Conference Report: Authorship and Appropriation

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Many thanks to James Morris, who has recently submitted his PhD at the University of Glasgow, for the following report on the Authorship and Appropriation conference that took place in Dundee last month.

Hosted by the Centre for Critical and Creative Cultures at the University of Dundee, the Authorship and Appropriation Conference was held on 8th and 9th of April 2016 and was organised by Dr Daniel Cook.  A packed schedule of 19 panels, two plenary lectures and a plenary roundtable made for an engaging, inspiring and lively conference which was defined by a warm and convivial atmosphere.  Seeking to create scholarly networks based upon the study of the ‘afterlives’ of artistic cultural productions, the Authorship and Appropriation Conference covered a broad range of themes including plagiarism and parody, filmic and operatic appropriations of literary texts, and the theories practices of editing and collaboration.

After a welcoming note from Dr Daniel Cook and the Centre’s director, Professor Mark Robson, the conference began with three parallel sessions.  Luckily enough for me, my panel, ‘Appropriation and Identity’, was up in the first slot.  It is a testament to the decentred and innovative approach to the conference themes that my paper, ‘Orientalist Plagiarism, Protofeminism and the Appropriation of Genre in Phebe Gibbes’ Hartly House, Calcutta (1789)’ was paired with Ruth Menzies’ (Aix-Marseille Université) ‘Appropriation and Identity in Natasha Soobramanien’s Genie and Paul’.  Both engaged with eighteenth-century literature: my paper explored Gibbes’ extension of the sentimental novel, while Menzies accounted for Soobramanien’s contemporary reworking and appropriation of Bernadin de Saint-Pierre’s 1788 romance, Paul et Virginie.  Considering the ways that literary models and narratives are appropriated to address diverse issues including national and gendered identities, both papers examined authorial manipulations of plot and form in their analysis of the conference themes.

The second panel I attended, ‘Gulliveriana’, was organised according to a similarly decentred understanding of authorship and appropriation.  Alice Colombo (NUI Galway) provided an engaging discussion of the reception and popularity of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) in nineteenth-century Italy.  Exploring the ways in which paratextual elements of the work, including Walter Scott’s 1814 preface, as well as J.J. Grandville’s illustrations, impacted upon the reception of Swift in Italy, Colombo’s paper, ‘The popularity and popularisation of Gulliver’s Travel’s in nineteenth-century Italy: a paratextual perspective’, provided an important discussion of the transnationalisation of Swift’s eighteenth-century satire.  Réka Major (Eötvös University) offered an equally insightful reading of the intertextual allusions to Swift in A.S. Byatt’s short story, ‘Baglady’ (1998).  Using the dialogue between Swift’s poetry and A.S. Byatt’s prose fiction to examine the construction of gendered ideologies in modern society, Major’s paper, ‘Bleeding lipstick and flaking skin: Myths of the ageing woman in A.S. Byatt and Jonathan Swift’, demonstrated the importance of looking to the past to help to define the present.

After a brief coffee break delegates were invited to attend either the third parallel session of the day, or to a screening of David Lean’s classic film adaptation of Great Expectations (1946).  Despite the lure of Martita Hunt’s eerie Miss Havisham I attended the pre-fabricated session, ‘Appropriation as Cultural Transmission in the Eighteenth-Century Periodical Press’.  Offered by researchers from the University of Kent’s Leverhulme-funded Lady’s Magazine project, this insightful panel untangled the knotted and diffuse history of ‘appropriation’ and reuse in the periodical publications of the late eighteenth century.  Careful to never use the word plagiarism, Jenny DiPlacidi, Kim Simpson and Koenraad Claes provided their audience with an entertaining view into their complex work on the republication of poetry and prose in the latter decades of the eighteenth century.  Jenny DiPlacidi’s, ‘“Full of pretty stories”: Literary Afterlives in the First Series of the Lady’s Magazine’ traced the appearance and reuse of Gothic conventions in the late eighteenth century press.  Expanding the parameters of the female Gothic, DiPlacidi’s paper demonstrated the long history of tropes regularly credited to Anne Radcliffe.  Kim Simpson’s presentation, ‘Anomalous and Anonymous: Locating Links and Chasing Tales in Amatory Fiction and Beyond’ offered a compelling reinvestigation of the links between amatory fiction and the periodical press.  Simpson’s original approach also allowed for an important mapping of the triangulation of influence between anonymous and attributed fictions.  Koenraad Claes closed the panel with his paper, ‘Poetics of appropriation: re-occasioned occasional verse in the Lady’s Magazine’.  Short lyric poems which recounted the poet’s emotional response to specific events, the occasional verse submitted to the Lady’s Magazine, as Claes’ presentation ably demonstrated, were often appropriations of earlier works.  Considering notions of intellectual property in combination with subversions of emotional authenticity, Claes’ paper offered an enlightening view into the circuits of appropriation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century periodical.

After the close of the first day’s panel presentations came Professor Michael Burden’s (New College, Oxford) plenary, ‘Hijacking Virtue: Richardson’s Pamela and the rise of sentimental opera’.  Exploring operatic adaptations of Richardson’s seminal novel, Burden’s plenary offered a hugely informative view of the interconnectedness of operatic and literary traditions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Providing his audience with a detailed booklet of illustrations, Burden’s plenary aptly represented the interdisciplinary ethos of the Authorship and Appropriation conference.

Ahead of the conference dinner at a local restaurant, Dr Daniel Cook and Dr Nicholas Seager (Keele University) launched their edited collection, The Afterlives of Eighteenth Century Fiction.  Featuring essays from the plenary speakers at the Authorship and Appropriation conference, Cook’s and Seager’s volume also offers a host of other engaging essays which are representative of the burgeoning field of scholarship surrounding appropriation and adaptation.

