October 8, 2009 at 6:12 pm (Core Course)

Sorry for getting so hoarse towards the end of this evening’s core course class: but I enjoyed the discussion of all the eyes at the end of Oliver Twist: from the crowd spectating Sikes’ final moments on Jacob’s Island (not to mention Nancy’s spectral eyes prompting his fatal fall: ‘”The eyes again!” he cried in an unearthly screech’) to Fagin in the room of eyes:

The court was paved, from floor to roof, with human faces. Inquisitive and eager eyes peered from every inch of space. From the rail before the dock, away into the sharpest angle of the smallest corner in the galleries, all looks were fixed upon one man–Fagin. Before him and behind: above, below, on the right and on the left: he seemed to stand surrounded by a firmament, all bright with gleaming eyes. He stood there, in all this glare of living light … Looking round, he saw that the juryman had turned together, to consider their verdict. As his eyes wandered to the gallery, he could see the people rising above each other to see his face: some hastily applying their glasses to their eyes: and others whispering their neighbours with looks expressive of abhorrence. [ch. 52]

We talked a little about Bentham’s Panopticon, about Foucault’s celebrated utilization of the panopticon in Discipline and Punish; and finally a little about D. A. Miller’s The Novel and the Police (here’s a link to the Google Books version) for its reading of the nineteenth-century novel itself in the context of surveillance and policing. (The image at the head of this post is of Bentham’s original design for the panopticon; or a schematic representation of The Novel, if you’re Miller).

Here are some more spectating eyes, surrounding one of the novel’s key scenes:

And here’s Fagin’s last night alive. Don’t all those round cobblestones in the cell wall look a little bit like … ? Or, wait, perhaps I’m taking it too far.
Fagin the condemned cell

Plus, of course: watch this space for news of next week’s Mayhew class. [AR]


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October 8, 2009 at 4:00 pm (Nineteenth-century novel)

This afternoon’s Novel class talked about the relationship between Dickens’ ‘Autobiographical Fragment’ and David Copperfield; I tried to put together an argument about the secret (hidden, paradoxically, in plain view) of shame at the core of Dickens’s imaginative vision, and more specifically about the bodily or somatic quality of that shame: something to do with intimacy, with appetite, predation, physical contact. We also talked about the imaginative logic of ‘inversion’ that Dickens so often deploys, and I made the connection with the ‘dream work’ of Dickens, which often operates via inversion, substitution and transference. We discussed the repulsive physicality of Uriah Heep: as an inverted mirroring of David (both boys trying to get on via hard work, both hoping to marry Agnes etc., but one handsome and appealing the other revolting and despicable). We looked at descriptions of Heep’s physicality, his hideous ‘peeled’ quality, as if he lacked his outer skin, and his hands were mucus membranes. People weren’t persuaded by my the ‘COFFEE ROOM’ inversion in the ‘Fragment’

The coffee shops to which I most resorted were, one in Maiden Lane; one in a court (non-existent now) close to Hungerford Market; and one in St Martin’s Lane, of which I only recollect that it stood near the church, and that in the door there was an oval glass plate with ‘COFFEE ROOM’ painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is an inscription on glass, and read it backwards on the wrong side, MOOR EEFFOC (as I often used to do then in a dismal reverie), a shock goes through my blood. [Forster, Life of Dickens, I:ii, ‘Hard Experiences in Boyhood 1822-4‘]

… but, to get to my point: I mentioned, I think, that this came up last year. And here is the link to the blog post from last year, where this is discussed a little more. [AR]

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Franklin Expedition

October 6, 2009 at 12:23 pm (General Victoriana, Nineteenth-century novel)

I owe Monica (I think it was) an apology. In last week’s Novel class (on David Copperfield) I asked if anybody knew what was especially memorable about the year 1848. Several people offered suggestions, and Monica brought up the Franklin Expedition. I pooh-poohed, but I had my dates wrong: indeed, as you’ll see if you click the link, in that last sentence there, the Franklin Expedition (two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, jointly under the command of a naval veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, Sir John Franklin) set off in 1845 to sail round the north of Canada to the Pacific, and thereby establish a less circuitous and less dangerous route to the lucrative Pacific than going south round South America — which is to say, they were searching for the fabled ‘Northwest Passage’. They were hoping their journey would be like this:

In fact it was like this:


They all died.  By 1848 people were aware that the expedition was lost, but it was still hoped that it, or survivors from it, might still be located. By the mid 1850s, after various search-and-rescue expeditions, it became clear that there were none. Dickens was particularly interested in this expedition. In Autumn 1854 the Hudson’s Bay Company surveyor Dr. John Rae brought back Inuit reports of cannibalism among Franklin’s men; Dickens refused to believe that Englishmen would sink so low, and debated the matter with Rae in the pages of his weekly journal, Household Words. Two years later, he and his friend Wilkie Collins put on a performance of a play based on the expedition, The Frozen Deep.
Collins ‘wrote’ the play, although Dickens’ input was so pronounced (he rewrote stretches of it, adapted it, acted in it) that it is sometimes cited as co-authored by the two of them. At the centre of the play is an act of noble self-sacrifice, out on the arctic wastes, by a character called Wardour; a dry-run for the same device (in a very different environment) in Tale of Two Cities.

Here’s a facsimile of the Times from 1859, reporting the fate of the expedition. And here’s more newspaper coverage, this time from 2008, proof that for some the story is still news.


So, the Franklin Expedition was contemporaneous with 1848 (sorry Monica!) although it’s unlikely it fed into the cultural climate behind Copperfield. What I was actually angling for was the ‘year of revolutions’. [AR]

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The Quickening Maze

September 24, 2009 at 2:28 pm (General Victoriana, Uncategorized)

Adam Foulds, The Quickening Maze 2009

I’d like to reiterate the general greeting, and say hello to everybody: good to see you all at this afternoon’s meeting! And in the spirit of interdisciplinarity, I’d also to direct you to a review I’ve written of Adam Foulds’ new novel, The Quickening Maze (2009) … it has been shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, and has accordingly been in the news a little bit.  This is not coursework, of course; but it’s an example of contemporary Victoriana that might be of interest to you nevertheless: John Clare, the poet, and Alfred Tennyson, also a poet, are both characters; and the mileu of the 1840s is well-captured.  I’ve reviewed it over at The Valve; the same review, but with different readers’ comments, is also at my own reviews blog.  I’d be interested to know your opinion, if you’ve read it.  Feel free, indeed feel actively encouraged, to put your thoughts in the comments to the post below.

This year’s Booker has a couple of Victorian-y titles on the shortlist, actually: I’m in the middle of A S Byatt’s The Children’s Book right now, and will blog about it when I’ve finished.  [Adam Roberts]

[7th October, update; I finished the Byatt, but didn’t think overmuch of it: you can read my thoughts here. But neither it nor the Foulds won the prize in the end … the 2009 Man Booker went, as I’m sure you know, to Hilary Mantel’s excellent Wolf Hall. I’ve a review of that too, here.]

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Welcome 2009-10 students!

September 23, 2009 at 12:13 pm (Aestheticism, Core Course, General Victoriana, Nineteenth-century novel, Uncategorized)

Welcome to the RHUL Victorian MA blog.

We use this site to post materials and weblinks related to seminar texts and to post notices of interest to RHUL Victorianists, including notices of relevant exhibitions and talks in and around London.

There’s also a facility to post your comments so it’s a great place to follow up on seminar discussions and continue your conversations outside of class.

We look forward to meeting you at the MA Induction, Thurs 24th.

The RHUL Victorian MA team.

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Upcoming William Morris exhibition

August 19, 2009 at 11:07 am (Uncategorized)

A new exhibition on ‘Experiments in Colour: Thomas Wardle, William Morris and the Textiles of India’ will run at the William Morris Gallery and Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow from 10th Oct 2009-24th January 2010.

There will also be a lecture attached to the exhibition on 11 November. For more details see


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National Gallery study day: the city (London and Paris) in 19thC art

February 24, 2009 at 1:40 pm (Aestheticism, Core Course, General Victoriana, Nineteenth-century novel)

Dear All,

Please see below for notice of an interesting study day at the National Gallery on depictions of the city in 19thC art.


Student Study Day

Thursday 30 April 2009
Sainsbury Wing Theatre, 10.30am–4.15pm
Tickets £6


Concepts of modernity and Modernism inform this study day as we explore the seamy underbelly of these two cities. We will focus on Ideas of town and country, leisure and pleasure, and the inventions and innovations which impacted so dramatically on life and art throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. National Gallery works by Hogarth, Courbet, Monet and Manet will be placed in their social and artistic context drawing on notions of gendered spaces, radical techniques and ‘the gaze’.


