I’ve just come back from this year’s NVSA at Columbia. If you haven’t been, this is a conference I particularly like to attend just for the sake of attending. There are no concurrent panels, so it really feels like a communal intellectual enterprise as the shared experience of seeing many papers as an audience builds up over the weekend.
This year’s theme was “Clichés and Orthodoxies.” Two papers I particularly liked were Aeron Hunt’s (U of New Mexico), “Methodological Orthodoxies and the Business of Victorian Character” and Sarah Maurer’s (University of Notre Dame), “Caring for Strangers: The Sketch Writer and the Parish Visitor”. These papers looked at the development of narrative structures that we often see as novelistic–such as the representation of character, and the possibilities of sympathy–in character books kept by businessmen and parish visiting manuals respectively. I had no idea that businessmen kept little black books on people’s characters–this pre-Facebook surveillance on potential employees and clients was fascinating material.
As is inevitably the case, not every Victorian cliché could possibly be covered in the course of a weekend. I would have loved to hear more about the clichés of Victorian criticism (Houghton or perhaps Gubar and Gilbert), or maybe Victorian literature that has become clichéd in our contemporary culture–lines from Tennyson like “In Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” come to mind in this balmy weather. (I will never forget reading “Locksley Hall” for the first time as an undergrad and realizing that the line came from somewhere!) My friend and I also had a great time talking about clichés of Victorian narrative that have made their way into Downton Abbey, but alas, there was no formal analysis of this topic…
What are your favourite Victorian cliches? Are there any you live your life by?
p.s. Next year’s conference, held at Boston University, will be on the theme of “1874”. The year was picked out of a hat out of the 63 years of Victoria’s reign! I love the specificity. Does anything come to mind for you when you hear “1874”?