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)



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.**





UTK’s Nancy Henry and Alli Clymer Present at the 2017 NAVSA/AVSA Conference in Florence, Italy

Earlier this summer, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Professor Nancy Henry and PhD student Alli Clymer presented at the 2017 NAVSA/AVSA Supernumerary Conference in Florence, Italy from May 17-20.

The supernumerary conference, organized by professors Dino Franco Felluga (Purdue) and Catherine Robson (NYU), was held at Sir Harold Acton’s La Pietra and featured a plenary lecture titled “Viewereader” by James O. Freedman Professor of Letters Garrett Stewart (Iowa), “material culture” workshops led by scholars on Florence and aspects of the La Pietra collection, as well as panels on a range of topics related to Victorian literature and culture, including a three-part panel series on Charles Darwin led by distinguished Darwinist George Levine (Rutgers).

Nancy Henry and Alli Clymer participated at NAVSA Florence in many ways. On Thursday, May 18, Henry presented a paper titled “‘It was all over with Wildfire’: Horse Accidents in George Eliot” as part of a panel on “The Accidental and the Unexpected in Trollope and Eliot.” Moderated by Clymer, this panel also featured professors Elsie Michie (LSU) and Ellen Rosenman (Univ. of Kentucky), both of whom recently gave lectures at the University of Tennessee through The Nineteenth-Century British Research Seminar.

Michie, Rosenmann, Henry, ClymerLater that day, Clymer also participated in a position-paper seminar on “Science, Technology and Animals,” led by professors Deborah Denenholz Morse (The College of William and Mary) and Matthew Rubery (Queen Mary, University of London). At this seminar, Clymer received encouraging feedback about where to next take her research on “Victorian Ghostbusters” and conversed with fellow Victorianists about their current projects.

On Saturday, May 20, Clymer presented a paper titled “Global Telecommunication and the Shocking Ideas of Edward Bulwer Lytton” as part of a panel moderated by Christopher Keirstead (Auburn University) on “Cosmopolitanism and Globalism.”

Clymer PresentationIn addition to the conference, Henry and Clymer also took part in a series of professionalization workshops before and after the conference designed to help graduate students think critically and strategically about the academic profession, from grants and publications, to jobs and tenure. Henry, alongside professors Robson and Emily Allen (Purdue), led a session titled “Conferences” aimed at helping graduate students succeed at conference proposal writing and making the most of conferences once accepted.

Workshop 1

NAVSA 2017 Professionalization Workshops

NAVSA 2017 Professionalization Workshop

Professionalization Workshop Graduate Students


UTK Celebrates AustenFest April 5-7

This week, April 5-7, The UT AuthorFest series presents the long-anticipated AustenFest, a three-day celebration of the work and the Regency world of Jane Austen, whose characters, including Elizabeth Bennett, Mr. Darcy, Emma Woodhouse, and Catherine Moreland, are among the most beloved in English literature.

AustenFest events will range from public lectures by Austen scholars Peter Sabor (McGill University) and Devoney Looser (Arizona State University), to a marathon reading of Austen’s greatest scenes and a Regency Ball with English Country dancing and desserts.

Although the festival itself will occur from April 5-7, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus has participated in Austen-related activities throughout the semester. In February and March, the Clarence Brown Theatre presented Susanna Centlivre’s The Busy Body , a 1709 comedy by a playwright Austen loved. First editions of Austen’s works and related items from UT’s Special Collections will also continue to be on display in Hodges Library throughout the month of April.

All events are free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted.
AustenFest Poster

AustenFest Event Schedule

Sunday, April 2

Wednesday, April 5

  • 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM: Film screening of Emma
    L&N STEM Academy Lawn
    401 Henley St, Knoxville, TN 37902
    Reading tent and old-fashioned games for children. Seating provided, parking available in the lower KMA lot, free admission, concessions available for a modest price.

Thursday, April 6

All events will take place in the John C. Hodges Library
(Parking available in Volunteer Hall 1525 White Ave.)

  • 3:30 PM: Austen Special Collections Presentation
    Chris Caldwell, Humanities Librarian
    Special Collections
  • 4 PM: Public Lecture: “Jane Austen and the Common Reader: Contemporary Responses to Emma
    Peter Sabor, Professor
    Department of English at McGill University
    Lindsay Young Auditorium
  • 4:45 PM: Announcement of essay contest winners
  • 5:00 PM: Afternoon tea
    Jack Reese Galleria, Hodges Library (RSVP online)

Friday, April 7

  • 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM and 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Tea Blending Workshops with Julia Matson of Bingley’s Teas
    The tea blending workshops cost $25 (to be paid during the workshop), and places must be reserved in advance.  These are limited to 25 people per session. (RSVP Online).
  • 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM: Marathon reading of Jane Austen’s greatest scenes
    Lindsay Young Auditorium, Hodges Library
  • 4:00 PM: Public Lecture: “The Making of Jane Austen”
    Devoney Looser, Professor
    Department of English at Arizona State University
    McClung Tower, Room 1210
    (Parking available in Volunteer Hall 1525 White Ave.)
  • 7:30 PM: Regency Ball, with dance demonstrations, teaching, and English Country dancing and desserts for all (RSVP online)
    Southern Depot, 306 W Depot Ave, Knoxville, TN 37902

Ongoing events

  • Jane Austen Essay Contest – UPDATED
    Undergraduate DEADLINE March 15
    High School DEADLINE February 27 
  • April 3 to May 5, 2017
    Display of Jane Austen first editions and memorabilia
    Special Collections, John C. Hodges Library

For more information, please email, follow #AustenFest, or visit the Austenfest event page on UTK’s Department of English website.