writing were all opened up here. I was especially interested in the idea that scrap-booking was a particularly female practice, and thus a way of (actively) participating in the otherwise masculine domain of travel- but was this as positively undertaken as Pettitt suggested, and not accompanied by a longing awareness of the impossibilities of one's own movement? It was interesting also to think about the implications of this break-down of distance for the understanding of global spatial consciousness in the period. I've written before about travel writing playing a key role in the erosion of spatial boundaries and the resultant insecurities of national place that arise from the sense of compressing global space; this notion of travel-print circulation within Britain brings a new dimension to these ideas, resonating with ideas of intra-national mobility that I'm currently exploring as both a resistance to and complication of the meanings of global mobility.

The writing of Basil Hall and H. M. Stanley was used by Pettitt to exemplify these ideas, and throughout the day a vast array of travellers writing about a range of different locations were discussed: British women travelling in Norway, journeys to Rome, Romantic walkers, a female traveller to Chile, de Quincey's mail-coach journeys, female travellers in India, and contemporary travel writers were covered in the papers I attended and delegates I met with. The focus was almost exclusively on "true" travel narratives of journeys undertaken by the writers, but Anne Green's paper on fictional renderings of rail travel in France from 1852-70 proved especially complementary to my work. Although French writing doesn't register the shock of rail travel in the way that can be discerned in British writing of a similar period, Green's paper identified that many corresponding representational techniques are found in French renderings of the railway journey - speed and perception of the landscape, the dislocation of passivitiy vs movement, metaphoric descriptions, as well as the expected themes of sexuality, death, illness and so on. Her focus on Flaubert, however, identified how the railway's impact on shaping literary form was much greater in French writing, the railway really reshaping French literature and narrative form in a way that can't quite be said for British literature - at least not in the same, directly discernible way.

Although I could only attend the first of the two days of this conference, the day opened up a number of useful lines of enquiry for events of the coming weeks and months, including:

Travelling Identities at Birkbeck (18th June), a symposium for discussing ideas of travel and identity construction;

Global Cities: A Literary Atlas of Nineteenth-Century Urban Culturesat King's (25th June), a forum for discussing non-European urban cultures;

Travel in the Nineteenth Century: Narratives, Histories and Collections is a three-day conference at the University of Lincoln this summer, at which I'll be presenting a paper on Dickens's representation of Europe in Little Dorrit;

and a little way off yet, but this year's Dickens Day also picks up on the popularity of this theme by focusing on Dickens and Travel.

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:

August 16, 2010

"The terror of wandering out into the world": George Eliot's Adam Bede

Following on from my previous post on George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, next up is Eliot's Adam Bede (1859). Written the year before Mill, Adam Bede provides a nice complement, with many resonances of theme, tone, and style between the two.

In many ways, Adam Bede is situated as very much a precursor to Mill, especially in the characterisation of the central female figure which becomes, I think, much better developed in Mill. The title Adam Bede is somewhat misleading, because although Adam's narrative provides the overriding arch of the novel, much of the narrative focuses on Hetty Sorrel; Eliot seems drawn towards centralising Hetty, but doesn't quite give Hetty's character the full interior development that we get with Maggie in Mill. Reading the novel this time around, I was struck by how very silent Hetty is: although the third-person focalization of the narrative gives us a sense of "Hetty's world" (as chapter IX is titled), it's striking how little she says to those around her, her dialogue mostly limited to a yes or no here and there.

Adam Bede

Yet whilst in this sense I think Mill achieves something that isn't quite realised in AB, in one of the central themes, the love affair between Hetty and Arthur Donnithorne, AB resonates with Mill in ways that situate the former as something like Mill's grown-up sister. Like Maggie, Hetty too is restricted from walking freely and her aunt doesn't like her to go out walking much, scolding her for being late home. But her walks to visit the lady's maid up at the Donnithorne residence bring Hetty into the path of Arthur, the heir to the estate. As with Maggie and Philip, what follows is a series of the illicit meeting between lovers on woodland walks, and it is implied that Hetty and Arthur meet frequently in this way for a couple of months; but where the relationship in Mill remained sexually innocent, here things are carried further with the resulting "dreadful consequence" of Hetty's pregnancy. The novel quite explicitly realises the social presumptions of the sexual dangers of women "out walking", that women’s wandering is dangerous and risks compromising women’s sexual purity.

