[EXHIBITION & TALK] Magdalen’s Wilde

wilde-poster-1-768x1086The current Old Library exhibition at Magdalen is on Oscar Wilde – I curated it, alongside our former Fellow Librarian Christine Ferdinand. The exhibition is open to the public on 15, 22 and 29 November, and at other times by appointment (contact library@magd.ox.ac.uk ). Displaying the very best of Magdalen’s holdings on one of our most famous alumni, the exhibition includes a little-known MS of Lady Windermere’s Fan, an array of first editions (and pirated editions!) from the UK and Europe, odd appropriations, Cecil Beaton costume designs, theatre programmes, salacious details from the trials, and (slightly heartbreaking) original letters.

On 21 November at 5.30 p.m. I’m giving a talk to accompany the exhibition, followed by a reception and viewing of the exhibition. To attend the talk, please email library@magd.ox.ac.uk – it’d be wonderful to see you there. Pia de Richemont reviewed the exhibition for Oscholars over the summer: read her review here.

P.S. this is a (reasonably) rare opportunity to get inside Magdalen’s beautiful Old Library and see the petrified wig. To give you an idea, it’s the central image in my blog header (if you’re reading this on RSS, click here).

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Elizabeth, Victoria, and Ellen

This evening, Elizabeth II becomes Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. This is interesting to me not merely because I have deeply conflicted feelings about royal babies and their great-grandmother vs. workshy princesses and the amount of social housing you could build at Highgrove.

Queen Victoria in 1897 (slightly after becoming our longest-reigning monarch, celebrating her Diamond Jubilee! …I say ‘celebrating’…).

Until 5.30 this evening, our longest-reigning monarch is still Queen Victoria, who reigned 1837–1901. Victoria became the longest-reigning monarch by outlasting poor old George III (1760–1820), exceeding the length of his reign on 23 September 1896. The morning papers were, as you’d expect, full of adulatory editorials on the Queen’s longevity and popularity.

But 23 September 1896, coincidentally, was also the day that the Victorians’ best-loved actress, Ellen Terry, woke up to hyperbolic reviews of her own British royal. The evening before, Terry had opened at London’s Lyceum Theatre as Imogen, the British princess who’s the heroine of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. Victoria was queen of the British Empire, and Terry was the queen of British theatre.

Ellen Terry as Imogen, 1896 (Creative Commons).

Just after finishing my DPhil, I wrote about the 23 September coincidence for Platform‘s Spring 2014 issue, and this morning seemed quite a good time to revisit it! So, if you want to read about theatrical curation and memory with a royal twist, “Dynasty, memory, Terry: curating the 1896 Cymbeline” is now open-access via academia.edu and in its original home on Platform

Where I’ve been: on 12 March, I gave my talk at the Tricycle, which sold out! I was delighted, both to see so many friends there, and that people were attending other than my compassionate family & friends. Plus, as well as introducing E & my mother to Adrian Lester (who deteriorates in neither charm nor good looks, it must be said), the Tricycle’s AD, Indhu Rubasingham appeared from nowhere to introduce my talk in an incredibly kind and complimentary way. The audience looked surprised, because until then I think they’d been assuming that the child in the jumper faffing around the projector cable was some sort of admin assistant/work experience minion, rather than the speaker…

Christopher Ravenscroft and Rhiannon Sommers in The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith.

Then on 14 March, I went in to Primavera Productions’ rehearsals for Arthur Wing Pinero’s The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith, to talk about Pinero, Venice, 1890s theatre, and 1890s morality. I am always willing to discuss AT LENGTH my great love of working with actors. They ask the best questions. This company asked ferociously intelligent questions, and there’s been some great follow-up chat by email. Ebbsmith is enjoying its first revival since 1895, which I initially assumed had to be wrong, but, no – it genuinely hasn’t been done since then! I am so looking forward to the production, not least because (as I discovered after taking the job), fin-de-siecle rakehell the Duke of St Olpherts is being played by Christopher Ravenscroft, who has been a personal hero of mine ever since (as a small child) I saw the film of Kenneth Branagh’s Twelfth Night (1988). Admittedly, I was mainly torn between wanting to be Frances Barber as Viola (hair, eyeliner, waistcoat) or Anton Lesser as Feste (hair, eyeliner, fingerless gloves- I swear Captain Jack Sparrow was a ripoff), but after that, it was Ravenscroft’s Orsino, who languished about in the snow, indulging Orsino’s self-indulgence in what was (and is) one of the most beautiful British verse-speaking voices in history. He was infinitely better than Toby Stephens, and with Frances Barber’s sad-eyed, exquisitely-spoken Viola, they made up a kind of melancholy duet of 80s Chekhovian languor. Plus, Richard Briers was Malvolio, so you should definitely go and watch. So, yes. I got to work with Christopher Ravenscroft, and he’s absolutely lovely. Everyone was absolutely lovely. The actress playing Agnes Ebbsmith (of the title) is Rhiannon Sommers, who is probably wasted every minute of her life she’s not playing Anne Boleyn or Scarlett O’Hara (ignore her Spotlight. Those eyes are green), but who will doubtless be brilliant. The Notorious Mrs Ebbsmith runs from 8 April to 3 May 2014 at the Jermyn Street Theatre, and is directed by Abbey Wright.

