Friday, 14 November 2014

3rd Bram Stoker Birthday Lecture (10th November 2014)

Having been to the previous two Bram Stoker Birthday lectures, I was very much excited to attend the third event. The following is my summary and review of the lecture, though apologies for my terrible photos! Held on Monday 10th November (2014) at the University of Hull, the lecture by Joann Fletcher and Stephen Buckley was titled:

The Mummies of Stoker's Circle

The concept of the Stoker birthday lecture was explained by Dr Catherine Wynne of the University of Hull. The previous two lectures have been delivered by the renowned Gothic expert, Sir Christopher Frayling, at the University of Hull and then at the Whitby Museum. Sir Frayling suggested the birthday lecture back in April 2012. Whilst most people know of Stoker in relation to his 1897 novel Dracula, Catherine explained that the 3rd birthday lecture would move beyond this and examine Stoker's links to Hull via his 1903 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars. On a cold and autumnal evening, Catherine introduced two lecturers from the University of York to speak on the topic of the Egyptian mummies associated with the social circle of Stoker. 

Professor Joann Fletcher is an Honorary Visiting Professor in the Archaeology department at the University of York. She is an Egyptologist and explained immediately that her talk would focus on the scientific side of mummification, and the history of the mummies related to Stoker's circle, rather than any form of literary criticism. Professor Fletcher opened the lecture with a brief history of the Egyptian process of embalming, which we now know was a complex science from as far back as 4,400 BCE. She explained that she has worked on sites including the Valley of the Kings ("Perhaps the most impressive cemetery in the world"), and that the ancient Egyptians shared Dracula's view that 'blood is the life'. 

For me, one of the most interesting things that Professor Fletcher said was that her studies have taken her all over the world, but that some of the best samples she had obtained were from the two mummies housed in Hull. For those of you who are unaware, the Hull Museums Collection includes two Egyptian mummies in their coffins. They are currently on display in the Hands on History Museum. I personally 'met' the mummies when I did some work experience in the Collection archives whilst at college, and I had the task of changing silica gel bags in the storage boxes around where the mummies were kept. I can confirm that being in a very quiet and somewhat dark room with the two mummies was an especially creepy experience. 

As explained by Professor Fletcher, little is known about the 'Hull mummies' prior to the Second World War, as records were destroyed during the extensive bombing on the city. The mummies were, in fact, all but forgotten about until the 1970s. In 1986, an article in the local press caused a revival in interest. Following the 1997 opening of the Hands on History Museum, the wider world became aware of the two Hull mummies, and a conservation fund was established. It is known that the mummies were acquired for the Hull museums in 1930 by curator Thomas Sheppard, who paid just £15 for them. Sheppard drove the mummies to Hull from Whitby in his car. He had purchased them from Frank Meadow Sutcliffe of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society, who were responsible for the Whitby Museum. 

Professor Fletcher was able to establish that the mummies were originally from Luxor, Egypt, and were donated to the Whitby Museum by Sir George Eliot in 1903. The lecture went on to provide an explanation of the creation of the Royal Crescent in Whitby, and its relation to Elliot, as well as the arrival of Bram Stoker in Whitby. Stoker stayed in a house situated on the Royal Crescent for three weeks in 1890. It was during this time that he was influenced to write Dracula. It was at this point that the lecture moved away from Stoker's Whitby link, and began to focus on the interest he developed in Egyptology; part of the late Victorian obsession with the subject, and the catalyst for Stoker's 1903 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars

The novel follows a mummy princess who is resurrected as part of a 'great experiment'. It was written in a period when the public were absolutely fascinated by Egypt and the treasures that were being unearthed there, and the mysticism of mummies made for great literature. This passion for all things Egyptian reflects a time when fiction and Egyptology moved in the same vein. Stoker picked up on the spirit of the age by writing his Egyptian piece. Following Stoker's novel, and publications such as a short story by Doyle on the subject of cursed mummies, people began to view mummies with increasing suspicion. Once prized Egyptian artefacts were now feared and were subsequently donated to museums. 

At this point, Professor Fletcher handed over to Dr Stephen Buckley (an anthropological chemist, also based at the University of York) for him to discuss some of the science behind mummification. Dr Buckley interestingly pointed out that he very much agrees with Stoker's fictional Egyptologist, and that Stoker's work has clearly been well-researched from an Egyptology/scientific viewpoint. He felt that the linens, oils, resins, and spices described by Stoker are 'more perceptive' and that he was 'well ahead of his time'. Professor Fletcher added that Stoker had carefully researched the Hieroglyphs that he incorporated, and that these were accurate, along with the scarabs featured in the novel. 

