Victorian Collaborations Study Day Review: Pt 1

In the following post, Annachiara Cozzi, Matthew Crofts, Alina Ghimpu-Hague, and Charlotte Wadoux give their thoughts on the three panels and the roundtable discussion from the recent VPFA Study Day, Victorian Popular Collaborations (22 May 2017). Nickianne Moody and Joanne Knowles will follow this with a more summative post that will incorporate a discussion of Dr Patricia Pulham’s keynote, ‘Collaborating with the Dead: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Borrowed Prestige’.

 Panel 1: Collaborative Relationships

Alexis Ancona and Jacob Hale

‘Unnatural Selection: Anthropomorphic and Supernatural Animals in Alice Illustrations’

Alice in Wonderland was always intended to be read with pictures. Starting from this premise, Alexis Ancona and Jacob Hale offered us an illuminating paper exploring the role of the illustrations of animals in Alice by three artists: John Tenniel, Ralph Steadman and Salvador Dalí. Illustrators of Alice worked with the text to represent the power struggle between the protagonist and the animals inhabiting Wonderland, thus acting as true co-authors of Lewis Carroll. Ancona and Hale convincingly argued that animals in Alice in Wonderland, in order to be perceived as authority figures, are bestowed anthropomorphic and/or supernatural qualities.

They started with an analysis of Tenniel’s drawings, which depicted Wonderland as a reflection of Victorian society and its strict classism. The White Rabbit, for instance, with his gold watch chain, elegant waistcoat, and stiff collar, represents aristocracy. The Cheshire cat’s authority, instead, is conveyed though the imposition of supernatural characteristics: his mastery of transformation enables him to upset even the authority of the Queen of Hearts.

Steadman’s illustrations have a more modern setting: the White Rabbit now appears as an early- to mid-twentieth-century businessman wearing a bowler hat; the Caterpillar blends anthropomorphic and supernatural qualities, such as huge eyeglasses to symbolise his enhanced inner sight.

In Dalí’s surreal Wonderland, animals who possess authority in the text are depicted with extra-natural traits. Both the White Rabbit and the Caterpillar are portrayed as magnificent explosions of colours, further emphasised by their juxtaposition to more realistic representations of their species. Ancona and Hale thus shed some light on the different ways in which Carroll’s animals were made to convey authority by distancing them from their natural animal identity.


Kimberley Braxton

‘ “to exiled and harassed Anne wishing she was here” – Recovering the Literary Relationship of Anne and Emily Brontë ’

Elizabeth Gaskell’s influential biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë has established a perception of the Brontës as a compact, united family, which has proved difficult to uproot. By looking closely at Anne’s and Emily’s diary entries, Kimberley Braxton challenged this notion: she argued that not enough attention has been dedicated to the personal and literary partnership between Anne and Emily Brontë, a relationship clearly revealed in both their joint and separate diary papers.

Braxton’s compelling paper proved how the connection between the two younger Brontë sisters was particularly strong, and how they were, both in writing and in life, a united pair. For instance, Braxton showed us several diary passages which offered an insight into life at the parsonage, where Anne and Emily’s activities are often contrasted with those of other members of the family: Anne and Emily often sat together writing or slipped out into the privacy of the garden to peruse their papers, while Charlotte emerges from those pages as marginalised. Even when separated (during the time in which Anne was away working as a governess), the two sisters’ joint literary habits and their loyalty to each other persisted. Significantly, a creative burst in Emily’s writing coincided with the return of her sisters to Haworth – but especially Anne’s: reunited with her, Emily’s literary production flourished. Apparently then, Anne’s presence was fundamental for Emily’s writing – and happiness.

In conclusion, Braxton demonstrated, thanks to an accurate study of original documents really worth praising, that the notion of the Brontë siblings as perfectly united is much more complicated and fictional than what tradition has passed down to us. (AC)


Panel 2: Collaborative Authorships

This panel explored collaboration in and outside texts. While Annachiara Cozzi tracked and investigated paratextual evidence of co-authorship, Chris Louttit focused on memoirs from the Bohemian group, revealing a network of authors.


Cozzi’s paper started with a study of an impressive collaborative work, The Fate of Fenella.  The book co-authored by 24 novelists highlights many of the different interests of Cozzi’s paper, including the use of well-known names to advertise the book, as well as the use of their signatures. Cozzi showed us fascinating signatures, highlighting them as important visual elements of paratext. In the early days of collaborative novels, which were often anonymous, the signature would hint at the identity of the authors.

pic2For instance, the above monogram for Somerville and Ross uses a Celtic motif because of the Anglo-Irish origin of the authors. The signature embodies the collaboration as two styles being united into a larger pattern. Cozzi also looked at prefaces highlighting how early collaborative works attempted to assert the unity of their texts while expressing anxieties as to readers’ perception. However, Cozzi argued, this changed in the 1890s, as with the preface of The Fate of Fenella. Thus, Cozzi offered us a convincing analysis of the emergence and boom of collaborative novels during the second half of the nineteenth-century, looking at different strategies to first conceal then assert collaboration which underscores the reception of these works.


