Review of Jonathan Wild, Literature of the 1900s: The Great Edwardian Emporium (Edinburgh University Press, 224 pp., £75)
Shopping, like much else, became recognisably modern in the first decade of the twentieth century. One of its principal modernisers was the American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge, the ‘Earl of Oxford Street’, whose flagship London store, opened in 1909, aimed to turn shopping from a necessity into a leisure activity. Selfridge’s offered immersive and material pleasures: its departments were arranged over many floors; its spaces were designed particularly to appeal to women; customers could see and handle the wares, assisted by 1,400 well-trained staff.
Jonathan Wild’s impressive Literature of the 1900s, volume one in The Edinburgh History of Twentieth-Century Literature in Britain, takes the department store as a metaphor for the decade’s literary field. The book’s chapters are figured as a store’s departments – departments for war and external affairs, administration, children, decadence, and internal affairs. The conceit is more than a clever way to organise his wide-ranging and potentially disparate material: it focuses the reader on the consumption of literature, which is his book’s central theme. Wild argues, convincingly, that readers and reading changed on or around January 1900, as literature, and fiction in particular, became Britain’s major leisure activity, and readers, or consumers, demanded more literature, and more kinds of literature.
Writers and writing changed too, in response to consumer demand but also reflecting the profound social changes of the last decades of the nineteenth century. Continue reading
Review of Cecilia Björkén-Nyberg, The Player Piano and the Edwardian Novel (Farnham: Ashgate 2015)
Writing in the June 1920 issue of The Sackbut, Alvin Langdon Coburn claimed:
There are some who are born with an appreciation of music but whose tender years have not been made unbearable by musical drudgery. Hours of ‘five-finger exercises’ with the thoughts on the playground, and lessons from an uncongenial teacher, never did a child any good and never will. All art-expression should come as a pleasure, a welling-up of an inner joy. Without this, art is dead, a stale and tasteless thing, and […] some have this innate musical instinct slumbering and dormant in their natures, unable to find a way of expressing itself, and to such the pianola comes as a positive exultation!
Coburn’s observations foreground several issues that are at the heart of Cecilia Björkén-Nyberg’s The Player Piano and the Edwardian Novel (2015): the quandary faced by those unable, or who have never had the opportunity to learn, to play the piano, but who deeply appreciate and wish to perform the music written for it (and, via piano reductions, for the orchestra); the tension between admiring music ‘naturally’ and respecting it professionally; and the anxieties generated by a mechanically made art, be it through technology or through the prestidigitation of a well-trained human being. Continue reading
This conference – held on 13th September 2015 – will re-evaluate the writing of Elizabeth von Arnim (1866-1941). Von Arnim’s complex, intelligent and witty novels were critically acclaimed and immensely popular during her lifetime, but until recently they have received little academic attention. This conference aims to shed fresh light on the contemporary contexts of von Arnim’s work and the literary hierarchies and values that have shaped her reputation.
Papers are invited on all aspects of von Arnim’s work and career. Suggested topics include:
- Contexts: understanding von Arnim’s writing in the context of the fin de siècle, the New Woman, middlebrow, modernism, World War 1 and 2, and women’s writing.
- Literary relationships with other writers such as E. M. Forster, Hugh Walpole, Katherine Mansfield, H. G. Wells and Frank Swinnerton.
- Intertexts: tracing the influences of writers such as the Brontes and Jane Austen.
- Forms: gardening, diary and epistolary novels; music; adaptation for film, theatre.
- International perspective: the importance of Switzerland, France, Germany and the USA in her writing and career.
Proposals of 400 words for 20-minute papers should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline is 20th February 2015.
Conference organisers: Erica Brown (Sheffield Hallam University), Isobel Maddison (Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University) and Jennifer Walker (Independent Scholar).
The conference will be held at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University, UK. The conference website can be found here.
‘E. M. Forster’ by William Rothenstein
On the 24-25th November 2012 the School of English at St. Andrews will host a conference to mark the centenary of E. M. Forster’s novel Maurice. The provisionary programme can be found below. More information, including details regarding registration, can be found here. Keynote speakers will be Dr Finn Fordham (Royal Holloway, London) and Professor David Medalie (University of Pretoria, South Africa).