In a bitter mirroring of these circumstances, Hetty gives birth to the resultant baby whilst wandering alone and on foot, on her journey in search of Arthur who has long gone away with his regiment to Windsor; and then, when she finds that they have left for Ireland, Hetty must make her way back again. It's this journey that I spend most time on in the thesis, so I don't want to say too much about it here. One thing I haven't been able to explore (yet? at all? with time rapidly running away from me, I imagine it's going to be the latter) in amongst the social meanings of women walking - associations with madness and wildness, being subject to condemning remarks and so on- is the fact of Hetty's being heavily pregnant on this journey. In a period in which the visible presence of a woman in the streets leaves her open to comment, criticism, and in which birth entails "confinement", how much does Hetty's pregnant body further transgress social codes of respectability? What did it mean to be, specifically, a pregnant woman out walking?

In contrast with Hetty's (mostly) limited mobility, Dinah Morris stands as a challenge to social conventions. As a Methodist preacher, she is afforded a mobility rarely seen amongst other female characters, moving between the Stoniton and Hayslope locales in the Midlands, as well as further afield up to Leeds. This goes hand in hand with her position outside of the typical notion of femininity: dedicating herself to religious work, she is in a position to refuse taking a husband and she lives an independent life. This isn't exactly condoned by those around her: her aunt Poyser bemoans her wandering ways and her refusal to marry, which would make her settle down, root her in one place; but, she can live this life without accusations of impropriety and unrespectability. Still, though, it seems Eliot is uneasy with Dinah's position and at the end of the novel draws her into a conventional conclusion, although at least reaches something of a compromise whereby Dinah marries Adam but he allows her to keep up the preaching, mobile lifestyle - that is, until the wider forces of patriarchy step in and ban women preachers altogether, and so Dinah ultimately ends up with the same fate as all other women, being a wife and mother safely confined within her home-place. 

Also in contrast to Hetty's journeying is that of Adam, whose walking provides a nice gender contrast. This is especially noticeable in the journey that follows Hetty's: after a few chapters of her weary toiling on foot, Adam sets out in search of her, briskly walking 10 miles with ease and enjoyment. Her struggle and endurance are utterly at odds with his ability to so easily walk a long distance. Whilst women are constrained from much walking, and condemned when they do, walking in men is a celebrated feature: right at the start of the novel, we see Casson singing Adam's praises to the stranger on horseback, and amongst his list of positive attributes is Adam's ability to walk forty miles a day. This episode of Adam following after Hetty, trying to trace her movement, reminded me of a frequent trope in later mid-Century novels (Braddon and also Collins, I think) whereby a woman runs away and is followed by a man, detective or otherwise: only this becomes so much easier with the advent of railways, where one can go from station to station, following pre-laid route after pre-laid route, and rely on the inevitability of someone having spotted a woman alone on the train as something of an oddity. For poor Adam, there is no regularised, standard route to follow, and he can only guess at where she might have taken a carriage or cart from (not knowing, of course, that she set off after her first coach ride on foot). If you're going to get lost in the nineteenth-century novel, do so before Industrialised transport comes along.

Hetty is, however, ultimately the greatest traveller of all in Adam Bede: for her punishment for the abandonment (and thus, murder) of her child is transportation to Australia. The narrative doesn't follow, and we're left only to imagine how great "the terror of wandering out into the world" would be for Hetty making this final journey.

August 02, 2010

"Wanderin' like a wild thing": women walking in Eliot's The Mill on the Floss

As part of my work re-writing my thesis this summer (in preparation for submission next term) I'm re-reading all of the novels that have provided the basis for my discussions; most of my work focuses on shorter passages from the texts -always trying to keep the wider context in mind, but it's easy to get absorbed in the details of fragments and the themes of the thesis, and lose sight of what else is going on. It's useful to take a step back from the detail, read the novels in their entirety again, as well as taking a fresh look at how the themes of travel, space, movement work in the wider scope of the novels. As I progress through the novels (about 20 in total), I'll blog a short piece on each novel, summarising the notes I've made on the central themes. First up, for no reason other than I was looking forward to reading it again and it's relevant for the earlier chapters of the thesis, is George Eliot's 1860 The Mill on the Floss.the-mill-on-the-floss.jpg

From the opening passage of the novel, the river Floss is established as central to the text: it passes alongside the Tullivers' home at Dorlcote Mill and connects several of the main places, including the town of St Oggs and the Deane's house. The river has an important function in terms of the everyday space of this local setting: the novel rarely moves beyond the close proximity of a few key settings, but the river operates as a reminder of the wider circuits with which the locality of place is connected, suggesting the possibility of a wider spatiality beyond, within which the events are situated. The river is significant in the development of key narrative moments too: most notably for the gender/travel theme, Stephen's attempt to seduce Maggie into eloping with him, carrying her off miles downstream; there is also repeated mention of the river having flooded in the past, and at the end of the novel this possibility is realised, with the great flood in which Maggie and Tom are drowned.

