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July 30, 2007

Victorian Memories Conference

Writing about web page

Victorian Memories: A one day interdisciplinary postgraduate conference hosted by the University of Central England in Birmingham

Entitled ‘The Materiality of Memory in Christina Rossetti’s Poetics,’ my paper will focus on Rossetti’s explication of individual memories through the architectural metaphors of the house and castle.

June 20, 2007

NAVSA Conference, Victorian Materialities

NAVSA conference

Click on the image to see the details of the 2007 NAVSA conference at which I will be presenting a paper entitled ‘Architectural Metaphors in Christina Rossetti’s Poetics.’ The details of the keynote speakers and information about the various sessions have recently been added. They all look very interesting so I’m really looking forward to going.

June 18, 2007

Reading: Images, Texts, Artefacts

Reading: Images, Texts, Artefacts, Graduate School of Humanities, Cardiff University, 28-29 June, 2007

The principal aim of this conference is to encourage doctoral researchers from across the humanities to consider how the concept of reading may come to bear on their own subjects of research. ‘Reading’ here is intended to be interpreted in a wide sense, to include the reading of, e.g. images, buildings, inscriptions, theatre or dance performances or other creative productions as well as books and manuscripts. This approach both allows participation by students from many humanities disciplines and topics, and also provides a framework for interdisciplinary cross-fertilisation. Beyond this tangible ‘cross-fertilisation’ a secondary aim will be to foster skills and confidence in presentation and communication among postgraduates.

The paper I will give at this conference is entitled ‘Writing and Reading the Rhetoric of Femininity in Christina Rossetti’s The Face of the Deep.’

Written in 1892, The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on The Apocalypse is Christina Rossetti’s last published work. Few scholars have taken it seriously enough to conduct a through survey of the ideas presented. Although hugely popular in the late nineteenth century, such dismissal is understandable when the relentless self-mortifying comments that Rossetti makes about her own hermeneutics are taken into account. Certainly, her claim that all she can do is ‘but quote both texts’ is not a great incentive to engage in a comprehensive study of its hermeneutics. Whist Joel Westerholm suggests that the constant reminders of the humility of the author may have influenced the book going through seven editions ; it is difficult for a modern readership to appreciate such self-deprecation.

With a specific focus on The Face of the Deep, my paper will examine the extent to which Rossetti sought to muffle her more controversial and challenging messages within an overtly traditional ‘feminine’ discourse in which she positioned herself as a ‘reader’ rather than an interpreter. Insistently fearing that she was being ‘overbold’ (551) and crossing the elusive line between performing a ‘surface study’ and probing of the depths of the un-revealed mysteries surrounding the nature of God, she resorted to denying any authorial responsibility.

As I expand on Rossetti’s hermeneutical interrogation of the term ‘reader,’ I consider her self-deprecating remarks in the context of her medieval fore-mothers such as St Teresa of Avila. Alison Weber suggests that the use of “feminine” features in St Teresa’s work are to be seen as the means by which she broke the Pauline silence and asserted her authority whist at the same time defended herself against any charges the Inquisition could bring against her. Despite the gap of three centuries between the writings of St Teresa and those of Christina Rossetti, the insights that Weber’s book bring are of an immense help when considering the language of obfuscation that is shared by both writers. Although Rossetti did not have a death threat hanging over her for interpreting the scriptures, her authority was, as this paper will demonstrate, similarly severely hampered by the fact of her gender.

March 27, 2007

'From House to Home': Conference Review

Our aim in organising the 2007 BAVS interdisciplinary postgraduate conference was to address and tackle issues concerning representations of houses and homes in Victorian literature and art. Through panels and discussions, we hoped to bring to light many of the roots of our twenty-first century cultural assumptions. We envisaged that the conference would be of relevance to MA and PhD students working in the field of Victorian studies. Our hopes were fully realised. The day went better than we dared anticipate. A huge variety of papers coupled with lively discussion and questions made for an interesting and fully packed event.

