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By Jacqueline Grima
The first North West Long 19th Century seminar of the academic year took place at Manchester Metropolitan University this week. The event was hosted by Senior Lecturer in English Dr Emma Liggins and welcomed academics and guests from across the country.
Emma told Humanity Hallows, “The North West Long 19th Century seminars bring together early career researchers, postgraduates and established scholars who are all working on the Long 19th Century. This seminar includes papers on the Gothic elements of Jane Austen, zombies and children’s literature and its illustrations, as well as scientific discussions about nervous disorders and disability, clearly showing the interdisciplinary nature of current research.”
The first speaker at the event was Lecturer in Victorian Literature from the University of Sussex Dr Hannah Field. Dr Field’s presentation focussed on a series of late Victorian and Edwardian adaptations of the work of Charles Dickens that were specifically targeted at children and young readers. Examples of these works include Annie Severance’s 1905 adaptions of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, Jessie Willcox Smith’s 1912 Dicken’s Children and Ethel Lindsay’s 1917 David Copperfield Told to the Children.
According to Dr Field, these works raise many questions about how adult novels should be adapted for children in terms of language, grammar and content. She said, “There are two particular character types who present difficulties when adapting for children – the fallen woman and the prostitute.” However, referring to adaptations of Oliver Twist, she added, “Nancy’s prostitution is invisible to most children, even if it’s obvious to adults.”
Dr Field went on to look at the use of illustrations in the adaptations of Dickens’ work, noting the softer faces and round-eyed quality of the characters in the children’s versions. Referring to Great Expectations, she said, “The children’s Pip has many aspects of the cute.”
Next to speak was Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Edge Hill University Dr Andrew MacInnes. Dr MacInnes’ presentation focussed on the elements of the Gothic in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. He said, “Pride and Prejudice is the novel, above all other Austen novels, that resists the Gothic. It doesn’t seem Gothic at all but it’s the one that gets ‘zombified’ and ‘detective-fictioned’ most.” He added, “It offers itself as a money-making venture.”
Dr MacInnes went on to discuss the representation of Gothic London in the 1995 television adaptation of the novel starring Colin Firth. He also talked about how the author herself seemed to think that the novel lacked darkness. In a letter to her sister in 1813, Austen described the novel as, “Rather too light and bright and sparkling; it wants shade.”
The third speaker at the event was Sally Blackburn, a third year PhD student from the University of Liverpool. Sally’s talk focussed on the writer Vernon Lee and her half-brother Eugene Lee Hamilton. In 1873, Eugene had to leave his post in the Diplomatic Service when he was diagnosed with a so-called nervous disorder which left him severely ill for many years. Sally said, “As a psychosomatic invalid, Lee was entirely bedbound.”
During his illness, Lee expressed his frustration in a series of poems, including the 1894 sonnet ‘To My Wheeled Bed.’ Consulting a series of renowned doctors about her brother, Vernon Lee acted as mediator between Eugene and the medical profession, travelling from her home in Italy to Paris and London to speak to doctors, an act that is believed to have played a major part in aiding his recovery.
Last speaker of the event was Chloe Holland, a third year PhD student at Liverpool John Moores University. Chloe looked at the work of prolific 19th century writer Ellen Wood, who wrote under the pen name Mrs Henry Wood and whose most well known work is the novel East Lynne. Wood wrote under various professional identities, her work crossing genres and including melodrama, supernatural stories, stories for boys as well as a vast array of non-fiction articles. Describing her as a “didactic writer” as well as a novelist, Chloe explored two of Wood’s non-fiction works entitled Our Children and About Ourselves, in which the writer gave advice regarding the bringing up of children. Both of these works received mixed reviews but their release is believed to have been a shrewd business move that only served to further the Mrs Henry Wood brand name.
The next North West Long 19th Century seminar takes place on Wednesday 29th March 2016. For more information, visit the group’s Facebook page.