Pip at the Fingerpost: Nineteenth-Century Urban Conflict and the Regional Reception of Great Expectations
Mary Hammond, Tuesday 12 Apr 2016, CEIR Seminar Series
In The Country and the City (1973) Raymond Williams examines how rural and urban life has been depicted in English literature since the sixteenth century. Arriving at Cambridge University as an undergraduate from his hometown in the Welsh Black Mountains, Williams discovered that the way rural life (a life he knew very well) was represented in literature was nothing like the reality. In fact, Williams argued that rural life, as portrayed in the literary canon, was a construction that served the social order of the times. The country was Edenic, whilst the city was a thriving metropolis of capitalist production.
Dr Mary Hammond
It is a binary that Dr Mary Hammond (University of Southampton) unpicked (or, at least reduced), in her recent paper at the Centre. Taking a highly nuanced approach, Mary used Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861) as a lens to think about cultural change during the novel’s initial reception context. Arguing that Victorianists often only refer to London-based media to understand a text’s immediate historical significance, Mary suggested that we begin to interrogate the rural press, as well, to enhance our understanding of how the novel signified to different audiences. Great Expectations is the perfect text to explore these reactions as the pivotal moment in the novel is when Pip leaves the Kent countryside of his childhood for London in order to become a Gentleman. (more…)
In the fourth of an ongoing series of posts, Harriet Gordon, a first-year doctoral candidate based in Cardiff’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, discusses the early steps of her project: a book historical study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s global literary networks. Harriet’s project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW-DTP).
In my most recent post on this blog I explored Robert Louis Stevenson’s complex relationship with his mentor and literary advisor Sidney Colvin, focusing on the impact he had on the young author’s early career. Although only five years Stevenson’s senior, Colvin was already well established within the literary environment of London when the two men met, and put his contacts and connections at Stevenson’s disposal. Yet it was not simply literary contacts that Colvin supplied: he also offered his encouragement, enthusiasm, and, at times, stern expectations at this crucial moment of the author’s life. Stevenson acknowledges the impact of these less quantifiable acts of assistance, even claiming that Colvin, along with Frances Sitwell, has the ability to alter his own personality. Shortly after his stay at Cockfield Rectory and his first meeting with Colvin, Stevenson writes to Sitwell from Edinburgh that
the stimulus of your approval and Colvin’s has died a good deal off, and I find myself face to face with the weak, inefficacious personality that I knew before (Letters 1, 307)
Mary Hammond (University of Southampton) will be presenting her paper, ‘Pip at the Fingerpost: Nineteenth-Century Urban–Rural Conflict and the Regional Reception of Great Expectations’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 12 April 2016. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 3.58, and will be followed by a wine reception.
Abstract This talk explores the surprisingly varied responses of contemporary reviewers to one of the key narrative turns in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1860–61): the moment when Pip, the main character, leaves the rural marshes of Kent to begin a new life as a London gentleman. This scene has often been characterised by modern critics as a Miltonian moment of prelapsarian hubris which underpins the novel’s broader themes of selfish ambition and lifelong regret. But contemporary reviewers saw it—and the novel’s message—very differently, and the variety of their responses is remarkable. Metropolitan reviewers’ hostility towards Dickens’s unflattering portrayal of the urban upper classes contrasts sharply with the much more sympathetic stance taken in most regional newspapers. Many of these regional papers also reproduced pirated extracts carefully selected to highlight rural characters and interests and paint London in an unflattering light. This talk demonstrates how the reception history of the text points directly to a significant animus and rivalry in rural–urban perceptions, and points to the value of studying changing urban and regional responses to a literary work over time to enhance our understanding of the potential plurality of its impact, and of the ways in which relationships between the rural and the urban were perceived by contemporaries in an age of mass migration and rapid social change. (more…)
In the third of an ongoing series of posts, Harriet Gordon, a first-year doctoral candidate based in Cardiff’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, discusses the early steps of her project: a book historical study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s global literary networks. Harriet’s project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW-DTP).
In the summer of 1873 Robert Louis Stevenson paid what he later described as a ‘very fortunate visit’ to Cockfield Rectory in Suffolk, where first met Slade Professor of Fine Art Sidney Colvin. Just how fortunate a visit this was we will never know for sure; it is feasible that Stevenson could have gone on to attain the same level of literary success without Colvin’s early assistance. Yet it is also entirely possible that without the jump-start Colvin’s connections and advice provided, Stevenson would have never caught the attention of the literary elite, would never have been propelled into the public eye, and would not have become the subject of a PhD thesis in 2015.
In the second of an ongoing series of posts, Harriet Gordon, a first-year doctoral candidate based in Cardiff’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, discusses the early steps of her project: a book historical study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s global literary networks. Harriet’s project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW-DTP).
During the past month and a half, I have been busy trawling through the first two volumes of Robert Louis Stevenson’s collected letters. This comprehensive edition, painstakingly drawn together by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, will prove invaluable to my project, and, it is becoming increasingly clear, will be more important to my primary research than any of Stevenson’s published literary works. The two volumes in question span 25 years, from Stevenson’s earliest recovered letters, dictated to his mother at the age of three, which, admittedly, I glanced over only rather fleetingly, up the point he embarks on a steamship to America, in pursuit of his wife-to-be Fanny Osbourne. These letters track the course of Stevenson’s early life and burgeoning career as an author, moving from an enthusiastic but erratic young writer balancing an engineering degree and his father’s disapproval with a burning desire to entire the literary profession, to the author of three well-reviewed (if not financially successful) books, well established within the literary milieu of London. (more…)