Reading Like a Victorian: Audrey Cheatham

The following is a reflection written by MA student Audrey Cheatham after reading and discussing Armadale, Book Two, Chapters Three and Four (originally published April of 1865).  This reflection is part of the Nineteenth-Century British Research Seminar’s experiment with reading Wilkie Collins’s Armadale “like a Victorian,” or in its original serialized parts.  More information about our group’s experiment can be found here.

Reading Chapters III and IV in Book Two of Armadale together with Brent’s post below brought up a fascinating point for me about the nature of serialization.  Since Robyn Warhol’s talk here at UTK last September, I have been thinking about how to conceptualize the individual segments that make up a serialized novel.  Warhol’s talk dealt primarily with the effects of serialized reading on an audience; Brent’s point about unity—and the possibility of reading each serial installment as a coherent narrative whole—illuminated for me a new way of reading the novel’s epistolary motif.  Given how important correspondence is to the novel’s movement, it may not be such a leap to conceptualize the novel’s serial installments as a kind of correspondence. Of course the novel’s plot hinges on letters—concealed letters, scheming letters, letters sent too early or too late or to the wrong recipient.  (Someone in discussion brought up the point that in our modern world of mobile phones and instant messaging, the novel’s plot as it stands would evaporate.) There are smaller letters too, however, less crucial to the plot but no less crucial to the social world in which each Allan Armadale must operate.

Chapter III finds Allan’s and Midwinter’s troubles with the country community around Thorpe Ambrose begun by a series of letters.  Neither realizing nor caring for the importance of public image to a gentlemen in the country, Allan trivializes local correspondence.  It is Midwinter who must bring Allan’s notice “a little impatiently to a letter lying on the breakfast-table” (ch. 3), read Pedgift’s self-recommendation aloud to force Allan’s attention, and ask after Mr. Darch’s response to Allan’s message when Allan is “too lazy to put the question for himself” (ch. 3).  Understanding as well the importance of reputation (less charitably called gossip, that most ubiquitous and unreliable of correspondences), Midwinter insists that Allan treat the issues of local opinion seriously, and that he respond promptly to any perceptions of impropriety. Allan has all of the activity and none of the thoughtfulness required of a landed gentleman in the country, while Midwinter possesses an understanding of local politics with none of Allan’s power to respond; thus, when Allan does act to respond to local correspondence, he does so in exactly the wrong way.

Allan’s response to Mr. Darch’s rejection of engagement as Allan’s legal adviser is as prompt as could be.  He calls out “Stop the messenger!” (ch. 3) and responds then and there, but his response only inflames the series of contentious misunderstandings.  When Midwinter finally returns to urge caution it is too late; to Midwinter’s “Where is your answer to his letter?” Allan replies “Gone!” (ch. 3). They cannot take back the message now, whatever the consequences.  (In the modern world, this intemperate response to ill-temper might be like sending that all-to-honest drunk text message to your boss, and more closely resembles problems of our own time than the slow correspondence of the rest of the novel.)  Allan’s response to the offense of the neighborhood at his evasion of their public welcome is similarly thoughtless, with Allan utterly failing to read the room at any of the houses he visits. In making his excuses he trivializes what he calls “speechifying” (ch. 4), the very thing in which the locals take pride, and declares that he does not “care two straws about hunting or shooting” (ch. 4), the chief recreations of country gentlemen.

