NVSA 2017: The Question of Victorian Literature
April 21-23, 2017
The Northeast Victorian Studies Association invites papers for its annual conference. The topic this year is "The Question of Victorian Literature."
The plenary panel this year will feature:
Lauren M. E. Goodlad (Illinois)
Gauri Viswanathan (Columbia)
Carolyn Williams (Rutgers)
Victorian? Literature? Where do the questions start? Where can they end? “Victorian literature” is a concept as old as our field of study and yet never more provocative than today. NVSA welcomes papers that think creatively about this fraught pair of terms—the ways that they come together of fall apart—and on the historical, methodological, and theoretical questions that arise when we try to define an object of study as capacious as “Victorian literature.”
The subject allows the opportunity at once for a strong historical focus on the Victorians’ own attitudes toward “literature,” and a contemporary theoretical focus on our own period’s relation to literature and to the “Victorian.” What are the cultural implications of an overt valuing of “literature”? Is there a necessary relationship between the Victorians’ elevating and professionalizing of the literary; our own modes of canon-formation; and the various forms of oppression associated with the period (classism, racism, sexism, homophobia)? Are form and periodization ever free from politics? What national boundaries and international networks are generated, reinforced, and blurred by the history of “Victorian literature” as a field of study, or by our own attempts to reconceptualize and reshape that field of study? How did Victorian culture orient its literature in relation to that of other European nations, the Americas, and the colonies, and how far can (or must) we stretch the category of Victorian literature in order to render its reach and complexity accurately?
NVSA is particularly interested in papers addressing the relationship between period definition and the study of form. What were the edges or limits of literature in the Victorian period? What are they today? Do we share the Victorians’ sense of the work that literature can and cannot do, and how does it relate to other forms of collective belonging, including religious practices and identities? (Arnold thought poetry would replace religion, after all.) Where does literature stand as a distinct mode of writing today—not sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc., but “literature”? Does a sense of that field as distinct from other subjects exist for the Victorians, or for us? Is Victorian literature essentially poetic, or novelistic, or theatrical? What is the role today of the nonfiction prose that was so important to the Victorians: of the essays and treatises of Darwin, Eliot, Martineau, Arnold, Mill, or others that were at one time taken as fundamental to our understanding of the period and its literariness? What are the Victorian sources for high modernism’s contempt for Victorian literature, and to what extent does this contempt inflect our current response to the Victorian period? Have we been and are we still apologists for the imperfections (aesthetic, ethical, political) of the literature we call Victorian?
What is the source of the appeal of the term “Victorian,” given the many problems with which the adjective has been associated, and even its anomalous place within the discipline? What might be gained by alternative ways of imagining the historical period from the perspective of the present? Is “strategic presentism,” a term from the V-21 Manifesto, a useful new orientation to our historical work? Would this orientation be one way of renewing our field? Thirty years ago various critical movements urged us to move beyond prior forms of categorization. What about New Historicism, postcolonial studies, cultural studies, and other theoretical commitments and formations today? In what ways have they troubled the idea of “Victorian literature” as a coherent or self-sufficient category, and in what ways have they helped to maintain it?
Potential topics might include, but are in no way limited to, the following:
• Literature about literature (David Copperfield, Aurora Leigh, The Doctor’s Wife, New Grub Street, “The Aspern Papers,” Pendennis)
• The quasi-literary and the para-literary
- The novel of ideas: Sartor Resartus, Marius the Epicurean, The Story of an African Farm, Robert Elsmere
- Cheap literature: yellowbacks, shilling shockers, penny dreadfuls, pornography
- “Private” literature: journals, diaries, notebooks, letters
- The illustrated novel, the illustrated poem
- The Sister Arts: poetry and painting, poetry in and around painting (D. G. Rossetti), the realist novel and Dutch painting, the realist novel and photography
- Folklore study, fairytales, myths
- Oral traditions
- Nonsense poems and light verse
• The locations of literature (“Victorian literature” from outside Britain, Victorian literature circulating outside Britain, foreign literature in Victorian Britain)
• Victorian literary criticism
- Writer-critics: Eliot, Oliphant, Martineau, Arnold, Webster, Pater, James, Morris, Wilde
- The development of professional literary criticism
- Victorian literary societies: the Early English Text Society, the Brontë Society, Browning societies, Janeites
- Form and criticism: plot vs. character, poetry vs. prose, the art of the novel, the epic
- Victorian Shakespeare criticism
- Victorian theories of the novel
• Literature and the University
- Colonial curricula
- “The Idea of the University”: literature and the liberal arts (then and now)
- The Victorian university and the emergence of modern literary studies/ literary history
• The business of literature (circulating libraries and booksellers, hack writing and the business of the periodical, the triple-decker and other formats, plagiarism and copyright, Walter Besant’s Society of Authors, bestsellers)
• What counts as literature?
- What is style, and what is its Victorian history?
- What constitutes literariness for Victorian culture?
- natural history
- science writing
- travel writing
- psychological case studies
- Colburn and Bentley’s “Standard Novels,” libraries of standard texts
- anthologies and the curation of Victorian literature: Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, Stedman’s Victorian Anthology
• Contemporary theorizations of “Victorian literature”
- Steven Marcus’ The Other Victorians, Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism, Gauri Viswanathan’s Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India
- book-history approaches
- New Historicism: Catherine Gallagher, D. A. Miller, Nancy Armstrong
- formalisms, old and new
- interdisciplinarity, culture studies, and the “extra-literary”
- distant reading and the digital humanities
- transatlantic studies
- historical poetics
- Victorianism and Romanticism
- Victorianism and modernism
- “Victorian” vs. “nineteenth-century”
- world literature and comparative literature
- Victorian literature in/of translation
- Jacques Rancière on “literarity”
- strategic presentism: the V21 Manifesto and its responses
Proposals should be no more than 500 words (in Word format) and are to be submitted by October 15, 2016 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do not include your name on the proposal itself. All submissions to NVSA are evaluated anonymously. Please include your name, institutional and email addresses, and proposal title in a cover letter. Papers should take 15 minutes (20 minutes maximum) so as to provide ample time for discussion.
The Coral Lansbury Travel Grant ($100) and George Ford Travel Grant ($100), given in memory of key founding members of NVSA, are awarded annually to the graduate student, adjunct instructor, or independent scholar who must travel the greatest distance to give a paper at our conference. Apply by indicating in your cover letter that you wish to be considered. Please indicate from where you will be traveling, and mention if you have other sources of funding.