The lecture went back to Professor Fletcher, who described the growing Egypt-mania in Victorian London, including the campaign started by Oscar Wilde's father to bring Cleopatra's Needle to London. She described the popularity of Egyptology amongst the literary elite, and the amusing yet somewhat cringe-worthy process of the Cairo Museum selling off items left, right, and centre because of the vast number of artefacts that had been found during the nineteenth century. Many of the items, including mummies, ended up being burnt as fuel, with only the 'pretty' examples making it to the relative safety of Europe. We were also told about the numerous 'mummy unwrapping' parties that took place as a bizarre form of parlour game. 

Professor Fletcher ended the lecture by going through some of the correspondence and texts relating to the Hull mummies, and how the texts were used to establish the providence of the mummies. She added that the long-term goals of the conservation fund is to sympathetically restore the mummies.

All in all the lecture was absolutely fascinating. As a resident of Hull I was delighted to hear about the history behind the 'Hull mummies'. As a literature student I found it very interesting to hear about the relation of Egyptology to literature, and the connection of real mummies to the social circle of Bram Stoker. 

Now I can sit back and anticipate what wonders will feature in the 4th birthday lecture. 


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Arkham Asylum

When I gave my last conference paper, I made reference to the evil doctors and strange experimentations associated with the Arkham Asylum of the D.C. Comic universe; most notably featured in Batman comics, cartoons, and films, but also given its own stand-alone comic mini series. I was delighted when I found out that the Asylum was part of a larger plot arc in the current Warner Bros. drama series Gotham, which airs at 9pm on a Monday on Channel 5 in the UK.

I'm in the process of preparing a short piece on the Asylum and what it has to offer the psychiatric literature genre, but I just wanted to draw attention to the programme. It's a gritty crime drama charting the mob wars and tribulations faced by the police of Gotham City prior to the Batman comics. 

Although the Arkham Asylum (first appearing in the Batman universe in 1974) isn't strictly Victorian, its origins in the early 1900s give a strongly nineteenth century facade, and the building, doctors, and treatments used all exude a Victorian feeling. 

Look out for my post on the Arkham Asylum.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Shaking off the dust/Update

My goodness! It has been a while since I last posted. In short, I've had an absolutely crazy year, dogged by illness. I was unfortunate enough to be involved in a car accident which meant that my graduation has been delayed until 2015. However, I have secured myself a place on the Masters by Research course in English Literature at Hull University, which I will begin on the 28th of September 2015. Over the last year I have continued to research heavily with a focus on my undergraduate dissertation and my upcoming postgraduate study. Because of the health set-backs I have faced, I have been unable to attend conferences and present my research; the exception being a small conference at Hull University towards the end of last summer (2013). 

Now I'm back and ready to dust off this blog. It's time to move forwards. I have been considering writing some articles for the blog too. Just to make it a bit more interesting. Make sure you look out for those!


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

POWS Prize Update

Firstly, apologies for my week-long absence. I ended up on a total vacation from work. It was much needed and I'm ready to bounce back now. 

Last week was still an eventful one. I heard back about the POWS Prize, and unfortunately I was not successful. Despite this, I was invited to present my work at the POWS conference (which, sadly, I will be unable to attend due to other commitments and financial constraints), and I was also given some excellent feedback: 

This is a very good piece of work, but it doesn't make a strong enough psychological contribution for this particular prize..
Well done on an excellent piece of work.

I was very happy with the feedback as I expected that to be the likely outcome; I knew that my knowledge of psychological research would be what let my paper down. It's still a huge achievement to be shortlisted for such a prestigious prize. 

I'd like to thank the POWS panel for looking at my work so favourably, and hope to enter another paper for the award in the future.


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Great Brontë News!

Fantastic news reported by The Guardian today; a single-page homework essay by a young Charlotte Brontë has been bought by the Brontë Society, and will be going 'home' to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

The Brontë Society paid £50,000 for the piece of homework which was written for the French teacher Charlotte was in love with. Funds were raised through donations from Society members, as well as £20,000 from the V&A purchase grant fund. The document was previously held in a private library. You can read the Guardian article here.