Louttit’s paper dealt with Bohemian autobiographical writings, a subject rarely touched upon. Louttit distinguishes between two main forms of life-writing at the time: the spiritual autobiography, an act of interpretation rather than of presentation; and the professional autobiography, a model which testified to a fascination with the figure of the canonical novelist. Louttit offers a third model emerging from the Bohemian group. He suggests that though those texts are rambling, inaccurate, and indulgent they reveal much about authorship. It turns out that the anecdotical, digressive, and gossiping aspect of these autobiographies disclose another engagement with the act of recollection, highlighting a collective existence. Louttit distinguishes three main aspects concerning their form and content. First, Bohemian modesty, especially in the titles (reminiscences rather than autobiography), but also a humility compared to other great men of the time. There is also a disregard for the “writer as machine”; the examples Louttit showed us rarely mention working habits in a serious mode, though Louttit compared his working habits to Gustave Strauss’s i.e. working on wine, coffee, and according to deadlines. Lastly, fraternity and socialising were one of the main focal points for these authors. Louttit took the case of George Hodder, whose sketchy mode of writing emphasises his taking part in a collective experience. Thus, Louttit’s paper showed that this social and fragmented model of life-writing, which broadens and displaces ideas of authorship, responds to the isolated and structured conventional models of life-writing.

pic4During the Q&A session, Cozzi revealed the origin of her documents to primarily be the British Library and catalogues from publishers. She clarified the organisation of the collaborative work that resulted in The Fate of Fenella: the editor organised the writing, contacted the author who wrote the first chapter, then sent the chapter to another author who continued the narrative, and so on. Louttit developed on the creative aspect of these texts, often in conflict with commercial impact as well as on the use of name dropping. The latter, Louttit argued, testifies to a reflection on celebrity and to a sense of being a source for later historians. Louttit revealed that the readership for these texts is not very well-known. (CW)

Panel 3: Collaborative Afterlives

The final panel of the day, titled Collaborative Afterlives, saw the discussion return to one of the core themes explored in the keynote address: the metaphor of the literary author as a problematic medium who reverses the traditional power relations between the messenger and the source, between the present and the past. Both papers included in this session suggest that such a reversal is neither absolute nor definitive, and propose reading the resulting texts not as instances of literary ventriloquism but rather as the outcome of hybrid, often unstable authorship.

This instability of authorship is particularly marked in the work of W.H. Mallock, the central figure in Erin Louttit’s paper on ‘Rewriting the Romans: Adaptive Literary Collaboration, W.H. Mallock’s Lucretius on Life and Death and Edward Fitzgerald’s The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám‘. By superimposing three authorial voices–his own, Lucretius’s and Fitzgerald’s–Mallock produces a text in which overlapping attempts to bridge the linguistic and cultural gaps inherent in the translation of geographically and historically distant sources unwittingly articulate a parallel message that partly undermines the work’s aims. Although Mallock’s socially conservative version of Lucretius does suggest, as intended, that a reliance on fact rather than faith in pursuit of truth is misguided and can only lead to spiritual death, it also brings to the fore the modernity of Lucretius’s interest in science and his relevance to 19th-century debates. Similarly, although presenting Lucretius’s ideas in a recent popular form borrowed from Fitzgerald succeeds in rendering them more accessible, the price of such exposure is distortion due to Mallock’s invasive, highly selective interaction with the Lucretian source text. The result, Louttit argues, is a complex, multi-vocal volume that is neither at odds with its sources nor an accurate version of them.

In contrast, Dan Simmons’s relationship with the ‘recovered’ voice of Wilkie Collins, explored in Charlotte Wadoux’s ‘Ventriloquising the Dickens-Collins collaboration in Dan Simmons’ Drood‘, appears at first glance to be a relatively simple case of neo-Victorian appropriation and transformation – the literary equivalent of a stage illusion which relies on misdirection in order to entertain. Wadoux peers under the surface, however, to reveal a complex network of interactions shaped both by Victorian anxieties regarding the provenance, legitimacy and value of literary products and by similar 21st-century concerns regarding authenticity and authorship. The picture that emerges is one of blurred boundaries between author and reader, between life and fiction, and between commerce and art. Reading and writing collapse into a single gesture effecting a transformation of the self, production and consumption become inseparable aspects of an overarching quest for individual agency. The end result, Wadoux argues, is not empowerment but dissolution and reconfiguration – a process that leads to the creation of a composite author that writes about composite characters: the ‘real’ Simmons merges with the ‘real’ Collins to bring into being a fictional author who, in turn, transforms the ‘real’ Dickens into a character that embodies his own literary creation.(AGH)

