Two weeks ago we held our two-day conference at the University of Toulon. We had a range of wonderful presentations, including a great keynote by Kate Macdonald; we hatched new plans and enjoyed an inspiring catch-up with researchers and members of von Arnim’s family. A big Thankyou to all presenters and the University of Toulon for hosting us!
Jennifer Shepherd, author of ground-breaking work on von Arnim and the middlebrow, offered a presentation on ageing women and beauty treatments in von Arnim’s later works and Gertrude Atherton’s Black Oxen. Her presentation focussed on questions about beauty, desire and the social purpose of older women in the interwar period and offered fascinating insights into contemporary beauty treatments.
Nick Turner, author of Post-War British Women and Novelists and the Canon (2010) and a recent article on The Pastor’s Wife, spoke about comedy and the garden in Father, extending our knowledge about the unexpected ways in which von Arnim used the gardens to negotiate questions of female independence and domesticity.
Noreen O’Connor, who has written on trauma and war in von Arnim and other women authors, presented on illness, pregnancy and women’s struggle for independence for married women in The Pastor’s Wife, continuing the work on female bodies in von Arnim. Her presentation offered new insights into the marriage plot from a feminist perspective.
Sally Horovitz, a musicologist and member of Wolfson College Oxford, gave a wonderful lecture recital on The April Babie’s Book of Tunes. Her presentation, a highlight of the conference, included new research into this underrated children’s book and a detailed analysis of its music. For most of us it was the first time we actually heard von Arnim’s tunes played and sung.
Isobel Maddison, author of Elizabeth von Arnim: Beyond the German Garden (2013) and president of the von Arnim Society, offered a detailed comparison of The Enchanted April and its 1991 film adaptation. Her close reading explored the restorative fantasy at the heart of the story and the different levels of complexity in the book and the movie.
Juliane Römhild, author of Femininity and Authorship in the Novels of Elizabeth von Arnim (2014), continued the work on re-situating von Arnim in the literary field of her time by exploring the connections between Virginia Woolf’s Flush and Orlando and von Arnim’s capricious memoir, All the Dogs of My Life.
Finally, Kate Macdonald, author of The Masculine Middlebrow, 1880-1850 and other books and founder of Handheld Press, offered a stimulating keynote on von Arnim as a conservative author. In her wide-ranging keynote, she discussed questions of von Arnim’s troubled feminism and her comparatively conservative stance on the woman question. In particular her comments on von Arnim’s treatment of the marriage plot and the endings of her novels inspired a sustained and productive conversation on readings of and research into von Arnim’s works that continued the next day.
Von Arnim’s Library
Of course, we all came to Toulon in order to look at von Arnim’s private library that is in part held by the university library. We heard a fascinating account on the complicated history of the bequest (it involves chance discoveries and flooded garages) by Marie-Catherine Cadet, the librarian, who is responsible for preserving von Arnim’s books as a separate holding. We also had the opportunity to look at the books and some of their wonderfully funny marginalia in von Arnim’s handwriting.
Plans & Projects
Last but not least, we used the opportunity to progress some of our current projects. Isobel took the lead on a critical edition of von Arnim’s works. We are exploring the potential for a complete works and perhaps a selection of letters. If this project goes ahead, it will occupy us for years to come.
Juliane presented on her project to make family letters and other documents available online to the family and researchers. These include the letters (including transcriptions & translations) of von Arnim’s letters to Beatrix von Hirschberg. This was a great opportunity to clarify copyright questions and show the proposed online presentation to von Arnim’s family and other researchers for approval and suggestions.
Finally, we are already making plans for next gatherings. Sally Horovitz will give a more extensive version of her wonderful lecture recital in 2020 at Lucy Cavendish College. The next conference will take place in 2021 under the broader banner of Women & Comedy. Watch this space!