"Stuff and Stuffing" (24-27 May 2014 at Brock University): Submissions due 1 Nov 2013

full name / name of organization: 
Joint Session: Victorian Studies Association of Ontario (VSAO) at ACCUTE
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Henry James' infamous condemnation of nineteenth-century novels as "loose baggy monsters" is so perfectly devastating that many forget that the author was posing a question. Flummoxed by a literary form that so readily included "the accidental and the arbitrary" in its representations, James pondered: what do they "artistically mean?" Walter Benjamin, another modern looking back on the nineteenth century with a sense of bewilderment, suggested elliptically that the swollen cushions, ample hangings, and profusion of dust covers, doilies, and antimacassars of the nineteenth-century interior were evidence of a deeply ingrained "posture...of struggle and defense."

This panel seeks to address James and Benjamin's queries, and, more generally, to explore the profusion of "stuff" in the Victorian era. A notoriously vague term, "stuff" can refer to a workable material that can be molded into other forms—think of the abundance of new commodities and technologies wrought by the industrial revolution, or the discovery of new entities, speciations, and categories of materiality by the burgeoning fields of science. However, "stuff" can also refer to material that remains stubbornly unspecialized, undifferentiated, and inert—dust, batting, and fillings that are useful chiefly in their ability to insulate and take up space. How did the Victorians interact with, represent, and imitate their materially profuse surroundings? What stuffs Victorian texts?

Papers may consider such topics as:

  • Taxidermy and other stuffed animals
  • Crinoline, padding, puffed sleeves, and the stuff of cloth
  • Foodstuffs and stuffing oneself: gluttony, corpulence, and satiation
  • Baggy monsters: rhetorical verbiage, textual excess, narrative bulk, and the serial novel
  • Dickensian stuff: the Cratchitt Christmas goose stuffing, Sir Duddle's stuffed people; the Veneerings and the Buffers
  • Modernist creations of and reactions to Victorian "stuffiness"
  • Filling in and filling up
  • Household stuff and stuffy houses: billowing curtains, draped fabrics, covers and casings
  • Stuff and nonsense

Please submit the following as separate documents by 1 November 2013:

  1. A proposal of 300-500 words that has NO identifying marks for the author
  2. An abstract of 100 words and a bio of 50 words
  3. A Proposal Info Sheet, available here