Allan’s misreadings of communication, whether written, oral, or nonverbal, cost him a reliable local support network, which opens him up further to the machinations of someone like Lydia Gwilt.  Correspondence involving Lydia in Chapter IV returns the issue of letters once again to the larger drama of the novel’s plot. The consequences of Miss Milroy’s ill-fated change to her father’s advertisement for a governess have come to fruition—Lydia is coming to Thorpe Ambrose, well ahead of any possibility for suspicion.  Timing is once more at fault. In Chapter III and the beginning of Chapter IV, local correspondence moves quickly (perhaps too quickly)—Allan rushes off his two messages to Mr. Darch, engages Pedgift, further troubles the waters of local opinion, and sends strawberries to Mrs. Milroy all in one long (and presumably difficult on Richard’s feet) day.  At the end of Chapter IV, the trouble becomes the opposite. The pieces can come together only so quickly, and Mr. Brock, Midwinter, Allan, and the Milroys all fail to pool their various pieces of information in time. If only Mr. Brock had Google and an Instant Messaging system; if only Midwinter could send emails chasing after Allan’s hasty decisions; if only Lydia Gwilt were in a facial recognition database of known con artists.

Alas, they are as hampered by time and distance from “reading ahead” in Lydia’s plot as Collins’ readers would have been, and this is where the nature of serialization begins to resemble a kind of correspondence.  For me as a reader, confined to reading “like a Victorian” (without leave to read ahead), this installment of Chapters III and IV becomes a letter, with Collins dispensing local gossip, recommending (or recommending against) particular characters, and filling in key pieces of Lydia Gwilt’s puzzle, paralleling the purposes of the letters in the novel itself.  Like Midwinter, I must wait on Mr. Brock’s further discoveries and the postal system—or, in my case, the timing of the publisher—which will deliver them. Across the troublesome distances of time and space, Wilkie Collins is performing a type of correspondence with his readers; the novel’s serial installments are his letters of news, this elaborate piece of English gossip Collins’ to impart, expecting response in the purchase of the next installment.  The reader no more knows “how this strange discovery is to end” (ch. 4) than Mr. Brock does. I suppose I will have to wait for Collins’ next letter to find out.


Allen Shearer’s “Middlemarch in Spring” to be Performed at the Bijou Theater, April 13-15

The UT Opera Theater will be performing “Middlemarch in Spring” at Knoxville’s Bijou Theater on April 13-15.

“Middlemarch in Spring” is a chamber opera created by composer and baritone Allen Shearer and librettist Claudia Stevens.  In this stirring yet often lighthearted opera, George Eliot’s towering literary work comes to life with powerful imagery and compelling music. One unforgettable spring in the town of Middlemarch, passionate love and political upheaval are brewing. Dorothea Brooke, an idealistic woman who hopes to improve the world, naively marries the scholar Casaubon for his “great mind” and is devastated when he turns out to be cold, shallow and not very bright. But in spring, anything can happen. Could Dorothea have a second chance at happiness with the dashing, eminently unsuitable Will Ladislaw? The odds are stacked against her.

Middlemarch Postcard_CORRECTED COVER

In addition to the four performances of the opera (listed below), the Saturday, April 14 evening performance will include a pre-opera discussion with the composer and librettist from 7 – 7:40 p.m. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for this 1-time event.

Performance times include:
Friday, April 13, 2018 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, April 14, 2018 at 2:30 and 8 p.m.
Sunday, April 15, 2018 at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors 60+, and $5 for students with a school ID and youth under 18.

For more information, please see the Facebook page for the event.

Reading Like a Victorian: Josh Dobbs

The following is a reflection written by PhD student Josh Dobbs after reading and discussing Armadale, Book Two, Chapter Two (Originally published March of 1865). This reflection is part of the Nineteenth-Century British Research Seminar’s experiment with reading Wilkie Collins’s Armadale “like a Victorian,” or in its original serialized parts. More information about our group’s experiment can be found here.

I reached the end of Book the Second, Chapter II of Armadale, and found myself struggling to stop.  Being of the post-Victorian age, fighting the urge to continue reading the next chapter was an odd experience for me.  In the back of my brain, I know the process through which these serialized novels were published and released for consumption by the reading public, but that knowledge didn’t prepare me for the abrupt ending of each installment of Armadale.  I don’t mean abrupt endings such as those in Stratemeyer’s Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys adventures, in which he intentionally planned for each chapter to end with a cliffhanger to drive the curiosity of young readers and keep them focused on his books, constantly starting a new chapter to see the resolution of the hair-raising moment that the previous chapter ended with.  No, Collins isn’t using such cliffhangers to drive his audience’s curiosity, but rather weaving an elaborate mystery for his readers, a mystery that the reader wants to see resolved, hopefully in the best way possible for the protagonists.

