A man conducts an alchemical experiment with an alembic. Coloured stipple engraving by J. Chapman, 1805, after R. Corbould. Image credit: Wellcome Collection.
Tuesday 14 May 2019 (Week 3)
Dr Jim Mussell, University of Leeds
Binding and Embodiment: Oliver Lodge, Physics, and the Book
This paper considers the role of embodiment in the work of the physicist and spiritualist Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) through two very different books. The first is the visitor book from Mariemont, the Lodges’ house in Birmingham from 1901-1920; the second is Lodge’s book Raymond (1916), which details his ongoing relationship with his dead son, Raymond, killed the previous year at Ypres. These two early twentieth-century books have much to tell us about how Lodge, then at the peak of his fame, began to seem increasingly Victorian. They also reveal details of a social life that radically involved the living and the dead.
Best know for his work in wireless telegraphy in the 1890s , Lodge spent his career trying to understand the intangible and imponderable. An adherent of the ether, defending it until his death in 1941, Lodge was committed to a universe in which matter was nothing but etheric motion. The ether provided an ontological basis for both psychical and physical phenomena as well the epistemological ground on which to reconcile science, spiritualism, and religion. While Lodge’s philosophy proved remarkably popular in the first decades of the twentieth century, establishing him as not just a scientific authority but probably the best-known scientist of his day, it also made him seem curiously out of time. In the years after the second world war Lodge’s popularity became a problem and Lodge himself a Victorian sage who lived too long.
The two books, in their different ways, are an attempt to document social relations by locating individuals in time and space. The visitor book records the range of people the Lodges hosted at Mariemont, whether visiting dignitaries or the extended Lodge family, scientists or mediums. Raymond, on the other hand, gives details of Raymond’s life before his death then transcripts of encounters with his spirit on the other side. Whereas the visitor book’s list of names testifies to the intangible connections that constitute social life, Raymond desparately seeks to situate the personality of Raymond somewhere in the ether, surviving on with integrity in a medium that should not permit survival in such a form. Whereas the pages of the visitor book consitute a chronological narrative as people come, go, and come again; Raymond offers the book itself as a surrogate body that could ensure he was close at hand. Both books can help us understand Lodge’s reputation, at the time and afterwards. Both books, too, can help us understand how Lodge recognised identity in a universe in which we were all always connected.
5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 1, St Anne’s College
Tuesday 28 May 2019 (Week 5)
Dr Heather Tilley, Birkbeck College, University of London
Nervous mimicry: performing paralysis in nineteenth-century culture
The nineteenth century marked the emergence of neurology as a specialist clinical discipline, with research and practice identifying a range of neurodegenerative conditions with distinct nosological categories, and new therapies to deal with them. The nervous system was also however recognised to be particularly susceptible to influence by the mind and emotions, with the mid-nineteenth century neurologist Charles Handfield Jones stressing that as ‘all the passions and emotion … perceptions and recollections’ operate through it, ‘is it any wonder that exhaustion should frequently befall this delicate and complex machinery’ (1864)? In this paper, I will assess the ways in which forms of paralysis were variously categorised as organic or functional diseases from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, and consider how functional paralysis – or ‘nervous mimicry’, as it was described by the physician James Paget – became a condition of increasing medical and cultural attention from the 1850s onwards, signalling particular anxieties concerning the relationship between mental, moral, and bodily health and capacity.
Notably, neurological debate touched on the extent to which patients (both male and female) might be ‘shamming’ or performing their conditions, replicating wider social and cultural debates in which the paralysed body was a contradictory object of both moral sympathy and suspicion. I will explore how paralysis was associated by an anxious questioning concerning both the authenticity and productivity of embodied identity in a range of nineteenth-century cultural texts. In the fourth volume of London Labour and the London Poor (1861-2), Henry Mayhew and his journalist colleagues are troubled by the status of crippled beggars, worried about those who might be ‘imposters’ whilst also recognising the need for people to perform their disabilities to elicit alms. In his novel Little Dorrit (1855-57), Dickens reinforced the practice of imagining and representing paralysed bodies within an inherently suspicious framework, as motor impairment was indexically linked to moral corruption in the depiction of Mrs Clennam. The poet Eugene Lee-Hamilton also described paralysis as loss in his collection Sonnets of the Wingless Hours (1894), in which he lamented how ‘my manhood goes where goes the song /Of pent-up bird, the cry of crippled things’. However, the development of Lee-Hamilton’s own writing career during a prolonged period of illness – understood to be psychological in origin – points also to the generative and productive possibilities of paralysis.
