Selected Papers from, Strange New Today (Exeter, 17 September 2011)

Newspaper drawing of the Chartists' Riots
'Chartists fighting with police'. Source: True Stories of the Reign of Queen Victoria by Cornelius Brown (London: Griffith & Farran, 1886).

JVC Online is delighted to have the opportunity to provide our readers with access to a selection of seven of the twenty-two papers that graduate students delivered at a conference specifically aimed at showcasing their research. In the past decade, there has been a welcome growth in the number of symposia that provide specific opportunities for doctoral students to share their work not only with their peers but also with established scholars who can offer supportive feedback. Such events can be of great assistance in the process of professionalization—all the way from developing skills in presenting papers and handling question-and-answer sessions to learning techniques in intervening in urgent critical debate.

On the basis of the impressive papers that the conference organizers have generously shared with us, it is clear that ‘Strange New Today’—which focused on ‘Victorians, Crisis and Response’—was an immense success. As the conference coordinators point out in their introduction, the presentations they have chosen explore the different ways in which Victorian writers addressed the shock of their bewilderingly ‘new’ culture, whether in relation to the crisis of secularization, the legacy of the French Revolution, the horrors of the modern city, the desire to revive a chivalric past, the yearning for utopias, the need to contest the tax on turnpikes, and the perceptible gendering of modern temporalities.

Moreover, these papers touch on topics that connect with our own ‘new’ universe: one in which the early twenty-first century often looks back to the Victorians to understand more about their sense of the world they had left behind and the future that was yet to come. Part of the strong appeal of the Victorian period to our present concerns lies in what we can learn from their struggle to adjust to what they sensed was ‘strange’ and ‘new’, on some occasions in the bold form of evolutionary theory, while at other times in the shape of a domestic nation that felt less internally cohesive than ever before. To be sure, the ‘new’ crises that pressed upon them may to some degree appear as ‘old’ ones in our eyes: the loss of Christian faith; the deepening of class antagonisms; the fear of reigniting revolutionary violence; and the rampant expansion of empire. Yet, more than a hundred years after the Victorian epoch officially came to an end, the legacies of each bear heavily upon our ‘today’, since these sources of conflict, if in transformed guises, live with us still. It is little wonder there is such a wealth of thriving graduate research that returns our attention to the reasons why these topics—ones that can seem so familiar in our own time—counted among those that announced to the Victorians that their universe in many ways occupied an unforeseen age.

In bringing these selected proceedings before you, the editors at the Journal of Victorian Culture must emphasize that none of these graduate student papers has gone through the same peer-review procedures that we apply to all articles that scholars kindly submit to the published journal. Assuredly, we have prepared these papers in line with the style guide we use for JVC.  And we have negotiated editorial changes with the conference organizers. But, we must insist, these papers do not count as peer-reviewed publications. In every way, this is just how it should be. These much-appreciated samples of research are graduate-level items that form parts of works-in-progress that will eventually develop into peer-reviewed scholarship. We remain grateful to Ben Carver, Jude Piesse, Rebecca Welshman, Will Abberley, Hannah Lewis-Bill, and Andrew Griffiths for taking such care in selecting and editing these seven essays, which give a clear indication of where current inquiries into Victorian culture are heading from a generation-in-training that will soon be poised to join the scholarly profession. Our thanks go to you.

Joseph Bristow
University of California, Los Angeles


Mildrid Bjerke is a doctoral candidate in the department of English and Related Literature at the University of York Her research concerns the development of the genre of the literature study guide and its relation to literary criticism and education.  She has previously studied literature, aesthetics, art history and philosophy at Oslo, the Norwegian Institute in Rome, and Warwick.

Dr Sally Dugan is the author of Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel (Forthcoming, Ashgate, November 2012). She has written popular books on 19th-century culture and has taught at Birkbeck, Middlesex and Oxford Brookes Universities. Her research interests are in nineteenth and early twentieth-century print culture, fictional representations of the French Revolution, nationalism and the ‘translation’ of popular fiction across different media.

She is currently a visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, University of London, where she is working on a study of middlebrow writers on the Riviera.

Christina Lake is in the third year of a part-time PhD on the subject of eugenics in utopian fiction. She also has a full-time job as an academic librarian and is an associate of the Higher Education Academy.

Ben Moore is a PhD candidate in the department of English, American Studies and Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. His thesis, due for completion in late 2013, draws on the work of Walter Benjamin to explore architecture and the city in the works of Gaskell, Dickens and Zola. His article, ‘“When I went to Lunnon town sirs”: Transformation and the Threshold in the Dickensian City’, is due to be published in the December issue of Dickens Quarterly.

Maria Peker is a PhD student in her final year in the Department of English at the University of Hamburg, Germany. In her dissertation she looks at the figure of “the woman with a past” in the Victorian novel. She reads this character as opening new possibilities of speaking about female fallenness in the 19th century Britain. Contrary to the familiar narrative of the fall as putting an end to a woman’s story, the woman with a past uses her sexual experience for modelling her life trajectory after the masculine pattern of a self-made man. Maria is particularly interested in the works of Trollope and Hardy, as well as the genre of sensation novels.

Gabriel Schenk is in his third year of doctoral research at Pembroke College, Oxford; he is writing on King Arthur as a literary and cultural ‘type’ in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some more of his work can be seen here.

Rita Singer is a lecturer in the department for British Studies at Leipzig University where she teaches BA and MA courses in British Literatures and Cultural Studies. She has just finished writing her PhD thesis with the title ‘Re-inventing the Gwerin: Anglo-Welsh Identities in Fiction and Non-Fiction, 1847-1914’. Her research primarily involves, but is not limited to Welsh Writing in English, Victorian Britain and Film Studies.

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