‘Strange New Today’ Conference

The Reader Organisation’s Director Jane Davis, our research colleague at the University of Liverpool, Dr Josie Billington, and The Reader magazine‘s editor, Professor Phil Davis will be talking at the ‘Strange New Today’ Victorian Studies conference at Exeter University on September 17th.

Jane and Josie will hold a discussion on crisis, Victorian literature and “the reading cure”, and will highlight the informative and remedial value of Victorian literature for working through social, cultural, and psychological crises.

In ‘The Victorians’ Phil Davis identifies the realist novel as a ‘holding ground’ for the complex emotional and psychological concerns which emerged from rapid industrial and social change.  Through literature, and the public nature of the periodical press, authors and thinkers found a new medium of expression – reading and writing became remedial aids in times of difficulty. Such intellectual productivity, coupled with the desire to explore new emotional, social and psychological territories, caused these dramas of discovery to be played out in the very hearts and homes of the public.

This English Nation, will it get to know the meaning of its strange new today?

– Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present

The conference will be held in collaboration with The Reader Organisation and will explore what Victorian literature can tell us about the society in which it was produced and how it continues to enrich and comfort the lives of readers today.

Any queries regarding the conference can be directed to southwestvictorianists@exeter.ac.uk.

Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility…and Fashion and Frocks

I don’t know about anyone else but when I’m reading one of the classics I find that I ‘transport’ myself to the specific time and place where the novel is set, immersing myself as completely as I can – given the knowledge I have – in the story’s world. In my mind’s eye, I walk through the fields or the grounds of some grand stately home, taking in the country air and watching dashing gents trot by on horseback. The one thing I would love to really experience (other than to chance upon my own Mr Darcy) is the fashion of the Austen era; to adorn myself in the outstandingly beautiful dresses and finery and step into the delicate silk shoes of Emma Woodhouse or Elinor Dashwood.

Others who share the same flight of fancy will be interested to know about an exhibition now on at Sudley House entitled Costume Drama: Fashion from 1790 to 1850, which showcases a range of clothing and accessories of the style that would have been worn by the characters in Jane Austen’s novels and Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, and which I took a trip to see for myself last weekend. Unfortunately visitors don’t get the chance to try anything on for size but having the chance to see such stunning clothes, only ever seen by most of us replicated in film and TV adaptations, up close is truly wonderful.

In the beautiful original Victorian surroundings of the museum, the exhibition displays to brilliant effect rare and early items from the costume collection of National Museums Liverpool. Most of the fine frocks on display would have been seen on the emerging upper and middle classes, at a time when fashion played a key role in indicating an ascent up the social ladder.

It’s hard to pick out anything as a highlight, especially for a literature and fashion enthusiast – all the pieces were just gorgeous – but I was particularly impressed by a breathtaking blue and gold silk brocade day dress (which didn’t seem at all practical for daytime wear – but then, practicality wasn’t at the top of the list when it came to style in that time period). It turned out that such a dress would have been worn by a newlywed-bride on her ‘going away’ from home; so perhaps Elizabeth Bennet would have had something very similar for her eventual journey to Pemberley. Also very Austen-esque was a gold and white figured silk evening dress, which would surely have been a favourite of any of the Bennet sisters.

Jane Austen style dresses from the Costume Drama exhibition at Sudley House

The exhibition is a must-see for any Austen aficionado – you really do feel as if you’ve stepped into the wonderful world of Jane for an afternoon.

Costume Drama runs until 7th May 2012 at Sudley House, Mossley Hill Road, Aigburth, Liverpool L18 8BX and entry is free. There are free family workshops accompanying the exhibitions, including ones where you can design your own Austen-style costume (August 17th/February 16th at 1-4pm) and a hat-making workshop (August 25th/April 4th at 1-4pm).

Also, to celebrate 200 years since Sense and Sensibility was published, Sudley House will be screening the 1995 film adaptation (August 5th/September 25th/November 13th/January 13th/March 2nd/April 20th). Tickets can be collected free from the welcome desk on screening days.

A Walk with Winnie-the-Pooh

Zoe Gilling, The Reader Organisation’s Business Manager, takes a break from organising our move to West Everton to to take a stroll in Winnie-the-Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood

Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you


This weekend, as part of an attempt to escape from stresses and strains of the impending move to Everton, I found myself “deep in The Hundred Acre Wood” of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.  Well, The Hundred Acre Wood of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories is actually a five hundred acre wood in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England. A.A. Milne‘s country home at Cotchford Farm, Hartfield was situated just north of Ashdown Forest, and the wood is a dense beech wood that Christopher Robin would explore on his way from Cotchford Farm to the Forest. The wood is privately-owned and is not generally accessible to the public so instead I went to an imitation hundred acre wood in Aldenham Country Park, Elstree. All the same, it really did feel as though all the Winnie-the-Pooh stories of my childhood had been brought to life. My children were captivated.

Most characters have their houses portrayed and they have been cleverly built around the oak trees that are in the woods or form the focal points of the fields. We spent ages going from house to house, knocking on the doors and peering through the windows. There are two bridges to play poohsticks on, and a stream with ‘stones and roks’ that was a perfect stop-off point for a paddle. The Sandy Pit Where Roo Plays, The Bee Tree,  and even Eeyore’s Gloomy place all feature and of course pretending to be caught in the Heffalump trap was fun too!

…Ah well….time to get stuck into the packing crates…but in a much more relaxed frame of mind thanks to AA Milne and Pooh Bear.

Charles Dickens closes Maghull Arts Festival

Maghull High School

Saturday 16th July, 2 pm

Tickets: £5

An outdoor adaptation of Dickens’ classic, Great Expectations, brings the first Maghull Arts Festival to a close. This family friendly production by Quantum Theatre Company will take place in the grounds of Maghull High School in an outdoor marquee on Saturday 16th July at 2pm. Refreshments are available throughout.

Great Expectations is the thirteenth of Charles Dickens’ novels and tells the tale of Pip, an orphan, who is brought up by his abusive sister and her husband, but who eagerly abandons his humble beginnings to begin a new life as a gentleman. From the misty marshes to the dusty, dirty streets of London, Quantum Theatre bring you a brand new adaptation of Dickens’ most enduringly popular and atmospheric novel which promises high comedy and dark drama as we follow Pip’s journey through adversity to discover the true nature of his ‘great expectations’.

Emma Lloyd, Sefton Arts & Cultural Services Marketing & Programme Manager, says:

“I can think of no better way to end a fabulous three weeks of arts and cultural activity than having a truly classic novel come to life outdoors. Not even the British Summer can spoil this event, as the marquee will keep us dry in all weather!”

All tickets for Great Expectations are £5 and are available by calling 0151 928 1919 / 01704 540011 by visiting www.seftonarts.co.uk and booking online or at Maghull High School reception (during school hours).

BBC to finish Charles Dickens’s “Edwin Drood”

Writer Gwyneth Hughes has completed The Mystery of Edwin Drood for a BBC Four drama, to be screened later this year.

Dickens failed to finish the story before he died in 1870, and its adaption forms part of a season of programmes on TV and radio to celebrate the printed word for the BBC’s Year Of Books.

BBC director of vision Jana Bennett said of the season:

“Since the BBC’s first broadcast in 1922, a key part of our role has been to impart knowledge through programmes that inform, educate and entertain.

“What better than to share the pages of our most treasured cultural asset with BBC audiences than through a year of programming that celebrates the BBC’s vast collection of books programmes, both historic and new.”

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