5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 1, St Anne’s College
Tuesday 11 June 2019 (Week 7)
Professor Sharon Ruston, University of Lancaster
Victor Frankenstein, the Chemist
Recognition that matter could change state without changing its chemical properties was a crucial development in late eighteenth-century science. Ice, water, and steam were understood as the same combination of elements in different states of matter. This led chemists such as Humphry Davy and John Dalton to believe that no new elements could be created and none could be destroyed. Instead, matter was continually changing and transforming into new states of being. In this talk, I’ll look at Victor Frankenstein’s training and achievements in chemistry and his investigation into the chemical transformation that takes place ‘from life to death’, as well as the novel’s more general interest in mutability.
5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 1, St Anne’s College
Drinks will be served after each seminar. All welcome, no booking required.
On Friday 12th April, a team of researchers will present a free workshop designed to help teachers of GCSE English Language engage their students in nineteenth-century prose. AQA, the most popular exam board, now have unseen nineteenth-century literary non-fiction as part of Paper 2 of GCSE English Language, so getting today’s 15-16-year-olds on board with nineteenth-century non-fiction has never been more important!
The workshop will take place at Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum in Central Dorchester, and the full programme can be seen below. We have invited all teachers local to the area, but if you happen to be able to come along then please email email@example.com to book a free place – we’d be delighted to welcome you.
This workshop – and its upcoming partner event, a workshop for GCSE students themselves on Tuesday 7th May – is the result of a collaboration between Diseases of Modern Life and the Thomas Hardy Society, specifically Dr Karin Koehler of Bangor University, and Andrew Hewitt, who is undertaking a PhD on Thomas Hardy at the University of Hull. For the teacher workshop we are delighted to be working also with a team of three researchers from the University of Exeter, headed by Prof Angelique Richardson.
ENGAGING STUDENTS IN 19TH-CENTURY PROSE: RESEARCH-BASED RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS
12th April 2019
Free English GCSE Teaching Workshop for Teachers at Shire Hall, Central Dorchester
Arrival and registration
Tea and coffee will be provided.
Welcome and Overview of the Day
Fiction and Non-Fiction: Reading Nineteenth-Century Prose with Thomas Hardy
Based on the example of Thomas Hardy, who used non-fiction sources as an inspiration for his novels and stories, this initial session will show that fiction and non-fiction were less separate in nineteenth-century culture than now. It will suggest that by acknowledging the close relationship between fiction and non-fiction, we can make the analysis of nineteenth-century prose less intimidating and more engaging for pupils.
Hardy and Heritage Project – Resources for Schools
Professor Angelique Richardson, Stephanie Meek, and John Blackmore will introduce educational resources developed at Exeter University, related to the teaching of nineteenth- and twentieth-century non-fiction. Short presentations will be followed by the opportunity for conversation and Q&A.
Diseases of Modern Life Project – Educational Resources
Dr Catherine Charlwood (St Anne’s, Oxford) will introduce resources for teachers and students developed as part of the European Research Council funded ‘Diseases of Modern Life’ project.
Tea and coffee will be provided.
Thomas Hardy and Diseases of Modern Life
Dr Catherine Charlwood, Andrew Hewitt, and Dr Karin Koehler will lead a workshop that explores how teachers might draw on the important local heritage of Hardy’s writing to teach nineteenth-century non-fiction. This session will also look ahead to a follow-up event planned for students on 7 May.
Feedback and Ways Forward
The day will end with a session in which we discuss what sort of resources and input teachers would like from universities and cultural organisations such as the Thomas Hardy Society and the Hardy Country Consortium.
How do you turn five years of research into a spectacular light and sound show?
