Current Projects


Project 1:

Victorian Hong Kong through the Traveller’s Lens

This project looks at about two dozen English-language travel pieces, produced during Queen Victoria’s reign, which describe various travellers’ impressions of the crown colony of Hong Kong. It investigates the descriptions in these westerners’ travelogues and tales through the critical concept of ‘mobility’; concepts which may, depending on context, relate to Hong Kong’s movement in the areas of money and goods, the infrastructure and transport system, or intercultural exchange (or lack thereof). The overall project situates itself in the larger current academic enquiry about the ‘global’ nature or side of the Victorians.

Note that the ‘genre’ of the travelogue has always had, and will continue to have, somewhat fluid aesthetic boundaries, which is part of its attraction and also ensues a continued debate about what exactly makes this genre distinct. The travel text, in my project, may be a report, a series of letters (public or private), a memoir, an academic work that contains travel anecdotes, and even a fictionalised tale of travelling. Also note that the project comprises better known figures like James Legge, Albert Smith, Constance Cumming, Isabella Bird and Rudyard Kipling, Sir Henry Arthur Blake, and also lesser-known writers, who often used pseudonyms.

Hence, the critical framework – notions of ‘mobility’ within the Hong Kong travelogue – necessitates contextualisation both within the context of genre – the travelogue’s trajectory from home to abroad back to a home, and also its descriptive leaps and bounds – and a relation to content: the descriptions of global, cosmopolitan, transnational movement that relates to Hong Kong life, culture, trade, traffic and transport during the Victorian era.

 

Project 2:

Realism: A Comparative Study of Selected German and British Authors

Justifying his own Anglo-German path and critical agenda, Oxford Comparative Philologist Max Müller wrote in the Preface to his 1886 survey on The German Classics from the 4th to the 19th Century: ‘There is no country where so much interest is taken in the literature of Germany as in England, as there is no country where the literature of England is so much appreciated as in Germany. Some of our modern classics, whether poets or philosophers, are read by Englishmen with the same attention as their own; and the historians, the novel-writers, and the poets of England have exercised, and continue to exercise, a most powerful and beneficial influence on the people of Germany. In recent times, the literature of the two countries has almost grown into one’. While the final sentence might contain an exaggeration, Müller was certainly right to point out the high affinities between contemporary English and German literature: the novel had reached its mature form in both cultures and become the dominant genre, and realism was its preferred modality on both sides of the channel.

That there was a pronounced interest in German literature and aesthetics in Britain after 1830 is evident: chairs in German at University College and King’s College London (1828 and 1831) attest to this interest as much as the many articles on German writing in British literary magazines (e.g. Monthly and Quarterly Review, Foreign Review, Blackwood’s Magazine). From their biographies we are also aware of the intense preoccupation of a few British writers with German literature and thought: Carlyle, Lewes, George Eliot, Meredith and Moore kept abreast of continental literature, read new works and even translated some.

On the German side, we have a similar discussion of British literature in journals (e.g. Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, Magazin für die Literatur des Auslandes, Der Salon für Literatur, Kunst und Gesellschaft, Die Grenzboten), as well as the substantial academic work of individuals like Müller, Johannes Scherr or Julian Schmidt. Among the novelists, Raabe and Ludwig benchmarked themselves playfully against their English colleagues, while Fontane’s travels in and writing about Britain are well known.

While the cross-fertilisation of aesthetic thinking has been well-documented for Romanticism, the picture looks different when we move a few decades further into the nineteenth century and scrutinise the Victorian era in Britain and, in Germany, the period after the 1848 Revolution. Here, the Anglo-German relationship and the reciprocal reception and negotiation of aesthetic ideas, forms and genres is virtually undocumented. This project thus traces the cross-fertilisation of aesthetic thought and practice – specifically, the idea and method of novelistic realism – in nineteenth-century Britain and Germany. An Introduction will provide the backdrop of the socio-historical and political conditions which gave rise to realism in the two countries, provide an analysis of the key contemporary treatises on realism, as well as merge these findings with a more philosophical, aesthetic enquiry into representational realism and its challenges. In four chapters, one or two Victorian novelist(s) are then paired up with one or two matching nineteenth-century German author(s), to see how the realistic modality finds expression in key novels.

(Re-)turning to the practice of comparative philology, this project is a crucial scholarly reminder that the Victorian novel and German realist fiction did not exist in a national cultural vacuum but were in constant negotiation with each other, often via other important players, such as France or Russia. In a unique manner, this project combines the theorisation of this aesthetic contact – with a focus on novelistic realism – with the detailed analysis of key texts, ideas and authors.

 

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Last updated: 10 April 2017