I’d also recommend you catch Darker Purpose’s production of King Lear at the Cockpit Theatre, which runs until 29 March. David Ryall stars, in a great cast with strong performances throughout all the principal roles. I particularly enjoyed Nikki Leigh-Scott and Ian Hallard as blood-loving aristocrats, the Cornwalls; Charlie Ryall’s intelligent, New Woman Cordelia, and Dominic Kelly as Edgar. Until now, I have always been more bored by Edgar than is printable (even online) but he is excellent throughout. David Ryall’s Lear is as moving as you would expect, and the blinding scene, played entirely in the round with near-universal lighting, provoked both SPATTER and genuine yelps. Go and see it. If you buy a programme, you’ll have not merely a handy blood-shield, BUT ALSO 700 words by me on late-Victorian ennui, poisoned zeitgeists and morbid modern women. Re: Gloucester’s blinding, I discovered a very similar scene, the other day, in Robert Greene’s Selimus, a little-known 1594 play, which was performed by the Globe’s Read Not Dead actors, and introduced by Dr Jenny Sager, at a great if gory conference on Bodies and Body Parts. This was the first Oxford-Globe Forum, and I hope to attend many more.

So, that is where I’ve been. Also, term is over. Can you tell?

Victorian Weirdness

I bow to nobody in my appreciation of Weird Victorian Antics, hold a gold medal for getting distracted by bizarre stuff from Victorian periodicals and should in any case really be concentrating on my viva prep / teaching prep / article.

Neverthless, thanks to a database search gone (so) wrong, I just found the following paragraph at the start of an 1888 article on women’s fashion and beauty:

“Hints to Women: […]

TEA GOWNS. If you want to look your prettiest, to bewitch your husband or big brother, to fascinate your cousin or to charm your friends en masse, get a tea gown.” [emphasis mine. Like the screams]

The guilty publication was The Daily Inter Ocean, published on 12 February 1888 in Chicago, presumably then a city of webbed feet, hairy backs and family trees that would have made Queen Victoria’s maddest lapdog look like a good genetic prospect.

The article then goes on to say that the tea dress is “strikingly English”, to which I can only respond with a whoa there, 1880s Chicago, don’t blame your scary sibling-bewitching fashion tips on us.

Please use the comments to  offer suggestions on what other fashions might have been great, er, ice-breakers in the 1880s, attempt a serious discussion about what this article says about the brother/sister dynamic, or just join me in repeating or big brother in whatever typeface best suits your “my eyes, it burns” textual needs.

It’s been quiet around here on Clamorous Voice, as I’ve waded more securely into the chaos that is Not Waving, Not Drowning, But Trying To Finish My Thesis. I have a submission date of 1st August, which I’m inscribing on as many electronic surfaces possible in a bid for accountability/intellectual masochism. I passed my confirmation viva, which seems to be to the end of the DPhil process, that which transfer is to the beginning. In a total dereliction of my former principles, I have become one of those people who thinks that Oxford’s transfer of status process is a good thing – when seen retrospectively. I’m not yet bonkers enough to think it’s a good thing at the time.

I’m also still going on the radio. For those who missed the story of how this happened: a BBC researcher found my blog, or possibly my twitter, passed it on to their superiors and then apparently disappeared forever, leaving a confused but charming producer try to work out why she found herself on the phone to me. This Friday afternoon will be my third jaunt to BBC Oxford, and I love it. Given that I consume radio like oxygen, and have yet to listen to more than five seconds of myself on tape, this is not surprising. I am totally available for Woman’s Hour. I would just like to make this very clear.

I’m also giving three four papers this term, something which (in sharp contrast to transfer-of-status) looked like a good idea in advance. SO, if you’re in the vicinity and would like to hear me speak OR think any of my subjects sound innately interesting, please do come along! The list is below:

  • Friday 3 May, 12.45 – 1.45 p.m. “Ira Aldridge and Black Identity on the Victorian Stage.” Race and Resistance across borders in the Long Twentieth Century; interdisciplinary seminar sponsored by TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities). Radcliffe Humanities Building, Seminar Room, 3rd Floor, University of Oxford.
  • Friday 21 May, 5 p.m. “Women, Sex and Celebrity in the Victorian Theatre.” ‘Spotlight on Celebrity’ Research Network; Postgraduate / Early Career Researcher interdisciplinary network. Ryle Room, Radcliffe Humanities Building, University of Oxford.
  • Thursday 6 June, 11 a.m. “Manchester and the Forest of Arden: how one Victorian wedding became a global phenomenon.” The Global and the Local: North American Victorian Studies Association, British Association of Victorian Studies and Australasian Victorian Studies Association conference. San Servolo, Venice.
  • Monday 10 June, 5.15 p.m. “Shakespeare and the sleeping woman at the fin de siècle”. Victorian Literature Graduate Seminar. English Faculty, University of Oxford.