What I mean by the abrupt ending is “I want to continue but I cannot!”  This puts me in mind of the comic books of my childhood.  I wasn’t one of those kids that bought out the store each month, collecting everything that was released and thus ensuring that I’d have plenty to read until the new releases arrived the next month.  Instead, I was a faithful fanatic following a few titles alone.  Each month, I would pick up those few titles, read them in a couple days, and find myself having to wait the rest of the month to see where the story went next.  Each month, I neared the end of a comic book with mixed emotions.  I wanted to hurry up through the last few pages and see how this issue resolved itself, but I could also see that I was in the last few pages and would want to savor them, afraid that they were coming too soon and that I would soon have nothing further to read, at least until next month.

I found myself similarly approaching my book mark in Armadale, in a rush to see what would happen next in the story, but dreading reaching that bookmark and not being able to proceed further (at least if I wanted to abide by the rules of this experiment).  The letters in Book 2, chapter 1 were enlightening, especially in establishing the plot between Lydia and Mrs. Oldershaw.  The veiled lady is now poised to enter the lives of Allan and Ozias, her red scarf warning of impending troubles, though what those might be are still a mystery.  And, in chapter 2, Allan is falling for young Miss Milroy, seemingly throwing a wrench into the Lydia’s scheme.  How she will deal with this wrench once she reaches Thorpe-Ambrose, for indeed, with the advertisement in the paper landing squarely on Oldershaw’s doorstep in the chapter’s final line, she must arrive soon at Thorpe-Ambrose, is still a mystery as well.  I savored those juicy revelations that this installment gave me, but I lamented not being able to progress further, as I am so very used to doing as an English major in a post-Victorian world.  Not being able to continue reading a novel because I simply cannot, and not just because it is inconvenient in the moment, is a new experience for me.  I want to continue, to determine if Allan’s dream is prophetic or not, to determine if Ozias can overcome the cycle established by his father, and to see what is to ultimately be the fate of the Armadale name and family.

Were I a Victorian, I would definitely run out and buy the next installment of Armadale as soon as it was released.  I am not…maybe I’ll peek at what happens next.  But, I shouldn’t, right?  I hate reading like a Victorian, since it stinks to have to delay my gratification until the next installment.  I love reading like a Victorian, since I get to leave myself in the blissful agony of suspense until the next installment.


Reading Like a Victorian: Brent Robida

The following is a reflection written by Post-Doctoral Lecturer Brent Robida after reading and discussing Armadale, Prologue (Originally published November of 1864). This reflection is part of the Nineteenth-Century British Research Seminar’s experiment with reading Wilkie Collins’s Armadale “like a Victorian,” or in its original serialized parts. More information about our group’s experiment can be found here.

I’m very impressed with Collins’s “labyrinth of linkages” (Tolstoy). Though, keeping the endless plot revelations and twists straight is a challenging task. For a c19 audience who hadn’t looked into Armadale for a while, this task must have been even more challenging, if more familiar as well. Perhaps Ozias Midwinter’s (I always think of Ozymandias) madness is Collins’s merciful recognition of our experience as readers. But then there are sign-posts and markers aplenty recalling previous characters, actions and events. In fact, I think the epistolary motif lends itself well to a certain memorializing strain. The shock and impact of the letter affects character and reader alike, in the sense that the letter need only be mentioned for its gist to reappear. And a story that hinges so heavily on likenesses, timing, destiny and the question of who is the “real” Armadale and who gets to decide it, does well to include the two very conscientious characters, Mr. Neal and Mr. Brock (each of whom, I believe, would make fine storytellers themselves).

