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13-17 July 2020

Drawing on the rich heritage of 'Victorian Bloomsbury', the Institute of English Studies (IES) is excited to offer an annual study week dedicated to celebrating and understanding the great nineteenth-century writers.

In 2020, the Nineteenth-Century Summer School (formerly the Nineteenth-Century Study Week) has Charles Dickens as its chosen author. The School will run from July 13 - July 17. The cluster of novels chosen for discussion are Bleak House, Great Expectations, Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend.

Participants will have the opportunity to hear leading UK scholars on the latest research through five morning lectures, followed by questions and discussion. The seminars, in a group of about 15 students, will be text-based, with novels and other works for preparatory reading. They will be led by a discussion leader with specialist expertise on the Dickens's work. The schedule also provides for a series of student-led informal seminars on DIckens's journalism convened by a staff member and the opportunity for guided library time. We are planning a tour of Dickens’s London, a reading from the novels and a piano recital of Dickens-related music.  Above all we value the opportunity for students and staff to work closely together.

The internationally renowned scholars leading discussions will include Dr Daniel Tyler, University of Cambridge (Bleak House),  Professor Catherine Waters, University of Kent (Great Expectations),  Dr Ushashi Dasgupta, Oxford University (Little Dorrit), Professor Steven Connor,  University of Cambridge (Our Mutual Friend). Claire Tomalin, the distinguished biographer of Dickens, will deliver the 2020 Hilda Hulme Lecture as part of the week, focusing on Dickens through her autobiography.

Directed by the internationally celebrated scholar, critic and teacher Professor Isobel Armstrong, the Study Week will bring together Dickens experts and postdoctoral and graduate students. It will be held here at the IES in the heart of Bloomsbury. 

Professor Armstrong is author of 'Victorian Glassworlds. Glass Culture and the Imagination' (2008), ' Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics' (1996) and 'The Radical Aesthetic' (2000). 

Previous Summer School Schedule (The Brontes, 2019)

Monday, 20 May

10.30 Registration and tea/coffee
11.00 Introduction to the week
11.15 Lecture: Professor Sally Shuttleworth, University of Oxford

'Charlotte Brontë, Realism and Experimentation' 

Reading list 

When Jane Eyre was published it was greeted by G. H. Lewes as a ‘transcript of life’, and assimilated into the emerging genre of realism. This lecture will return to the impact of that early reception, and consider by contrast the innovative and experimental forms adopted by Brontë in her novels.   

Sally Shuttleworth is Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford.  She has published extensively on the inter-relations between literature and science, primarily in the Victorian period. Her books include Charlotte Brontë and Victorian Psychology (CUP, 1996) and The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science and Medicine, 1840-1900 (OUP, 2010), which takes Jane Eyre as one of its key texts. She has edited Oxford World Classics editions of Jane Eyre, and Agnes Grey. 

12.45 Lunch
14.00 Seminar: Professor Sally Shuttleworth, University of Oxford 


15.30 Tour of Senate House Library 

Researchers’ choice. You can use this for preparation or open-ended research of your own

17.30 Reception

Tuesday, 21 May

9.50 Lecture: Professor Joanne Shattock, University of Leicester 

‘The Brontës, Authorship and Print Culture’

Reading list

This lecture will explore the Brontë sisters’ entry into print and the models of authorship, both Romantic and Victorian, that influenced them.  The challenges of being a woman writer, the importance of networks and the role of publishers and mentors will be discussed, as well as the responses to their writing in the  reviews and magazines  of the mid-nineteenth century , a textual world in which Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë  became central figures.  We will also look at the impact of contemporary biographers and reviewers on the Brontës’ legacy

11.30 Tea and coffee
11.45 Independent seminar groups

In these 1-hour seminars each group will discuss through the week a number of contemporary nineteenth-century reviews (provided) of the Brontës fiction and report back on their findings at the end of the week.

12.45 Lunch
14.00 Seminar: Professor Joanne Shattock, University of Leicester

15.30 Library time

Wednesday, 22 May

10.00 Lecture: Professor Helen Small, University of Oxford  

Reading list

'Emily Brontë and Degradation'

Emily Brontë’s imaginative engagement with the concept of degradation is no less powerful for being far from systematic. This lecture will start by looking closely at Catherine Earnshaw’s claim (central to the plot of Wuthering Heights) that she cannot marry Heathcliff once he has been educationally and socially degraded under her brother Hindley’s abusive authority, because such a marriage would in turn degrade her. Much of the drama that follows hinges on the tension between how Catherine employs the notion of degradation, and what Heathcliff means when he turns it back against her. The lecture will then take a wider view of how the novel treats questions of status and power in human society and in the natural world. The final part will consider a range of Brontë’s poetry, asking what her handling of the drama of degradation contributes to the exceptional intensity of her writing and its strangeness within the established canons of Victorian literary culture.

