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The New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson

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The Literary 1880s

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The 1880s: Literature’s Uncertain Decade

On Friday and Saturday 23-24 March 2012, Andy Taylor and Penny Fielding (and the SWINC centre) organized two workshops at the University of Edinburgh on The Literary 1880s.

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Saturday 24th was a one-day meeting to explore what was changing in literature and culture in the 1880s that is distinctive and that prepared the ground for the much better-known developments of the 1890s.

In the morning we heard talks by William Greenslade (on radical politics and literature, and the turn away from oratory and highmindedness), by Clare Pettitt (on the cultural influence of seabed exploration and of telegraphic communication via transatlantic cable: how deep-sea life seemed formless, how telegraphic coding may be connected with a patterned and coded aesthetics), and also by Anna Vaninskaya (on the evolving image of Russian Nihilists in Britain in the 1880s, as terrorists and then as fighters against oppression).

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The central contribution was by Steve Arata on ‘The Modernity of the 1880s’. Steve focussed on what happened to the Realist novel: achieving success with the work of Gissing and Moore in the very same period as its foundations were called into question by ‘romance’ (which shattered the givenness of the real), and by new interest in both artistic form and artful formlessness. (And both challenges clearly involve RLS as novelist and essayist.)

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The afternoon started with John Holmes (on the critical reception of Robert Bridges, on his poetry of detached emotion and attention to form); then continued with Glenda Norquay (on Stevenson’s aesthetics of reading pleasure and his problems with accomodating it with the sale of pleasure; how Baxter allowed him to forget business and became his ideal reader, repository of his nostalgia); and ended with Sally Shuttleworth (on Meredith’s One of Our Conquerors as a psychological/social/political study of the strains of the 1880s).

— The Friday workshop on the literary essay in the 1880s will be reported in a separate posting —

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Written by rdury

06/04/2012 at 2:44 pm