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“Strange New Today”: Victorians, Crisis and Response
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University of Exeter
Postgraduates in the University of Exeter’s Centre for Victorian Studies will be holding a one-day interdisciplinary conference for postgraduates and early-career researchers on the 17th of September, 2011. The conference is in collaboration with the Reader Organisation and will take place in the historic setting of the Devon and Exeter Institution, which was founded in 1813 as a private library.
Plenary: “The Reader Cure”, hosted by the Reader Organisation
In Past and Present (1843), the author and social commentator, Thomas Carlyle, perceived modern crisis as an impossible riddle and posed the question: “This English Nation, will it get to know the meaning of its strange new today?”
Nineteenth-century perceptions of crisis were informed and shaped by unprecedented change in the social and economic climate of Victorian England. Awareness of crisis stimulated intellectual enquiry in new disciplinary directions: in history and geology, archaeology and classicism, evolutionary biology, economic and social theory, in literature and culture, and in personal and psychological narratives. Professor Philip Davis in The Victorians identifies the realist novel as a ‘holding ground’ for the complex emotional and psychological concerns which emerged from rapid industrial and social change. Through literature, and the public nature of the periodical press, authors and thinkers found a new medium of expression – reading and writing became remedial aids in times of difficulty. Such intellectual productivity, coupled with the desire to explore new emotional, social and psychological territories, caused these dramas of discovery to be played out in the very hearts and homes of the public.
The commemorations of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and the returns to Marx for explanations of the current economic crisis exemplify a revival of interest in how thought from the nineteenth century lives on in the contemporary world. Victorian literature continues to enrich and comfort the lives of people today as shown by the success of the bibliotherapy outreach work of the Reader Organisation of the University of Liverpool. The status and future of Victorian Studies has been identified by Professor Regenia Gagnier, in her address ‘Whither Victorian Studies’ (Victoriographies 2011), to be giving rise to emergent formalisms, and new collaborative projects with strong interdisciplinary focus and international involvement.
This conference explores the significance of crisis in how we read and interpret Victorian literature, and what that might mean for the future of Victorian Studies. How did Victorians perceive the state and future of society, and in what ways did different disciplines seek to respond to these questions? How might contemporary scholarship, itself experiencing uncertain times, learn from or emulate Victorian responses? What forms of advice or consolation can Victorian literature offer to the contemporary reader? How might Victorian Studies – in their wide embracement of interdisciplinary concerns - help us grasp “the meaning of our strange new Today”?
Possible topics might include, but are by no means limited to:
Postgraduates and early career researchers are invited to send proposals (of approx. 250 words) for 15 – 20 minute papers to email@example.com no later than Friday the 27th of May. Any queries regarding the conference can be directed to the same address.
This event is held in collaboration with the Reader Organisation of Liverpool – a bibliotherapy outreach initiative that has brought about an international ‘Reading Revolution’. The organisation will contribute to the conference by highlighting the significance of Victorian literature as both informative and remedial for working through social, cultural, and psychological crises.