In other news, I am now twenty-six and one day. I am probably going to do something about the blog widget (to your right) which maintains the illusion of my youth and twenty-four-year-old promise. I am basically that blog widget’s portrait in the attic. I realise that, to anyone over twenty-six, twenty-six-year-olds who whine about their decrepit and withered proximity to calcification are appalling pubescents who deserved to be thwacked with a beehive. Believe me, that is how I feel about twenty-five-year-olds. Until I find how to change that widget, I crave your patience.

At some point I’ll be back, to express my rapturous love for Broadchurch and Endeavour, two programmes which took the distilled essence of my various enthusiasms and won me over completely despite containing ad breaks. Obviously, with Endeavour (doomed tragic policeman FIGHTS CRIME in Oxford) the bar for obtaining my love was always going to be set exceptionally low. I think that most programmes could be improved by being set in Oxford, and in Endeavour‘s case they threw in Roger Allam. Who walks around in a hat being splendid, and looking as if he confidently expects a forthcoming spinoff called Thursday (you could do worse, ITV, unless the Dowager Countess can somehow keep Downton going until the sixties).

I have not seen last night’s Endeavour, and I shan’t see Broadchurch until it hits ITVplayer tomorrow, so am anxiously avoiding spoilers. Re: Broadchurch, my money is on Elle’s Creepy Husband, although I’d be happier if we locked Nige up anyway. I’d be happier still if somebody tracked down that bloody postman and/or gave David Tennant a square meal. Anyway, yes, back sooner this time. Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 

[CALL FOR PAPERS]: Victorians and the Law (deadline 1 April 2013)

Victorian Network is an MLA-indexed online journal devoted to publishing and promoting the best postgraduate work in Victorian Studies.

The eighth issue of Victorian Network, guest edited by Dr Cathrine Frank (University of New England), will take a fresh look at the interfaces between literature and legal cultures in the Victorian period. From the Reform Acts through the growth of colonial law to the establishment of divorce courts, nineteenth-century legislature shaped and responded to the same cultural developments – the rise of the middle class, industrialisation, imperial expansion, and shifting ideas about gender, to name but a few – that were also eagerly debated by literary writers. The politics and aesthetics of many nineteenth-century novelists, poets and playwrights were informed by a sustained engagement with legal debates and practices. Their works often reflected on, and sometimes challenged, the law’s construction of civic, social and gender identities, while also casting a critical (or appraising) eye over the bureaucratic apparatus on which legal practice was built.

We are inviting submissions of no more than 7000 words. Possible topics include, but are by no means limited to, the following:

  • wills, trusts and guardianship accounts: the materiality of the legal archive
  • Victorian trials, sensation and theatricality
  • criminal law, lawlessness, realist epistemologies and the detective plot
  • Victorian law and gender
  • the reaches of the law: imperialism and the legal & literary creation of colonial identities
  • intersections between genres of legal and literary writing
  • “brought up a barrister”: nineteenth-century authors, legal training, professionalization and the bar
  • radical politics, social change and the working class in Victorian literature and the law
  • debates about rights to intellectual and literary property
  • the spaces and cultural venues of legal practice.

All submissions should conform to MHRA style conventions and the in-house submission guidelines. The deadline for submissions is 1 April 2013.

Contact: victoriannetwork@gmail.com

[I am, as ever, the Submissions Editor for Victorian Network. I encourage you to send me emails containing your excellent postgraduate and recent postdoctoral work as per our guidelines. If I know you research law, crime, or anything in the above list, you can expect me to start nagging you on Twitter &c in the coming weeks…]

Advent Calendar Day 6: Harlequin!

https://i0.wp.com/media.vam.ac.uk/media/thira/collection_images/2010EK/2010EK0888_jpg_l.jpg

This poster, from the collections of the V&A Museum, was made in 1878. It advertises the 1878 Grand Pantomime at the Surrey Theatre, The House That Jack Built! or Harlequin Dame Trot.

First built in 1792, and demolished in 1934, the Surrey Theatre is probably my favourite illegitimate-and-now-not-there-any-more playhouse in London! It stood in Blackfriars Road, in the middle of (then) prostitute-ridden Lambeth. And yes, I have a favourite not-there-any-more-playhouse. My second favourite is the Coburg; I am the coolest person you know.

T. P. Cooke and Miss Scott as William and Susan, c. 1829 (NPG).

T. P. Cooke and Miss Scott as William and Susan, c. 1829 (NPG).

The Surrey was the first home of Douglas Jerrold‘s epically excellent melodramatic masterpiece, Black-Ey’d Susan (1829), which ran for over 300 nights and thoroughly embedded itself in nineteenth-century culture. Ira Aldridge performed there repeatedly in the 1840s.

The Surrey turns up a lot in the annals of the Basement Project (the sideline research I’ve been doing since August), and it lifts my heart every time.