As you may have seen, Ross Ashton and Karen Monid from The Projection Studio expertly answered this question in their incredible projection ‘Victorian Speed of Life’. Using research from our project and sound and images from the Victorian era, Ross and Karen took audiences from pre-railroad to Industrial Britain, showcasing all of the cultural, social, technological changes that created modern life–and, of course, its attendant diseases.
Light Projection on Humanities Building Oxford (Photo credit: Stuart Bebb)
You can see a video recording of the final project on our blog here.
It’s been a few months since the show, but we still had a few lingering questions for The Projection Studio–How do you make something on the huge scale of a light and sound spectacular? What challenges did our research present? How did our project impact your work and future projects? Recently, Principal Investigator Sally Shuttleworth had the opportunity to ask these questions directly to Ross and Karen.
Hear the answers in the podcast, which features audio from the show itself!
Can literature and narrative improve the lives of young people?
This one-day programme of talks and workshops will bring together literary and humanities scholars with service users and practitioners in the field of child and adolescent mental health. Together we will ask questions about the role of literature as a point of therapeutic
engagement in caring for children, adolescents, and young people.
We are interested in how literature might play a role when we experience pain, trauma, and stress, as well as the ways in which literature might be employed as a tool to improve communication and foster understanding between medical learners, healthcare providers, service users, and family members.
11.30 – 1.00 Presentations
Dr Mina Fazel (Associate Professor in Psychiatry, University of Oxford), ‘Adolescence and Authority: Exploring the Contradictory Messages Young People Navigate in Mental Healthcare’
Dr Gordon Bates (MBChB, MMedSc; PhD Candidate at the University of Birkbeck), ‘”A Lot of You Cared, Just Not Enough”: Teen Suicide in Popular Culture’
Dr Edward Harcourt (Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford and Director of Research, AHRC), ‘Emotional Self-Regulation and Autonomy’
1.00 – 2.00 Lunch
2.00 – 3.10 Presentations
Dr Gaby Illingworth and Dr Rachel Sharman (Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences), ‘The Teensleep Study: Sleep Education in UK Schools’
Students from Oxford Spires Academy, ‘Poems from a School”
3.10 – 3.40 Coffee
3.40 – 4.50 Presentations
Dr Jacqueline Yallop (Senior Lecturer in English and Creative Writing, Aberystwyth University), ‘Writing Pain Wales: Working with Creative Writing and Chronic Pain’
Professor Brendan Stone (Deputy Vice-President for Education, The University of Sheffield), ‘”I Travelled Deeper into the Heart of an Extraordinary World”: Reflections on Entering into “Psychosis”‘
4.50 – 5.50 Second Keynote Address
Dr Barbara-Anne Wren (Consultant Psychologist, Royal Free London NHS Trust), ‘Paying Attention to Meaning: Using Narrative to Understand the Experience of Caring for Children and Young People’
Daniel Ibrahim Abdalla has recently joined Diseases of Modern Life as a Graduate Research Assistant. Alongside this position, he is finishing his DPhil in nineteenth and early-twentieth century literature at the University of Oxford. In this blog post, he explores the links between his current research and his doctoral thesis.
As a research assistant with Diseases of Modern Life, I will be looking at fin-de-siècle representations of mental illness and addiction, especially as these afflictions were conceived as being transferred among hereditary lines. Partially, these concerns emerged from fin-de-siècle anxieties about decline and decadence, which encouraged people to look for visible signs that their hereditary materials were deteriorating from generation to generation. On the other hand, psychologists like William James explicitly resisted this dangerous paradigm. Were others, like his brother Henry James, inspired by him? By taking a more expansive view of the ways that science informed society in this period, I hope to show the diversity of ways science affected culture in the nineteenth century, and beyond.
My interest in this topic emerges from my doctoral research on the novelist Henry James and the psychologist William James. The two were not only brothers, but intimate friends, regularly exchanging letters until the ends of their lives. Both significantly impacted and changed their respective fields at the turn of the century, and, despite being American, were deeply woven into the British intelligentsia. An expatriate in England for most of his life, Henry was friends was with many of the members of the Darwin family, even at one point meeting Charles himself. From 1894 to 1895, William was English Society for Psychical Research, whose members included Edmund Gurney and Frederic WH Myers.