The day started with Alice Stainer’s paper, ‘‘I had a little chamber in the house’: The Subversion of Domesticity in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh.’ The central focus of was on Aurora’s ‘little chamber’:

I had a little chamber in the house,
As green as any privet-hedge a bird
Might choose to build in, through the nest itself
Could show but dead-brown sticks and straws; the walls
Were green, the carpet was pure green, the straight
Small bed was curtained greenly, and the folds
Hung green about the window, which let in
The out-door world with all its greenery.
You could not push your head out and escape
A dash of fawn-dew from the honeysuckle,
But so you were baptized in the grace
And privilege of seeing…

Aurora Leigh (I.567-78)

Alice spoke of the room as an organising principle for a discussion of the conventions and subversions of female domesticity. She argued that Aurora’s personal ‘chamber’ allowed her to annex the spaces traditionally aligned with the male artist. The greenery inherent in her chamber, serves, Alice argued, as a means of access to the natural world from which Aurora’s gender excludes her. Confined by male categorisation as ‘the Angel in the House,’ she suggested that instead of abolishing the established feminine affiliation with domesticity, Aurora Leigh charts a new kind of domestic space that is conductive to artistic creation.

Entitled ‘‘A garden in a garden’: The Enclosed Gardens of Christina Rossetti’s Poetics,’ my paper also focused on the overlap and inversions between the garden and the house as it developed notions of the spiritual significance of several of the many enclosed gardens that figure in Christina Rossetti’s poems. In my analysis of Rossetti’s utilisation of the enclosed garden, I reflected on its complexities as a place of overlap between the spiritual and the earthly as I considered her interpretations of the Garden of Eden and of the enclosed garden of the Song of Solomon as well as the hermeneutical understandings of these gardens by several of her most influential literary sources. My title, ‘A garden in a garden’ was derived from the opening of Rossetti’s sonnet ‘On Keats’ which she wrote in 1849:

A garden in a garden: a green spot
Where all is green: most fitting slumber-place
For the strong man grown weary of a race
Soon over. Unto him a goodly lot
Hath fallen in fertile ground; there thorns are not,
But his own daisies: silence, full of grace,
Surely hath shed a quiet on his face:
His earth is but sweet leaves that fall and rot.
What was his record of himself, ere he
Went from us? Here lies one whose name was writ
In water: while the chilly shadows flit
Of sweet Saint Agnes’ Eve; while basil springs,
His name, in every humble heart that sings,
Shall be a fountain of love, verily.

After introducing Keats’ grave in terms of ‘a garden in a garden’ I explored how Rossetti worked with the complicated connotations garden imagery gives rise to as it features both as a place of regeneration and life as well as a place of decay and death. I then linked Rossetti’s poetics of the garden to the writings of her medieval predecessors and her contemporaries in the Tractarian movement.

Throughout the rest of the day, many of the other panellists built on the ideas of the overlap between inside and outside as they considered the ideologies implicit in notions of the Victorian house and home. In her paper, ‘Inside Out; Outside In: Inversions of Fashionable Space and the Mid-Victorian Feminine Ideal’, Kara Tennant used fashion plates and illustrations to discuss how fashionable ‘inversions’ of domestic space challenge and complicate understandings of the feminine ideal. She spoke of the fashionable woman as located with a domestic setting, whether that is in the drawing room or in a subliminal place such as a hothouse or an outdoor picnic consisting of all the paraphernalia of the interior. Rather than escaping from the confines of the roles assigned to them by patriarchal society, Kara suggested that these fashionable women posing outdoors or indoors by an over-sized window do not necessarily represent female freedom. Rather, they serve to highlight the precocious boundaries between interior and exterior domains. Kara ended her paper by highlighting the importance of context in fashion illustrations. What may be an appropriate indoor costume would not be tolerated easily outdoors and vice-versa.

The complications inherent in constructing and adhering to social and cultural norms were also explored in Anne-Marie Millim’s paper, ‘The Idea of Home in George Gissing’s Diary (1888-1902).’ Anne-Marie argued that through his diaries, Gissing demonstrated a need to fit into socially accepted norms by marriage. His idealisation of the place of home and his early conception of marriage were sorely disappointed following the quarrels and violence he experienced in the realities he suffered when he was married. Following the failure of his marriage in 1898, Gissing increasingly preferred to surround himself by fictional characters. As described in his diaries, the interior of his house had on display portraits of famous writers such as Shakespeare and Tennyson. These writers came more and more to infiltrate Gissing’s consciousness and his construction of his own authorial subjectivity.

