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…)
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…)
Our programme of talks for this academic session is now available, spanning a wide range of subjects and historical periods, while underpinned by intertextual aspects that link them together. Confirmed speakers include:
Neil Badmington will be discussing Roland Barthes, mourning and Mallarmé
Jason Harding considers the convoluted history of Encounter magazine and its CIA sponsors
Jennie Batchelor will talk about her Leverhulme-funded research project on The Lady’s Magazine
Dale Townshend will present a paper on his AHRC-sponsored work looking at gothic writing and architecture
Lisa Stead turns to the early history of cinema writing, which builds on her work on research archives of the interwar materials
Mary Hammond‘s talk will look at the tensions disclosed through the regional reception of Dickens’s Great Expectations
Andrew Nash will discuss his work on transcribing some of Samuel Beckett’s ms notebooks
Jim Mussell (University of Leeds) will be presenting his paper, ‘Moving Things: Media and Mediation in Dickens’s Mugby Junction’, at 5.30pm on Tuesday, 1 April 2014. The talk will take place in the Cardiff University’s John Percival Building, Room 2.48.
Abstract Media move things, but media are also things that move. This paper focus on the mediating bodies of nineteenth-century print culture and the effects that they had on the human bodies they mediated. My focus throughout is on repetition, the characteristic movement of industrial print culture. Repetition puts into play a gothic pattern of return and my paper draws upon this tradition to account for repetition’s cultural effects. In a sort of repetition of my own, I will keep coming back to Mugby Junction, Dickens’s Christmas issue of All the Year Round from 1866. The frame narrative tells the story of Barbox Brothers, who haunts Mugby Junction as he does not know which line to take. I argue that Barbox’s decision to stay is similar to the way periodicals like Household Words and All the Year Round mediate through repetition. Just as Barbox Brothers moves on by becoming part of Mugby, so the Christmas number of All the Year Round becomes part of the archive, part of a space called the past, on the appearance of the January number. From the steam engine to the heart, my argument is that until we take repetition seriously we cannot understand the print culture of the past. (more…)
Paul Schlicke will be presenting his paper, ‘The Topicality of Sketches by Boz’, at 5.15pm on Tuesday, 15 November 2011. The talk will take place in the Cardiff Humanities Building, Room 2.48.
Abstract Sketches by Boz is saturated with topical detail, as Dickens casts his journalist’s eye on the sights, sounds, smells, people, and events of contemporary London. His attention to ‘every-day life and every-day people’ aligns him with Reform, which was challenging elitism with democratic principle. His revisions removing indelicacy in later editions reflect changing attitudes as Victorian propriety replaced Regency raffishness, and his most extensive alterations to the sketches, for the 1850 edition, impacted on the journalism he was then writing for his new periodical Household Words.