Picture1Patricia Duncker

‘Imagining George Eliot’

Wednesday 31 August, 1.15-2.15

What is the difference between an historical novel and a Neo-Victorian historical novel? And what are the ethical, indeed metaphysical issues, that arise when a writer takes on a person who once lived, and whose life has generated many bio-graphies, and transforms them into a fictional character? I decided to transform George Eliot, a real historical figure, who was once embodied under a different name, a woman who lived and breathed and wrote, into a fictional character – and surround her with the people many writers fear most: their characters and their readers.

Both my Neo-Victorian fictions, James Miranda Barry (1999) and Sophie and the Sibyl (2016) might loosely be called biographical historical fictions in that they address real lives, lived in a material, embodied world, and a particular historical time. In my own mind this raised questions that have both a literary and an ethical dimension.  Should writers creating Neo-Victorian fictions, which are often more playful, self-conscious, and knowing than straightforward historical novels, consider themselves exempt from the usual traditions, rules, customs and practices that have evolved within the genre broadly considered as ‘historical’ fiction? And what are those traditions and rules? Who enforces them? Surely the only guidelines fiction need ever follow are what works and what doesn’t?  Biography must answer to the evidence, fiction must answer to the reader. The terms of the contract are radically different.  This lecture addresses these questions and explains the processes and methods I employed in imagining one of the big beasts of nineteenth-century literary life, the woman of many names, the author of Middlemarch.

PATRICIA DUNCKER is the author of six novels and two collections of short fiction including Hallucinating Foucault (1996), winner of the McKitterick Prize and the Dillons First Fiction Award, and Miss Webster and Chérif (2006) shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, 2007. Her fifth novel, The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge (2010), was shortlisted for the CWA Golden Dagger award for the Best Crime Novel of the Year. Her critical work includes a collection of essays on writing, theory and contemporary literature, Writing on the Wall (2002). George Eliot is one of the heroines of her most recent novel (1999), Sophie and the Sibyl: A Victorian Romance (2015) She is Professor Emeritus in English at the University of Manchester.

Picture2pngChristina Bashford (University of Illinois School of Music)

‘Buying into (more than) music: The “violin craze” and the late-Victorian imagination’

Thursday 1 September, 9-10

In late-Victorian Britain there was, to borrow words from Frederick Corder (1922), ‘a perfect craze for learning the fiddle’ – a new and sustained interest in playing the violin among a much larger, and wider, slice of the population.  Breaking barriers of class and gender, this upsurge in violin-playing among both amateur and professional musicians was underpinned by a raft of changing cultural values and driven by a rapidly developing commercial infrastructure. The phenomenon itself, though manifest in a range of contemporary source materials (including magazines, novels, pedagogical materials, concert programmes, and print advertising), is oddly absent from much of the historiography on Victorian music. Such writing has tended to emphasize those trends in instrument-playing and commerce that gel more readily with received ideas about nineteenth-century Britain as being in the vanguard of technological advancement, industrialization and the social spread of music-making. Meanwhile, the popularity in the late Victorian period of this fragile, wooden instrument – an object of great beauty, traditionally crafted by hand – poses many paradoxes and begs many questions. Why did so many Victorians choose to take up this particular instrument with such gusto? And what were they buying into ideologically when they did so? Examining the magnetism that the violin seems to have had for many Victorians – whether active players, passive listeners, instrument collectors, or hobbyist violin makers – this talk goes beyond the obvious explanations of supply and demand or the aesthetic appeal of violin music; it explores how the idea of the violin fed into people’s dreams, ambitions, and sensibilities, to make the instrument a potent, ideologically laden consumer good.

Biographical details: Christina Bashford is Associate Professor of Musicology and Associate Director of Graduate Studies in the School of Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; she is also the current President of the Midwest Victorian Studies Association. Before moving to the USA, she taught for several years at Oxford Brookes University. Much of her research is focused on the history of musical culture in Victorian Britain, and her publications include a range of studies that treat intersections between music, society, and commerce. She is co-editor of Music and British Culture, 1785-1914: Essays in Honour of Cyril Ehrlich (Oxford University Press, 2000), author of The Pursuit of High Culture: John Ella and Chamber Music in Victorian London (Boydell, 2007), and co-editor of a new volume, The Idea of Art Music in a Commercial World, 1800-1930 (Boydell, 2016). Her current book project explores the culture around the violin in Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and it is from this material that her talk for the BAVS 2016 conference is drawn.

Picture3Frank Trentmann (Birkbeck, University of London)

‘Private comfort, public spirit: Victorian consumer culture in a global context’

Friday 2 September, 9-10

The Victorians raised consumer culture to unprecedented heights. But what exactly was distinctive about their form of consumption? This lecture seeks to place the Victorians in the larger history of consumer culture. It will examine their place in its longer evolution and explore parallels and contrasts with consumption in other places. We will proceed from the private sphere and its comforts and conveniences to the public sphere all the way to imperial and global politics. Along the way we will encounter the role of religion and self-cultivation; the increasingly demanding citizen as consumer; and the legacy of free trade for colonial and exotic goods and tastes.

Biographical details: Frank Trentmann is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London. His research and publications have focused on civil society, globalisation and consumption, including the prize-winning book Free Trade Nation (2008) and the Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption (2012, editor). He was the director of the AHRC-ESRC “Cultures of Consumption” research programme and now heads the AHRC project “Material Cultures of Energy”, which examines the transformation of energy in daily life in the twentieth century. In 2014 he was Moore Distinguished Fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). His new book Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the 15th Century to the 21st was published earlier this year (2016) by Allen Lane/Penguin in the UK, and HarperCollins in the US, with foreign translations to appear in 2017.