This symbiosis between psychological states and the materiality of the home was explored in relation to Dickens in Maddie Wood’s paper. Entitled ‘Architectural Subsidence and Affective Displacement in Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit , Maddie’s paper considered how the psychological oppression of the characters of Little Dorrit was displaced onto the House Clennam itself. Working with the framework of the street, the house, and the room as the contraction of the world in the novel, Maddie spoke about the construction of Mrs Clennam’s room in terms of a tomb and execution chamber housed within the cage the rest of the house represents. She then focused specifically on the correlation of the home and the mother and traced the ways in which the force of the returning mother lies at the house of the House of Clennam’s dissolution.

Moving on from a discussion of the supernatural occurrences within the houses of Little Dorrit, Dickens’ A House to Let and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Dr Catherine Spooner opened her keynote lecture with the description of a real house thought to be haunted. In Wardley Hall, ( a manor house on the outskirts of Manchester, a skull kept in the hall is said to cause storms and poltergeist activity when it is removed from the house.
Wardley Hall

The phenomenon of stories of such skulls is largely isolated to Manchester and Lancashire and as such, Catherine argued, contributes to a sense of uniqueness of location. Instead of conceiving of ghosts as deconstructive presences (or, indeed, absences) Catherine suggested defining ghosts in terms of their time and place in material reality. Using the maps in The Lore of the Land (Westwood and Simpson 2005), she revealed how ghost stories have geographical belonging. Especially in Victorian fiction, the location of a ghost story is often a key to its interpretation. The case of Sheriden Le Fanu is especially interesting since he used Derbyshire as a disguised Ireland for the setting of Uncle Silas in order for it to achieve greater commercial success. Whilst Italy and Spain were often the focus for eighteenth century gothic tales, the rural outposts of Britain were coming to stand in for more exotic locations by the mid-late nineteenth century. The north of Derbyshire was seen especially to be an apt location for a ghost story in view of its abundance of local legends. After briefly outlining the plot of Was It an Illusion? a Parson’s Story by Amelia B. Edwards, Catherine considered the significance of ghosts in the rural and industrial north and concluded by reiterating the negotiations of houses and homes in Victorian ghost stories and tales of the supernatural.

February 14, 2007

Victorian Studies Conference

I’m looking forward to going to this conference in March:

Victorian Studies: Pasts and Futures
A one-day conference to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the
Victorian Studies Centre at the University of Leicester

Saturday 31 March 2007

Keynote speakers:
Professor Isobel Armstrong (Birkbeck College, London)
Professor Catherine Hall (University College London)

Plenary Panel Speakers:
Professor J. B. Bullen (University of Reading)
Dr Joanna de Groot (University of York)
Dr Gareth Griffiths (British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol)
Professor Cora Kaplan (Queen Mary, University of London)
Professor Sally Ledger (Birkbeck College, London)
Professor Catherine Robson (University of California Davis)

What a gulf between now and then! Then was the old world …We have stepped out of the old world on to Brunel’s vast deck, and across the waters ingens patet tellus. Towards what new continent are we wending? William Makepeace Thackeray, ‘De Juventute’, Roundabout Papers (1863).

The Victorians themselves were accustomed to looking both backwards and forwards, simultaneously examining their past whilst also anticipating the future. The present resurgence of interest in Victorian Studies makes this an apt moment for us to embrace this feature of nineteenth-century culture and to reflect on both the development and future prospects of this burgeoning area of scholarly enquiry.

The University of Leicester’s internationally renowned Victorian Studies Centre, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary, is uniquely placed to host this conference considering the pasts and futures of Victorian Studies. As the longest established Victorian Studies Centre in Britain, it was at the forefront of the discipline’s development in this country, and has maintained a distinguished record of forward-looking, interdisciplinary research on various aspects of the nineteenth century. The conference will feature several leading academics in the field who will take stock of the present state of Victorian Studies and point to new and emerging directions in research. In addition to the two keynote addresses, the conference will feature panel sessions on ‘Reading the Victorians’ and ‘The Victorians in World Context’, as well as workshops that will demonstrate some of the future trajectories of research in the period, especially those enabled by digital technology.