One of the best sources for seeing the living connections of science and literature during this period is found in the correspondences between these two illustrious figures. Both weigh in on the other’s work; remark on pressing topics of the day like the American civil war, George Eliot, Queen Victoria, anarchism, and psychical research; and discuss relevant gossip regarding their wide circle of family members and acquaintances. And yet, although we might expect that these two well-connected, ambitious, epoch-making brothers to be discussing the great leaps in biology attracting attention elsewhere–topics like evolution, heredity, and development–these topics hardly make an appearance.
When I first started my DPhil, I spent a lot of my time accounting for this absence. How could someone as central to the period as Henry James be so far removed from biological concerns? Scholars of literature and science have used various models to understand interrelations between the disciplines at this time, but how might one explain this seeming gap in the network? What I have come to see is that popular engagement with scientific ideas did not only happen in terms of fixed ideas and concepts, like sexual selection, but also in attitudes toward issues like gender, sexuality, behavior and inheritance. If we approach late-Victorian society from this angle then we can see that readers and audiences were very regularly engaging with some of the cutting-edge developments in science–sometimes without even realizing it!
My research, both for my thesis and my current project, considers one of the major topics galvanizing late-Victorian culture, biological mechanisms of heredity. I became interested in this topic when I discovered that it attracted not only scientists and psychologists, but literary authors as well. Although many of the broad claims of an evolutionary worldview had been established by the 1870s, one of the major controversies of the period had to do with the way individuals passed on traits from one generation to the next. The physical mechanisms of inheritance–genes–would not be known until the work of Gregor Mendel was rediscovered and popularized in the early-twentieth century, thus leading many thinkers to offer their own theories. In many cases these were reactions to the strictly Darwinian worldview based on random variation. True randomness was terrifying because changes in one generation could not be reliably passed to the following generation.
Writers like Samuel Butler and George Bernard Shaw preferred what they saw as progressive and perfectible models of evolution–most famously offered by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck–which allowed for improvement in the member of one generation to be passed on to his or her offspring. This biological controversy mixed extremely well with late-nineteenth century fears of cultural decline, creating the potent cocktail called degeneration.
These considerations have led me to my current project on conceptions and representations of inherited mental health in the late nineteenth century. As the critic Tamsen Wolff’s observes, in the cultural realm, such tensions about inheritance put new emphasis on the relationship between the visible and the invisible, ie. the person we can see and their biological material that we can’t. Victorians increasingly asked questions like, what might someone’s traits or behaviors tell us about their fitness as a member of the species? From this flawed premise, leading to stronger and weaker versions of eugenics, one might even begin to wonder things like, what does a family home tell us about the quality of the family? Or, even, what does a person’s taste in art signify about their mental health? But these questions and their outdated emphases on eugenics only tell part of the story; I will use my time with Diseases of Modern Life to explore the other conceptions of mental health in the period from 1880 to 1900.
—  For example, in a letter to Henry from 1893, William calls the paradigm of degeneration a ‘pathological obsession’. William James, [to Henry James, 17 March 1893], in William and Henry James: Selected Letters (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997), pp. 281-83 (82)  For more on the central role of evolution in the culture of this period, see the chapter ‘Evolution, Society, and Culture, 1875-1925’ in Peter J. Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), pp. 274-324.  Tamsen Wolff, Mendel’s Theatre: Heredity, Eugenics, and Early-twentieth Century American Drama (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)
Hannah Wills, our new Research Assistant, introduces her work on Victorian diaries.
In the Victorian period, individuals complained of the quickening pace of life, of a greater ‘velocity in thought and action’ than had ever been experienced before. I’m interested in exploring the practical tools that were available to manage this phenomenon, in terms of personal information management on paper. One available solution was the pre-printed diary or planner, marketed as a useful receptacle for everything from financial transactions to social engagements, from the day’s weather to daily food intake. An advert in the Spectator for 23 December 1848 described two such commercial publications, Letts’s Diary, or Bills-Due Book, and Letts’s Indispensable Almanack, both produced by the highly successful Letts stationary company, founded in 1796 by John Letts. As the advert for Letts’s almanac promised, such products were invaluable in ‘enabling Everybody to secure to himself a faithful Record of the Past, the Present, and the Future’.
The origins of British pre-printed diaries can be traced back to mid-eighteenth-century almanacs and pocket diaries of a similar nature. These diaries and almanacs had a range of contents, including selections of useful reference information, usually at the front, including weights and measures, conversion charts and notable public holidays, alongside entertaining anecdotes, brain-teasing puzzles and dated blank spaces for the writing of diary entries. The nineteenth century saw an explosion in the number of printed diaries available for purchase, containing much of the same content. One edition of Letts’s diary, published for the year 1874, began with a reference section that included the dates of the law and university terms, a list of the names and ages of the sovereigns of Europe and a table for calculating the interest on sums of money at different percentages. The rest of the diary was arranged with blank spaces for the insertion of dated diary entries, with two days set out per page.
(Advert for Letts’s diaries from The Lancet, 7 Jan. 1871, Advertiser.
Image credit: Google Books)
Pre-printed diaries and almanacs were marketed at a variety of individuals and professions in the nineteenth century. In a catalogue of their works for the year 1856, Letts, Son & Co. described a range of published editions of their popular diary. These included pocket versions, described as being of use to ‘Physicians’ and ‘Tourists’, as well as cheaper editions, more suited to ‘Mechanics, Warehousemen, &c’. Alongside those suited to particular professions, versions were also advertised ‘For Private Use, of Noblemen, Gentlemen, and Ladies’. Each edition was numbered, with different editions containing different reference information and a different arrangement of days printed on each page. A ‘new form for the pocket’, produced by Letts and marketed specifically at physicians, contained sections for recording daily appointments, births and vaccinations.
(The arrangement of the diary pages varied in different
editions of the diary, as advertised in Letts’s catalogue.
A Catalogue of Other Works, Published,
Sold, or Manufactured by Letts, Son & Co. 1855. Image credit: Google Books)
Letts’s advertising positioned its products as practical aids for the management of time, as one solution to the problem of an increase in the pace of modern life. Musing on the general benefits of keeping a diary, Letts’s catalogue suggested to all diarists that ‘Before you lie down to sleep, or before you leave your dressing room in the morning… Read over the Entries of the Past Day to provide against any omission, and then those of to morrow (if there be any) to arrange your time in the most advantageous manner’.
Within the diaries themselves, one finds allusions to other modern ailments, including worry and mental strain. In addition to the reference sections at the beginning, and the middle pages used for recording daily activities, some diaries and planners contained adverts for other products. Letts’s number 42 diary for the year 1874 featured several full pages of adverts, some for items associated with stationary and the act of writing, including ‘Letts’s Patent Perpetual Inkstand’, Joseph Gillott’s ‘celebrated Steel Pens’, and a range of leather portmanteaus, expanding bags and cases, sold by John Pound & Co. Several medical adverts were also featured, including one for ‘Lamplough’s Pyretic Saline’, a patent medicine that promised to cure ‘Nervous Headache in a few minutes’. Just below was an advert for F. Walters & Co., ‘Manufacturers of Abdominal Supports For Ladies before and after Confinement’, and a range of ‘Artificial Legs, Arms, and Eyes’.
In the nineteenth century, patent medicines were often advertised in planners and almanacs. Many patent medicine companies designed and produced their own yearly planners, distributed for free, that featured adverts for their products alongside a reference calendar for the year. It is possible that commercial stationers and patent medicine companies saw a connection between the desire to record one’s daily activities and engagements, and the desire to manage one’s health. It is striking that printed diaries and almanacs, tools for managing the pace of Victorian life, were also used to advertise medical products, some of which were aimed at combatting the diseases of modern life.
 James Crichton Browne, ‘The History and Progress of Psychological Medicine: An Inaugural Address’. Royal Medicine Society, Edinburgh, 1860. p. 9.
