_Jane Eyre_ and Ballet

August 16, 2013 at 8:33 am (Uncategorized)

I don’t have a lot to say about this, since I haven’t actually seen a ballet production of _Jane Eyre_.  But The Stage yesterday published a review of The Shanghai Ballet’s production of _Jane Eyre_, cheographed by Patrick de Bana, that caught both my attention and my imagination.  The review highlights “a love triangle between Rochester (Wu Husheng), Jane (Xiang Jieyan) and Rochester’s mad wife Bertha (Fan Xiaofeng)”, which fits with the way I’d envision the production.  I can more easily imagine the Thornfield scenes of the novel being translated into ballet than, for example, Jane’s early childhood.  (Disclaimer: this is very likely a limitation of my own imagination.)

The full text of the article can be found here.

The ballet is currently being performed at the Coliseum in London; it’ll be there only from August 14th through 17th.


Permalink Leave a Comment

Victorian Body Parts Conference

August 7, 2013 at 8:51 am (Uncategorized)

This is a conference I’d love to attend!  Unfortunately, I’m on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

Saturday 14 September 2013
Barts Pathology Museum

Registration is now open for the Victorian Body Parts Conference. The conference fee is £15 (£10 for students/unwaged). Please register here: https://www2.bbk.ac.uk/english/vbp/


09.30-09.50 Registration and Refreshments

09.50-10.00 Opening Remarks

Carla Valentine (Technical Assistant Curator, Barts Pathology Museum)

Beatrice Bazell and Emma Curry (Birkbeck College, University of London)

10.00-11.15 Keynote Panel

Dr Katharina Boehm (Universität Regensburg), ‘Body Boundary Object’

Dr Kate Hill (University of Lincoln), ‘A Head for Knowledge: Archaeology, Anthropology and Body Parts in Victorian Museums’

Chair: Dr Victoria Mills (Darwin College, University of Cambridge)

11.15-11.45 Tea Break

11.45-13.00 Panel One: Severed Parts

Ellery Foutch (University of Wisconsin-Madison), ‘Sandow’s Arm’

Dr Graeme Pedlingham (University of Sussex), ‘”I take myne owne”: The Hysteric, The Collector and Anatomical Autonomy in Richard Marsh’s “Lady Wishaw’s Hand” (1895)’

Catherine Oakley (University of York), ‘Laughable Limbs: Comic Dismemberment in Early Cinema 1895-1910’

Chair: Diana Garrisi (University of Westminster)

13.00-13.45 Lunch

13.45-15.00 Panel Two: Prosthetic Parts

Clare Stainthorp (University of Birmingham), ‘The Case of the Artificial Hand: Considering Disability, Prosthesis and the Motif of the Hand in the Nineteenth Century’

Ryan Sweet (University of Exeter), ‘”Down Came the Limb with a Frightful Smash”: Prosthesis as Weapon in Nineteenth-Century Literature’

Emma Curry (Birkbeck College, University of London), ‘Wiggery Pokery: Touching Dickens’s Hair’

Chair: Amanda Sciampacone (Birkbeck College, University of London)

15.00-15.15 Break

15.15-16.30 Panel Three: Gendered Parts

Lisa Coar (University of Leicester), ‘The Surgically Sartorial: Cutting it Fine among Wasp-Waisted Men’

Ally Crockford (University of Edinburgh), ‘Erect Victorians: the Anxious Masculinity of the Nineteenth-Century ‘Diphallic’ Terata’

Beatrice Bazell (Birkbeck College, University of London), ‘Corset, Camera, Constriction: Articulating the Female Body in Mid-Victorian Culture’

Chair: Dr Corinna Wagner (University of Exeter)

16.30-16.45 Break

16.45-17.30 Keynote Address

Dr Tiffany Watt-Smith (Queen Mary, University of London), ‘Organs of Imitation: Theatrical Body Parts and Scientific Psychology’

Chair: Dr Nicola Bown (Birkbeck College, University of London)

17.30-17.45 Closing Remarks

Dr Nicola Bown (Birkbeck College, University of London)

For more information, please see: http://victorianbodyparts.wordpress.com/

Permalink Leave a Comment

Dust, the Archive, and _The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane_ (Katherine Howe, 2009)

August 2, 2013 at 2:11 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Caroline Steedman’s Dust: The Archive and Cultural History (Rutgers U. P., 2002) traces the origins of Derrida’s “archive fever” back to the Victorians.  She describes  “exceImagessive attention to the bed, an irresistible anxiety about the hundreds who have slept there  before you, leaving their dust and debris in the fibres of the blankets, greasing the surface of the heavy, slippery counterpane” (17).  In this description, she conflates a strong bodily awareness of objects’ history with the historian’s professional preoccupation with finding traces of the past.  By locating this “anxiety” in the bedroom, Steedman makes it personal, and intimate in a way that is almost sexual.