This will be an exciting and stimulating event for all scholars and students of Victorianism. It will also be an opportunity to mark an important milestone both for the Victorian Studies Centre at Leicester and the discipline more widely.

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?

October 19, 2006

BAVS Postgraduate Conference: 'From House to Home'

A one-day Postgraduate Interdisciplinary Conference
‘From House to Home’: Representations in Victorian Literature and Art
The University of Warwick, Saturday 3rd March 2007

Keynote Speaker:
Dr. Catherine Spooner, the University of Lancaster (author of Fashioning Gothic Bodies, Manchester University Press, 2004)

The aim of this postgraduate conference is to tackle issues concerning representations of houses and homes in Victorian literature and art. Through the panels and discussions we hope to bring to light many of the roots of our twenty-first century cultural assumptions. We envisage that the conference will be of relevance to MA and PhD students working in the field of Victorian studies.

We invite proposals for papers lasting no more than fifteen minutes from post-graduate students on any of the following topics:

• Ideas of the spiritual home.
• Gender and the ideological construction of home. How far is the house a feminised domesticated space? Is the home a safe space for women or an oppressive prison? Male and female domains and the negotiation of gendered space.
• Family dramas and the private self.
• The haunted house and the uncanny: Ghosts, spectres and the domestication of the Victorian Gothic.
• Explorations of interior space: How significant are the cultural representations of certain rooms? For example, the parlour, the bedroom, the staircase, and the dining room.
• Employment in the home: The Victorian governess, seamstress, cook, and servant.
• The relationship between the home and the socio-political sphere. How far is the home a microcosm of wider Victorian society? The home-front: The Victorian ideology of home in relation to the wider British Empire.

Please send abstracts of no more than 200 words to Lizzie Ludlow and Madeleine Wood at by 10th January 2007. For a booking form and further details please contact the organisers via email.

October 02, 2006

MIVSS Postgraduate Conference

Writing about web page

Venue: John Peek Conference Room,

The Birmingham & Midland Institute

Date: Saturday 21st October 2006

10.00-10.30 Arrivals and Registration

10.30-11.30 Keynote Speaker

Professor Barrie Bullen (University of Reading)

‘From Ugliness to Beauty: The Curious Transformation of Jane Morris’

11.30-12.15 Break for refreshments

12.15-1.15 Panel 1: The Natural and the Ideal: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Beauty

Mark Frost (University of Portsmouth) ‘The Fellowship of Beauty: Tree Beauty and the Pursuit of the Good in the Work of John Ruskin’

Amelia Yeates (University of Birmingham) ‘“Twas Psyche’s face and yet ’twas not her face”: Beauty, Body and Soul in Victorian Versions of Pygmalion’

1.15-2.15 We will break for lunch. There is a wide range of food outlets within walking distance of the Institute.

2.15-3.15 Panel 2: The Art of Concealing and the Power of the Gaze

Sharon Hodgson (University of Hull) ‘Disfigured Faces: Nice Girls Don’t Wear Rouge’

Ryan Barnett (University of Central England) ‘Don’t associate any romantic ideas of invisible beauty with me: The (Non)Revelation of Beauty in Wilkie Collins’ The Two Destinies and George Eliot’s The Lifted Veil’

3.15-3.30 Break

3.30-4.30 Panel 3: Internal versus External: Masculine and Feminine Conceptions of Beauty and Identity

Louise Lee (Roehampton University) ‘”A grimacing distortion”: The Surprising and Unaccountable Unsightliness of Thomas Carlyle’s Portrait in Ford Madox Brown’s ‘Work’’

Lizzie Ludlow (University of Warwick) ‘Beyond the Looking Glass: Hermeneutical Understandings of True Feminine Beauty in the Work of Christina Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’

4.30 Close

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