Victorian Transformations Conference 2023

The LCVS Conference, ‘Victorian Transformations’ took place on 24-25 May 2023, at Weetwood Hall, Leeds, and online. LCVS organized and hosted the event in collaboration with the Charlotte M. Yonge Fellowship (CMYF). With the generous support of a grant of £500 from the British Association of Victorian Studies, the LCVS offered bursaries to support the attendance of BAME participants, PGRs/ECRs and members of under-represented groups. 

The conference was organized by LCVS Co-Directors, Revd Professor Jane de Gay and Professor Karen Sayer, along with Dr Clemence Schultz, Dr Clare Walker Gore and Dr Julia Courtney of the Charlotte M. Yonge Fellowship. The conference team included LCVS members Marielle O’Neill (PGR), Dr Edwin Stockdale (Visiting Fellow) and Dr Suzanne Owen, who also gave papers, and Dr Amina Alyal. A truly international gathering, the conference drew together delegates from India, China, Germany, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Canada, the USA and the UK.

Conference description

The Victorian age was characterised by social, technological, scientific, religious, and cultural transformation. As we have lived with the Victorians, our view of them has in turn transformed, with the concept of ‘transformation’ itself proving mutable. This conference engaged with the idea of transformation both as applied to the Victorians, and in Victorian Studies. Taking a thoroughly interdisciplinary approach, papers explored both the changes taking place in society and personal consciousness during the long nineteenth century, and the changing constructions and interpretations of the Victorian age.

The conference coincided with the bicentenary of the novelist Charlotte M. Yonge (1823–1901), a writer whose exceptionally long literary career captured the many changes of the period, and whose reception history has been so suggestively varied. Once seen as having ‘true realist chique’ (Henry James, 1865), she was later disparaged as old-fashioned and off-puttingly religious – even ‘fanatic’ (Q. D. Leavis, 1944) – before enjoying something of a renaissance in the twenty-first century. The conference explored how and why readings of Yonge’s work have changed, and how a revisionary approach might also transform our view of ‘the Victorian’.

Download or View a PDF of  the Victorian Transformations Conference 2023 Programme

Keynote lectures

Talia Schaffer: ‘Collectivity, Caregiving and Character: Transforming Reading’

Abstract: Charlotte Yonge is renowned for her ability to sustain equal attention to many characters over the course of a novel. In this talk, I ask what happens if we practise something like Yonge’s networked perspective when we read other Victorian fiction. Literary critics traditionally treat a main character as a unique individual with deep interiority, whose hidden feelings we can elucidate by careful attention to subtle cues. What if, instead, we read across a novel’s population, attending particularly to the supposedly minor figures, the servants/caregivers? Caregivers may not conceal pre-existing subjectivity but instead erect external personas through mechanisms including emotional labour, performativity, invisibilization, and internalization. For these figures, character gets produced through repeated interactions in a social network. In this talk, I begin by explaining Yonge’s distributed attention, then turn to caregivers like Phil Squod, Nelly Dean, and Mary Garth. Perhaps characters engage in collective action to build the narrative instead of competing for readers’ attention; perhaps characters perform emotional labour for their employers instead of revealing inner truths; perhaps reading carefully can transform the work we do as critics.

Biography: Talia Schaffer is a professor of English at Queens College CUNY and the Graduate Center CUNY. She is the author of Communities of Care: The Social Ethics of Victorian Fiction (2021); Romance’s Rival: Familiar Marriage in Victorian Fiction (2016), which won the NAVSA prize for the best book of the year; Novel Craft: Victorian Domestic Handicraft and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (2011); and The Forgotten Female Aesthetes; Literary Culture in Late-Victorian England (2001). Her co-edited volumes include The Routledge Companion to Victorian Literature (2020), with Dennis Denisoff; a special issue of Victorian Review, “Extending Families,” with Kelly Hager (2013); and Women and British Aestheticism with Kathy A. Psomiades (1999). She has also edited Literature and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (2006) and Lucas Malet's 1901 novel, The History of Sir Richard Calmady (2003). Schaffer has published more than 50 articles on topics including Victorian familial and marital norms, disability studies, ethical readings, women writers, material culture, popular fiction, and aestheticism.

Website: www.taliaschaffer.com

Mastodon: https://zirk.us/@taliaschaffer1


Helen Small: The Dirty Work of the Humanities?: Charlotte Yonge’s Unsentimental Education

Abstract: The Daisy Chain (1856), like much of Charlotte Yonge’s writing, worries over the value attached to educational achievement. ‘I dread his talent and success being snares’, Mrs May says of her son Norman, at the start of the novel. ‘Brilliant cleverness’ of the kind he and his sister Ethel possess needs tempering, in this novel, with real-world accountability: humane, ‘disciplined’ consideration for others. If the ethical terms sound heavily, piously Victorian, the social concerns that motivate this way of thinking are by no means confined to history. This lecture will read Yonge’s work as a route into some persistent questions surrounding the relationship between educational aspiration and the drive for social justice. Drawing on her fiction, her educational stories for children, and her writing about the ambitions and dangers of Anglican missionary work in New Zealand and Melanesia, I take Yonge as a route in to thinking afresh about what part ‘superiority in quality’ (as John Stuart Mill put it) should play in thinking about the value of the humanities, and how ‘doing one’s best’ sits in relation to other, more socially-oriented forms of ambition for higher education.

Biography: Helen Small is Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford, where she teaches Victorian and contemporary literature. Her 2013 book The Value of the Humanities gave a critical account of the principal arguments most often used to defend the value of the Humanities. A supplementary essay on aesthetic claims for the Humanities appeared in George Levine (ed.), Aesthetic Value (2022). Her other books include The Long Life (OUP, 2007) (on the difference between leading a long and a shorter life) and, most recently, The Function of Cynicism at the Present Time (OUP, 2021).

Website: https://www.english.ox.ac.uk/people/professor-helen-small



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