Monday, 17 December 2012

Reading Group Report: Edward Lloyd's 'The Christmas Log' and Victorian Christmas Stories

Led by Sarah Lill (Northumbria)

Northumbria University, 10 December 2012.

Our December reading group focused upon a short story by Edward Lloyd, whose festive title, ‘The Christmas Log’ soon proved to be deceptive in both tone and intent.  In contrast to the Dickensian Christmas story involving goodwill to all men, members found themselves reading an altogether different tale centred upon inheritance, illegitimacy and a desire to gain wealth.  The story concerns the efforts of a rich elderly gentleman to judge whether the beneficiaries of his will are worthy of their inheritance, a test which they fail miserably.  In contrast to Dickens’ emphasis upon Christmas as bringing out kindness and morality amongst all social classes, we thus considered why it was that Lloyd focuses instead upon their immorality, greed and selfishness.

An early observation was that there is little evidence that this is a Christmas story at all, with the title seeming anomalous to the plot.  Sarah was able to shed light on this by commenting that Lloyd often recycled successful stories that earned him profits, and that unlike Dickens, he wrote primarily from a pecuniary, rather than moral perspective.  Furthermore, it was suggested that Lloyd was more journalistic in intent, as opposed to Dickens’ preoccupation with being a great writer of novels.  However, despite the differences we observed between Lloyd’s and Dickens’ agendas, we could not help but wonder whether Lloyd’s attempt at a Christmas story was a deliberate marketing ploy to compete with the well-established Dickensian yuletide tale.

We found it interesting that Lloyd had a longstanding feud with Dickens, after plagiarising many of the latter’s works, and even managed to win a legal battle on the grounds that only ‘the stupidest of people’ could confuse the two writers.  By the late 1840s Lloyd’s interest in producing fiction was secondary to his attempts to establish a newspaper for the working classes.  Nevertheless, we discussed the ways in which he forged an identity as a writer, and to what extent his techniques were meant to subvert the wholesomeness of Dickensian Christmas stories.  It is perhaps no coincidence that it was during the 1840s that contemporary concepts of Christmas were born, such as the practice of giving gifts, Christmas trees and Christmas entertainment.  We considered whether Lloyd could be seen to capitalise upon these developing traditions, as ‘The Christmas Log’ seems to belong in music hall culture, and the rising phenomenon of the Christmas show.

In addition to discussing the way that Lloyd’s story fits into changing notions of Christmas, we also considered the extent to which the narrative, with its caricatures of unpleasant protagonists, outcast orphans and lone moral voice, belongs to an older Christmas tradition.  In particular, we related the plot to the telling of Christmas ghost stories, and considered whether in this context, the story is as alien to Lloyd’s usual tales of horror and criminality as it initially appears. We also wondered whether stories like it were intended to appeal to a wider social readership than Dickens’ writing, especially in terms of the way that a working class reader could enjoy the downfall of the social-climbing Jarvises, and the triumph of the orphan Marianne.  In this respect, we considered whether Lloyd’s work could be read as containing a moral message, and whether the theme of good punishing evil at Christmas time simply worked in a different way in his writing.

We found it significant that this is Lloyd’s only known Christmas story, a fact explained by his financial ambitions, and that his publications were steered by their ability to make a profit.  Nevertheless, we identified Lloyd’s commitment to developing an unusual literary style, which cannot solely be attributed to these monetary motivations.  In particular, there seems to be a distinctive journalistic tone to his published works that recalls his efforts to reach a working class readership.  We were interested by the fact that Lloyd hired others to write for him, yet at the same time, seemed to exercise an extensive creative influence over the works he published.  Certainly, his founding of mock newspapers with thinly-disguised attempts at delivering genuine news, implies that he was concerned not only with the medium in which he published, but also the content and form that his writing took.

Overall, members enjoyed reading an unconventional Christmas text, and discussing the wider issues it raised in relation to Victorian readership, society and print culture.  Although Lloyd would later distance himself from his early identity as a writer of fiction, we found this tension between his stories and his journalistic ambitions to be a rich and rewarding discussion point. 