Walking is an equally, if not more, important form of movement, particularly significant in how it functions in the development of Maggie's character. As a young girl, Maggie is fond of playing out doors and somewhat prone to wandering off, "wanderin' up an' down by the water like a wild thing" as her mother says; the epitome of this is when she runs off to join the gypsies. Maggie is of a passionate nature, walking just one element of her "wildness", her non-conformity to the social expectations of femininity as defined by her mother and aunts: her habit of wandering is part of this straying, uncontainable character and so, from an early point in the novel, this sets up the theme of women's walking as having negative associations as an act which goes against conventional feminine propriety.

The novel skips to a few years later, and Maggie at 17 years old is equally fond of walking in the "Red Deeps"; notably the first time we encounter Maggie having developed into "the mould of early womanhood" is out walking here. But now Maggie's walking is no longer expressive of her wild, passionate nature but has a slightly different resonance; for Maggie is no longer the girl she once was, now passive and accepting of her fate, preventing herself from engaging with anything that would "make her long to see and know many things", and walking seems here to be a way of coping with the narrow proximity that characterises her life. It is, as she says, her "one indulgence" that makes the rest of her life bearable; no longer a wild running, then, but a quiet form of release or escape from the narrow boundaries of her life.

But these walks swiftly take a different turn. The negativity surrounding Maggie's walking (she is again scolded at this older age for walking) is connected to wider discourses about women walking, which has highly sexualised associations: women walking alone in the street risk being regarded as sexually promiscuous, and to walk alone with a man that is not one's husband is entirely unrespectable. Maggie's walks in the Red Deeps turn into meetings with Philip Wakem, who she is otherwise banned from meeting; their love for one another develops through these encounters in the woods, and the entire of their secret relationship is conducted through such meetings: following the first meeting, it is implied that they have continued to meet out walking in the woods regularly for a year (p. 344-50). Unlike Eliot's previous Adam Bede, the relationship between Maggie and Philip remains sexually innocent, but nonetheless the impropriety of their meetings is made quite clear in Tom’s accusations of Maggie's behaviour, which specifically focuses on the throwing away of her respectability to her "walking out" in the woods with Philip (p. 356).

However, Maggie is, it seems, somewhat prone to such illicit meetings, and when Stephen Guest goes to meet Maggie at her aunt Moss’ they too walk out in the lane: and again, Tom’s later criticisms of this behaviour is that she “walked alone with him in the lanes”, something that “no modest girl would have done”- at the time, too, Maggie is worried about how this behaviour will be construed by her aunt. But the pivotal point for Stephen and Maggie is the boat trip down the river. Here the typical gendered discourses of travel space are played out: Maggie is moved by Stephen who rows her miles downstream, and she expresses that she does not consent to this, yet still it is she that faces the censure and accusations of impropriety for this, her movement which takes her out of the bounds of local place and transgresses the lines of social respectability, regardless of whether it is she moving herself or being moved by another. Notably, too, Maggie must return home if she is to have any hope of restoring her propriety; here she must face the censure of the society around her, with no possibility of freedom to escape from this (her options are limited and not entirely within her own control). Meanwhile, Stephen travels to Holland, free to move as he wishes and escape from any blame or implications of his actions, even though he is the one who has facilitated and enforced her movement.

It's all for nothing, though, when the flood comes and sweeps away Tom and Maggie, re-uniting them in a final embrace as they are drowned together. The novel's close asserts both the inevitability of the continual changes to place, with the town repaired and renewed after the flood, life carrying on and spaces evolving accordingly, whilst memorialising Tom and Maggie in the tomb that stands to hold onto the continuity of the past.

July 23, 2010

Maps in the Novel, part II

Follow-up to "A Fine Thing to Study": Maps in the Victorian novel from Charlotte's Research blog

After my previous post, I was starting to question the assumptions I'd made about gender and maps- are maps a masculine form of knowledge in the novel? It occurred to me that whilst maps are easily regarded as such, being produced by and for various masculine projects of Imperialism/ land ownership/ property control/ etc., all the instances I've come across of maps being used for educational purposes were in relation to female characters. It got me wondering whether maps were in fact perhaps more associated with female education - which tends to be undertaken at home under the direction of a governess/tutor or through private study, and therefore maps offer an easily accessible form through which to learn, imparting knowledge without the need of a tutor, often owned by families - rather than the more formal education that boys received. But then in re-reading The Mill on the Floss, I came across a reference in relation to Tom Tulliver's education: his father is speculating on whether the teaching of Mr Stelling is adequate observes "that there were no maps, and  not enough 'summing,' but he made no formal complaint to Mr Stelling" (p. 196). Maps are also an intended outcome of Tom's schooling: Mr Tulliver has "a vague intention that Tom should be put to some business which included the drawing out of plans and maps" (p. 176). Nothing conclusive to be drawn from this (or, indeed, any of the other examples I've been thinking about), but an interesting addition to the theme nonetheless.

June 15, 2010

"A Fine Thing to Study": Maps in the Victorian novel

This blog has seen a few map-related entries at one point or another; it's one of the themes of my research that I find really interesting and have incorporated some reading into my research, but which ultimatly hasn't been able to feature all that heavily in the final thesis- a snippet in the chapter on Victorian spatiality, another bit later on in relation to British-European spatiality. So this blog is by way of pulling together all of the map quotes I've collected into one place, drawing out some of the connecting themes as I go.

The first occurrence of maps in the thesis is in reference to Victorian spatial awareness, noting how maps appear as indicators of global spatial knowledge: maps are often used to demostrate knowledge about the world's spaces, indicative of the "opening-up" of global spatiality that's occuring in the period and ensuing wider cultural knowledge about global space that this effected. So maps are often associated with education and learning: in M.E. Braddon's John Marchmont's Legacy, we see Mary “consulting her terrestrial globe, and informing herself as to the latitude and longitude of the Fiji Islands” (p. 105); “she could", we are told "have named the exact latitude and longitude of the remotest islands in the least navigable ocean, and might have given an accurate account of the manners and customs of its inhabitants” (p. 131). Likewise, Dorothea in Middlemarch is shown educating herself in “the geography of Asia Minor, in which her slackness had often been rebuked by Mr. Casaubon” and, unrolling a map, decides that “this morning she might make herself finally sure that Paphlagonia was not on the Leventine coast” (p. 806).

Maps are a source of knowledge (the main source) about global space; and the flip-side of this is when maps are used to convey the ignorance of a character:in Gaskell's Cranford, the narrator tells us that  “as for the use of the globes, I had never been able to find it out myself, so perhaps I was not a good judge of Miss Matty’s capability of instructing in this branch of education; but it struck me that equators and tropics, and such mystical circles, were very imaginary lines to her, and that she looked upon the signs of the Zodiac as so many remnants of the Black Art” (p. 185). It's not unusual that this is a female character; maps, gender and knowledge are interlinked and characters that are shown to lack knowledge about maps or globes are typically female; in Mary Barton Gaskell makes a similar comment, for when Alice knows only of South America, where her son is gone, that it’s “‘at t’other side of the sun, they tell me’” (p. 34), Mary’s small amount of geographical knowledge – “she had seen a terrestrial globe, and knew where to find France and the continents on a map” – gives her a sense of smug satisfaction over Alice and Margaret who, at “Alice’s geography” is “so quiet and demure, that Mary was in doubt if she were not really ignorant” too (p. 34).

"Where papa is" by Davidson Knowles

So maps are part of access to education, but for the female characters who do have access to this knowledge it highlights a stark contrast between the containment of their lives within a narrow spatial radius, and the expansive global space about which they're learning. There's a telling comment in reference to Dorothea about how this form of knowledge shouldn't bear any relation to a woman's sphere of daily life: looking upon the spoils of her uncle's travels which includes maps, Dorothea feels no affiliation with these objects because  “she had never been taught how she could bring them into any sort of relevance with her own life” (p. 74). This is a particularly masculine form of knowledge, and must be interpreted, understood, given the correct tools. And this knowledge is a tempting awareness of a world that will never be experienced by many of these women: in John Marchmont's Legacy, although Mary's geographical knowledge is astute, she is expected to never venture further than the confines of various houses which she is moved between by those around her: "where was she likely to go in her experience of the wider world?"

Just as there are ways of reading maps, maps encourage a certain type of reading spaces. In Jane Eyre, Jane stands and “surveys the grounds laid out like a map” (p. 106); map-reading encourages that survey/ prospect view. There's a sense of distance played with too- the grounds as not belonging in any sense toJane, being a space that she occupies with no sense of interrelation with the landscape; she stands back and looks down, rather than experiencing it (a nice contrast to the highy sensory and embodied experience that comes later in her traversal across the heaths). Survey also comes up in Cranford: “Miss Jenkyns had learnt some piece of poetry off by heart, and used to say, at all the Cranford parties, how Peter was ‘surveying mankind from China to Peru,’ which everybody had thought very grand, and rather appropriate, because India was between China and Peru, if you took care to turn the globe to the left instead of the right” (p. 164). The imperial connotations of mapping and the surveying gaze are clear here- Peter as the monarch-of-all-I-survey in colonialised India, casting a British eye over "mankind". And there's a lovely bit of humour in that last line, casting an eye to how map-reading is all a matter of perspective and the way in which you look at the globe or map.

Not only gender, but class too impacts upon the use of maps. Characters of the lowest classes demonstrate but a vague awareness of what "foreign parts" might look like: Jo, the street-sweeper in Bleak House, “has no idea, poor wretch, of the spiritual destitution of a coral reef in the Pacific, or what it costs to look up the precious souls among the cocoa-nuts and breadfruit” (p. 258). But in Dickens we see more rudimentary forms of maps circulating amongst lower classes: in David Copperfield Peggotty meets “some foreign dealers who knew that country, and they had drawn him a rude map on paper, which he could very well understand” (p.573) to help him traverse the continental landscape, the type of map drawn pertaining very well to the type of journey he is undertaking as he wanders with almost nothing in search of Em'ly, the map one of his only possessions. There's also the scene at the beginning of Little Dorrit, in the prison at Marseilles, with Cavalletto “on his knees on the pavement, mapping it all out with a swarthy forefinger; ‘Toulon (where the galleys are), Spain over there, Algiers over there. Creeping away to the left here, Nice […] So away to – hey! there’s no room for Naples;’ he had got to the wall by this time; ‘but it’s all one; it’s in there!’” (p.3). The selectivity of a map is apparent here, the artificial framing that a map demands, the choices of representation that it requires, the subjectivity of the map-creator.

These are just some of the preliminary ideas I've been coming across- I'll hopefully keep adding to this collection of references and expand the scope of this bit of research further (I'm sure I have a few more references tucked away in the depths of my notes, too), and having drafted out some of the key themes I hope to develop some of these ideas in greater detail in future work.

December 11, 2009

The Railways in Art

I've spent the term writing about representations of railways in Victorian literature, out of which have emerged some interesting and unexpected themes and ideas. So far the chapter falls around two main themes: the carriage as a disruptive force that severs the body from connection with the surounding journey-space; and the new spatial context that the carriage produces within itself. In both, images of the body of the travelling subject provide a locus for understanding the new and disrupted spatial contexts that the railway produces.

Often, literary representations are characterised by absence: many journeys aren't described in great detail, travelling bodies often disappear from view. This makes the fleeting glances of travellers all the more interesting- often, the merest appearance of a hand here, or a railway rug there, provide rich sites for analysis within the context of spatiality. For instance, Dickens' description of Dombey's journey notes how objects appear "close at hand and almost in the grasp, ever flying from the travellers, and a deceitful distance ever moving slowly with him” (p.311); that slight reference to Dombey’s hand is so crucial in articulating the loss of embodied contact with journey-space that the railway journey enforces, capturing how spatial perception is thrown into confusion not only due to the velocity of the train but also because the body has lost its relational sense of spatial understanding in this new mode of travel in which space can only be perceived, not experienced in an embodied sense, through the barrier of the window.

Much of this analysis depends on constructing theoretical frameworks for understanding the significance of these passages, and artistic representations of the railways are useful here in supporting and developing a sense of how the carriage-space was perceived and understood. The exhibition Art in the Age of Steam that I went to last year has been extremely useful in this respect, thanks to the wonderful exhibition catalogue that I was lucky enough to be given. I've been looking in particular at images of railway carriage interiors, which aren't often detailed in the texts I'm looking at, and paintings therefore provide a useful supplement for thinking about how this new spatial context was conceptualised. Augustus Egg's "The Travelling Companions" (1862) is especially indicative, full of suggestions that resonate with the ideas I've been working on.

"Travelling Companions"

The painting emphasises the enclosure and privacy of the railway carriage: the framing of the visual field is such that the compartment is seemingly little bigger than that of a horse-drawn carriage, and everything is close, pushed in upon itself. The mirroring of the two girls exaggerates this sense of enclosure, drawing the carriage space in upon itself, and also creates this as an intensely private scene, locking the girls (presumably sisters) into a self-contained unit. This private bond between them places the domestic as central to the image, and everything about the interior operates to suggest that they are within a domestic interior; there's a complete denial of this as public, open space and the doubling furthers this by acting to exclude the possibility of anything else entering into this frame of vision.

The possibility of anything else entering the carriage is further prevented by the voluminous dresses that take up almost half of the picture - this provides an interesting resonance with literary depictions in which we so frequently see characters bundelled or parcelled up in numerous coats, rugs, blankets etc. Here, this "parcelling up" asserts their class status, surrounding the women in wealth and luxury which offers layers of protection from the industrialised mode of transport - there is not the merest suggestion of the railway as machine ensemble here. The dresses also act on gendered terms - that these women can travel alone in the carriage reflects the new travel possibilities that railways provided women with; but questions and concerns of the propriety of women travelling alone were subject of much discussion in the early years of railway travel and in literature women risk being villified for doing so (in the texts I've read, women often travel alone only in desperate or extraordinary circumstances). The enclosure of the carriage entailed potential connotations as a sexualised space (although that goes back to horse-drawn carriages too- think of Madame Bovary): but here, there's safety suggested as the "travelling companions" ensure propriety is upheld; and the layers of their dresses conceal their bodies from the possibility of sexual contact or the intrusion of a gazing male - there's literally no space for a male intruder with all those layers of silk!

So we have here a space that seems to be drawing away from its reality as a railway-compartment and instead seeking to recreate a feminised, domestic sense of space. Even the view from the window resists the railway: although this centralised, the view beyond features as little more than a back-drop to the foreground. It's also so static: there is no suggestion that the train is moving rapidly, not only is the view perfectly framed but only the curtain tassle at the top of the window shows any sign of movement. It's typical, too, to see the girls engaged in reading and sleeping- the railway journey enables the traveller to do something other than travel; travelling is now a privatised, individual experience. But this is, of coures, only to consider the first-class carriage; a very different experience of rail travel is presented in images of third-class carriages- but I'll save that for another blog post soon.

October 11, 2009

1 year to go…

Well, there wasn't much to report on here over the summer. After speaking at the conference I wrote about I spent a few weeks buried away writing Chapter 4, so that I could complete it before going on a much-needed break to Cornwall. After that, September passed in a bit of a blur- it's amazing how much time and energy moving house takes, and the next thing I knew it was October and the start of my final year- eeek!!!

Chapter 4 turned out to be a long one, with a huge amount of information crammed in as there is just so much work on Europe that had to be brought into my thinking about the literary representation of European spaces. The Victorian British conception of Europe, tensions between Britain and Europe, writing by British travellers to the continent and ensuing representational issues, anxieties over national identity, hostility towards Britain, Imperial competition and rivalry on the one hand and shared ideologies of superiority on the other, the remains of the Grand Tour, the emergence of honeymoon and family trips, female travellers, anticipation and anxieties of modernity... All of these issues, and more, filter through representations of journeys to Europe in just a handful of mid-Victorian novels. This left me with a difficult chapter to get into a coherent written form- not least, trying to order all of this into a linear argument caused me a lot of headaches- a spatial map of the chapter would have been much easire (and appropriate!)

The finished chapter ended up at around 20,000 words, which brings the thesis total to over 60,000 words so far (all desperately waiting to be re-written). This means that my plan to write 2 more chapters is now adapting to just one more lengthy chapter on railway journeys- which works nicely, as I don't think there's enough material for 2 whole chapters, and it also relieves a bit of stress as it allows me to finish writing the first draft of the thesis by sometime around Christmas and therefore get cracking on the entire re-write in term 2, in time to give my supervisors the near-finished thesis in mid-June... but I don't want to think about that just yet...

For now, the focus is on shaping my writing about the railway journey- once again, there is a lot of relevant research out there, so I'm working on getting my own approach to it shaped out, which as always means close attention to travelling bodies and how they are positioned in spatial understandings. So far, I've been coming up against a lot of absences- lack of detailed descriptions of railway journeys, and bodies notably absent from descriptions that are present- which seems significant in itself. Although it's also more than a little frustrating, wishing that just somewhere there is a book with a fantastically detailed railway journey, but also terrified that there might be one such novel and I haven't/won't find it before finishing the PhD!

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