This year’s postgraduate research seminar, led by the MRes students of the Research Centre, brought together an exciting mix of themes, genres, and periods. As is so often the case, it was a pleasant surprise seeing how well our postgraduates handled their nerves in presenting their work-in-progress to a room full of well-wishing – yet in the speakers’ eyes probably slightly terrifying – academics.
The challenge of being first on the afternoon’s programme was one Liam Mushrow handled competently with a paper entitled “Pullman and Literary Realism: The Sally Lockhart Mysteries”. Focusing on The Lockhart Quartet (1985-1994) and the novels’ move from being marketed first as detective fiction and later as children’s literature, Mushrow’s talk provided a discussion of Philip Pullman representations of violence. More specifically, Mushrow’s careful analysis was concerned with Pullman’s descriptions of violence as a means of achieving narrative realism, raising wider questions about the novels’ claims to “historical authenticity” and their moral and educational responsibilities to young readers.
Moving back in time to the heights of the British Empire, Sam Caddick’s talk introduced us to the fiction of Maud Diver, who produced over 28 pieces of fiction and biography during her career. Caddick’s discussion focused on Diver’s first three novels, which are representative of the writer’s preoccupation with British India: Captain Desmond V.C. (1907), The Great Amulet (1908), and Candles in the Wind (1909). In a intriguing analysis, Caddick demonstrated that Diver did not rely on the popular Orientalist tropes her contemporaries so often utilized. Yet, her writing nevertheless contributed to discourses of British superiority: British rule over India, as Caddick pointed out, is justified by Divers’ characters’ mastery of the challenges the former colony poses in the form of its people, its climate, and its geography; challenges that, for Diver, can be overcome only through imperial values such as bravery, duty, and stoicism.
Krystina Osborne’s talk – “‘Transactions of Gratitude’: Sarah Hall’s Beautiful Indifference to Feminism” – remained in the realm of women’s writing, but leaped ahead into the twenty-first century and to critically acclaimed writer Sarah Hall. Derived from a larger research project on representations of women in female-authored contemporary erotic fiction, Osborne’s talk focused on the sexual and feminist politics of Hall’s short story “The Agency” (2011). Through a commendably careful and insightful close reading, Osborne weighed up the story’s subversive potential with its more traditional depictions of female sexuality, concluding that Hall at least partially succeeds in challenging the traditional binary between femininity and passivity. Yet, Osborne remained cautious of the fact that, in the end, the story’s protagonist’s most satisfying sexual memory remains an encounter with her husband, a narrative conclusion that ultimately reinforces patriarchal ideals of romance.
Laura Parnaby turned our attention to a different medium as well as to a different aspect of gender studies. In her talk “Representations of Fatherhood in Heavy Rain”, Parnaby provided a thorough analysis of the narrative of a 2010 interactive adventure game for the PlayStation 3. Considering the series of moves the game’s structure prescribes and the narrative resulting from them, Parnaby suggested that although the game does promote a more active, involved father role, it also often replicates and reinforces gender stereotypes, including the notion of the hysterical, irrational mother and that of the rational, sensible father.
The presentation that concluded the seminar was Elliot Clifford’s “Remoulding the self’s relationship with ‘productivity’ and modernity in Philip K. Dick’s Galactic Pot-Healer”. Examining Galactic Pot-Healer (1969) and its engagement with the Faustian narrative, Clifford argued that Dick’s use of Goethe’s notion of modernity highlights Galactic Pot-Healer’s representation of America as a modernity driven by “development for development’s sake”, offering – like other texts by Dick – an optimistic form of cultural salvation that is “in keeping with the counter-cultural optimism of the period”.
While for our postgraduates this research seminar proved a valuable occasion on which they were able to test and successfully prove their ability to communicate their research and their enthusiasm for it, overall the session evidenced the original and exciting work that is being done on the MRes and at the intersections of literary studies and cultural history.
Dr Nadine Muller
Nadine joined LJMU English staff in July 2012. She is organiser of our forthcoming Neo-Victorian Cultures Conference: