The household name of Mills & Boon invites a wry smile. It can also provoke a heartfelt defence from romance scholars and genre addicts, or equally passionate criticism from feminists and literary critics. Research into the company’s archive shows how the both the brand and romance genre developed, and their impact on publishing, authors and readers.
“No more doubts! No more disappointments!”
The romance made by Mills & Boon was crafted as mainstream entertainment and the company was one of the first in the industry to develop a relationship with the reader. The correspondence offers a fascinating insight into how the firm constantly balanced the weight of plots and the measured out the desires of characters and authors to produce a profitable reading experience. Despite their conservative reputation, the company understood the value of the emerging categories that catered to changing tastes, and were innovative in adapting to the changing supply chain. In this seminar Judith Watts explores some of the heavy work that went into maintaining light fiction and ‘Romances That Fill The Till’.
Monday 8th February, 6-7pm, Special collections, Museum of English Rural Life (MERL), Redlands Road.
Louisa Stuart Costello (1799-1870) was a popular and critically acclaimed poet, novelist, travel writer, historian, biographer, artist, and medieval scholar. Her wide-ranging choice of genre demonstrates her acute understanding of contemporary reading trends and publishing markets: Costello offered the first original nineteenth-century version of the ‘Lady of Shalott’, preceded FitzGerald with her adaptations of Omar Khayyam’s verses, and was one of the first of the ‘Lady Travellers’ who demonstrated their connoisseurship and scholarship in the rapidly growing travel book market in the 1840s.
In this seminar, Clare Broome Saunders will share her experience of archival research in piecing together Costello’s life and work, and explore how Costello manipulated contemporary literary markets to make the most out of every piece of archival research she herself undertook, so that she could disseminate her academic medieval scholarship in commercially and critically successful outputs.
Monday 25th January (week 3) 1.10-2.15 URS 2s26
During the last decades of the nineteenth century, the plays of the Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen were staged with tremendous success across the western world. Yet, although the success of his plays was noteworthy in itself, what makes it truly remarkable is the fact that it was initiated from Norway, a country that at the time seemed located at the very edge of European cultural space. In my talk, I explore how Ibsen’s pan-European success was possible. Utilising the perspective of ‘transfer history’, I focus on the middlemen involved in the transferral of the dramas; the cultural markets through which they were disseminated; and the way in which they were integrated into local cultural fields. As a movement from the European cultural periphery towards its various centres the history of Ibsen’s success may be used as a prism for the investigation of cultural circulation, hegemonic structures and agency. Furthermore, the transnational perspective on Ibsen’s success offers a chance to challenge the national categories which often dominate the study of literature.
Monday 11th May 1pm-2.30pm
Henley Business School, G03
The diaries of Joseph Woolley (c.1769-1850), Nottinghamshire stockingmaker, are the basis of An Everyday Life of the English Working Class (Steedman, CUP 2014). The book would not exist without them. Now, all done and dusted, they raise important questions about how a historian should read texts from the past. Are the diaries a text, to be read and analysed as literature; or an archival document? Or both? How should historians use literary and narrative theory in their reading of ocuments? Should they read in this way, in the first place?
Monday 27th April
5.15-6.30pm, Special Collections, Museum of English Rural Life (MERL)
My contention in this paper is that the distinctive form of the periodical challenges us to look outside the conventional paradigms of literary and cultural studies to develop new conceptual and analytical frameworks for this unique medium. More specifically, I argue that there exists a compelling and theoretically productive parallel between the complex and heterogeneous form of the periodical and the characteristic features of the mathematical sets defined by Benoit Mandelbrot as fractals. Infinitely complex in their fine structure, self-similar at multiple scales, and derived from simple recursive equations, fractal functions have been used to map the irregular forms that proliferate in nature, but these same properties also resonate strikingly with those of the periodical in its multiple and varying patterns of elements. Indeed, just as rock formations, clouds, and coastlines defy traditional Euclidean geometry, so periodicals defy traditional poetics. And just as fractal geometry provides tools to tame these complex and irregular forms, so it can furnish us with new approaches to describe and conceptualise the ‘texture’ of the periodical, understood as the complex and irregular patternings of its textual, visual, and material elements.
Drawing on a pilot, British Academy funded project to develop a periodical mapping application (P-MApp), this paper will explore the conceptual and analytical potential of the periodical as a fractal form. In particular, I shall demonstrate that fractional (or fractal) dimension can serve as a highly effective measure of periodical complexity, opening up the possibility of systematic comparative and typological analysis of periodical form.
Senior Lecturer in German Studies, University of Manchester
Monday 20th April, 1-2.30pm, Henley Business School, G03
Hans Sloane (1660-1753) kept a rolling catalogue of his collections over the 70 years of his practice as a collector. Since that time, the British Museum that he instated through his will has continued to catalogue and recatalogue these materials — for a further 300 years, even as the collections were distributed across the Natural History Museum (1888) and the new British Library (1996). How can we use these multiple iterations and variants in object descriptions and categorisations of materials to understand not only the history of these collections, but also the knowledge and practice contexts in which they have been used — and indeed the actors who have created them? It is possible to use catalogues as a tool in epistemologising post-Enlightenment disciplines and creating a structured interdisciplinary context in which to discuss the very notion of disciplines itself.
Monday 23rd February, 5-6.30pm, Museum of English Rural Life
British Museum, manuscript catalogue of miscellanies created by Sir Hans Sloane and his amanuensi, circa 1680-1753. 329 folios, bound: Department of Africa, Oceania & the Americas. Am,CUPBD2/SH.4
Vivien Leigh has primarily been read as a British star actress – known for her glamour, her renowned beauty and her iconic performances in films like Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. Yet the variety of roles she adopted across her career suggests that a different history is yet to be written of her transatlantic creative labour in exchanges across Europe and Hollywood, obscured through an emphasis on her star persona alone. Leigh’s career demonstrates the mobility of women’s creative work across multiple spheres – in Leigh’s case, in theatre, film, fashion, modelling and photography, as war time labourer, celebrity, public figure and financer for stage productions – that cannot be unpacked through a singular disciplinary framework, nor a limiting focus on the female star body.
Focusing on Leigh as a case study, this paper will discuss the ways in which we might better understand histories of women’s creative labour in and around the 20th century film industry through archival research and collaboration, reflecting on the how scattered traces of her labour have been collated and collected within international, national and local museums and archives, in personal collections and online. It will consider how collaborations and interactions with a variety of non-academic partners need to be forged to fully explore the alternative histories of a star figure, making visible the invisible and side-lined acts of labour and concepts of identity forged through different forms of work. At the same time, it will foreground the tensions that exist in the ways in which such labours are valued –by the film industry, by Leigh herself, by archives and museums that hold Leigh materials, and by public audiences in their continuing interest in and consumption of her star image.
Monday 9th February, 1-2.30pm, Henley Business School, G03