By Sarah Douglas
Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) saw the coming together of academics to share with us their research on Nineteenth-Century history.
The seminar, hosted by MMU lecturer of English Literature, Dr Emma Liggins, boasted support from the Institute for Humanities and Social Science Research at MMU, the British Association for Romantic Studies, and the British Association for Victorian Studies.
After a brief introduction from Emma, Dr Lucie Matthews-Jones, of Liverpool John Moores University, launched into her talk, entitled ‘Settling at home: class, gender and domesticity in Toynbee Hall, 1883-1914’. Toynbee Hall’s original vision, thought up by husband and wife Henrietta and Samuel Barnett, was to create a place for future leaders to live and work voluntarily as part of a community. The Hall itself was an aristocratic home and offered lectures,
classes and a range of activities to working class men in the community.
Lucie, a historian whose research is based on nineteenth-century gender and urban history, guided us through the lives of men living at Toynbee Hall, and those from the community who were involved in their work. It was evident that she was passionate about the subject in hand, which made for a fascinating talk.
Susan Ross, an independent scholar, then gave her talk ‘Aspects of the Grotesque and Carnivalesque in early Victorian culture and society’. Susan’s study explored a loss of ‘stability, continuity and order’ in pre-classical and pre-renaissance Italian artwork, and compared these to literary works such as The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.
The first half of the seminar complete, the floor was opened up to discussion. One member of the audience asked Lucie: ‘What were the attitudes of the women related to these working class men who attended Toynbee Hall?’
Lucie explained, “That’s really tricky, because there were some female organisations that used Toynbee Hall rooms, but they are very rarely discussed in male settler autobiographies, or in their personal testimonials, which suggests that it was more of a relationship between men and men.” Lucie went on to express her desire to research the female side of Toynbee Hall more in the future, but as information was limited she did not know how successful this would be.
Another member of the audience expressed the way in which the ‘grotesque’ reminded her of Punch and Judy, and posed the question: ‘Punch and Judy became quite respectable, is this a similar case for the grotesque in the nineteenth-century?’
Susan replied, “You’re right about the Punch and Judy aspect, the archetypal Punch figure did become respectable to children but from the beginning it was quite an anarchic confinement, and the worst side of the grotesque became sanitised as times moved on.”
After a short refreshment break, the seminar continued, this time with talks from MMU academic Dr Sonja Lawrenson and Caroline Baylis-Green. Sonja, lecturer in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, gave an enthralling talk on The Orientalist: ‘”The country chosen of my heart”: the comic cosmopolitan of The Orientalist, or electioneering in Ireland, a tale, by myself (1820)’.
Caroline, a PhD student at MMU, shared her research on ‘Fetishized Dress and Self-Fashioning in the diaries of Anne Lister’, a talk which captivated the whole seminar room.
The seminar brought together academics from a variety of humanities subjects, interesting many who attended in areas which
may not be their natural realm of study.
Sarah Douglas studies Digital Media and Communications at MMU.