Leanne Stokoe, Newcastle University.      

Monday, 3 December 2012

North East Forum meeting Friday 7 December

The next meeting of the North East Forum in Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Studies will take place on Friday December 7th from 3-5 pm in Space 7 at Culture Lab, Newcastle University. Culture Lab appears as building number 7 on the campus map.

In the first hour, NENC member Beatrice Turner (Newcastle) will be talking about parents, teachers and pupils in Mary Shelley and Godwin.

After the coffee break, Christopher Donaldson (Lancaster) will give a paper entitled ‘Down the Duddon: Wordsworth and his Literary Pilgrims’.

We hope to see many of you there.

Calls for papers: a weekly round up

British Society for Literature and Science Conference 2013
Cardiff University and the University of Glamorgan

The British Society for Literature and Science invites proposals for papers and panels to be delivered at its eighth annual conference to be held in Cardiff, 11-13 April 2013.

The BSLS Conference does not have a theme (as it its usual practise) but especially welcomes proposals on the state of the field of literature and science as well as its relation to other fields. This year we would be particularly interested to receive proposals that reflect upon the interdisciplinary study of literature and science in the context of the debate about the present position of the humanities in academia. However, the Society remains committed to supporting proposals on all aspects of literature and science across all periods.

Proposals for papers of 15-20 minutes should be sent in the body of the email text (no attachments, please), to with the subject line ‘BSLS 2013 abstract’. Submissions should include the title of the paper, an abstract of no more than 300 words, a maximum of 3 keywords (placed at the end of the abstract), and the name and contact details of the speaker. The closing date for submissions is7 December 2012.

Contributors interested in organising a panel or other special session, or who have suggestions for alternative forms of conference presentation, are warmly encouraged to contact the conference organisers. The organisers would welcome, for example, workshops on teaching literature and science, or on specific themes in literature and science that cross period boundaries, or on specific published works with considerable influence in the field. Please email the organisers on, using ‘BSLS 2013 Panel’ as the subject line in email correspondence.

A bursary of £150 will be awarded to a graduate student on the basis on the paper proposals. The student must be registered for a masters or doctoral degree on 9 January 2013. The conference fee will be waived for two further graduate students in exchange for written reports on the conference, to be published in the subsequent issue of the BSLS Newsletter. If you are interested in being selected for one of these places, please mention this when sending in your proposal.

Further information can be found here.

Mary Russell Mitford: Local and Global
British Women Writers' Conference 4-6 April  2013, University of New Mexico

Panel Proposal:
Mary Russell Mitford: Local and Global

Papers are welcome on any aspect of Mary Russell Mitford’s long and prolific literary career spanning the 1810s to the 1840s, and including her poetry, drama, and prose fiction. The influential Mitford, her friendships, her popularity in England and America, her wide reading, her correspondence, her unwanted but real rivalry with Lord Byron, her politics, her successful negotiations with editors and theatre managers, her approach to the local and the global and to gender and genre all invite attention to expand our view of this professional woman of letters and of the transitional decades of the 1820s and 30s in nineteenth century literature. One goal of this panel is to bring scholars together interested in a collaborative effort to plan a digital scholarly edition of Mitford's complete works and letters.

Send 250-word paper proposals by 12 December 2012 (EST)  to Elisa Beshero-Bondar.

Robert Southey and Romanticism: The Lake School in Context
Keswick 29-31 July 2013

In 1813 Robert Southey accepted the Poet Laureateship—an act that, in the following years and in critical history, came to symbolise the divide between the ‘Lake poets’ Wordsworth, Southey, Coleridge — once radical, now ‘reactionary’ —, and their disappointed admirers Shelley, Byron, Keats and Hazlitt. Two hundred years later, close by Greta Hall—Southey’s and Coleridge’s home—we shall explore Southey’s work and that of his allies, followers and enemies.

