Monday, 4 November 2013

November Reading Group: The Corpus and the Corpse: Nineteenth Century Literary Biography

Monday 18 November, Northumbria University, 6pm

                                    (Lipman Building Room 121)

                                Led by Beatrice Turner (Newcastle)

For the November session, we'll be reading Wordsworth's 'Letter to a Friend of Burns' (1816) and Hazlitt's 'Essay on Spence's Anecotes of Pope' (1820), two texts which approach the issue of literary biography in very different ways, alongside an extract from Paul de Man's 1979 article 'Autobiography as De-facement'.

 What's interesting about the Wordsworth and Hazlitt texts, for me at least, isn't so much their antagonistic views about literary biography's value as the way both seem to turn on figurative equivalencies between the poet's life, their physical remains and their literary remains. Reading these alongside the De Man article, which might raise its own interpretive (or even moral) issues, my hope is that they'll trigger a discussion about literary biography both in relation to the Romantic poem and to nineteenth century literature, and more generally about the relationship between the life, the work and the reader.

Email for queries or copies of the reading materials.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

NENC - Announcements for Autumn Programme 2013

The North East Postgraduate Research Group for the Long Nineteenth Century (NENC) is hosting an introductory session for new members on Monday 14 October at 6pm at Newcastle University (Room 2.24, Percy Building, School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics).

NENC warmly encourages new postgraduates from the North East universities (and further afield) at MA, MLitt, MPhil and PhD level to attend.  Current co-organisers will be introducing the research group and its aims, before inviting others to discuss their research interests.  We welcome all postgraduates working on any aspect of the literature and culture of the long nineteenth century (c. 1750-1914) to attend, and there will be opportunities to contribute to the organisation of the research group, as well as to lead reading group sessions and give papers. 

At present, we are seeking new organisers for NENC.  If you are interested in this role, please do get in touch at

A prospective plan for the Autumn currently runs as follows:

14 October 6pm - Introductory session (meet and greet with wine reception)

18 November 6pm - Beatrice Turner (Newcastle) will be leading a session at Northumbria University.

16 December 5pm - Sarah Lill (Northumbria) will be leading a Christmas session at DurhamUniversity.

We look forward to meeting you soon!

The NENC Organising Committee:

Harriet Briggs (Newcastle)
Nicole Bush (Durham)
Kate Katigbak (Durham)

Sarah Lill (Northumbria)
Leanne Stokoe (Newcastle)
Beatrice Turner (Newcastle)

Follow us on Twitter: @northeastc19

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Reading Group Report: ‘Words for Remembering’: Twentieth Century Propaganda and Nineteenth-Century England

24 April 2013

Led by Kate Katigbak (Durham)

The focus of this session was to question the ways in which cultural thinkers construct definitions of ‘Britishness’ in both the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  We opened the session by watching a short propaganda film made by Humphrey Jennings, entitled ‘Words for Battle’.  Members were interested by its title, as it suggested that the power of the written word was influential upon concepts of nationhood and identity, especially in relation to its World War Two context.  The piece aligned footage of the 1940s conflict with readings of poetry and political speeches.  Such a fusion proved thought-provoking, not only in its relation of battle to the written and spoken word, but also the way that speeches by figures such as Winston Churchill seemed to usurp the place previously occupied by poetry in national consciousness.

We discussed the choices of poetry in Jennings’ film, commenting that they were linked by a theme of conflict that transcended historical timeframes.  For example, William Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ lyric, reflecting on the failures of the French Revolution, and Rudyard Kipling’s poetry, lamenting the fall of the British Empire, seemed strikingly appropriate for the 1940s context.  We thus commented on the perpetual relationship that seems to exist between poetry and politics.  It was also suggested that Jennings may have intended a more subversive message beneath the outwardly jingoistic tone of his film.  His inclusion of Blake we found especially interesting, particularly as the latter’s ‘Jerusalem’ lyric was written in the preface to his longer poem Milton (1810), which in its focus upon the epic downfall of Paradise and Man, seemed fitting to the vision of England projected by our other text.

For this session, we had read F. R. Leavis and Denys Thompson’s Culture and Environment (1933), an educational text that sought to refashion the concept of British identity and provide an alternative school syllabus in order to promote it.  We discussed the context behind Leavis’ view of Britishness, including the groundbreaking and controversial new school of criticism that he established at Cambridge, and his contribution to establishing the study of English Literature there.  Although inflexible in many ways, we admired Leavis’ conviction that the methodology behind English studies could be extended to other disciplines, and were interested in his, at times, eccentric decision to establish an alternative canon.  In many respects, Culture and Environment reflects these prerogatives, with Leavis’ writing reflecting a distrust for technology and machinery, and a desire to return to a pastoral vision of England.  However, we agreed that it was important to consider to what extent the onslaught of war inspired these beliefs, and whether this mythological attitude towards an England that had never really existed could be seen as culturally productive.  

Members were attracted to Leavis’s elevation of folk culture to the realm of high art, and considered that this raised questions about whether culture itself could be defined as organic.  However, as Leavis’s version of ‘culture’ was, in its inauthenticity, man-made, we agreed that his writing raised significant questions in relation to the construction of national identity.  In this respect, we identified parallels between the Jennings film and the Leavis text concerning the ease with which the past can be reconstructed (or manipulated), and the power of literature to interpret political change.  The NENC organising committee would like to thank Kate for a lively and engaging session.

Leanne Stokoe (Newcastle)

Friday, 12 April 2013

'Making a Darkness Visible': British Academy series

‘Making a Darkness Visible: The Literary Moment 1820-1840’

The next three instalments of this British Academy series are as follows:

Dr John Gardner (Anglia Ruskin) on 'Radicalism after Peterloo'
Friday 19 April, 5-7pm, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Literary & Philosophical Society

Dr Gregory Dart (UCL) on early Dickens
Friday 24 May, 5-7pm, Birley Room, Hatfield College, Durham University

Prof John Plotz (Brandeis) on short narrative forms
Monday 10 June, 5-7pm, Birley Room, Hatfield College, Durham University

The events are free to attend. All are welcome. Queries to either Dr Peter Garratt (Durham) or Dr David Stewart (Northumbria).

'Cultivating Comunity?' public engagement project call for participants

Cultivating Community? A Case Study of Lord Armstrong and the Victorian North East

 Applications are sought for an AHRC-funded public engagement training project
What is 'public engagement'? What importance might public engagement projects have for the local community or the region? How can we create research with partners outside academia? How can we ensure that the knowledge generated is genuinely meaningful to the public we seek to reach out to? What can we do to ensure public engagement initiates two-way conversations that enhance our research as well as deepening public understanding and interest? This AHRC-funded project seeks to address these questions and more through offering postgraduate participants a comprehensive training programme and the opportunity to design, plan and run a public exhibition exploring local industrialist Lord Armstrong's role as a philanthropist and civic figure in the North East.
 Engaging with the wider community opens up exciting opportunities to acquire and share skills, and to create innovative new research. This training project will provide postgraduate students with a programme of workshops, field trips and practical experience, with the twin aims of encouraging participants to think about how to make public engagement as meaningful as possible for both researchers and the public, and providing a 'tool-kit' of useful information and ideas. By the project's end, participants will have successfully undertaken local archival research for the purpose of staging a public exhibition and documented their experiences and thoughts on the project blog, which will then remain as an online resource.
 Participation is free and involves:
  • Two full-day training workshops to be held on 20 May and 3 June (refreshments and lunch included). These will be open to all and will feature panels comprising representatives from Newcastle and Durham universities in dialogue with a wide range of local culture and heritage institutions, including The Laing Gallery, Durham World Heritage Site, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, Great North Museum: Hancock, TUSK music, and Durham Palace Green Library, with more to be confirmed
  • A full-day field trip and behind-the-scenes tour to Cragside, Lord Armstrong's family home
  • Two catered half-day exhibition planning meetings (late May and mid-June)
  • Independent research at the archive or institution of your choice
  • Curation of material for the public exhibition (opening in late July), which will be launched with a wine reception for all participants and partners
Up to twelve participants will be selected. The successful applicants must be able to commit to attend the workshops, planning meetings and field trip, as well as undertaking approximately 10 hours of independent work on their contribution to the exhibition and the project blog. Travel to and from the workshops will be subsidised.
How to apply:
Applicants must be current postgraduate students working at either Master’s or PhD level. We will also consider applications from people who will be commencing a postgraduate degree in the 2013/2014 academic year.
Please send a one-page document to the organisers detailing:
  • Name and institutional affiliation
  • Degree programme and discipline
  • Thesis title and year (PhD students only)
  • A statement of up to 400 words, detailing why you would like to be considered, and how this programme would benefit your academic development
Applications should be sent to,, and by 5pm on 13 May 2013.
For more information, please email the organisers or visit the website:

