10th March, 2015. After a warm welcome to LJMU from Professor Brian Maidment, Dr Fionualla Dillane from University College Dublin outlined the crux of her discussion. Is the study of periodicals under threat from the ‘new old formalism’ that encourages the researcher to think of the periodical as a ‘training ground’ for writers approaching established forms.
By broaching the muddy waters of genre using the return to formalism, genre, Fionualla suggested, is a methodological tool and a conceptual frame. The study of periodicals has always been interdisciplinary due to the diverse field and contents of periodicals. Fionualla unpacked the concept of new formalism, giving rich analysis of the pivotal texts and argued that a return to formalism privileges the literary, which, by extension, deprivileges other texts defined as lacking literary merit and designated as craft. This is a conservative approach which Fioualla successfully argued is ‘turning back’.
Fionualla argued that the study of periodicals is still at the stage of description rather than explanation and provided a fascinating question of how we would define ‘a text’ within a periodical— is it the essay, the run, the volume? The many-hands mode of production is often overlooked and the mass media creature of the periodical is ignored by the threat of new formalists. Fionualla suggested using genre as relational terms that are historically changeable over time— an interpretative mode not a container. The periodical is both a medium and a communication— it carries the meaning and creates meaning all at once.
The structuring of content in periodicals in relational terms creates meanings within that periodical and to other periodicals outside it. Fionualla then provided us with the periodicals codes of Philpott which determines how each periodical is pitched, each individual text or image is conditioned by the genre frame.
The paper then moved into focus on the journalistic work of George Eliot (or Marian Evans). While many scholars suggest that Evan’s journalism and periodicals were merely a training ground for Evan’s literary experience before novels, Fionualla suggested that we should treat these different forms separately as writing for a different audience, within a different genre, within a different form. Rather than defining periodicals as an enabling space for the development of the writer to be rescued into recognised genres or forms, Fionualla argued that using a genre approach would enable us to look at the periodical holistically, allowing the multiple interlocking aspects to speak for themselves and create their own identity.
Fionualla spent some time highlighting the features of the periodical codes, which provide a means of comparative analysis of periodicals, looking at type setting, the index, contents page, and these types that bring conventions to the periodical to create brand identities and a place for the periodical in the competitive environment of periodical publishing.
The paper produced a rich, interesting discussion about the terms we use to discuss texts, (genre, form, mode, type) and how these terms are used in different disciplines, discussion of the tension between modernist periodicals, and how that was manifested in Victorian periodicals.
Chloe Holand holds an HSS PhD bursary and is in her first year of study, researching the periodical writing of Ellen Wood (Mrs Henry Wood)