10.30–11am Registration and coffee

11–11.15am Introduction to the Day
Colin Wiggins – Head of Education, National Gallery

11.15–11.45am Whores, Colourmen and Coffee Houses: Hogarth’s London and London in Hogarth
James Heard – National Gallery

11.45am–12.15pm Many Little Harmless and Interesting Adventures…’ Men, Women and Streets in Victorian London
Lynda Nead – Birkbeck

12.15–1.15pm Talks in the Gallery

1.15-2.15pm Lunch (not provided)

2.15pm–2.45pm Two Women on the Banks of the Seine: Courbet and ‘The Gaze’
Jo Rhymer – National Gallery

2.45–3.15pm Manet and Morisot: Modern Life and Modernism in Late C19th Paris
Kathleen Adler – Independent Scholar

3.15-3.45pm Degas’ Little Ballet Dancer Aged 1 Desire, Contempt and the Fate of the Rat Girl
Colin Wiggins

3.45-4.15pm Questions/Plenary discussion

To book

For further information Tel 020 7747 2891 Email
Lee Riley, Education Department, The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN.
For institution group bookings, contact Lee Riley to arrange invoicing.

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Funded PhD studentship: 19thC Pantomime

February 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm (Core Course, General Victoriana)

Dear All,

See below for a funded PhD opportunity at The University Birmingham, on British Pantomime in the Victorian period.

Deadline for applications is 27th March.



I’m happy to announce that as part of an AHRC-funded large grant project “A Cultural History of British Pantomime, 1837-1901” the Department of Drama and Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham has a fully-funded doctoral studentship to start in October, 2009, to run for three years.

The doctoral project will be a study of pantomime in England in the nineteenth century, with particular focus on the industrial centres of Birmingham, Leeds, and Manchester, in relation to the performance culture of the metropolitan centre of London. The chosen candidate will be based in Birmingham, supervised by Professor Kate Newey, and will benefit from working with other experienced scholars in the project team, including Co-Investigator, Professor Jeffrey Richards (Lancaster University), and contact with national and international experts through the larger research project. There will be opportunities to present work in progress at annual conferences hosted by the project, and for professional development as a member of the project team.

Applicants should normally have, or be studying for, a Master’s degree in Drama, English Literature, Victorian Studies, cultural history, or a related discipline.

Intending applicants are strongly advised to discuss their application informally with Kate Newey:

The standard tuition fees and maintenance grant will be paid by the AHRC for eligible candidates. Non-UK students should check with the University and/or the AHRC for their eligibility. Further details about the application process are available at

Further information and studentship application forms can be obtained from:

The Graduate School,

College of Arts and Law,

University of Birmingham,

Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT

tel : 0121 414 3189

or email

The deadline for applications is 27 March, 2009. Those short-listed will be asked to prepare a detailed research proposal and interviews will be held in early April.

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Professor Sally Ledger

January 23, 2009 at 11:14 am (Uncategorized)

It is with enormous regret that we must announce the sudden and tragically early death of Professor Sally Ledger. Sally joined the Department of English in Autumn 2008 as Hildred Carlile Professor in English and Director of the Centre for Victorian Studies. Even in this short time she had established herself as an indispensable presence in the life of the Department. This was not only because of her outstanding scholarly distinction ─ exemplified in her recent book on Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination as well as preceding studies of Ibsen, the New Woman, and the cultural politics of the late nineteenth century ─ but also, and at least as importantly, because of her vibrant personal qualities: her warmth, her infectious sense of humour, great good sense, and sheer intellectual energy. Under her leadership, the College had already taken important steps towards becoming the leading centre for Victorian Studies in the country. Before joining us here, Sally was Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at Birkbeck, University of London, where she had worked in the School of English and Humanities since 1995. As a PhD supervisor and mentor of junior colleagues, Sally was second to none. A rising generation of scholars will be for ever indebted to her for showing how exemplary interdisciplinary scholarship, collegiality and sense of the value of sociability and family life could be combined. Her colleagues past and present, and indeed the world-wide community of nineteenth-century scholars, will be as shocked and saddened as we are by this news, and will join us in sending our most heartfelt condolences to her husband, Jim Porteous, and son, Richard. There will be a further announcement in respect of the funeral arrangements and a memorial service for her.

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Dr Margaret Reynolds lectures on George Eliot

January 14, 2009 at 11:59 am (General Victoriana, Nineteenth-century novel)

To all Victorian MA students: you are all invited to the Dabis Lecture by Dr Margaret Reynolds, Broadcaster and academic at Queen Mary, University of London:

‘George Eliot and the Classics’

Thursday 5 February

Windsor Building Auditorium, 6pm

2009 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Adam Bede, the first novel by George Eliot, who studied at Bedford College. This lecture addresses the inspiration which she found in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, especially Greek tragedy.

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