DMVI

VCoT Local Customs Still

Rob Walker, Victorian Cut-out Theatre: Stranger in a strange land

This is the third in a series of occasional posts by writer and filmmaker, Rob Walker, whose YouTube series, ‘Victorian Cut-out Theatre’, celebrates the esoteric, strange and downright weird Victorians by animating contemporary illustrations in the tradition of Monty Python.

‘It is the eve of St George’s Day. Do you not know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?’ She was in such evident distress that I tried to comfort her, but without effect. Finally she went down on her knees and implored me not to go; at least to wait a day or two before starting. It was all very ridiculous but I did not feel comfortable. However, there was business to be done, and I could allow nothing to interfere with it. I therefore tried to raise her up, and said, as gravely as I could, that I thanked her, but my duty was imperative, and that I must go. She then rose and dried her eyes, and taking a crucifix from her neck offered it to me. I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemed so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind. She saw, I suppose, the doubt in my face, for she put the rosary round my neck, and said, ‘For your mother’s sake,’ and went out of the room.’—Dracula, Chapter 1

This scene from Bram Stoker’s novel, lays the groundwork for terror as Jonathan Harker enters the Carpathian Mountains, hoping to locate the man who hired him. First, however, Harker is introduced to strange food, strange landmarks and even stranger people. The opening of ‘Dracula’ plays a little like a travelogue, as Harker tries his best to reconcile his new surroundings with his ‘modern’ Victorian upbringing. This scene would proliferate hundreds of copycats in horror literature and cinema. We see it adapted in the film Nosferatu (1922), the first screen adaptation of Stoker’s novel. The German solicitor, Hutter, plans to find the castle of Graf Orlok after a short meal at an inn, only to be told by the proprietor that ‘You can’t go any further tonight. A werewolf is roaming the forest.’ It doesn’t matter what language you speak, or culture you’re from, there is always a place where the food tastes funny and the people are strange. We even have a version of this scenario in the American West, where I grew up. It always begins with ‘You ain’t from ’round here, are ya?’ (more…)

Close-up from 'A Touch of Murder'

Rob Walker, Victorian Cut-out Theatre: Robot butlers and the art of detection

This is the second in a series of occasional posts by writer and filmmaker, Rob Walker, whose YouTube series, ‘Victorian Cut-out Theatre’, celebrates the esoteric, strange and downright weird Victorians by animating contemporary illustrations in the tradition of Monty Python.

My first foray into the world of the mystery story began in the fourth grade when I read ‘The Adventure of The Speckled Band’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes from that day forward, and the hawkish detective led me by the hand to Agatha Christie and my countryman, inventor of the mystery story, Mr E. A. Poe. It wasn’t long before I began reading the entirety of the Holmes canon, and was thrilled to finally run across a collection which featured the original illustrations by Sidney Paget. Paget would create the definitive Sherlock Holmes in his work for The Strand Magazine, and this would be the look by which all future portrayals would be judged. Paget’s illustrations led me to seek out other Victorian illustrators, and I soon found my way to Tenniel, Rackham and Caldecott. If I am to trace the roots of Victorian Cut-out Theatre, or at the very least episode #11, ‘A Touch of Murder’, I would discover the partnership of Doyle and Paget. These artists both led me to explore their own inspirations and contemporaries, allowing me to draw my own connections. It would be decades later, almost out of necessity, when I would put these twin inspirations together in the first episode of VCoT. (more…)

The experiment: Engaging undergraduates in advanced university research

frankenstein1

It started out as an experiment. We took the brains of a dozen undergraduate students and carefully placed them into the flailing bodies of several research projects; we fired up the electricity (well, actually, set up a webpage) and … the Project Management and Research module was born.

I have become very fond of what we have all created this year. Anthony and I have worked together on projects for over a decade now (hard to believe, I know) and it seemed like a good idea to share some of what we have learned along the way and pass on our genuine enthusiasm for project-based work. In an academic environment that is increasingly stressing employability and the transferability of skills, this module ticks all the boxes. I hope that it has given our first cohort of students a taste of research in an academic context and the opportunity to exploit the talent they have and bring out new talents they never knew they had. (more…)

DMVI schools workshops

On Thursday 13 October, we held two workshops with local schools to explore the potential use of the Database of Mid-Victorian Wood-Engraved Illustration as a teaching and learning tool. The fact that the database is full of images that illustrate literary texts and contain a wealth of historic detail makes it significant for a range of humanities subjects, including English literature, history and religious studies.

The morning workshop consisted of staff and students from Stanwell Comprehensive School in Penarth. The first exercise involved giving the participants 25 illustrations and asking them to arrange them in order, with the aim of analysing how pictures can create narratives. Anthony had spent a considerable amount of time cutting the images out with great precision and they looked impressive spread along the desks. Some interesting stories emerged, a few of which came near to recreating the actual source text (Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). We then gave out the captions to see if that would help or hinder the creation of the story. The exercise was a very valuable one both for the participants and for us because it made us think about the relation between word and image in illustration and how these Victorian pictures can be ‘read’. The second half of the session involved a demonstration of the database and the new social networking features, which the students seemed to particularly enjoy. They were given the chance to try it out for themselves before a very hearty buffet lunch was served.

We had just about demolished the chocolate éclairs when the next school arrived for the afternoon session: St David’s College, Cardiff. We tried out the same exercises again with similar interesting results. This group were slightly older and managed to work out that the pictures were from Coleridge’s poem. After another demonstration of the database, tea arrived, so we forced ourselves to eat more plates of sandwiches and crisps.

The day provided us with lots of ideas of how to go forward with the education strand of the project and convinced us that this was really something worth doing. The feedback from the students suggested that the workshop had made them think differently about illustration and its value, so our job was done. Now all that was left was to do was to finish off that plate of muffins …

DMVI Phase 2 launch

Lift off!

On 29 September 2011, the enhanced version of the Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration was officially launched. A select coterie of dignitaries gathered in Cardiff University’s Special Collections and Archives (SCOLAR) to get the first glimpse of the revamped DMVI website and the innovative features that the enhanced version will contain.

The launch went remarkably smoothly – or at least as smoothly as anything involving computers and at least three different academic institutions can. Special thanks go to Mike Pidd and Matt Groves from the Humanities Research Institute (HRI) at the University of Sheffield for coming all the way to South Wales to deliver their presentation. The efforts of the HRI team have been fundamental to the reconfiguration of the database. They have done the hard computing work, and produced an open-source back-end structure that allows the search and display capabilities of DMVI to be significantly more flexible and dynamic. (more…)