Spring 2018 newsletter

May 2018 Newsletter

  1. President’s Message
  2. VSAO Report: ACCUTE 2018


1.  President’s Message

Summer greetings to our VSAO members! I’d like to thank members for joining us at our spring conference and offering their support for a very pleasant gathering, held this year at the Textile Museum of Canada on Centre Avenue in Toronto.  Our conference theme, “Visualizing the Victorians: Objects, Arts, and Artifacts,” attracted many outstanding submissions for our morning panel, and we were delighted to hear from Joanna Devereux (Western University) on “‘The People as They Were’: Daguerreotypes, Stereoscopes, and Engravings of Sculpture at the Great Exhibition, 1851,” Cathy Jewison (University of Oxford) on “Light, Shadow, and the Other World: The Dissolving View and its Effect on the Victorian Ghost Story and Spiritualism,” Jennifer Green-Lewis (George Washington University) on “Alice at the Microscope: On Microphotography and Perceptual Instability,” and Ryan Roark (LTL Architects, New York City) on “‘Below the Surface of These Unliving Husks’: On the Representation of Boundaries, Structure, and Organization in Nineteenth-Century Cellular Biology and Architecture.”

Following lunch at the museum, and a chance to visit exhibitions, we heard keynote talks by two innovative scholars. Deborah Lutz (University of Louisville) spoke on “A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Woman, by Emily and Charlotte Brontë,” and Alison Syme (University of Toronto) presented on her current research in “Burne-Jones, Melting, and Modernity.” Dr. Lutz is Professor and Morton Endowed Chair at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. Her books include The Dangerous Lover: Gothic Villains, Byronism, and the Nineteenth-Century Seduction Narrative (2006) and Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism (2011), as well as the Norton critical edition of Jane Eyre. In her two most recent books (Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture [2015] and The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects [2015]) she explores the worlds of Victorian objects, from Victorian mourning jewellery to the paper on which Emily Bronte wrote her poetry and fiction, speculating about materiality and the lives of objects. Dr. Alison Syme specializes in late 19th- and early 20th-century art and visual culture. Her first book, A Touch of Blossom: John Singer Sargent and the Queer Flora of Fin-de-Siècle Art (2010), was shortlisted for the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize. Her second book, Willow (2014), presents a cultural /botanical history of the willow tree, including its literary presence and association with mourning. Her recent publications include work on carnivorous plants, as discussed by Grant Allen and other 19th-century writers; 19th-century posters, as well as contemporary art, and she is also working on Berthe Morisot and the Omega Workshops.

Part of the mandate of the VSAO is to promote scholarship and public outreach in the field of Victorian studies, and I’d ask all members to reflect on ongoing strategies we might use to meet that mandate.

We have been proud of the longstanding involvement of graduate students in the VSAO, who have supported us as volunteers for the annual April conference and as student members of the Association. Graduate student volunteers have taken a lead role in drafting the CFP for our annual sponsored panels at ACCUTE (Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English) at the Congress of the Humanities and in behind the scenes work in preparation for the April conference. A big thank you this year to graduate students and Executive members Emily Rothwell and Lin Young. Emily Rothwell is a doctoral candidate in the Visual Studies stream at Carleton University, and Lin Young, a doctoral candidate in Victorian literature at Queen’s University, focusing on visual and material culture.

The VSAO sponsors two Toronto-based evening talks during the academic year. This doesn’t preclude colleagues at other institutions offering a VSAO sponsored talk. We have limited funds (we just about recouped costs at our April conference) but the Association can offer publicity for your talk through the VSAO newsletter and network.

We are also considering offering our annual spring talk in a different format – namely, as an informal themed research roundtable, in which participants could, if they wish, talk about current work in the area or simply come out to listen. We might also consider getting together for dinner first. If this sounds appealing, if you have themes of interest to you, and/or potential participants to suggest, please contact me or any of our Executive. Feedback about the annual conference or any other aspect of the VSAO is always welcome.

On behalf of the VSAO, I would like to thank outgoing Executive member Dr. Brooke Cameron (Queen’s University) for her wonderful work for the Association, particularly on webpage design and functionality. We wish her all the best in her new endeavours. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to Dr. Joanna Devereux (Western University), who is joining us on the VSAO Executive. Welcome, Jo!

Best wishes to all of you over the summer, and congratulations to all members of the VSAO, and the VSAO Executive, for a productive and interesting year.


Suzanne Bailey
Professor, Department of English Literature, Trent University
President, Victorian Studies Association of Ontario
Chair, North-American Network in Aging Studies (NANAS)


2.  VSAO Report: ACCUTE 2018

Overheard at the double panel jointly hosted by the VSAO and ACCUTE at this year’s Congress at the University of Regina: “Wow, the Victorianists are having their day at ACCUTE!” The two panels we organized for the VSAO, entitledVictorian Spaces: Real and Imagined Parts I and II, were enthusiastically attended. It was inspiring to see this “Vic. extravaganza,” as many coined it, rippling out into the exciting and erudite atmosphere at Congress. From the outset, we were bowled over by the way in which both panels exceeded all our expectations, leaving many of us lingering afterward to chat in our room and then taking gregarious conversations to the campus’s Riddell Centre for lunch.

In many ways, the first panel of the morning set the tone for the day as it allowed all of us to delve into the myriad ways to approach spatial cultural histories and forms. First, Lindsay Wells’s creative paper offered fresh insights into the significance of the visual representation of the spatial sites of the glasshouse and glass-enclosed Victorian garden in works by artists, such as John Everett Millais and James Tissot. Next, Amanda Paxton’s nuanced paper focused on the continuum of contextual discourses on Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry, which informed both John Ruskin’s and Walter Pater’s aesthetic theories. Last, but not least, Alicia Alves’s rich paper explored the ways in which domestic spaces, found in texts such as Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’sCarmilla and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, excluded the “animal hybrid” trope of the “bat” thus reproducing heteronormative codes.

The second panel of the morning was equally sparkling and engaging, even with a two-person panel. Our first panelist, Nahmi Lee, inspired us through her compelling literary analysis of Charles Dickens’s Bleak Houseas she explored the contextual histories of sanitation reform, while honing in on images of circulation and the accumulation of excessive waste in Dicken’s imagined urban geographies and mindscapes. Finally, Emma McTavish’s insightful exploration of the gendering and classing of spatial histories and imaginaries in Somerset Maugham’s Liza of Lambethallowed all of us to think through the implications of known cultural theories surrounding the “male gaze” and the binaries of the flâneuse/flâneur and the public/private in the text’s framing of space experienced by the complex protagonist.

In our concluding group discussion we revisited the power of close readings of diverse cultural texts, of the construction of imagined and physical spaces within our “home” disciplines and the ways in which transdisciplinary dialogues can be tied together by issues we discussed in both panels: the circulation of objects and waste; the shifting nuances of publics and counterpublics; the power of visual codes to reproduce imperialist, classed and gendered spatial histories; and the ways in which cultural texts could replicate and yet challenge insidious and heteronormative forms of power.

If we may be slightly immodest, we felt our co-chaired double panel was truly an embarrassment of riches. We look forward to our next dispatch to you from ACCUTE’s 2019 gathering and we wish you all a well-deserved and relaxing summer!

Emily Rothwell and Lin Young
Co-Organizers, VSAO-sponsored panels for ACCUTE 2018
Graduate Student Members of the VSAO Executive