Provence and the British Imagination

full name / name of organization: 
Universite de Provence

Provence and the British Imagination

Université de Provence 19 and 20 November 2010, Aix-en-Provence, France

Organising institutions
LERMA (Laboratoire d'Études et de Recherches sur le Monde Anglophone, Université de Provence), Università Degli Studi, Milano (member of LERU), Université des Antilles et de la Guyane (CRILLASH), Société Française d'Étude de la Littérature de Voyage du Monde Anglophone (SELVA)

Well before it invaded the glossy pages of tourist brochures and real estate catalogues, Provence developed over the centuries as a complex fabric of territorial, cultural and linguistic threads. Historically, Provençal identity is rooted in its Greek (VII-VI centuries BC) and Roman past (II century BC-476 AD), by early Christianisation (AD 40) as well as by the international radiance of its medieval glory– from the poetics of the Troubadours to 14th century Papal Avignon and the 15th century splendour of King René's court. Fiercely opposed to 16th century attempts at centralisation, Provence has long developed antidotes to Parisian assimilation and cultural uniformity, preserving its own idioms and customs, sometimes actively promoting them, as in the 19th century Félibrige experience. And yet, it has always been outward-looking too, and has capitalised on its position at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. Geographically, Provence extends from the so-called "Rhodanian" plains (comtat Venaissin, Crau, Camargue) to the limestone and ochre hills, not to mention the coast stretching from the Rhône river to the Italian border, and the famous French Riviera. In linguistic terms, Provençal belongs to the "langue d'oc" or southern dialects spoken East of the Rhône river. Provençal landscapes, colours and lights certainly linked the region with modernity, making it one of the cradles of modern art and avant-garde poetry, as well as a choice location for literary and artistic circles.
This multifarious Provence is what this conference wishes to address, exploring its interaction with the British imagination, and trying to chart a territory which is yet to be convincingly mapped.

First Encounters
When did British visitors start to travel to Provence? How did the Stuart Court in exile adapt to Avignon in the 17th century? Who were the British visitors of the 18th century? Were they travellers on the Grand Tour or residents? What did they expect to see and experience in the South? What records did they leave? How did famously idiosyncratic visitors like Tobias Smollett, James Boswell and Laurence Sterne react to Provence? Did the area inspire Adam Smith with economic considerations? Were there budding British communities attracted by Protestantism or by the medical promises of climato-therapy discovered by Scottish Doctor John Brown? Were travellers influenced by John Millard's The Gentleman's Guide in His Tour Through France (1770) or Arthur Young's Travels in France (1787-89) ?

The Victorian Golden Age
While the attractions of the Mediterranean coast prompted many visitors, including Queen Victoria, to explore the French Riviera after Nice became French in 1860, many eminent Victorians enjoyed sightseeing in mainland Provence. Occasional references can be found to Charles Dickens's stay in Marseilles, Robert and Elizabeth Browning's romantic visit to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and Aix-en-Provence. Avignon attracted George Eliot, Anna Jameson, J.M.W. Turner, John Ruskin, William Dyce, as well as John Stuart Mill and his wife Harriet Taylor. What were the Victorians visiting Provence looking for? What guidebooks did they use, if any, and how did railway development influence their perception of Provençal space?

Modern Provence
To British visitors, Provence offers a wealth of poetic models. In the steps of Francis Hueffer, and soon Ezra Pound, modernist literature made Provence its own. Artists and novelists soon disseminated in the South-East of France, variously inspired by Cézanne, Mistral and Mallarmé. Thus the Bloomsbury group as well as Ford Madox Ford, Roland Penrose and Laurence Durrell settled between Toulon and St Rémy-de-Provence in the interwar period. Aldous Huxley wrote two of his books in Sanary-sur-Mer in the 1930s, while Somerset Maugham worked on Cakes and Ale (1930) in Cap Ferrat, and D.H. Laurence spent the end of his life in Vence. More recently, the art of Bridget Riley has celebrated the vibrancy of Provençal light and colour. Interest in Provence has also been stimulated by Peter Mayle's bestselling book A Year in Provence (1989).

Possible themes to be considered include:
Grand Tour accounts, travel books or guidebooks, travel letters and diaries, sketches, images, maps
Provençal poets and troubadours/ Linguistic and poetic approaches
Camargue and gipsy lore
Sensorial experiences: sounds, smells and tastes of Provence as well as visual experience
Customs, inhabitants, landscapes and monuments
Greek and Roman antiquities
The politics of resistance
Folklore and provincialism
Aesthetics and trade
Literary and visual representations (shaping, framing, bricolage, describing, naming)
Provence and mass culture
Transport and the perception of Provence
The reception of British art on Provence

Papers will be in English. Please submit proposals in English (300 words) and short speaker biographies no later than 30 June 2010 to Béatrice Laurent (