The London Modernism Seminar – Saturday 5 October

The first London Modernism Seminar of the year will take place on Saturday 5 October in Room 349 in Senate House ( 3rd floor Senate House South) at 11-1pm. The topic will be Colonial Modernism and we are very pleased to welcome as speakers Angela Smith (University of Stirling) and Bill Schwarz (Queen Mary, University of London). Their paper titles are:

Angela Smith, ‘Fauvist Women in a White Man’s World’

Bill Schwarz, ‘A fable for freedom? What do we do with V. S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas?’

Full abstracts and biographies of the speakers can be found below.

You can find the complete programme for the 2013-14 on the Institute of English Studies website: Please circulate this link among any postgraduates and colleagues you think might be interested in attending. These seminars are open to everyone working on Modernism.

Best wishes,

Suzanne Hobson, Queen Mary, University of London,

Tim Armstrong, Royal Holloway, University of London,

David Ayers, University of Kent, David Ayers,

Rebecca Beasley, Queen’s College, Oxford,

Helen Carr, Goldsmiths, University of London,

Register as a member of the British Association for Modernist Studies on the website:

Abstracts and Biographies for Colonial Modernism

Angela Smith (University of Stirling), ‘Fauvist Women in a White Man’s World’

From their childhoods the three colonial modernists who are the focus of this paper were aware of the limitations that imitation of the imperial centre imposed. The Australian artist and critic Margaret Preston (1875-1963) wrote that in ‘wishing to rid myself of the mannerisms of a country other than my own’, that is British art, she studied the work of ‘the Australian aboriginals, and it is only from the art of such people in any land that a national art can spring’. The Canadian painter and writer Emily Carr (1871-1945) was given an alternative identity when the First Nation people of the northwest coast native villages named her Klee Wyck. Whereas her father ‘wanted his place to look exactly like England’ her experience was transformed by an encounter with a First Nation sculptor’s totem of a woman with eagle-heads for breasts rising out of the forest. The New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) rejected the bourgeois respectability of her native Wellington, ‘the empire city’, finding in the group that produced the little magazine Rhythm a radical and inter-disciplinary approach to the arts. I shall argue that Rhythm and specifically its art editor the painter J D Fergusson, a Scot who defined his identity as Celtic, provided an agency for change in the work of Preston, Carr and Mansfield.

Angela Smith has taught in English departments in California, Wales, Malawi and Scotland. She is an emeritus professor of the University of Stirling. Her books include East African Writing in English, Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf: A Public of Two and Katherine Mansfield: A Literary Life. She edited Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea for Penguin and Katherine Mansfield: Selected Stories for Oxford World’s Classics. She is currently editing, with Gerri Kimber, two volumes of the Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield for Edinburgh University Press.

Bill Schwarz (QMUL), ‘A fable for freedom? What do we do with V. S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas?’

For a long while now I have been troubled by the issue of what we do with V S Naipaul. In the domain of public letters it is common to find Naipaul revered, lauded as much for his human integrity as for his writings, as the citation for the Nobel prize demonstrates. On the other hand a significant number of literary scholars regard him with little or no respect. Sometimes this is personal, as in the reactions to his incessant litany of high-wire provocations against the imperatives of modern, popular life. Sometimes it inflects the interpretations not only of the author but of his writings too. These conflicting stances drive what is now becoming known as the Naipaul Question, or the N Question.

From this “conflicted” location I intend to approach the N Question by focusing on the 1961 novel, A House for Mr Biswas which conventionally is often described as his best novel, and which in the years after its initial publication was promoted in various quarters as – perhaps – one of the world’s great novels. It was on the basis of Mr Biswas that the most influential anglophone Caribbean intellectual of the twentieth century, C L R James, in 1963, elevated Naipaul to be one of the great creators of the modern Caribbean, alongside Toussaint L’Ouverture, Marcus Garvey, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon and Fidel Castro. Strange company indeed.

There is much to say about the novel, even if we discount the more formal politics. Here I shall take the opportunity to reflect on how Mr Biswas conceives the practice of writing, and how writing itself underwrites the narrative structure of the novel. More particularly, I’ll endeavour to think through how the novel conceives of Caribbean writing.

Bill Schwarz teaches in the School of English and Drama at Queen Mary, University of London. Most recently he has published Memories of Empire. Volume I. The White Man’s World (OUP), and edited: with Cora Kaplan, James Baldwin. America and Beyond (Michigan UP); with Rachael Gilmour, End of Empire and the English Novel (Manchester UP); and with Susannah Radstone, Memory. Theories. Histories. Debates (Fordham UP). He is an editor of History Workshop Journal.