Friday 29 -Saturday 30 January 2021 Popular forms and practices of reading and writing in the Victorian and Edwardian periods International conference organized by the SFEVE (Société Française d’études Victoriennes et Edouardiennes), with the support of IMAGER (Institut des Mondes Anglophone, Germanique et Romans, EA 3958) and Université Paris-Est-Créteil (UPEC)

Université Paris-Est Créteil, UFR des LLSH, Campus Centre, 61 avenue du Général de Gaulle, 94000 Créteil

Contacts : Françoise Dupeyron-Lafay and Fabienne Moine,

Keynote speakers

Kirstie Blair (University of Strathclyde, Scotland)

Fabrice Bensimon (Université Paris Sorbonne)

*Programme :*

*15h :* Ouverture par Laurence Roussillon (présidente de la SFEVE) et

Fabienne Moine (vice-présidente de la SFEVE et co-organisatrice de la


*15h30*: Conférence 1: Kirstie Blair (University of Strathclyde)

« Prating of the Pit: Reading and Writing in the Northern Mining Districts »

Répondant :  Françoise Baillet (Université de Caen Normandie) et Jean-Yves

Tizot (Université de Grenoble Alpes)

*16h30:* Conférence 2: Fabrice Bensimon (Sorbonne Université)

« L’histoire ouvrière au prisme des autobiographies en Grande-Bretagne au

XIXe siècle »

Répondants : Alexandra Sippel (Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès) et Sabine

Reungoat (Université Paris Est Créteil)

*17h30 :* Questions et échanges

The adjective “popular” pertains to three main fields: the social and sociological one (related to the working class and the “people”, in accordance with its etymology), the literary and generic one (popular art and culture), and, broadly, that of reception, when “popular” means well liked, or in vogue and fashionable. It is a wide-ranging, multi-layered, ambivalent, and ideologically connoted notion.

It is used to designate literary and cultural productions that sharply distinguish themselves from more “canonical”, classical, scholarly and highbrow ones. Popular works and texts are “intended for or suited to the understanding or taste of ordinary people”, “as opposed to specialists in a field” (OED entry 4.a), and they encompass “forms of art, music, or culture with general appeal; intended primarily to entertain, please, or amuse” (OED, entry 7b). Popular art, whether or not produced by “the people”, is meant for “the people”, hence the crucial role of “popular” (low-priced) editions and of periodicals as the vehicles of these popular forms of writing in the Victorian period.

The notion constantly hovers in the collective imaginary between the positive (when it is seen as a common, vigorous, level-headed heritage shared by the people), and the negative, as cheap, lowbrow, unrefined, or even vulgar and “plebeian”. Popular culture has, however, amply been rehabilitated by Cultural Studies from the 1960s onwards. Therefore, the aim of this conference is not to contest traditional critical distinctions between “high” and “low”, or to study the forms and modalities of popular literatures and cultures against the aesthetic, intellectual and social norm of the “high”. Our aim, rather, will be to focus on these popular forms of culture for their own sakes.

From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, the dramatic increase in literacy rates, the wider and cheaper circulation of books and newspapers, and the growing interest for reading this fostered, created a high demand for popular works across the social spectrum. This was a particularly favourable context for the emergence and development of popular forms, formats and practices of reading and writing, and the aim of this conference will be to explore the conditions for this emergence and development in the Victorian and Edwardian periods from complementary perspectives.

We wish to address the various modalities of these writing and reading practices, together with their roles, social significance, and the diverse and sometimes heterogeneous motivations accounting for their emergence and development. These popular forms and practices of reading and writing could have an improving mission; besides, they were frequently vehicles for sociability and integration, strengthening the family and communal fabric and a sense of belonging. Or, alternatively, they could also respond to more individual needs and be escapist pastimes and forms of entertainment, or in the case of marginal/ized subjects such as prison or asylum inmates, have curative, liberating and integrating roles.

We welcome proposals from all disciplines (language and literature, cultural studies, history, sociology, visual studies…) which address the modalities and roles of, and the motivations accounting for, these popular forms and practices of reading and writing and we encourage a variety of critical approaches that will highlight the polysemy of the term “popular”.

The following aspects, themes and fields, not merely in isolation but also in their interdependence and various interactions, could be dealt with (but the list is by no means restrictive):

* The various media and channels for the reading, reception and diffusion of popular culture (thanks to the rising literacy rate): the popular press (local newspapers, family or women’s magazines; magazines of domestic economy; periodicals, low-cost publications, W.T. Stead’s Penny Poets, Penny popular novels, Penny weeklies, Penny dreadfuls…), lending libraries…

* The various (non-literary) environments, places, and circles in which these popular forms of writing were produced (and read): coffee houses and factories, Mechanics’ institutes, popular clubs. Analyses focusing on the production and consumption of written works in institutions such as prisons, workhouses, hospitals, or asylums, would be particularly welcome as these places are not traditionally seen as environments conducive to a culture of reading and writing.

