‘Strange New Today’ Victorian Studies conference, Exeter, 17 September 2011

Strange New Today is now fully booked for delegates and registration is closed.

The Full Conference Programme is now available to view. Click here.

“This English Nation, will it ever get to know the meaning of its strange new Today?” (Thomas Carlyle, Past and Present)

Chartists storm the Westgate Hotel in Newport, South Wales, 1839.

The University of Exeter’s Centre for Victorian Studies will be holding a conference for postgraduates and early-career researchers on Saturday 17th September 2011.  The conference will take place in the historic setting of the Devon and Exeter Institution, which was founded in 1813 as a private library.

Keynote speakers:

Professor Regenia Gagnier (University of Exeter)

Professor Philip Davis (University of Liverpool)


Jane Davis and Dr Josie Billington from The Reader Organisation will hold a discussion on crisis, Victorian literature and “the reading cure”.

The conference call for papers and registration have now closed.

In Past and Present (1843), the author and social commentator, Thomas Carlyle, perceived modern crisis as an impossible riddle and posed the question: “This English Nation, will it get to know the meaning of its strange new today?”

Nineteenth-century perceptions of crisis were informed and shaped by unprecedented change in the social and economic climate of Victorian England.  Awareness of crisis stimulated intellectual enquiry in new disciplinary directions: in history and geology, archaeology and classicism, evolutionary biology, economic and social theory, in literature and culture, and in personal and psychological narratives.  Professor Philip Davis in The Victorians 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.

The commemorations of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and the returns to Marx for explanations of the current economic crisis exemplify a revival of interest in how thought from the nineteenth century lives on in the contemporary world.   Victorian literature continues to enrich and comfort the lives of people today as shown by the success of the bibliotherapy outreach work of the Reader Organisation of the University of Liverpool.  The status and future of Victorian Studies has been identified by Professor Regenia Gagnier, in her address ‘Whither Victorian Studies’, to be giving rise to emergent formalisms, and new collaborative projects with strong interdisciplinary focus and international involvement (Victoriographies 2011).

This conference explores the significance of crisis in how we read and interpret Victorian literature, and what that might mean for the future of Victorian Studies.  How did Victorians perceive the state and future of society, and in what ways did different disciplines seek to respond to these questions?  How might contemporary scholarship, itself experiencing uncertain times, learn from or emulate Victorian responses? What forms of advice or consolation can Victorian literature offer to the contemporary reader? How might Victorian Studies – in their wide embracement of interdisciplinary concerns – help us grasp “the meaning of our strange new Today”?

Panel topics will include:

Crisis and resolve

Crisis in scientific thought and theory

Crises in history and the interpretation of history

Crisis in the understanding of time, space or place

Crisis in Victorian Studies

Individual and society

Literature and change

Personal, Family and Psychological Crisis

Public and private selves

Social or cultural crisis

The Realist novel

The role of the public forum in Victorian literature and culture

Therapeutic Responses

Victorian Literature as aid

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

This event is held in collaboration with the Reader Organisation – a bibliotherapy outreach initiative that has brought about an international ‘Reading Revolution’. The organisation will contribute to the conference by highlighting the significance of Victorian literature as both informative and remedial for working through social, cultural, and psychological crises.


The Centre for Victorian Studies, University of Exeter

The Reader Organisation

The Devon and Exeter Institution.

Event Exeter – accommodation.

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