Birkbeck Forum for Nineteenth-Century Studies

SPRING TERM 2020 PROGRAMME

Wednesday 5th February, 6.00 pm. Prof. Alison Booth (Virginia): ‘George Eliot Where She Lived: Illustration and Topo-Biography.’

A close reading of illustrations of George Eliot’s complete works after her death reveals a discourse of literary topo-biography (see Booth’s Homes and Haunts [Oxford UP 2016]) that encodes gender, class, and national heritage as well as tourism. We can connect such textual and cultural studies with the findings of mid-range reading, as practiced in Collective Biographies of Women. Short biographies of George Eliot circulated in twenty-seven volumes of assorted female lives, such as Women Novelists of Queen Victoria’s Reign and Lives of Girls Who Became Famous. With the varied methods of textual criticism and digital analysis, this talk draws out spatial and collective dimensions of life narrative, standing back from ostensibly objective geolocation and biographical facts and challenging genre distinctions of fiction and nonfiction. Versions of one woman’s life reveal the circulation of anecdotes and tropes as well as reliance on punctuating moves to new houses, cities, countries, and social circles. In particular, the great woman writer may be placed in the typical provincial cottage or a specific middle-class country house; Dorothea Brooke’s ordeal in Rome may be illustrated with a photograph captioned “A View of Middlemarch (Coventry).” If the Complete Works try to preserve an English Midland, biographies of Eliot among many women can point us toward a cosmopolitan, intersectional reading of representations of mobility and change in women’s lives.

Wednesday 11th March, 6.00 pm. Prof. Deborah Lutz (Louisville): ‘Marginalia and Other Forms of Graffiti.’

This talk considers volumes from writers’ libraries that they have marked, autographed, and supplemented with matter such as pressed plants, feathers, and locks of hair. These haptic texts, thickened with time and adaptation, gained singularity, with meaning developing when samples of the real were left behind. George Eliot used some of her books to memorialize—to observe a passing moment, to remember a personal exchange—while in others she wrote comments, indexes on their endpapers, and other glosses of a scholarly nature. Charlotte and Emily Brontë, contrarily, penned diaries in their books, doodled in them, and generally defaced them. This thinking of the published, printed volume as paper with blank spaces inciting script, as a bearer of relationships and memory, as a magical object set in place and time, and as a space that could be inhabited, shaped these writers’ own creative acts. The paratextual for them stretched far outside the more traditional definition of the term, jumping the boundary of the book and the page altogether. 

All are welcome to join us for these events, which will take place in the Keynes Library, Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square.

 

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