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
Registration for our third annual conference, ‘Enchanted Edwardians’, to be held at the University of Bristol on March 30th-31st, has now opened! Tickets cost £12.00 and can be purchased here. A draft schedule will be posted shortly.
Edwardian culture is filled with otherworldly encounters: from Rat and Mole’s meeting with Pan on the riverbank in Wind in the Willows (1908), to Lionel Wallace’s glimpse of an enchanted garden beyond the green door in H. G. Well’s short story The Door in the Wall (1911). In art, Charles Conder’s painted fans evoked an exotic arcadia, whilst the music of Edward Elgar and Frederick Delius conjured up nostalgic dreamlands.
Such encounters are all the more powerful because of their briefness: the sense that enchantment is, as Kipling suggests in Puck of Pook’s Hill, fast becoming a thing of the past. What room was left for fantasy in the modern, scientifically advanced world of the early twentieth century? This conference seeks to explore this question, and to investigate other ways in which the Edwardians understood and employed the idea of the enchanted, the haunted and the supernatural.
‘Enchanted Edwardians’ is the third annual conference of the Edwardian culture network, and is organized by Bristol postgraduate students in partnership with the ECN. Held across two days at the University of Bristol, this inter-disciplinary event is open to postgraduate researchers and academics at any stage of their career.