Monday, 5 September 2011

My trip to Birmingham; the continuation.

Dear readers,

Well after being deprived of internet for almost three days (my gosh that was a trial) I am finally back online and able to post updates on my days in Birmingham. As you can obviously derive posting a day to day update on the conference was pretty much impossible. So prepare yourself for receiving a full report on lots and lots of Victorian things.

Birmingham day 2: the first day of the British Association of Victorian Studies conference.

On Friday morning I woke up relatively early and had breakfast at the Holliday Inn. The breakfast was a lot better than dinner; it had a really wide selection of different foods. From a huge collection of small cereal packages to bangers and from scrambled eggs to a huge fruit bar. After having a lovely breakfast I checked out, headed to the train station and got on the train to University (that’s the actual name of the station near the University of Birmingham). In about 7 minutes I found myself on the platform looking for which way to go. I wasn’t the only one though; a woman, called Christine Corton, asked me if I also was going to the conference and if I had ever been here before. We started talking and soon were joined by two postgraduate students who were also going to the conference. I discovered that Christine was going to give a paper on London Fog. So if any one of you are interested in London Fog, keep her name in mind. She will soon be publishing a paper on Fog in the Dickens journal (accessible through the digital library if you are UvA student). Also she is planning to publish a popular edition of her work, so it should be accessible to a wide audience in (hopefully) a year or two.

The business school, where the conference was held, was about a 10-15 minute walk away from the station. After we arrived there, we checked-in there as well and I received my very own nametag…. Which was very very convenient, since at least then I could refer everyone to my name tag if they asked me to spell my name hahaha. At the conference I talked to quite a lot of people; especially during the “postgraduate welcome”, which wasn’t so much a welcome as a: ‘let’s stand in a part of the hallway and get to know each other’ hour haha. I am quite happy it went that way as because of this I met a very nice girl named Maija Kuharenoka with whom I spent most of my time during the conference. I was quite happy to have made a friend so soon. The conference was a lot less stiff and formal than I had expected it to be. I had expected lots of man in suits and to be very lonely, but fortunately this was not the case at all. The people who had finished their PHD or even professors were very open to engage in conversation with students, which gave the conference a very comfortable atmosphere.

As this is a blog post and not really a full report, I will not bore you with the descriptions of all the plenary’s and sessions I went to. I will just pick out the most important, interesting or extraordinary ones ;).

One of the sessions on that was being held on the first day of the conference was one on Thomas Carlyle. In confessed to Maija that I had no idea who the man was and she immediately convinced me to go to the session in order to learn more about him, as he is quite a big shot in Victorian Studies. He is a bit of everything: both sociologist as historian. Especially the session which dealt with his ideas with relation to society in connection to the French revolution where very interesting. He believed that “the assumptions of progress were exploded and new made” after this revolution and hoped that from remains of this “old society” a new group of people would come forward who would become the leaders of a better society. Thus society is reborn like a phoenix is reborn from its ashes. The session really was very interesting so I can’t thank her enough for introducing me to him.

After the conference ended, at 18.45 we went towards The Vale, where we would be staying. The rooms that we had might be best described as minimalistic. It had a bath, drawers, a desk and a closet and that was about it. The bathroom was in itself quite an experience. A friendly note that was placed on top of the bath towels gave one a friendly warning that one had the luxury of a wet bathroom and therefore should keep in mind that the bathroom furniture would get wet. The entire bathroom floor became wet as there was no shower curtain or something to separate the shower from the rest of the bathroom.

Note says: Enjoy your shower, however plese be aware that as you have the luxury of a 
wet room, the floor and the bathroom furniture will get wet.

After having left my belongings in my room I went off to the buffet dinner, where I had a really interesting chat with a teacher of art history, who had presented a paper on illustrations in relation to Tennyson. Although it is often overlooked there is quite a bit of interest in illustrations in Victorian Studies. This made me think that maybe I should look at illustrations for my own research as well, rather than looking at art at large, because that would be quite a huge task. After a dinner in which I had had to struggle with a severely overcooked stake, good veggies, but a really horrid tomato, it was time for me to go to bed.

Birmingham, day 3: second day of the BAVS conference.

On the second day I again met some interesting people. One of them was Alison Lundie who specializes in the domestic arts, such as needle work, in the work of (amongst others) Elizabeth Gaskell. She was really passionate about her subject, which really sparked my interest. She is currently still working on her PHD, so I am really looking forward to read something that she will publish. She was kind enough to say that she really hoped to see me around, because she thought my choice of subject was really, really interesting. I was quite relieved to be honest with the response I received from her, since, by now, I was so impressed by how good and smart everyone was that I thought that my research interest was common, uninteresting and not that special at all haha. I really did get a bit of an inferiority complex, because I noticed how little I actually know. Continually I was bombarded with names of people that I had never heard of in my life. Maija, however, has come to my rescue as she has promised to send me a reading list of novels, poems and people that I really should read up on. So, naturally, I am really looking forward to that.

That immediately brings me to one of the highlights of that day; the panel on literary responses to evolution/ degeneration. Maija was one of the people presenting on that panel. She spoke about Mathilde Blind’s “The Ascent of Man”. She seems to be an author that people do not generally know a lot about, so for the first time in a while I could rest assured that it was not just my lack in knowledge. Her talk about Blind was extremely interesting as she showed how Blind’s work had been influenced by Darwin’s work. About Blind’s work herself I had the opportunity to question her quite a bit during the drinks that evening. Maija is currently doing her PHD and working on an edited edition of Mathilde Blind’s works. It must be really nice to be able to specialize in a certain person, who is not generally well known. I for one, am definitely going to read Blind’s work and am looking forward to learning new things about this very interesting woman author.

Another high light was the panel on Deathly (de)compositions. This was a very interesting panel as it contained two very peculiar, but never the less interesting, topics. The first talk was by Julia Courtney on taxidermy (the profession of stuffing dead animals) in Victorian England. She explained that it was quite a common profession and that there were even “stuff  it your self” manuals hahaha. It was a nice and quirky lecture in which she also talked about Mr. Venus, the taxidermist in The Old Curiosity Shop. The other lecture or a rather strange subject was that given by Sarah Crofton on spirit mediums writing poetry and literature which they ascribed to deceased poets and writers. They said that they had been ‘possessed’ by the spirit of, for example, Edgar Alan Poe, Shakespeare or Charles Dickens whilst writing. Sarah showed us a poem that had been written by the medium Doten who had written it whilst supposedly being under the influence of Edgar Alan Poe. The resemblance with The Raven was both striking and very amusing. This type of writing did seem to happen quite a lot in Victorian England. So this might definitely be something I could consider looking at for my own research. After all, it has to do with death and mourning. The last paper that was given in that session was about sleeping women in the work of …. by Keren Hammerschlag. She tried to show that the painter depicted the women as sleeping, as that was the closest he could get to death. For after all, if one depicts a corpse it is not death that the person depicts, but something that is as it were beyond death. This was definitely useful for my research as I might be making it interdisciplinary. I asked Hammerschlag why it was more acceptable for women to be depicted as sleeping then man. Asking her if it might be the same as with poetry on suicide: it was seen as beautifully tragic in relation to women, but as cowardly and repulsive in men. In a reply she said that it was mostly attributed to beauty, but that since the painter also portrayed sleeping men, that there must still be something beyond the mere gender difference at work, however she did not know what this might be. So it seems that if I am going to incorporate this into my research that I will have my work cut out for me.

After the conference had ended for the day we first had some drinks at a nearby building and then proceeded to the Staff House where we had a fancy conference dinner. There I was sitting next to Maija as well as one of the girls whom I had met at the station; Christine Chettle. The conversation was really very interesting; again I learned a lot of new things. Christine who is also a PHD student is going to see if she can give a paper at the death and mourning conference in York so it will be nice to see her there! I am really looking forward to hear her present something on her topic and I am really going to try if I can give a paper there as well.

Birmingham, day 4: last day of conference and getting back to Holland

The final day of the conference had come. Surprisingly, I had a bit of mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I did not want to leave at all, because there was so much more to be learned, but on the other hand I really was glad to be going home. I was missing my mom, dad and of course my fiance.

The day of the conference started with the Annual meeting of the BAVS. The agenda point that interested me most was the conference that they have planned to host in Venice on June 3-6 in 2013. This conference will be held in cooperation with the NAVSA (the North American Victorian Studies Association) and the AVSA (the Australian Victorian Studies Association)! Thus it will be a great opportunity to see what the hot topics are for the American and Australian Victorianists without actually having to go to America and Australia (something I cannot yet afford haha!).

The highlight of the day was a paper given by Cristina Pascu-Tulbere on The Briar Rose series by the painter Burne-Jones’s. It was very striking to see how the different series of paintings that he made of sleeping beauty changed over time. It was especially interesting to see that in the final painting of the series, where the princess is depicted as sleeping, the prince is only portrayed in the first series of paintings (the only paintings to be painted on tiles). The absence of the prince in the other paintings, as Pascu-Tulbere argued, indicated that the princess might not be waking up, that she would be sleeping on forever; her beauty and innocence untainted by the cruelness of reality.

I did manage to listen to two more papers during the final panel session, after which I left for the train station, got on the train at University and made my way to Birmingham New Street station. There I got a little confused as the person whom I asked for information (someone who was part of the railway staff) sent me to platform 5, where I found a train waiting for me that had a close resemblance to the Fyra, TGV or Thallys. The previous trains I had been in were rather dingy, so I decided to ask someone if you had to pre-book for this train. Apparently this was not the case, so I got on. And thus I found myself in a very fancy train haha. The railway companies here might learn a thing or two from those Brits ;).

At the airport I checked-in and dropped off my luggage. It was surprisingly quiet at the airport. For the first time I did not have to sand in line at the luggage drop off or when going through customs. Even in the shopping area (which contained no more than 10 shops and a few restaurants lol!)  it was rather quiet in comparison to the other airports I have been to. I got myself a chocolate croissant at Pret a manger (which I did not finish, because it was impossible to do so without melted chocolate spilling all over me) and an ice tea and started to write this report. After having waited about 2 hours I boarded the aircraft and after half an hour we took off. It was a pleasant flight, though my ears did give me a bit of trouble. They seem to be of the opinion that they are not made for flying hahah.

Once we had landed the bridge that was supposed to connect to the airplane did not work at first, so we had to remain seated for quite some time. Eventually, by some miracle (as the captain called it), it did start to do what it was supposed to do and we were able to disembark. I quickly went to collect my luggage and was greeted by a pair of very proud parents and an almost ecstatic fiance in the arrivals hall haha. He really seemed to be overjoyed to have me back in his arms save and sound... He’s so cute *squeal*!!! *ahem* I apologize for that outburst.

So now I am back in Holland; save and sound. Trying to prevent myself from talking English to everyone, which (for some reason) is harder than it seems haha! I hope you have all enjoyed reading the report on my trip to Birmingham. If you would like me to elaborate on one (or more) of the lectures described above in more detail then please feel free to make a request. I have taken a lot of notes, so I am sure I can make a decent blog post out of it.

Well that’s it for now! This is Blackcat, signing off ;). 

P.s. I apologice if I have offended anyone with my typo with regards to the Beatles in my previous blogpost. I know that you write it with -ea- and not -ee- and I have immediately adjusted it.