“Social Spaces for the Self: Organising Experience in the
Nineteenth-Century British Printed Diary.” a/b: Auto/Biography Studies 16,
no. 2 (2001): 161-74. Hazel Tubman, “The
First Pre-Printed Diaries: Origins, Development and Uses of an Information
Genre, 1700-1850.” PhD thesis, University of Oxford, 2016.
Letts’s Diary or Bills
Due Book, and an Almanack for 1874. London: Letts, Son & Co., 1873.
Louise Hill Curth,
“Medical Advertising in the Popular Press: Almanacs and the Growth of
Proprietary Medicines.” Pharmacy in History 50, no. 1 (2008): 3-16.
You can listen to our #Ruskin200 podcast here. As well as telling you more about what’s in store at our 8th February conference and lecture, it also offers three scholars reflecting on how Ruskin has shaped their work.
Prof John Holmes (University of Birmingham) talks about Ruskin and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History
“Perhaps Ruskin holds something for us now that perhaps twenty years ago we were less aware that he would hold for us”
Dr Fraser Riddell (Trinity College, University of Oxford) explains how Vernon Lee responded to Ruskin’s ideas
“Lee identifies in Ruskin three modes of transformation in how we live”
Prof Fiona Stafford (Somerville College, University of Oxford) considers the importance of trees to Ruskin throughout his life
“[…] the contemporary emphasis on economics over other types of value [Ruskin] would have been very troubled by”
Please find below the schedule for our one-day conference ‘Ruskin, Science and the Environment’ to be held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on the 8th February, as part of the #Ruskin200 events. For more information, or to book your place, please click here.
Monstrous Voices: (Female) Speaking Automata, Mind Science and Mass Mediation in Late-Nineteenth-Century British Fiction
The prelude to my talk sketches our ongoing DFG funded research project on ‘Lecturing Females: Oral Performances, Gender and Sensationalism in Metropolitan Lecturing Institutions and Mass Print Culture, 1860-1910’. Selecting one of the project’s central aspects, Victorian oratory and elocution and the question of vocal sound as the social-material dimension of human language, I then present a literary case study by (briefly) tracing the historical trajectory of monstrous/automatic voices in physiological psychology, sound technology, and Gothic and realist fiction from the mid-nineteenth century to the fin de siècle. Examining how in the context of the new modernity of mass mediation, sonic monstrosity (technologically or hypnotically induced) came to be theorised as a co-creation between performer, subject, and audience/readership who function as ‘sounding board’, the talk ends by revisiting some late-nineteenth-century feminist autobiographical accounts and suffrage novels/short stories which deployed representations of public speech acts as the climax of their conversion narratives. (Female) surrendered agency and mesmeric/spiritualist trance are here replaced by the performative channelling of a disembodied female collectivity, and a Gothic device – the chthonic, ghostly or automatized voice – is transformed into a vehicle of empowerment and (political) resonance.
‘The little bustling, active, cheerful creature, existed entirely within herself, talked to herself, made a confidante of herself’. The ‘cheerful creature’ is Miss La Creevy, who paints portraits and lets London lodgings for a living: she is a minor character in Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby. Dickens was drawn to lonely characters like Miss La Creevy. This paper introduces them, and explores the ways in which Dickens negotiated the boundaries between solitude and loneliness over the course of his career. It will attempt to answer some of the following questions: what is the history of this emotion, is it a pathology, and how does literature work to define it? Do certain spaces or ways of living make us lonely? What is the relationship between geography, feeling, and health?
‘A Monkey into a Man’: Thomas Henry Huxley, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and the Making of an Evolutionary Icon
The frontispiece to Thomas Henry Huxley’s Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature (1863), showing a sequence of primate skeletons becoming successively taller and more erect before finally reaching the upright human form, is one of the most iconic visual representations of evolution. This paper will explore the personal tensions and intellectual conflicts amidst which the famous frontispiece was created, revealing the festering antagonism between Huxley and the artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins which makes the image far stranger and more ambiguous than has previously been recognized.
5.30—7.00, Seminar Room 3, St Anne’s College
Drinks will be served after each seminar. All welcome, no booking required.