Plot conscientiousness too probably reflects the nature of the serialized form. Perhaps an author of Dickens’s genius, who transfixes and hypnotizes his reader, can get away with less emphasis on systematizing time, place and action, but for one like Collins who is so committed to painting the transparent tapestry of the linear, more attention is demanded from author and reader alike. (I say this in regard to Armadale alone, since I’ve read nothing else of his, and only Armadale thus far into the story). The attention given to the narrative pays off and I’m enjoying this book much more than I expected to.

The anticipatory beats sounded off by this or that mysterious character’s entrance onto the stage is partly responsible for my interest, I think. Collins seems a master of generating deferred gratification in his audience, to such a degree that at times we’re almost certain we know where he’s taking us, or at least to whom he is taking us, but we still insist on going along for the ride. I begin to align my own readerly with Collins’s writerly intentions–toward the end. This sounds obvious, but I think this hovering consciousness of climax is what allows us to willingly, and enjoyably, finish any book. Though as we discussed at our previous meeting, these authors might not always have known where or when their book’s end was.

I brought up Poe’s “Philosophy of Composition” (which incidentally begins with Charles Dickens – and I read somewhere, Wikipedia maybe, that T. S. Eliot remarked that it was Collins and not Poe who invented the Detective genre) at our last meeting. His famous “principle of unity” says in part the following, and I quote from different places in the essay: “If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression…It appears evident, then, that there is a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art — the limit of a single sitting — and that, although in certain classes of prose composition, such as “Robinson Crusoe,” (demanding no unity,) this limit may be advantageously overpassed, it can never properly be overpassed in a poem…What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of brief ones — that is to say, of brief poetical effects.” The temporal limit Poe talks about strains to the point of breaking in the case of a serialized novel, but then he also says that a long poem is a bunch of short ones (he was talking of Paradise Lost, of which he says half has the effect of prose – and can you really disagree with him there, if you’ve ever tried the whole thing at once?).

What I’m getting at is whether we should look at Collins’s separately published parts as short stories, or novellas, or some kind of completed narrative whole (which, now that I think of it, is what the serialized genre is in the first place), with the cliffhanger and dopamine hit of anticipatory “Next week on Armadale”-ness substituted for the dénouement. This seems obvious, I think, in light of our contemporary entertainment industry and culture. I think of the way The Sopranos ended, the infamous cut to black in medias res. Perhaps the show’s creator just got tired of serializing it over and over again. I’m also reminded of the desperation that media distributors currently find themselves in, since the demand for content simply cannot be filled. This is good for the consumer, I suppose, since it allows for all kinds of shows suited to diverse tastes and audiences, yet every time I wade through Netflix’s catalogue, I can’t find a single thing to watch. I wonder if Hollywood started to serialize single motion pictures 30 minutes at a time over several weekends whether the quality of mainstream film would improve. Or maybe ticket prices would decrease. At least I have Armadale to look forward to.

19C Seminar Reads Like Victorians

This year, the Nineteenth-Century British Research Seminar at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will be engaging in a reading experiment using the website “Reading Like a Victorian,” developed by Ohio State University’s Professor Robyn Warhol and PhD Candidate Colleen Morrissey. The site makes it easy to read serial installments of Victorian novels alongside installments of other novels that were appearing in the same “serial moment,” or month and year.

In addition to Warhol’s visit to UTK to speak about her project, in her talk “Reading Like a Victorian: A Digital Way to Recreate the Serial Moment,” the 19th Century Seminar will read Wilkie Collins’s Armadale (1864) in its originally serialized parts. After each meeting, a group member will then contribute a reflection on their experience of reading Armadale like a Victorian.

To follow our experiment, check back here to read the latest reflection!