* The brevity of the forms adopted because of the publishing media and the conditions of production (material and financial reasons such as time, lighting, cost and availability of paper, ink, or pens, etc.): the short story (ghost or detective stories, for instance), poems, letters, usually short autobiographical texts, and more infrequently, diaries; political pamphlets; “educational” booklets on miscellaneous subjects such as hygiene, gardening, spiritualism, rational recreation, etc.

* The question of minor literary forms and voices within gender, genre, social or political perspectives: underrepresented, undervalued, marginal/ized people (women, the working class, prison or asylum inmates) getting a “voice” through authorship and the practice of writing.

Please send a 300-500-word abstract (for a 25-minute presentation) with a short bio-bibliography to Françoise Dupeyron-Lafay and Fabienne Moine:,

Deadline for submissions: 10 July 2020

Notification of acceptance: 20 July 2020

Publication: A selection of peer-reviewed articles will be published in Cahiers Victoriens et Edouardiens (CVE)

Languages of the Conference: English and French

Scientific committee

Fabrice Bensimon (Sorbonne Université)

Marie-Françoise Cachin (Université de Paris, ex « Paris 7 Diderot »)

Neil Davie (Université Lyon 2)

Laurence Dubois (Université Paris Nanterre)

Cassandra Falke (UiT, The Arctic University of Norway)

Kate Flint (University of Southern California (USC), Dornsife College)

Georges Letissier (Université de Nantes)

Kevin Morrison (University of Connecticut / Henan University, Chine)

Michel Prum (Université de Paris, ex « Paris 7 Diderot »)

Sabine Reungoat (Université Paris Est Créteil)

Laurence Roussillon-Constanty (Université de Pau Pays de l’Adour)

Jean-Yves Tizot (Université Grenoble 3)

Select Bibliography

Altick, Richard D. The English Common Reader. A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800-1900 (1957). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Beetham, Margaret and Kay Boardman, eds. Victorian Women’s Magazines: An Anthology. Manchester: Manchester UP,2001.

Bensimon, Fabrice, ed. Les Sentiers de l’ouvrier. Le Paris des artisans britanniques (autobiographies, 1815-1850). Paris : Éditions de la Sorbonne, 2017.

Bensimon, Fabrice, ed. Bamford Samuel, La Vie d’un radical anglais au temps de Peterloo. Paris : « Histoire », Les Éditions sociales, 2019.

Blair, Kirstie, ed. Class and the Canon. Constructing Labouring-Class Poetry and Poetics, 1780-1900. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Blair, Kirstie, ed. The Poets of The People’s Journal. Newspaper Poetry in Victorian Scotland. Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2016.

Blair, Kirstie. Working Verse in Victorian Scotland: Poetry, Press, Community. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2019.

Cachin, Marie-Françoise. Une nation de lecteurs? La lecture en Angleterre (1815-1945). Villeurbanne : Presses de l’ENSSIB, 2010.

Don Vann, J. and Rosemary T. Van Arsdel, eds. Victorian Periodicals and Victorian Society (1994). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994. 251-277. (See in this volume: Olwen C. Niessen, “Temperance”, 251-277; and Jonathan Rose, “Workers’ Journals”, 301-310).

Falke, Cassandra. Literature by the Working Class. English Autobiographies, 1820-1848. Amherst, New York: Cambria Press, 2013.

Flint, Kate. The Woman Reader 1837-1914. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.

Fraser, Hilary, Stephanie Green, and Judith Johnston. Gender and the Victorian Periodical. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Hobbs, Andrew and Claire Januszewski. “How Local Newspapers Came to Dominate Victorian Poetry Publishing”. Victorian Poetry (Victorian Periodical Poetry, eds. Alison Chapman and Caley Ehnes), Volume 52.1 (Spring 2014): 65-87.

Hoggart, Richard. The Uses of Literacy. Aspects of Working-Class Life (1957). London:        Penguin Modern Classics, 2009.

King, Andrew and John Plunket. Popular Print Media 1820-1900. 3 vols. Routledge, 2004.

Mitchell, Sally. “Reading Class”. Victorian Literature and Culture 33 (2005): 329-337.

Morrison, Kevin. Victorian Poetry and Philanthropy. Reading London’s East End. Edinburgh University Press, Cognella, 2016.

Morrison, Kevin, ed. Companion to Victorian Popular Fiction. Jefferson: McFarland, 2018.

Reed, David. The Popular Magazine in Britain and the United States, 1880-1960. London: The British Library, 1997.

Rose, Jonathan. The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. Newhaven: Yale UP, 2001.

Vicinus, Martha. The Industrial Muse: A Study of Nineteenth Century British Working-Class Literature. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1974.

Vincent, David. Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: a Study of Nineteenth-Century Working-Class Autobiography. London and New York: Methuen, 1981.




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