The Brontë museum in Haworth is somewhere I try and visit each year, because it's a beautiful place and because I count the Brontë sisters amongst my favourite writers. I look forward to seeing the new acquisition when it goes on display.


CWWA Book Club Minaret Podcast

As I've previously blogged, on the 29th of May I attended the CWWA Book Club for their discussion on Leila Aboulela's Minaret. You can read my short post about attending here, and my (rather long) book review here

You can now listen to the podcast made of the discussion by visiting the CWWA Book Club site (here). I found it fantastic to be able to listen back to the session; it wasn't too cringe-worthy to hear my own voice! 

If you don't know what I sound like, I first speak at 2 minutes 28 seconds (with a comment regarding the superfluous nature of the novel jumping back and forth in time), again at 3:24, and a number of other times including 10:15, 15:18 and from 16:00 to 16:30.

The session was great fun, and I hope you take the time to enjoy listening to the podcast. 


Thursday, 6 June 2013

neo-Victorian Villainy Symposium report

Apologies that this has taken so long to appear. I was quite unwell for a few days of this and last week. Many thanks again to Ben Poore for organising such a brilliant conference. 
The Neo-Victorian Villainy conference was accompanied by a regularly updated Facebook page which heightened one’s expectations ahead of the event. By the time Saturday 25th May arrived, I was very excited to travel to York for the one-day symposium. The venue was fabulous; the new facilities of the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York were perfect for such a multi-media interdisciplinary conference.

In the state-of-the-art Holbeck Theatre, organiser Dr Ben Poore introduced the day and opened proceedings with his brief provocation on the theme for the day. His hilarious introduction was a well-delivered and perfect opener for the near two dozen attendees. After opening with references to ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ the musical, the short paper interestingly compared the darkness within the psyche, as seen in Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde’, with the ‘melting down’ of the modern celebrity; Ben commented that the unfortunate contemporary celebrity is forced to expose their ‘darkness’ in the glare of the flashbulbs, where it is intensified. A closing remark was that we are not free of what we class as Victorian.

Following the initial remarks, delegates were faced with the unenviable option of two panels. Panel A was titled ‘Looking Back at the Victorians’ and featured papers on BBC Dickens adaptations, the Nineteenth-Century stage, and the 1959 film adaptation of The 39 Steps. Panel B was titled ‘Reinventing the Monstrous’ and included papers on Gothic creatures, Mister Creecher, and The Grand Guignol (and beyond). I chose Panel B in order to hear Vanessa Gerhards deliver her paper, ‘From Gothic Ghoul to Harmless Harbinger – Representations of the Archetypal Gothic Creature in Contemporary Media’. 

Vanessa Gerhards spoke about the progression of the Victorian ghost, popular in ghost stories and séances during the period, to the haunted house and ghost as shown in film today, which still resembles the Victorian ghost strongly. Vanessa took us on a tour of the evolution of the ghost through film and television, before doing the same with the figure of the vampire. We heard how the Victorian Gothic vampire was a seducing aristocrat, whereas the modern vampire is both emotionalised and humanised, with love as a new motivation for the vampire.

Following this fascinating paper, Chloe Buckley presented a paper regarding Chris Priestley’s 2011 novel Mister Creecher, which combines the legend of Frankenstein and his monster with the childhood of the Dickens archetypcal villain, Bill Sykes. Having not read the book, Chloe’s paper inspired me to go out and get a copy. She discussed the making of a monster, and how the book charts the moral decline of Sykes from street urchin to true monster. The paper was particularly interesting for those of us who were unfamiliar with the book, and I believe it’s fair to say that more than my own appetite was sufficiently whet!

The final paper of the panel came from Will Nelson, and he delivered a paper on the Grand Guignol. I must admit, I knew very little about Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, so I found the paper especially interesting. The illuminating paper charted the movement of horror from highbrow Victorian entertainment, to the low brow view of it today. It has definitely inspired me to read more on the subject of the history of this fascinating theatre and its productions.  

After the first Panel, the fantastic first keynote was presented by Dr Guy Barefoot on the subject of ‘Hollywood’s image of melodramatic villainy (just) after the Victorians’. Dr Barefoot gave a fantastic paper on the Hollywood villain in the early part of the Twentieth century. His animated delivery was particularly appreciated after a long morning session! It was very interesting to see how the traditional Victorian villain was so rife in early Hollywood productions, and how this character has clearly transferred to the modern screen too. I especially liked the discussion of Professor Moriarty, from his initial drawn depiction in the Victorian press, to his Hollywood representation.