Brent Robida: Armadale, Prologue (Originally published November of 1864)

Josh Dobbs: Armadale, Book Two, Chapter Two (Originally published March of 1865)

Audrey Cheatham: Armadale, Book Two, Chapters Three and Four (Originally published April of 1865)

Robyn Warhol to Speak at UTK on Sept. 20

This Wednesday, September 20, Robyn Warhol (Ohio State University) will give a talk titled “Reading Like a Victorian: A Digital Way to Recreate the Serial Moment” at 3:30 pm in 1210 McClung.

Her talk will address her current project, the website “Reading Like a Victorian” (, a collaboration with PhD Candidate Colleen Morrissey. The site makes it easy to read serial installments of Victorian novels alongside installments of other novels that were appearing in the same “serial moment,” or month and year.

Warhol Flier-1
Robyn Warhol is a College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English and Chair of English at The Ohio State University. She has published widely in the fields of narrative studies, feminist theory, television narrative, graphic memoir, and seriality studies. Her recent publications include Narrative Theory Unbound: Queer and Feminist Interventions (2015), co-edited with Susan S. Lanser (Brandeis) and Love Among the Archives: Writing the Lives of George Scharf, Victorian Bachelor (2015), co-authored with Helena Michie (Rice), which won the 2015 NAVSA Best Book of the Year award.

Her recent articles address the construction of fictional space in Dickens’s Bleak House; “reality effects” in mockumentaries like NBC’s *The Office* and in so-called reality-TV shows such as The Real Housewives series; and on narrative innovations in Netflix series intended for binge watching.

2017 Dickens Universe

Earlier this month, Professor Nancy Henry and graduate students Staci Poston Conner, Julie Cruz, and Alli Clymer attended Dickens Universe at the University of California-Santa Cruz. For the first time, this year’s conference centered on a novel not written by Dickens, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and raised cross-disciplinary questions about Eliot, Dickens, Victorian studies, and the field’s role in academia more generally.

Nancy Henry has been taking graduate students with her to the “Universe” since 2009, when she joined the UTK faculty. As first co-organizer of this year’s event, Henry, along with Jonathan Grossman (UCLA), selected such lecturers as David Kurnick (Rutgers University), Jill Galvan (Ohio State University), Helena Michie (Rice University), and George Levine (Rutgers University).

This year’s UT participants also attended a three-day conference prior to the Universe titled “Form and Reform,” which featured a series of talks, panels, and synthesis sessions discussing the “form” of Victorian reform as well as the ways in which current debates about form and formalism in Victorian Studies open the door to this dimension of the word “reform,” and they urge us to re-consider their relation.

Clymer-Conner Eliot Universe

Clymer and Conner in front of this year’s banner

In-between the the lectures that bookended most days, Universe scholars from across the world participated in literary and professional seminars, workshops, and various other activities.

Graduate student Staci Poston Conner attended a graduate student seminar led by James Buzard (MIT) and Monique Morgan (Indiana University-Bloomington):

“The seminar provided time to discuss Middlemarch in detail, much in the way we would in the classroom but with a focus on topics that had been brought up in other lectures and discussions during the conference. We were able to spend time with individual paragraphs and sentences, engaging in close reading activities that enhanced our understanding and appreciation of the novel, ranging from the well-loved ‘squirrel’s heartbeat’ passage to the little-discussed character Timothy Cooper. James and Monique led and contributed to helpful discussions while also keeping us on topic as we attempted (but, much like Middlemarch’s Casaubon, ultimately failed) to make it through the ‘topics to discuss’ list we covered the chalkboard with during our first meeting.”

Staci also participated in a publication workshop led by Ryan Fong (Kalamazoo College) and Kathleen Frederickson (UC-Davis):

“In this extremely helpful publication workshop, we started by talking about ‘blocks’ to publishing, which let us air our anxieties about everything from the job market to time management. We discussed genre issues, such as the differences between a seminar paper, journal article, and dissertation chapter. We also focused on different types of journals in order to better understand how articles can be framed differently for those focused on an historical period versus those focused on a specific genre or author. Ryan and Kathleen led us through exercises to determine what part of our arguments might be ‘portable’ for this purpose and prompted us to voice our ideas in new ways. Jonathan Grossman, Rae Greiner, and Monique Morgan visited on the last day and provided a behind-the-scenes view of academic journals from editors’ perspectives. They offered practical advice ranging from choosing publications to understanding readers’ reports.”