Steedman’s analysis places this attention to dust–to the personal, physical traces of bodies that can be found in the archive–in a variety of nineteenth-century sources.  She’s looking at the work of Michelet, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s works, among others.  In my dissertation, I am equally focused on the nineteenth century. I’m looking at how memories and physical relics can be assembled to create the impression of a living presence that, although it is built upon the body of the author, ultimately transcends the physical.

As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into this project (so deep, in fact, that it’s finally almost done!), I’ve actually been caught by surprise.  The intersection between bodies and memory that’s caught my interest in Victorian texts is turning up in unexpected places.

Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dance didn’t fit into my dissertation; it’s not VictoriImagean (being published about 110 years too late) and it’s also not neo-Victorian, since the protagonist is studying the Salem Witch Trials.  I ran across The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane in our local library a couple of weeks ago, though, and picked it up out of curiosity.  Hey, I have a weakness for historical novels!  This particular novel features a grad student who, in researching the 17th century, finds herself drawn into a more personal relationship with the past. (No, not time travel!  Although I have something of a weakness for time travel novels, too…) Anyway, the story sounded compelling, and I picked it up.  For better recaps than I can give in a few words, check out the ever-reliable Amazon.

So, in the interests of full disclosure, I did enjoy the book.  My enjoyment was somewhat mitigated by the magical powers which the heroine develops–it didn’t work for me, although I’ve read and loved my fair share of fantasy novels.  But here’s what I found really interesting, in terms of my recent research on historical memory and the reanimation of bodies:  This magic first manifests itself as an ability to experience a tactile relationship with the bodies of the past.

A few examples:

As her fingertip touched the surface of the page, Connie saw with stunning clarity the image of a smiling woman’s face, freckled, shaded by a broad straw hat.  She was old, her blue eyes lidded and soft, and she was laughing at something.  Then just as instantly the impression vanished, and Connie felt like the breath had been squeezed out of her chest.  The intensity of the effect was staggering.  Connie no longer felt like she could explain it to herself as a daydream;the sensation was utterly different, like having the real world replaced with a bright cellophane film still, overlying her field of vision. (76)


Connie stared at the document for a few minutes, thoughts simmering.  She closed her eyes and began to construct a picture of the stark rooms that would have been the scene of Deliverance’s life.  She began with an imprecise, standard pattern of the interior of a late-seventeenth-century house, wooden-floored, large hearth, empty.  Slowly, the paper revealed clues that Connie painted into her mind’s picture, building layers of detail, as an artist shades in blocks of color. (96)


 The house had soaked up the summer heat while she was away at the archive, filtering it though the layers of wood and plaster and horsehair insulation until warmth filled each corner of every room.  It seemed especially thick in the entry near the stairs, like a wall; crossing the threshold into the house always gave Connie a measure of pause.  But  now her hypothesis buzzed in her head, and the tingling heat of the house on her skin melded with the energy in her nerves until her whole being felt alert, watchful.  (107)


Under the table Connie tugged on each gloved fingertip, slipped her left hand out its warm cotton cover, and crept the naked hand across the desk to brush her skin over the handwriting on he page.  Prudence’s own hand hand moved over that same page, pressed into the paper.  The ink carried little ancient flecks of her skin where she had licked her quill tip, or had rubbed out a word.  Connie tried to reach into the realm that Prudence and Mercy had occupied, tried to conjure the sensation that would illuminate Prudence’s vanished self.  Her fingers came to rest on a narrow block of passages written at the end of the page, words cramped together like little ants disassembling a beetle.  (162)

In each of these passages, the book–the literary relic of a long-dead writer–produces the body of its author.  The heroine’s ability to function as a historian depends upon her capacity to reconstruct the past.  In and of itself, this seems self-evident: any construction of history must present a re-assembled version of the past.  In The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, however, as in many of the nineteenth-century works that I’ve been studying, the assembly of the past takes place through the interaction of the historical subject’s body with that of the historian.   I’m identifying a progression in these passages: first, Connie [the heroine] merely sees a vision of a woman–clearly spectral–but by the last passage, she actively seeks the traces of her subject’s body in the handwritten text on the page.  She’s finding the traces of Steedman’s “dust” in the archive, and she’s turning it into a body that can itself be read. 


Permalink Leave a Comment

Reviving the blog

July 29, 2013 at 4:48 pm (Uncategorized)

I am writing a dissertation about remembering and reviving authors’  bodies–both literary and physical–through their texts.  But, as it turns out, my own literary body greatly needs to be remembered and revitalized!  I’ve made a number of changes to the appearance and layout of my blog today, more than two years after my last post.   I’ve been thinking about all kinds of things that won’t actually fit into my dissertation, and I’ll be using this as a space to explore some of them.  I also have a number of old pictures that I’d like to post (most of them involve fog, tombstones, and other literary memorials).  I’m counting on my husband, a much more prolific blogger than I’m ever likely to be, to keep me moving forward!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Pictures from the St. Pancras Churchyard

May 18, 2011 at 8:34 am (Uncategorized)

Now, at long last, I have recovered the pictures from my trip to England in March!  From a photographic standpoint, the pictures that I took of the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth are undoubtedly the best.  Regardless, I’m attempting to move at least semi-chronologically through the trip and include adequate explanations; expect to see the Brontës emerging in my posts of the next few days!

To the right, you see the base of the famous Thomas Hardy Tree, located in the Old St. Pancras Churchyard, only a few blocks from the British Library.  I’d originally gone to this churchyard in search of the Mary Wollstonecraft/William Godwin monument.  This churchyard, as I discovered in the course of my research, had a vexed history.  As C. Kegan Paul writes in Fraser’s Magazine in 1878,

Old St. Pancras churchyard has seen strange vicissitudes.  The Metropolitan and the Midland Railways broke in on its peace; and when I visited it some years ago to search for Mary Wollstonecraft’s original grave, I thought I had seldom seen a place of the dead so descreated.  Once more the wilderness blossoms as the rose; it has become a public garden, will tended and fair.  But neither in its shame nor its reparation did Mary Wollstonecraft lie there.  When the railways invaded the spot, Godwin had lain some years by his wife’s side, their grandson Sir Percy Shelley removed their remains to the Bournemouth churchyard to the grave where he  had laid his mother. [17 (June 1878): 761-762].

Kegan’s description of the railways’ “invasion” is typical of nineteenth-century perceptions of the conflict between technology and history, I’d argue: even more extreme language attends newspaper accounts of the exhumations in St. Martin’s Churchyard in the 1860s.  Thomas Hardy himself, however, was instrumental in orchestrating the removal of bodies from St. Pancras Churchyard to make way for the railway, which now passes less than one hundred yards from the church.  The stones that surround the base of the Thomas Hardy Tree originally marked some of the graves which he saw removed.  More detailed information is available in The Victorian Web‘s article.  Above and to the left, you see another picture of the tree, silhouetted against the infamous railway itself.

Last, but not least,  I’ve included a picture of the original Mary Wollstonecraft/William Godwin tomb to the right. As you can see, the inscriptions on the tomb are all but illegible, and the trees which shaded her daughter’s reading are no longer standing.  This tomb is located very close to the railway; it occurred to me to wonder if it was moved in the course of the exhumations, but I’ve yet to find any evidence to suggest this.   

Permalink 2 Comments

Updates; and Dickens bicentenary conference in Lowell, Mass.

April 12, 2011 at 11:11 am (Uncategorized)

After fantastic trips to England and to Columbus, OH, I am home at last, and ready to resume blogging!  As soon as I can find the USB cord that actually works with my camera, expect pictures of Haworth (complete with authentic Yorkshire fog), Shakespeare’s tomb, Mary Shelley’s grave in Bournemouth, and many other sites of necromantic literary tourism.  I could not, of course, take pictures in the British Library, but I did accomplish much fascinating research there.

Current projects: An article on the 1880s attempts to dig up Shakespeare, finishing up my first draft of the dissertation, an article that’s based on my BWWC conference presentation, and *another* article that’s probably going to focus on the arguments of either my Mary Shelley or my Charlotte Brontë chapter. Can you tell that I’m getting ready to go on the job market?? 🙂

And, of course, there’s a very important decision in my future.  I just received the CFP for a Dickens bicentenary year conference in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Here it is:

University of Massachusetts Lowell &
Lowell National Historical Park
Lowell, Massachusetts
13–15 July 2012

The Dickens Society will be offering an additional symposium and Dickens dinner during the bicentenary year.  These festivities will be held stateside at the Lowell National Historical Park on 13–15 July 2012. Hotel accommodation in downtown Lowell at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center will provide easy access to a major exhibition at the National Park — Dickens and Massachusetts: Untold Stories.  The exhibition will include several rare artifacts, including the 1842 portrait of Dickens by Boston painter Francis Alexander and the Boston Line Type edition of The Old Curiosity Shop donated by Dickens to the Perkins School for the Blind in 1868. Interactive elements such as electronically sensored skull models will enable visitors to try a phrenological “reading” of Dickens.  The popular Dickens walking tour of Lowell (first offered at the Dickens and America conference in 2002) and interactive sessions at the Tsongas Industrial History Center will also be featured offerings of the symposium.

