Hello @wethehumanities associates. My name is Peter Jones and I am very much looking forward to adding my voice to this edifying fifth column of tech-savvy humanists.
I should kick off by disclosing that I harbour an esoteric appreciation for the experience of eating a well-constructed cheese and tomato sandwich or reading out-of-the-way late Victorian triple-decker novels on the 176 double-decker bus, while the streets of south-east London skate past the window. I have also built up an enduring affection for Queen Mary University and Mile End, where I studied for a decade or so. After completing a BA in the Department of English and an MA in London Studies in the School of Geography, I found myself purposefully straying towards the noises, off-cuts and superfluities of Victorian street life. I subsequently returned to the English Department to pursue a PhD (supervised by Sam Halliday and Markman Ellis) which analysed the value of rootless outsiders and street people as narrative discrepancies who disrupted domestic plots and, I argued, gave rise to a displaced or vagrant conception of Victorian London as an ‘unsettled’ metropolis.
Since my doctorate was awarded in May 2014, I have occupied the early career scholar’s domain. This has involved much switching of professional hats in an attempt to find the cap that fits most snugly. I haven’t had any luck with this search as we speak, but temporary roles have brought about many unexpected encounters and fortuities. For the last five years, I’ve enjoyed working as a TA and reading between the lines of Victorian and modern novels with talented undergraduates at Queen Mary. In the early dawn at Billingsgate’s Seafood School I’ve eaten Kedgeree and discussed the history of the London fish trade with American ‘Study Abroad’ students and market traders. For the Brilliant Club educational charity, I orchestrated a performance of the ‘south London Saga’ in the gardens of the Horniman Museum. This was put together by a company of young impresarios from Oasis South Bank Academy and based upon characters in Victorian melodrama and suburban romances.
The work of delivering London history courses has given considerable grist to the mill of my research activities, which currently fall approximately into two strands. The first of these relates to the historiography of street trade and its relation to axiomatic narratives of urban reform. I have published a long review article which follows the tracks of ‘night-seekers’ who clustered around the glow of the London coffee-stall during the Edwardian era, and an award-winning article about the history of the street market that is due to appear in the London Journal in Autumn 2015. The second is a major monograph project which will enrich the static historical conception of south London as a ‘drab monolith’ by reassessing the peripheral status accorded to the forms of ‘transpontine’ pleasure and commerce that emerged from key cultural junctions including Lambeth, Walworth, Camberwell and the Crystal Palace.
In January 2012 I founded the Literary London Reading Group, which has hosted sessions on topics as diverse as the Bishop’s ban of 1599, rent strike pamphlets and queer suburban fictions (@London_rg). This event continues on a regular basis at Senate House and is going from strength to strength under the auspices of Lisa Robertson (Warwick) and Eliza Cubitt (UCL). I have now taken on the mantel of organizer for the Literary London Society’s annual international conference. @wethehumanities organizers have kindly supported my intrepid (possibly crackpot) request to tweet throughout this year’s conference. I will therefore be reporting on the sentimental highs (and lovelorn lows) from this event, the theme of which is ‘London in Love’. The much-esteemed @avoiding_bears has pointed out the similarity of this theme to a certain track by Blur, and I can now officially confirm that we do not have a panel called ‘the mystery of a speeding car’ or ‘the way we just don’t stand a chance’, but we do have ‘The Devotion and Drive for London’ and ‘Breaking Love’s Safety Net in Contemporary London’ if that’s any help.
So, from 22-24 July, expect a smattering of scheduled tweets alongside a variety of highlights from the sidelines of the conference (the hashtag for which is #litlon.) You will not be bombarded with irrelevant procedural information, which will be safely sequestered behind the @LiteraryLondon twitter handle.
The plan for the remainder of the week is as follows:
1. To speak about the groundwork which frames my study of south London. What types of associations, anecdotes and historical details are evoked amongst @wethehumanities respondents by the idea of ‘London below the bridges’? What places and questions are brought to bear when we consider those illegitimate, secondary, suburban or ancillary regions which have been thought of as ‘out of pattern’ with the fabric of modern globalized cities?
2. To reflect in a ruminative fashion upon windows, novels and cities, following Henry James’s elegant notion of the ‘house of fiction’ which ‘has in short not one window, but a million—a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, of is still pierecable, in its vast front, by the need of individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will’.[i] What happens when we get wind of anomalous rumours, compelling glimpses, and insidious odours, which drift through the opening transecting the turbulent street and the apparent quietude of the domestic interior? What can we glean through windowpanes which are hastily unlatched, misted over, or held tightly shut in the stories of Margaret Oliphant, Emile Zola, Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Gissing, Arthur Machen and Henry James?
3. To support all this spirited dialogue with the maximum amount of enticing quoted textual, visual and audible material (out of copyright of course).
See you on the other side of the glass!
[i] Preface to Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, <https://archive.org/stream/portraitoflady01jameuoft#page/n13/mode/2up>