11.30 Tea and coffee

11.45 Independent seminar groups

12.45 Lunch
14.00 Seminar: Professor Helen Small, University of Oxford  
18.00 Hilda Hulme Memorial Lecture: Dr Lyndall Gordon, University of Oxford

‘The Brontës and Passions’

The talk will start with the silencing of Caroline Helstone in Shirley and go on to consider the kind of utterance the Brontes devise for more outspoken women in Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Villette. Lyndall will explore the way that the Brontes challenge nineteenth-century truisms about woman's nature in the context of other Victorian novels which open up the issue of voicing passion. These will include George Eliot's portrait of the singer, Caterina, in 'Mr Gilfil's Love Story' (in Scenes of Clerical Life) and the milkmaids' confessions in Hardy's Tess of the d’Urbevilles, as well as discussion of a popular Victorian painting of a marriage market.

19.00 Reception

Thursday, 23 May

10.00 Tour of Victorian London led by Dr Juliette Atkinson, University of London

'In "Villette" (1853), Lucy Snowe writes: "I have seen the West End, the parks, the fine squares, but I love the city far better. The city seems so much more in earnest: its business, its rush, its roar, are such serious things, sight, and sounds. ... At the West End you may be amused, but in the city you are deeply excited." Our walk will focus, then, on the Brontës' experience of the City. We will explore the area around St Paul's, where first the Brontë's father, than their brother, and finally the sisters themselves first stayed in the City. We will see some of the sights they enjoyed (St Paul's Cathedral, Bank, the Royal Exchange, the publisher George Smith's offices in Cornhill) and pass through sites that have now vanished (such as the Chapter Coffee House and Paternoster Row). We will walk through the Strand (where Brontë's head was analysed by a phrenologist, and where we'll encounter other nineteenth-century novelists), before heading back to Bloomsbury.'

12.45 Lunch
14.00 Seminar: Professor Isobel Armstrong, University of London

Poems by Three Sisters’

Reading list 

The very first publication of the Brontë sisters was of poetry, rather than the narrative they are famous for. This lecture will consider the different kinds of experiment evident in the poems. Some poems relate to the narratives begun by the sisters in their childhood, some explore other themes. How they responded to the poets they read, past and contemporary, and to the conventions they encountered in their reading, will be a theme of the lecture. There will be a handout provided ahead of the lecture.

Isobel Armstrong is a Fellow of the British Academy, an International Scholar of the American Academy and Emeritus Professor of English at Birkbeck, University of London. She writes widely on Nineteenth-Century literature and culture: her Victorian Glassworlds  won the James Russell Lowell Prize in 2008; the second edition of Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Politics and Poetics (1993) was published this year, 2019.

15.30 Independent seminar groups

16:30 Library time Senate House Library

Friday, 24 May

10.00 Lecture: Dr Simon Marsden, University of Liverpool 

‘Becoming the Brontës: The Imagination and Craft of the Juvenilia’

Reading list 

In their childhood writings, the Brontë siblings created imagined worlds that would provide the settings for literary experimentation in both prose and poetry. Glass Town, Angria and Gondal provided settings for collaborative storytelling that enabled the young Brontës both to imitate aspects of the styles and themes of established writers and to develop their own distinctive voices. This lecture will explore the ways in which the juvenilia reveals the Brontës engaging in collaborative creation, responding to literary influences and developing their craft as writers. We will also consider the enduring legacies of the Brontës’ childhood creativity in their mature poetry and novels.

11.30 Tea and coffee
11.45 Independent Seminar Groups convene to report back on their work 

13.30-14.00 Piano recital, Judith Gore

'Emily Bronte and the Piano'

A piano recital by Judith Gore of music from the Bronte Music Collection at Haworth which features works by Beethoven, Clementi, Hummel, Pleyel and the Battle of Prague by Kozwara which is also in the Jane Austen Music Collection. The pieces were marked by Emily Bronte and display both her musical interest and ability.

14.00 Lecture: Dr Justine Pizzo, University of Southampton

'Anne Brontë'

Reading list 

This lecture addresses Anne Brontë’s novels Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848). It focuses on the distinctive styles of first-person narration and prominent debates about marriage, work, and morality in each of these texts. Ultimately, the talk demonstrates how Brontë’s representations of gendered embodiment shed new light on the ‘morbid love of the coarse, if not the brutal’ levied against her by more than one contemporary reviewer.

15.30 Closing remarks and general discussion