Paper proposals on any aspect of Dickens and his works are invited. Final papers must be readable in twenty minutes. Please send one-page proposals electronically, by attachment, to Joel J. Brattin at jjb@wpi.edu no later than 31 March 2012. Further symposium information and updates will be available on the Dickens Quarterly website (http://www.DickensQuarterly.org) and from symposium co-chairs Diana Archibald (diana_archibald@uml.edu, English Department UMass Lowell, 61 Wilder St., Lowell, MA 01854) or Joel J. Brattin (Humanities & Arts Department, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA 01609-2280). Scholars at all stages of their careers are encouraged to submit proposals, and graduate students may register for the symposium at a reduced rate.

Located in the historic industrial city of Lowell, 25 miles northwest of Boston, the University of Massachusetts Lowell campus spans more than 125 acres along the Merrimack River. UMass Lowell is easily reached by either Manchester (New Hampshire) Airport or Boston’s Logan Airport. Lowell is connected to Boston via Amtrak trains (through north station in Boston) as well as bus service. Lowell is a great location from which to launch a side trip to the city of Boston, the beaches of Cape Cod, the resorts of Newport (Rhode Island), and even bustling New York City.

I find the opportunity to perform my own phrenological reading of Dickens nearly irresistible, but I’m going to have to see where I am and what I’ll be doing that summer!  Fortunately, I have some time to decide.

Permalink 1 Comment

Trailer for new_Jane Eyre_, to be released March 11th

February 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve been a bit out of the movie news loop, what with trying to finish a couple of dissertation chapters and a some article proofs, so I’d somehow missed the fact that there’s a new Jane Eyre movie coming out!  It’s directed by Cary Fukunaga; Mia Wasikowska, who recently played Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, plays Jane; Michael Fassbender plays Rochester. I’m reposting the trailer here, just in case anybody else had been equally buried in books.

I’m reserving judgment until the movie’s actually released; so far, I think that Wasikowska and Fassbender make the most believable-looking Jane and Rochester that I’ve yet seen.  Admittedly, this isn’t saying too much; I haven’t been terribly impressed with any of the adaptations.  But I’m looking forward to this one, and I suppose that I may be seeing it in a London cinema, since my research trip is fast approaching!

Permalink 1 Comment

Meditations upon the Dissertation Title

February 9, 2011 at 9:09 pm (Uncategorized)

So here’s the upshot of the matter: I want a new dissertation title, and I want it by tomorrow!  There’s nothing seriously wrong with my current title, “The Specter of the Author: Corporeality, Haunting, and the Construction of Authorship in Nineteenth-Century England.”  When I first arrived at that title, I recall being particularly pleased with the faint evocations of Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” (entirely appropriate to the kind of patterns I’m identifying), and I was also happy with the way that my title suggested the overlap between materialism and haunting (also very appropriate to my project).

I’m still talking about all those issues.

BUT, I’m also doing something more specific.  When I began this project, I anticipated that I’d mostly be talking about literary representations of authorship, with some periodical articles and maybe the odd scientific treatise thrown in (I’m talking about bodies, after all).  As it turns out, though, every single one of my chapters is fairly heavily invested in biography and memorialization; the Dickens chapter, for example, makes brief mention of the novels for purposes of illustration and clarification, but chiefly concentrates on Forster’s biography, Kean’s Charles Dickens as a Reader, and various and sundry periodical articles.

Oh, and then there’s necromancy.  If you’ve been following this blog, you might notice that the idea of raising the dead has come up several times (in a purely literary sense, of course!).  And that’s what’s really being making me bounce up and down with glee recently.

So where does that leave me?  A title’s a very symbolic act, sure, but it’s also, as my friend Dan mentioned the other day, a very useful way of setting limits on your dissertation, and mine keeps trying to take over the Victorian world. I want to get this right!

I like the phrase “Necromantic Acts of Biography.” In fact, I like it a lot. Although some of these biographical acts are either auto-biographical or literary.

I kind of like the phrase “Picturing the Dead,” too, but that’s not quite right; some of the authors were actually still living when these “necromantic” biographical works were written. Mostly not, but still.  And “Picturing the Author” just doesn’t have the right kind of a gothic feel. 🙂

Hmmmm. “Authoring Bodies: Necromatic Acts of Literary Biography in the Nineteenth-Century Press?”  Maybe.

