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Monday, 14 July 2014

My Summer Conferences

I've given papers at three conferences this summer in rather different locations and to different groups of people. The actual conferences themselves have been enjoyable and informative, though my personal difficulties have made them a little more traumatic than I would've preferred.

The first one, at the beginning of June, was the Oxford English Graduate Conference 2014 on the theme of 'Margins'. Of course, this gave me the brilliant excuse to see Oxford - and to see Oxford in the sunshine - which was a very pleasant experience. My paper, entitled 'Reclaiming a Sensation Novelist: Re-evaluating Edmund Yates', was on a 9:00 am panel, probably a good thing because once it was over I started to enjoy the day a little more. The programme was packed full with four sets of four simultaneous panels. The variety was excellent, though I tended to stick to the more Victorian ones. Perhaps my favourite panel was 'Nineteenth-Century Women' that included three outstanding papers from Ruth Ashton (University of Leicester), Teja Pusapati (University of Oxford) and Rebecca Shuttleworth (University of Leicester) who looked at 'fallen'/'new' women, the English Woman's Journal and provincial women in abolitionist discourse respectively. The day was a success overall and I managed to overcome my inherent shyness and hold a few conversations with some interesting people.

Secondly, at the end of June, was 'Recoveries 2014: Reconnections, 1714-1914' held at the University of Nottingham. The paper I gave there was a variation on my Oxford paper, slightly shorter and with more of an emphasis on Yates's novel Black Sheep in relation to Dickens. I was pleased with how it went and got some interesting questions. Once again, there was a nice mix of paper within the time period, my favourites perhaps being Amy Watson (Nottingham Trent University) discussing Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Adam Abraham (University of Oxford) talking about imitations of The Pickwick Papers and Elizabeth Adams (independent) on the collaborative authorship questions surrounding Mary Elizabeth Braddon. The university campus at Nottingham is stunning, a perfect place to discuss literature and culture.

Finally, I attended the 6th annual Victorian Popular Fiction Association conference which was on the theme of 'Victorian Treasures and Trash'. I attended this conference last year and it was brilliant. I'm pleased to say that this one was exactly the same. Spread over three days, there were plenty of papers to hold my attention, dealing with some Victorians I know a fair bit about and some of whom I know absolutely nothing. There's something equally fascinating and terrifying about being in a room with a heap of Victorian experts but they're all lovely people. I didn't get the chance to talk to some people I wanted to but that was partly due to time and partly due to my shyness going into overdrive. I did spend a lot of time hiding but I was there. That's the important thing.

My paper was on the Thursday morning and was a completely different creature to the Oxford and Nottingham papers. While they focused on the collaboration rumours surrounding Edmund Yates, this one delved into textual analysis and comparison to Dickens in a paper called 'Bleak House to Black Sheep: Literacy and the Street Boy'. I was fortunate to be on a panel with Sarah Lill (Northumbria University), whose paper on Edward Lloyd was both fascinating and slotted most neatly in alongside mine. There were too many excellent papers to name and I wouldn't want to leave anybody out so let me just say that it was a brilliant conference with some thought-provoking panels.

All of these conferences have thrown up things I want to now read, whether related to my research interests or not. Thanks to Oxford, I need to get more acquainted with Dickens's Christmas journals, read some Marilynne Robinson and delve - quite carefully - into George Moore. Nottingham taught me that I need to finally read The Pickwick Papers and dramatically improve my knowledge of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's 'lesser' novels. The VPFA gave me a lot of potential reading material including stories by Louisa Baldwin, Dr Paull's Theory by A.M. Diehl, Behind the Mask by Louisa May Alcott and a few texts on stammering from the nineteenth century. I may also give The Mill on the Floss another shot.

It's been a busy five weeks but rewarding nonetheless. I only hope my papers proved as interesting to others as theirs did to me.

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