“Consuming the Victorians” Conference Report

Sophie Raine is a PhD student in English at Lancaster University. She received her BA and MA in English Literature at the University of Sunderland. Her research explores consumerism of marginalised bodies in Victorian Gothic popular fiction, focusing specifically on consumerism of and within the penny dreadfuls. She can be found on Twitter @sophierainebow.

Following on from the BAVS conference dinner the night before, Frank Trentmann gave the final keynote of the conference on Friday morning. Professor Trentmann’s paper ‘Private comfort, public spirit: Victorian consumer culture in a global context’ discussed everything from cleanliness and citizenship to the spiritual value of commodities. Despite exhaustion from the wonderful conference dinner, Professor Trentmann kept myself and others enthralled with his research and was fascinating to watch as his passion for his research interests were clear.

For the final panel, I attended ‘Modes of Production, Consumption and the Case of Christmas’ and felt that I had made an excellent choice as both papers were riveting and explored critical issues regarding consumption that was both interesting and helpful in terms of my own research. The first speaker, Elizabeth Ludlow (Anglia Ruskin University) gave a paper entitled ‘Storytelling at Christmas: Elizabeth Gaskell’s contributions to the “Extra Christmas” numbers of Household Words and All the Year Round‘ which analysed Elizabeth Gaskell’s contribution to Dickens’ collection of seasonal short stories, in relation to the representation of migration and exile. This was enlightening in terms of these tales themselves and how they looked at instant gratification and Christmas values such as empathy, but also the working relationship between Dickens and Gaskell that was revealed during the panelist questions was interesting.

The second paper was given by Josh Poklad, a PhD student from Leeds Trinity University, whose paper ‘‘Fetishized commodities or a fetishized economy? The spectacle of Victorian production’ looked at modes of production in relation to the Great Exhibition of 1851. Josh discussed how previous scholars have attributed commodity fetishism to hidden modes of production as the product is detached the origin of its creation. Overall, the paper was engrossing and offered a fresh perspective on consumerism and class in the nineteenth-century by examining the Crystal Palace.

This was a strong panel to end what was a very insightful and varied conference, one which I will most certainly be attending in the future. The range of research interests at the conference were vast and the panels fascinating. I found that attending BAVS was an invaluable experience that allowed me to be part of the Victorian studies community, sharing research ideas and meeting likeminded researchers.

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