The ‘Enchanted Edwardians’ conference which was held on 30th and the 31st of March 2015 was supported by the University of Bristol’s Alumni. It was in part due to their support that the conference was made possible. As well as the Alumni contribution, BIRTHA also contributed financially but aside from such practicalities I am indebted to my Art History colleagues, Sophie Hatchwell, Dr. Sam Shaw, and Dr. Sarah Shaw without whom the event would definitely not have come to fruition. I am extremely grateful for their invitation to collaborate with them in putting this conference together. This brief report is designed to give a flavour of why the conference was considered worthwhile, to demonstrate the types of papers and researchers who attended and presented, as well as showing academic responses to this event.
The conference was a major two day interdisciplinary and international conference. It featured nineteen papers and two keynotes, including the esteemed Professor Ron Hutton (University of Bristol) and Dr. Sarah Victoria Turner (Paul Mellon Centre).
Due to the well-constructed panels and high quality papers, guests were prepared to make great efforts to attend, as evidenced by our delegates who came from all over the world, including Europe, US, and even as far away as Taiwan. Attendance was consistently high throughout and on both days we had fifty delegates present. Our conference deliberately featured a mixture of established academics and PGRs from across the globe and, therefore, provided an excellent opportunity to share research and to network.
On a general note, the conference show-cased research being undertaken in the Arts and Humanities at the University of Bristol, particularly that of PGRs, and the conference has no doubt helped to build connections between that institution and other researchers and institutions (in particular Yale where Dr. Sam Shaw is based). We were delighted to include papers by two Bristol PGRs, and to welcome a notable number of Bristol PGR delegates, all of whom contributed to the academic discussions and networking that took place. On a personal note, the event has given myself and my Bristol colleague Sophie Hatchwell invaluable experience in running an academic event, and has also helped further our own research through engagement with other speakers and delegates.
The level of success of the event can be seen, for example, in the response on twitter via the #Enchanted Edwardians hashtag but also in responses and thank-yous post the event, e.g.:
Nick Campbell is a PGR at NCRCL
Even those who were unable to attend were sufficiently delighted by the programme to promote on our behalf!
Testament to the events success are the photos of the event which show everyone’s engagement, such as this Myth and Reality panel I myself chaired (I am on the far left).
And this panel, chaired by Sophie Hatchwell (far right), shows Fraser Riddall and Rhiannon Easterbrook having an in-depth discussion. You’ll also note from the tweet that by Dr. Dimitra Fimi’s remark that it was a pleasure to see Robinson’s rarely discussed works being given a much needed voice. This is further testament to the success of the speakers and the quality of their research, as well as the considered complimentary panel organisation.
We were delighted to thank the Alumni in our opening and closing speeches and happily included their logo on our preparatory leaflets, on our conference back-ground slide (which you can also see in the image of Hutton presenting) and in our online promotions.
The programme we designed with the Shaws was to encourage interdisciplinary researchers to ensure a complex, deeply engaged programme. The agreed brief for the conference was this:
Edwardian culture is filled with otherworldly encounters: from Rat and Mole’s meeting with Pan on the riverbank in Wind in the Willows (1908), to Lionel Wallace’s glimpse of an enchanted garden beyond the green door in H. G. Well’s short story The Door in the Wall (1911). In art, Charles Conder’s painted fans evoked an exotic arcadia, whilst the music of Edward Elgar and Frederick Delius conjured up nostalgic dreamlands. Such encounters are all the more powerful because of their briefness: the sense that enchantment is, as Kipling suggests in Puck of Pook’s Hill, fast becoming a thing of the past.What room was left for fantasy in the modern, scientifically advanced world of the early twentieth century? This conference seeks to explore this question, and to investigate other ways in which the Edwardians understood and employed the idea of the enchanted, the haunted and the supernatural.
We were interested in the process of enchantment, whether that was interpreted as being demonstrated through poetry, roller coasters, or Pre-Raphaelite art. Our speakers covered themes of Art, Childhood, Disenchantment, Haunted Spaces, Fairytales and Mythologies, Séances, Psychologies, Sciences and Technologies.
The two days uncovered new ways of examining Britain as an ‘enchanted isle’, ways of re-listening to music, or the re-appropriation of myths. For my own part, the most compelling speaker was the inimitable Ron Hutton. Hutton’s knowledge is terrifyingly detailed and throughout his talk ,which focused on Pan, he asked us to consider Pan’s place, role, appropriation by Romanticism and the role of the Pagan within the vast literature that utilises Pan’s Bacchic character.
Hutton’s ideas were measured and delightful, but his waistcoat was as wild as his poetry. Easterbrook’s tweet perhaps explains best what can not be recaptured fully in words:
To conclude my thoughts on this exceptional conference, I think it fair to say that Hutton posed the most important of all questions throughout the conference: Pan: a comic grotesque little country god or a Citroën 2 CV amongst Greek gods?
‘The Hills are empty now, and all the People of the Hills are gone. I’m the only one left. I’m Puck, the oldest Old Thing in England, very much at your service if—if you care to have anything to do with me’
Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906)