Despite conversations continuing well into the evening after the conference dinner, everyone was back at the Dalhousie Building bright and early on Saturday morning to hear Dr Nicholas Seager’s entertaining plenary, ‘ Tristram Shandy Adapted and Appropriated: Michael Winterbottom’s A Cock and Bull Story and Martin Rowson’s Graphic Novel’.  Offering insights into the afterlives of Sterne’s innovative approach in contemporary film and fiction, Seager’s engaging paper explored the ‘metafilmic’ and metafictional devices in modern appropriations of Tristram Shandy.

After the plenary, delegates broke-up for panel sessions.  The first panel that I attended, ‘Reframing Institutions’, offered two excellent papers from Ania Grant (University of Auckland) and Wendy Fall (Marquette University).  Unfortunately Ania Grant was unable to present her paper herself, but the panel chair, Laura Kirkley (University of Newcastle), kindly delivered Ania’s fascinating paper entitled, ‘Marrying Mr Collins: Marriage of Convenience from Pride and Prejudice to Bridget Jones’s Diary’.  Amusing and insightful, Grant’s paper explored film adaptations of Austen’s texts and traced differing attitudes toward marriage as a financial institution in modern retellings of Pride and Prejudice.  Wendy Fall’s presentation, ‘Matthew Lewis: The Nationalist Plagiarist’, was similarly informative.  Charged by his critics as a plagiarist, Lewis’s appropriations of French and German sources, as Fell pointed out, were used by the novelist in The Monk (1796) to promote patriotic virtues in the face of Revolutionary upheaval in France.

The ‘Romanticism and the Early Modern’ panel saw presentations from Andrew Farrow (University College, Cork) and John Lavagnino (King’s College, London).  Farrow’s presentation, ‘Blake’s Chaucer: The Extent to Which William Blake’s Mythological “Nation” is Informed by His Perceptions of Chaucer in Medieval England’, provided an original study of the influence of Chaucer on Blake’s ‘eternised’ mythological system.  John Lavagnino’s paper, ‘Lamb’s Expurgation of Early Modern Drama’, offered a comprehensive evaluation of the unintended outcomes of Charles Lamb’s editorial practice.  Showing the ways in which Lamb’s removal of ‘indelicate’ passages from Early Modern dramas actually promoted an interest in unbowdlerised editions, Lavagnino’s paper provided a nuanced account of the influence of Early Modern drama in the Romantic period.

Representative of the conference’s aims to promote discussion across academic disciplines, the penultimate panel of the day, ‘History/Fiction/ Film’, covered a diverse range of themes from the vogue for Russian cinema in the 1920s, to postmodern appropriations of the eighteenth-century novel.  In his paper, ‘Complications of an afterlife: a work by Leo Tolstoy re-interpreted by later film-makers’, Stuart Campbell (University of Glasgow) provided an informative account of the Hollywood-style films of Russian émigré film-makers in 1920s Germany.  Developing considerations of filmic and operatic appropriations of literature, Campbell argued that films and operas should be measured by the criteria of their own genre rather than upon their proximity to their original source.  By way of engaging contrast, Stewart Cooke’s (McGill University) ‘“Received Melodies”: The New, Old Novel’, explored the prevalence of appropriation in postmodern fiction.  Discussing the works of a number of novelists including John Barth and John Fowles, Cooke’s paper analysed postmodern appropriations of eighteenth century fictions and demonstrated the generative tension between the old and new in literary production.

The final panel that I attended, ‘Rewriting Scotland’, was funded by the Centre for Scottish Culture at the University of Dundee.  Katrin Berndt’s (University of Bremen) paper, ‘This Side of the Event Horizon:  Metaphorical Appropriations of Science in the Writing of Pippa Goldschmidt’ considered Goldschmidt’s poetry and prose.  Examining the Scottish writer’s breaking of barriers between the artistic and the scientific, Berndt’s paper offered a thought-provoking account of Goldschmidt’s attempts to define the reciprocal exchange between literary forms and scientific knowledge.  Appropriately for a conference held in Dundee, Erin Farley’s paper, ‘The Many Afterlives of William McGonagall’, provided a lively and entertaining discussion of William McGonagall’s place in popular culture after his death in 1902.  A target for mockery in books, film and television, McGonagall has been the subject of a spoof  biopic, and has been immortalised as a character in The Muppets.  Showing how the ‘idea’ of McGonagall has come to define his place in popular culture, Farley’s paper identified a process of ‘reverse-appropriation’ in which anonymous couplets and verse, which bear little resemblance to McGonagall’s actual poetry, are regularly attributed to the poet in the popular imagination.

In the closing plenary roundtable the conference organisers and plenary speakers discussed various routes for future collaboration, with a greater dialogue between studies of translation and appropriation being one of the many exciting ideas raised.  As with all of the best conferences, however, the sheer number of excellent papers was both a joy and a frustration.  Short of being able to be in two places at once, I picked panels based upon my own research interests and I am sure to have missed a number of exciting presentations across different sessions. Helpfully, the organisers at Dundee have set up a research network website,, where it is possible to read the abstracts of all delegates, and to become involved in the network.  Judging by the lively dialogues at the conference, I am certain that there will be a number of exciting developments in the near future.  Many thanks to Dr Daniel Cook and all the organisers at Dundee for making the Authorship and Appropriation Conference such an enjoyable and informative weekend.

James M. Morris (University of Glasgow)