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Reading Group Report: Imagining Germany: A Journey from Folk Revival to Gothic Horror in Translation

Led by Jayne Winter (Newcastle University)

28 March 2013

Percy Building Postgraduate Common Room, Newcastle University

Departing from our usual focus upon long nineteenth-century English literature, the subject of this month’s reading group was the effects of translation upon the folk ballad tradition in England, Scotland and Germany.  Exploring the ways in which oral culture became appropriated by different nationalities and crucially, different languages, this session was valuable in terms of its questioning approach to ideas of literary heritage.   Concentrating upon texts by the English Thomas Percy, William Wordsworth and Matthew Lewis, the Scottish Walter Scott, and the German Johann Gottfried Herder and Gottfried August Bürger, the session sought to investigate not only the challenges posed by issues of translation, but also what translation itself lends to the concept of the folk tale.

Beginning by focusing upon Herder’s translation of Percy’s poem ‘Sweet William’s Ghost’ (1773), we considered the former’s awareness that this is a manufactured myth, borrowed from English oral tradition in order to be incorporated into German folk culture.  As an admirer of the Ossian correspondences, we discussed how Herder was attracted to this idea of an ancient bardic culture and regarded it as desirable for establishing such a culture in Germany.  It was suggested that, as Germany during this period was fragmented both politically and culturally, Herder’s preoccupation with oral traditions perhaps reflects this desire for a stable national history.  Parallels were also drawn with eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Italy, as an example of a nation that was displaced linguistically, as well as politically.

Those of us who were German speakers remarked upon the language Herder uses in his translation of ‘Sweet William’.  It was suggested that, rather than reproducing Percy’s poem faithfully, Herder deliberately incorporates vocabulary that makes its themes more archaic in translation.  This implies that he is not only amalgamating an English ballad into German culture, but in turn, transforming it in order to appeal to the Gothic sensibilities of that culture.  Through this process, it was suggested that Herder may be seen as contributing to the reputation German literature would acquire in England; the home of horror stories and Gothic narratives.  Interestingly, it was pointed out that it was England, and Scotland in particular, that held this reputation for Gothic literature in the eighteenth-century German psyche.

Moving on to look at the other texts, we were introduced to the demand for this kind of translated Gothic-esque literature in the eighteenth century.  For example,  Bürger also copied material from Percy’s poems into his Gothic romance ‘Lenore’ (1789), which was then itself swiftly translated back into English by Walter Scott.  Furthermore, Wordsworth made elements of ‘Lenore’ famous in the folk traditions and narrative of several of The Lyrical Ballads (1798/1802), whilst Matthew Lewis appropriated ‘Lenore’ into poems that were proclaimed to be based upon the Germanic tradition. 

We wondered what effect this act of translation from English/Scots dialect to German, and then back again, had on the original poems.  Certainly, Herder’s view on the purpose of poetry was not merely to convince his readers of their ancientness, but also to inspire a new kind of thinking about German culture and the function of literature within it.  Members were interested in Herder’s concept of history, which was seen to share many parallels with that of the Scottish Enlightenment.  Like philosophers such as Adam Ferguson, and later writers such as Thomas Love Peacock, Herder regarded history to be split into distinct ‘stages’, in which poetry must be aligned with particular points in national development.  It was suggested that such an approach contradicted that of other Scottish contemporaries such as Dugald Stewart, who perceived poetry and historical development as having a more dynamic relationship.  Nevertheless, this insight into Herder’s views reflected the wider relevance of his ideas on poetry, translation and national identity.  It also inspired detailed discussions on the affinities between German and Scottish literature during this period.