If you’ve made it this far through my rambles, congratulations!!! And hey, thoughts are always more than welcome!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Reviving _Frankenstein_

February 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm (Uncategorized)

For the last several months, I’ve put the Frankenstein chapter of my dissertation on the back shelf; I completed a pretty decent draft, got very helpful feed back from my adviser, and moved on to chapters 2. 3, and 4.  Right now, though, that chapter’s taking on new life (and perhaps a life of its own?); I’m giving a lecture on Frankenstein for one of Rochester’s English grad colloquiums, so I’m negotiating the difficult process of trying to turn a dissertation chapter into a coherent and accessible talk.  As I work, I’ve been astounded by the new directions that I see the chapter taking; I’d initially neglected visual portraits of Mary Shelley in favor of verbal representation, and, when I initially wrote the chapter, I had not yet dipped into the intriguing genre of contemporary biography.  Both of these elements are adding wholly new dimensions to my chapter, and I hope that they will make for an interesting talk!

With this in mind, I’d wanted to mention a few of the more intriguing items that I found in my quest for new materials.  (I feel rather like Victor scavenging in a graveyard of buried Shelley’s, incidentally. . .)  The first is a portrait of Mary Shelley that was painted by Sarah Dolby in 2007 and displayed in the exhibit Art of Darkness.  I found it through the excellent Frankensteinia blog, which currently features a discussion of the Shelley’s Ghost exhibit at the Bodlean.  The portrait itself appears at left.  I’m particularly interested in the ways that this conceptualization of Shelley’s body is filtered through the lens of her text. Shelley herself appears as a monstrous specter; the portrait seems to serve as a memorial to the act of Shelley’s own literary memorialization.

I have one more image to share before I return to working on my talk itself. I stumbled upon an intrguing caricature that’s based upon two separate portraits of Shelley (the famous Rothwell Portrait and  another by Samuel John Strump, although the National Portrait Gallery’s website informs me that this portrait has been discredited).  Using both of these portraits as models, David Levine created a sketch which was published in The New York Review of Books in 1974.  I am again indebted to Frankensteinia for this information and the image itself. Levine’s sketch, which appears at right, connects the act of writing with a monstrous pregnancy which renders the author’s body the literal progenitor of the text.  I’m very much looking forward to hearing everyone’s reactions to this image on Thursday; I’d certainly been unfamiliar with it, and I imagine that I’m not the only one!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Back in the game!

January 30, 2011 at 9:24 pm (Uncategorized)

OK, my friend Dan has been posting on his excellent blog, so I guess I’d better get back to work as well!  Not that I haven’t been working; I’ve been gifted with an abundance of intriguing new sources to read, so I’ve been quite up to my ears in reading material!  I’ve been tracing the physiological roots of genius with J. F. Nisbet’s The Human Machine and The Insanity of Genius, both of which attempt to trace a somatic root for the productions of the mind.  At first glance, this doesn’t seem all that revolutionary . . . until it occurs to you that Nisbet and his fellow physiologists (of whom there are several) are essentially reversing the Cartesian paradigm, which places the mind rather than the body as the essential root of humanity.  I didn’t exactly make that up, incidentally–Elizabeth Grosz’s Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism talks about the role of Cartesian dualism in de-centering the body (particularly the female body) in modern philosophy.  Fascinating stuff!  In the nineteenth century, I’d argue, this paradigm begins to change; nineteenth-century scientific advances, not excluding Darwinism, make it kind of hard to ignore the role of the body in shaping the mind’s productions.

So, physiological roots of genius have been keeping me busy for sure.  But I’ve also been investigating nineteenth-century burial practices a bit; towards the end of the century, there are a fair number of debates on cremation.  Most of these seem to center, appropriately enough, around The Contemporary Review.  The arguments that I’ve examined so far are more scientifically rooted than you might think; they discuss the “Christianity” of cremation, sure, but they’re also talking about the chemicals produced by the body’s degeneration and about the spread of disease, too. I’m going to spend some time tomorrow digging old periodicals out of the stacks to find out more, so I may report further later!

Oh, and handwriting. I’m just beginning to scratch the surface on that one; I’m preparing a conference proposal that talks about the role of the body in nineteenth-century technologies of writing and printing, and I’d not been coming up with much.  But then I searched for “handwriting” in Nineteenth-Century Masterfile, and I hit the jackpot.  Again, though, I need to do some playing in the library before I can report fully on this issue!

So, signing off for now — but I’ll be back soon with more specifics on peculiarly fascinating Victorian sciences and technologies!

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »