All entries for Friday 09 February 2007

February 09, 2007

conference schedule

Writing about web page

Maddie and I have now created the schedule for our ‘From House to Home’ conference. Click on the above link to see it.

Print Culture and the Novel, 1850–1900:

A one-day conference, 20th January 2007, English Faculty, Oxford University

This conference, organised by Beth Palmer and Elizabeth Altick, was held to celebrate the fifteth anniversary of the publication of Richard Altick’s seminal book, The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public 1800-1900 (1957). With two plenary speakers and three sessions each consisting of three parallel panels, the schedule was a packed full of interesting and original papers given by post-graduate students alongside established Professors.

Keynote Lecture 1: Professor Laurel Brake (Birkbeck College), The Advantage of Fiction: the Novel and the ‘success’ of the Victorian Periodical
The central contention of Laurel’s plenary was that both the novel and the periodical achieved success through their symbiotic mutual relationship as ‘blood brothers.’ Rather than seeing periodicals as vehicles for carrying literature, she argued that the spreading of literature through periodicals and journals ensured the popularity of the periodical press and made such a wide selection economically viable. She then went on to speak of the precarious status of the novel in the late nineteenth century. Despite their overwhelming popularity, novels had an un-reputable status. Surprisingly, from a twenty-first century perspective, the mainstream press had a far more stable reputation and periodicals were seen as significantly more respectable. Laurel finished her lecture by focusing on certain details of specific periodicals, namely the Spectator and the Athenaeum. She spoke of the effect of the anonymity of reviewers and the eclectic mixture of adverts found in every journal.

As I’ve continued to think about the ideas introduced by Laurel’s paper, I have found the following websites very useful in the information they provide about the Victorian Periodical Press:

The Waterloo Directory of English Periodicals and Newspapers, 1800-1900.

The Victorian Web


The British Library’s Concise History of the British Newspaper in the Nineteenth Century

Parallel Panel: Women’s Magazines
Heather Milne, from the University of Winnipeg, opened this panel with her paper, ‘‘The Sex that Loves to Shop’: Gender, Nation and the Literary Marketplace in Sara Jeanette Duncan’s A Social Departure.’ Focusing on issues of femininity, consumption, and authorship, Heather spoke of the revisions that Duncan made to her novel, A Social Departure, How Orthodocia and I Went Round the World by Ourselves (1890) in order that it be successfully serialised in the magazine, The Ladies Pictorial. One of the ways in which Duncan made her original Canadian story appeal to a wide British female readership was by introducing a travel companion for her narrator- Orhodocia. Both heterodox AND orthodox, Orhodocia served as a satirical parody of the stereotypical British New Woman. She longs to be a man but is happy to travel the world shopping with her Canadian companion. Heather explored the ambivalence that Duncan’s characters demonstrate about the commodification of the East as they travel through India, Egypt, and Japan. She then finished her paper by drawing attention to some of the ways in which their story played on the Imperial interests of tourism and nationalism and exploited the increasingly commercialized domain of women’s magazines.

In her paper, Ana Alicia Garza (Queen Mary, University of London) spoke about Oscar Wilde’s editorship of The Woman’s World. In 1886, Cassell’s introduced a new magazine- The Lady’s World. Comprised of fashion pages, needlework patterns and society gossip, the magazine looked to be a hit. However, due to the lack of a clearly defined audience, it failed to attract the loyal readership necessary to the continuation of any successful publication. To save it from collapsing completely, Wilde agreed to take over the editorship of the magazine in 1887. After changing the title to The Woman’s World he moved onto transform the magazine into an intelligent publication offering information and advice on literature, art, science, social studies, and the women’s movement. His aim as editor was to offer a magazine that proved the ‘organ of women of intellect, culture, and position.’ Indeed, he achieved the participation of many prominent women writers such as Amy Levy. However, as Ana Alicia discussed, the magazine did not become hugely successful as Wilde had hoped-he ended up resigning in 1889 and the magazine was discontinued the following year. Even after his editorship, portraits of women in front of closed windows co-existed in the magazine alongside fashion spreads and debates about the Women Question. Instead of appealing the wide audience he had hoped, the wide variety of content alienated many and appealed to few.

In the final paper of the panel, Carme Font focused on readings of the magazine Womanhood within the ‘New Woman’ print culture of 1890’s Britain. Her discussion of the emerging approaches to female readership was especially interesting. Building on Kate Flint’s work on the female reader, Carme argued that Womanhood sought to introduce a reader-centred approach, empowering its readers to involve themselves in world affairs and social problems.

Parallel panel: Sensation

After two very interesting papers about the work of Mary Elizabeth Braddon (which I hope to write some notes on at some point), Andrew Nash gave a fascinating paper entitled ’‘Finding a Market: William Clark Russell, Women and the Sea’ which focused on issues of pseudonymity and anonymity in relation to late nineteenth century authorship.’ I was interested to learn that before establishing himself as a prolific and successful nautical novelist, William Clark Russell wrote ten novels mostly under female pseudonyms and with female narrators. Published under the pseudonym Sydney Mostyn, these novels focused on female experiences of love, domestic drama, and sensation. Clark Russell, Nash argued, believed that in order to be a successful novelist he had to take on a female persona. This belief highlights the gendered nature of the late nineteenth century literary marketplace. An extract from Clark Russell’s 1872 serialized novel, The Deceased Wife’s Sister, stands out as a example of the stereotypically feminine tone his early novels developed:

Reader, if you are a woman, you can guess our conversation. Frivolous as it was compared with my secret thoughts, I will not dent that I found an irresistible charm in our discussion of the bridal toilette, the ceremony, and the breakfast. Is it not one sign at least of the depth and mystery of a woman’s heart that it can toy with the trifles of life until, like a child, it makes the superficial itself a perpetual gladness- that superficial which wearies, which disgusts the other sex?

Elisabeth Jay on Nineteenth Century Literature and the Bible

Writing about web page

Elisabeth Jay began her talk by observing the worrying speed at which general Biblical knowledge has declined. That fact that undergraduates no longer begin university with a firm grasp of the Old and New Testaments, she argued, means that the approach to teaching Victorian literature must, by necessity, be modified. As Victorian literature’s ‘chief inter-text’ she recommended that tutors provide students with entire Biblical passages which relate to the specific chapters being studied in the seminars. Hence, she suggested, the students would be encouraged to make the links between the Bible and the literary text for themselves. Another solution to restoring Biblical knowledge to undergraduates is, as was suggested at the end of the talk, is the introduction of basic reference books such as Nineteenth-Century Religion and Literature: An Introduction Emma Mason and Mark Knight.

Emphasising the wide-spread knowledge of Biblical narratives in the nineteenth century, Jay quoted from Coleridge’s letters in which he proclaimed the ubiquity of the gospel. From domestic servants who were exposed to the Bible at times of family prayer, to authoritarian figures, Biblical knowledge was appropriated and interpreted everywhere in Victorian Britain. One of the most obvious places through which to evidence the assumption of the existence of a common biblical knowledge throughout the literature of the time is, of course, in the work of Charlotte Bronte. In the preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre, Bronte figures Thackeray as a modern day Micah when she claims:

There is a man in our own days whose words are not framed to tickle delicate ears: who, to my thinking, comes before the great ones of society, much as the son of Imlah came before the throned Kings of Judah and Israel; and who speaks truth as deep, with a power as prophet-like and as vital — a mien as dauntless and as daring. Is the satirist of “Vanity Fair” admired in high places? I cannot tell; but I think if some of those amongst whom he hurls the Greek fire of his sarcasm, and over whom he flashes the levin-brand of his denunciation, were to take his warnings in time — they or their seed might yet escape a fatal Rimoth-Gilead. Why have I alluded to this man? I have alluded to him, Reader, because I think I see in him an intellect profounder and more unique than his contemporaries have yet recognised; because I regard him as the first social regenerator of the day — as the very master of that working corps who would restore to rectitude the warped system of things; because I think no commentator on his writings has yet found the comparison that suits him, the terms which rightly characterise his talent. (The Author’s Preface to the Second Edition, 1847)

In attributing to Thackery the qualities of the Old Testament prophet, as well as drawing on a common point of reference, Bronte was to some extent, however accurately she rendered the original, reworking the scriptures in order to fit her own reading. Interestingly, throughout her paper, Jay introduced a Bakhtinian framework which speaks of our necessary exteriority and distance to the text. Considering the final chapters of his book, The Dialogic Imagination, she proposed to consider Bakhtin’s question about the point at which an author, in attempting to re-work a master text, actually subverts it. From the extreme Calvinist fears of Nancy in Anne Bronte’s Agnes Grey to the limited readings of the Bible evidenced by some of the characters in Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Jay spoke of the ways in which an author could interrogate or enter into dialogue with the possible meanings of a biblical story through his/her characters. As a means of emotionally abusing children in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, she then explored the extent to which the Bible can be seen to function as a central adult ‘weapon’.

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