Papers on any aspect of Romanticism, Southey and the Lake School are welcome: topics might include: the politics of literary culture; the Romantics as reviewers and reviewed; prosody in Romantic poetry; Romantic biography; labouring-class writing; women writers in relation to the Lake School; Romantic locations; travel writing; colonialism and empire; genre; Romantic historicism; Romanticism and religion; Romantic science; Romantic networks and networking. We also welcome papers on individual writers.

Timed to run just before the Wordsworth conference in Grasmere, ‘Robert Southey and Romanticism’ will feature a visit to Greta Hall, Southey’s and Coleridge’s home (not usually open to visitors). The venue will be the Keswick school conference centre—right next to the churchyard where Southey is buried. There, we shall hold a wine reception to celebrate the publication of the new Collected Editions of Southey’s Poems and Letters. Keswick itself has many fine pubs and restaurants, some of which we shall visit. It also has an abundance of bed and breakfast accommodation at reasonable prices within walking distance of the venue.

The conference fee will be £150 (waged) and £120 (student/ independent scholar)

Conference organisers: Dr Carol Bolton (Loughborough); Professor Tim Fulford (De Montfort); Dr Ian Packer (Lincoln); and Professor Lynda Pratt (Nottingham).

The conference is organised in association with the Centre for Regional Literature and Culture, University of Nottingham; De Montfort English; the University of Lincoln; Loughborough University; and the Midlands Romantic Seminar.

Please send abstracts (200 words max.) to Tim Fulford by 1 January 2013 (stipulate if an early decision is needed for funding application purposes).

Resurrecting the Book: The Library of Birmingham, 15-17 November 2013

To celebrate the re-opening of the largest public library in Europe and its outstanding special collections,The Library of Birmingham, Newman University College, the Typographic Hub at Birmingham City University and The Library of Lost Books have united to host a three-day conference on the theme of Resurrecting the Book.

With e-book downloads outstripping the purchase of hard copies, with libraries closing and discarding books and with the value of the book as physical object being increasingly questioned, this interdisciplinary conference will bring together academics, librarians, publishers, artists, creators, designers, and users of books to explore a wide variety of issues pertaining to the creation, design, construction, publication, use, reuse, preservation, loss, and recovery of the material book, electronic and digitized books, and of collections and libraries.

Abstracts on the conference themes and their intersection and covering any historical period are invited. The conference themes include, but are not limited to:

BOOKS AS MATERIAL OBJECTS: the materiality of book creation, construction, production, use, reuse, and destruction; manuscripts and printed books; book-design, illustration, paratextuality and its manifestations; book-covers, bindings, clasps, vellum, parchment, paper, manuscript and printing and production processes;

COLLECTIONS AND LIBRARIES: book collectors, collections and their locations; missing, lost and found books; the creation, recreation, dispersal, sale and destruction of books and libraries; the movement of books and libraries; lost libraries; the impact of libraries on books; lost and revised editions;

THE ARTIST'S BOOK: altered books; book preservation and conserved books; books and material culture; books as art; books in art; illustration and illumination; woodcuts; engravings; marbled pages; book decoration; printmaking;

E-BOOKS: the creation, use and abuse of ebooks; neglected and lost ebooks; ebook readers; electronic libraries; books and collections and the impact of digital technologies;

PUBLISHING: publishers and publishing; the future of publishing; back-catalogues; print-runs; editions; archives; digitization and multi-media books.

Abstracts of no more than 400 words accompanied by a 50 word biographical profile should be sent to both Dr Matthew Day  and Dr Caroline Archer. The deadline for submission of abstracts is Friday 1st February 2013.

The conference will run in conjunction with The Library of Lost Books Project. This is an exhibition of 50 de-accessioned books which have been given a new lease of life as objects redesigned into works of art. The conference is also part of the Library of Birmingham's reopening festival. Event partners are: The Library of Birmingham, Newman University College, The Typographic Hub, Birmingham City University, Digital Ink Drop, and The Library of Lost Books. More information about the conference can be found here.