Roundtable: Teaching Victorian Popular Collaborations

The end of any conference is usually quiet after a long day, as people surreptitiously begin checking their watches and thinking about catching their trains. The ‘Teaching Victorian Popular Collaborations’ roundtable, however, was a lively and effective close to the day. Dr Kirsty Bunting kicked off proceedings by introducing the room to ‘Consequences’ – a Victorian game in which the players each anonymously contribute a line to a story within specific categories. Three pink pieces of paper were distributed around the room and then filled in. Apart from being immensely amusing, and a piece of cultural history, it was also an excellent example of collaborative writing and for many brought to mind the novel The Fate of Fenella – a novel with each chapter penned by a different writer. Kirsty was forthcoming in sharing her positive experiences in teaching the novel to students, the detective skills it produced in readers, and her incorporation of creative writing. An interesting suggestion was made: should we hide how The Fate of Fenella was written? Would it change what students made of it? One issue in reading it as a collaboration is that students stop reading it as a text in its own right, and only read it as a collaboration – looking for the fractures and scouring each chapter looking for traits of that section’s respective author.

The session was supported by a ‘reading pack’ that was part of each conference pack. Janine encouraged the room to look at her contribution – a series of illustrations from M E Braddon’s short story ‘Good Lady Ducayne’. Whilst the story itself is chiefly medical, the illustrations are full Gothic, complete with a silhouette unanimously identified as belonging to a vampire bat. The illustrations from the publication in The Strand Magazine, as Janine pointed out, completely changed the context and the reader’s response to the piece, which dovetailed nicely with papers earlier in the day about illustrators and authors. The reality of the literature marketplace meant that many texts are collaborative in some way – publishing, editing, and, of course, illustration.

With only three academics in the room teaching collaboration directly the discussion not only heavily featured ideas on how to incorporate collaborative texts into other programs, but also into less obvious types of collaboration – particularly new issues created by new and social media. One such form was the proliferation of famous Victorians and writers who have taken to twitter – despite being long dead. Such accounts are problematic for students, they can be an effective way of making students consider what a nineteenth-century perspective might be, but it is difficult to know if they are reliable. Other modern examples of collaboration used by the room include sitcoms and online fan fiction communities. Collaboration, just like our game of Consequences, is frequently thought of and treated as a game. It only remains to share our three stories (of varying success) that delegates worked together to compose:

Vlad met Sylvie in Paris. ‘Your dog only has three legs’ says Vlad. ‘Would you like to collaborate on that?’ Sylvie responds. The consequence was that he wept bitterly. What a wonderful conclusion to an exhausting day.

Marcus met Queen Victoria in Scotland. He said to her ‘Would you like to go for a swim?’ She said to him, ‘I saw an otter by the river last night!’. The consequence was that Marcus stabbed her. Oh well –another day, another headline.

Charles Dickens and Ethel M. Dell met down the disco. ‘Would you like to take a ride in my carriage to East London? I’m sure we could have a good time!’ said Charles. ‘That is not very gentlemanly of you!’ replied Ethel. Consequently, they ran away to Brazil. Whatever. (MC)



Annachiara Cozzi is a first year PhD candidate at the University of Pavia, Italy. Her research focuses on literary collaboration, and in particular on late Victorian and early-twentieth century co-authored novels published in the UK. She is currently investigating the collaborative trend that took over the literary marketplace during the 1890s. She is studying the works of, among others, Walter Besant and James Rice, E.D. Gerard, Somerville and Ross, F.C. Philips and his collaborators, Rhoda Broughton and Elizabeth Bisland, Justin McCarthy, and Rosa Campbell Praed. Her research interests also include Gothic fiction and the Indian colonial experience.

Matthew Crofts is a PhD candidate at the University of Hull, as well as being a board member for the University’s Centre of Nineteenth-Century Studies. Matthew’s thesis examines the reoccurring elements of tyranny and torture across a range of Gothic novels and historical backgrounds. These include classic Gothic subjects such as the Spanish Inquisition, through to Victorian imperialism, to modern Gothic forms and science fiction hybrids.

 Alina Ghimpu-Hague is PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she also teaches Critical Thinking and Academic Writing Skills. Her research interests include reading, readers and reception, the evolution of genre, and multi-modal narratives from the 19th century to the present. She is currently investigating the impact of tourism and exploration on Victorian entertainment and reading habits, as well as the social and professional networks that facilitated the creation and propagation of the Victorian Nonsense of Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, and W.S. Gilbert.

Charlotte Wadoux is a PhD candidate at both the University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 and the University of Kent at Canterbury as part of a jointly supervised PhD programme (cotutelle). She has been awarded a scholarship from the University of Kent as well as a mobility scholarship from the Conseil Général de l’Oise. Her research bears on contemporary neo-Victorian fiction, especially on the rewriting of Charles Dickens’ novels and the impact of intertextuality on reading praxis. Her dissertation argues that the modern rewritings of Dickens use the detective genre as a mode of writing but also create a particular mode of reading as the reader is asked to “play the detective.” She is the co-editor of this year’s issue of the peer-reviewed postgraduate journal Litterae Mentis and a reviewer for the Paris 3 University postgraduate journal Traits d’Union. She is one of the organisers of the conference “Movement in/and/of the City” to take place on June16th at the University of Kent, Canterbury.