Overall, this session was valuable for the way that it highlighted the importance of translation and its place in national consciousness during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  It also introduced our mainly English literature-focused members to ideas that were both prevalent in European thought, and that share parallels with contemporary views of poetry and its purpose in England.  The NENC organising committee would thus like to thank Jayne for a thought-provoking, lively and interesting session.

Leanne Stokoe, Newcastle University


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Reading Group Report: 'Notes on Form in Art’: Composing Character

Led by Nicole Bush (Durham University)

22 February 2013

St. Chad’s College, Durham University

The February reading group saw NENC holding another successful event at Durham University.  The purpose of  this session was to explore George Eliot’s essay ‘Notes on Form in Art’ (1868), which discussed the composition, transferrence and presentation of artistic creation.  We then related these ideas to critical views on art in an essay by David Trotter, and sought to apply them by looking closely at the transformation of J.M.W. Turner’s paintings into black and white engravings.

We began the session by considering Eliot’s meaning of the term ‘form’ in relation to artistic production.  She connects the concept of form as an object with determining rules to the inspiration of the artist, poet or writer.  As a result, the construction of artistic conventions must always derive from original insight on the part of their creator, whilst new kinds of inspiration necessarily relate to concepts that have already been established.  We considered how this relates to Trotter’s view that for Eliot, poetic form in particular was not viewed as inhibiting artistic creation, but operated rather as a framework through which new ideas and types of metre could be established.  

Eliot’s distinctive view of form was then related to other areas of nineteenth-century literature in which members could identify similar views of artistic creation.  In particular, the outlook of several Romantic-era writers was recalled, which implies that Eliot’s notable admiration for Wordsworth also extended to other figures of the era.   For example, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s theory of the primary and secondary imaginations in his Biographia Literaria (1817) was mentioned.  It was suggested that parallels can arguably be drawn between Eliot’s concept of form as both inspiring the artist and producing conventions through which his work could be expressed, and Coleridge’s belief that the metre and imagery of poets are reflective of a higher inspirational source.  

Another prominent Romantic outlook to share some parallels with Eliot’s view is  Percy Bysshe Shelley’s theory of poetic composition in his A Defence of Poetry (1821).  Like Eliot, Shelley conceived of artistic convention in metre, style and ideas as being a beneficial ‘form’, which in turn could inspire more original insights on the part of contemporary and future poets.  Furthermore, Shelley believed that this creative version of ‘form’ in the arts could also be observed within politics, economics and the sciences.  This provoked some interesting discussion on how concepts of fixidity and form are associated usually with the sciences in the modern era, as opposed to this more interdisciplinary approach favoured by Eliot and others.

Moving from Eliot’s theory of ‘forms’ in art to a consideration of how these ideas can be observed in practice, we looked closely at Turner’s paintings.  Their transformation into engravings divested them of colour, yet arguably enhanced their level of detail.  We were particularly impressed by one theme of Turner’s in which the vivid sunset tones in the painting became, in the process of an engraving, a more striking portrayal of the shift between twilight and evening.  Relating this to Eliot’s theories, we considered that the transition in mediums  did not so much deprive Turner’s original painting of its vivacity, but added to it a different level of artistic insight.  In this respect, the engraving cannot merely be seen as an imitation of Turner’s masterpiece, but as enhancing the subjects in a way that could not have been possible in the original medium.  As a result, we were fascinated by the potential of Eliot’s theory of form to be applied to different kinds of artistic production.

Extending our earlier conversation on the limitations of a form of art, we concluded the session by considering whether Eliot’s theory could be applied to disciplines outside modern-day concepts of ‘art’.  In particular, we thought about whether Eliot’s ideas anticipated present-day aims in literary studies to explore the relationship between aesthetic and scientific modes of thought.  It was suggested that this notion of ‘form’ as being both fixed and inspirational could be seen to not only enlarge literary scholarship, but also question further the notion of ‘two cultures’ in the arts and sciences.
The NENC organising committee would like to thank Nicole for a very informative and interesting session, and would welcome comments or points for further discussion. 

Leanne Stokoe, Newcastle University