During this busy week, Staci also attended the one-day professionalization seminar on dissertations led by Catherine Robson (NYU).

“She organized the session around the different shapes that a large writing project can take, drawing out her own dissertation and book projects on the chalkboard as examples. Catherine described various ways to think of organizing or shaping projects, such as a historical arc, a case study, a funnel, an explosion, or even a fractal. Towards the end of the session, students who wanted to share were encouraged to map their own projects out on the board. This part of the session was immensely helpful, as we got to see three different dissertations-in-progress put into shapes on the board while Catherine offered helpful guiding questions and suggestions for ways to position and draw ideas. This session helped me think about my own dissertation in new ways, giving me ideas for mapping exercises that will not only help me organize my ideas but also conceptualize my larger project.”

Conner-Cruz Santa Cruz Beach

Conner, Cruz, and graduate student Emily Corey (OSU) enjoying a well-earned break at the beach

Julie Cruz, on the other hand, attended a graduate seminar led by Zoe Beenstock (University of Haifa) and David Kurnick (Rutgers University):

“Attending the graduate seminar allowed me to dive into the complicated tone of the narrator in Middlemarch, examining passages of humor and irony aimed at both the characters in the book as well as, at times, the reader. As a group, we discussed the impact of a narrator with an intentionally disguised tone at times, reflecting on how the narrator functions in conjunction with larger thematic qualities. The seminar allowed me to express my particular area of interest in the novel while getting feedback from others on how I constructed my ideas. This, along with several other discussion opportunities throughout the week, let me network with fellow graduate students attending other universities, a number of whom I am still in contact with.”

Julie also attended a seminar on delivering conference papers led by Robyn Warhol (Ohio State University) and Simon Rennie (University of Exeter):

“The seminar on delivering papers delved into both political and practical issues. We began the seminar by discussing up-speak and voice fry, as well as the gendering controversy surrounding the acceptable use of such speech patterns. Then we moved onto the practical issues: what do you do if you realize mid-presentation that you are missing pages? (bring an outline with you and have all topic sentences memorized); how do you monitor pacing and adjust your paper as time runs out (mark places in the paper in which to pause and paragraphs which can be skipped). These tips and tricks made me much less nervous about delivering a paper, and also allowed me to think through the role presentations and conference papers play in the profession. I was able to think through my delivery style so that, in the future, more of the focus will be on what I say, not on how I say it.”

Graduate student Alli Clymer, however, took on a different role at this year’s Dickens Universe. Serving as one of the “Cruise Directors,” or graduate social organizers, along with Frances Molyneux (Stanford University) and Darby Walters (USC):

“As a Dickens Universe Cruise Director, I planned and facilitated daily events for graduate and faculty to network and socialize during this week-long conference. Our ultimate goal was to provide fun and innovative opportunities for attendees to engage creatively and collaboratively with this year’s selected novel, Eliot’s Middlemarch, and cultivate meaningful social and professional relationships.”

Victorian Ball ProgramAlthough most of the Dickens Universe days were filled with lectures, talks, workshops, and seminars, the UTK attendees also made time for the Universe’s festive activities, including PPPs (post-prandial potations), Victorian high teas, a Grand Party filled with extravagant cheeses and desserts, and a Victorian dance (with period dress, music, and dancing!).

Students who attend the Universe are also fully funded for attendance at the corresponding Dickens Project Winter Conference the following year.

**UT students need not be specialists in Dickens or even in Victorian literature to attend the conference, but students who have attended the Universe have also participated in the Nineteenth-Century British Research Seminar. Applications to represent UTK at the Dickens Universe are usually solicited in February by Professor Nancy Henry.**