Lunch was served in the foyer, and was very enjoyable indeed. Afterwards, the conference took a very different direction, and certainly a very unique one! Delegates were treated to a performance by York University students of extracts from Michael Punter's neo-Victorian play Summerland. The performance was outstanding, and the play itself was intriguing. The thrill and suspense of the Victorian séance was vividly brought back to life. Following the dramatisation, Ben Poore interviewed playwright Michael Punter, adding a further dimension of understanding to the fantastic play. 

The interview was followed by a second interview, this time with young playwright Laura Turner regarding her recent adaptations of Jane Eyre and The Hound of the Baskervilles. As an Undergraduate with an interest in creative writing, I found Laura absolutely inspirational; her achievements so far in her career are fantastically impressive. The interview with her regarding Victorian adaptations was very interesting, especially in the context of a day examining neo-Victorian texts. The creative plenary session was concluded by Ben Poore reading a paper on 'Writing the neo-Victorian Villain' by author Anne Featherstone, who unfortunately was unable to attend the conference in person, which was a shame as the paper was entertaining and engaging.

The second keynote was given by Professor Eckart Voigts, on Nell Leyshon's The Colour of Milk. In a brilliant twist, similar to that of the novel in discussion, the author herself was connected live via Skype and listened to the paper before engaging in an interview, and question and answer session with the audience. Listening to the author's comments on her own book and hearing her perspective was probably my highlight of the day. Professor Voigts's paper certainly inspired me to read the book for myself. His paper discussed the language and grammar choices of the book, which sound very interesting. Comparisons drawn to Alias Grace (Atwood) and Affinity (Waters) made the book sound even more appealing. I was fascinated by Nell Leyshon's explanation of how she 'found' her narrator's voice and its biblical language inspiration. 

The final panel of the day again gave delegates two options. Panel C was titled 'The Pull of the Past: Victorian Villains Abroad', whilst Panel D was titled 'Neo-Victorian Women Going Rogue'. My own paper was the first in Panel D, so despite being very interested in one of the Panel C papers, I was unable to listen to it. I delivered my paper titled ''Come on, you little bitch,' she said to me, 'sing out!'' - Villainous doctors and cruel [neo-]Victorian nurses. I felt my paper went well, especially because when writing it I was overwhelmed with the amount of material on the villainous asylum doctor in Victorian and neo-Victorian fiction. It was certainly difficult to condense into a twenty-minute paper!

Following my paper, Sarah Artt gave a paper on the post-feminist tart in the BBC drama Ripper Street. As an avid watcher of the programme, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the application of post-feminist theory on the figure of the prostitute. I have to admit, it has definitely altered how I will view the programme in future! It was enjoyable to listen to such an interesting paper following my own, as I calmed down from those presenting nerves!

The third and final paper of the panel was presented by Antonija Primorac, and was titled 'Adapting Victorian Villainy Today: Gender, melodramatic mode and the question of agency'. Again, the paper proved to be thoroughly interesting and applied some intriguing theory to the adaptation of the Victorian villain. This paper, along with the previous one, went together incredibly well - a credit to the organisation of the conference. The questions following the papers raised interesting discussion and could have gone on for a lot longer than the allotted time, but we had a final keynote to attend. 

The final keynote of the day was given by Professor Richard Hand, and discussed Joseph Conrad, adaptation and neo-Victorian villainy. Having previously studied Conrad, it was very interesting to hear about neo-Victorian adaptations of his work and the villains within them. It was also nice to hear a discussion about adaptations other than the most commonly referred to Apocalypse Now

Following the keynote, there was a wine reception, and later almost all of the delegates made their way to the centre of York for a delicious meal at the Meltons Too bistro. 

All in all, the conference was simply fantastic and an especially inspiring day from my perspective as an Undergraduate, relatively new to the field of neo-Victorianism. I have also spent a lot of time recently going through Victorian texts, so it was brilliant to have my eyes opened to a number of neo-Victorian sources, authors and texts. The symposium was very well organised and the creative plenary was a great touch. I had such a good time meeting some wonderful people and hearing some enlightening papers. 

Roll on the next conference!