Bloggers Fair: Amber Regis’ ‘Looking Glasses at Odd Corners’

Screenshot of Amber Regis' Blog

I started my blog, Looking Glasses at Odd Corners, in October 2011. Its title is an obscure reference to a Virginia Woolf essay on ‘The Art of Biography’ (1939), a phrase that encapsulates my approach to life-writing: ‘Biography will enlarge its scope by hanging up looking glasses at odd corners.’ [1]

As a Victorianist, my research is concerned with the recovery and recognition of playfulness, experiment and diversity in nineteenth-century auto/biography. I delve into the ‘odd corners’, shining a light on the mutual borrowings between life-writing, fiction and poetry, challenging our popular conception of dry, hero-worshipping lives. As a blogger, however, my interests range far more broadly.

Blogging allows you to communicate with a wider audience and I wanted to write something that people might actually read (doctoral theses tend to collect dust on University library shelves). I wanted to do this in a style, a language that was more conversational, more open and less exclusive than the academic ‘voice’ I employ elsewhere. I also wanted to move beyond the Victorian. If you browse through my posts, you will certainly find many nineteenth-century treats, but blogging has provided an opportunity to extend the boundaries previously set by my research. I have applied my interest in experimental life-narratives to contemporary events, new media, film and television. Look closely and you will find posts on biopic, documentary , Monty Python and souvenir tea-towels (yes, really!).

I was recently invited by the Journal of Victorian Culture to contribute to a ‘Digital Forum’ exploring academic use of social media. This prompted me to put blogging — and indeed, my own blog — under the microscope, probing those motives lurking behind the ideals listed above. I chose to focus on postgraduate students and early career researchers, and I explored the increasing use of social media by this demographic. A whole range of motives and benefits were revealed, including the careful crafting of online identity, demonstrating awareness of public engagement and the ‘impact’ agenda, and the fostering of supportive networks. Blogging and social media are fast becoming an essential part of the career ‘toolkit’, a desirable skill in an academic context where jobs are scarce and we are expected — now, more than ever — to step outside the ‘ivory tower’.

[1] Virginia Woolf, ‘The Art of Biography’, in Selected Essays, ed. by David Bradshaw (Oxford: OUP, 2008), pp. 116-23 (p. 121).

Amber K. Regis has taught English Literature at the Universities of Chester, Keele and Liverpool John Moores, and she is currently an Associate Lecturer at the Open University. Her research interests include nineteenth and twentieth-century life-writing and she has published work on Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West and John Addington Symonds. She keeps a blog, Looking Glasses at Odd Corners, and tweets @AmberRegis . In September 2012 she will take up a Lectureship in Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of Sheffield.

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