Dr Beth Palmer
Beth Palmer has published widely on Victorian literature and culture. Her publications include Women's Authorship and Editorship in Victorian Culture: Sensational Strategies, (Oxford University Press, 2011) A Return to the Common Reader: Print Culture and the Novel, 1850-1900 (co-ed with Adelene Buckland, Ashgate, 2011) and Sensation Drama, 1860-1880: An Anthology (Edinburgh University Press, 2019). She has also written an undergraduate guide entitled Victorian Literature: Texts, Contexts, Connections (York Press, 2010) and numerous articles on aspects of nineteenth-century print culture and women's writing.
Beth is currently working on a project entitled Sensational Genres which examines the relationship between the sensation novel and the theatre in Victorian Britain.
Areas of specialism
University roles and responsibilities
- Impact Lead for the School of Literature and Languages
Affiliations and memberships
My research interests include:
- Victorian fiction
- The periodical press
- Nineteenth-century popular culture
- The nineteenth and twentieth-century theatre
- The Neo-Victorian novel
- Women's writing
- Contemporary fiction
- Postcolonial writing
I welcome enquiries from doctoral students interested in working in any of these areas.
I have collaborated with colleagues across theatre studies, art history and literary studies on a number of projects including:
A Return to the Common Reader: Print Culture and the Novel, 1850-1900 (Ashgate, 2011) co-edited with Dr Adelene Buckland
Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies (2016) - special issue on 'Performing the Victorian' co-edited with Dr Benjamin Poore.
Sensation Drama, 1860-1880: An Anthology (2019) co-edited with Dr Joanna Hofer-Robinson
Picturing the Reader: Reading and Representation in the Long Nineteenth Century (forthcoming) co-edited with Dr Amelia Yeates.
Indicators of esteem
Reader for: Victorian Review, Review of English Studies, Journal of British Studies, Edinburgh University Press, RAVON (Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net), Women’s Writing, LIT: Literature, Interpretation, Theory, Studies in the Novel, Cambridge University Press, Palgrave.
Editorial board: Victorian Popular Fiction, Key Popular Women Writers and New Paths in Victorian Popular Literature and Culture
Reviewer for Irish Research Council's postdoctoral award scheme
Postgraduate research supervision
Eleanor March, (2018-) 'From margin to centre: Prisoner writing as an act of translation' (principal supervisor)
Kate Johnson, (part time, 2016-) 'Necessary Vanity: Historicising Contemporary Constructions of Performative Feminine Beauty in British Female-Authored Advisory Literature' (principal supervisor)
Danielle Dove, (2017-), 'Sartorial Spectres: Re-Fashioning the Past in the Neo-Victorian Novel' (co-supervisor)
Garth Wenman-James, (2018-) 'Poverty Porn in Nineteenth-Century Fiction: Spectacle, Space, Surveillance and the Victorian Imagination' TECHNE funded (co-supervisor)
Heather Ballantyne, (2018-) 'Eating disorders in contemporary women's literature' TECHNE funded (co-supervisor)
I convene the undergraduate modules: Victorian Literature and Culture, Contemporary Literature: Gender and Sexuality and The Theatre and the Novel and guest lecture across several other BA and MA modules.
This article examines theatrical adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories staged to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). It sets these works within the context of a history of theatre inspired by Carroll’s work, before turning to examine two 2015 works in greater detail: wonder.land written by Moira Buffini and directed by Rufus Norris and Adventures in Wonderland written by Oliver Lansley and directed by Emma Earle. The article situates these productions in the context of immersive theatre. It uses the concept of convergence culture to theorise the place of these adaptations in a network of cultural productions that seek to incite interaction and collaboration between performers and audience members.
The announcement of Alice Munro as 2013’s winner of the Nobel Prize for literature marks the high point in the 82-year old writer’s long career, but also a significant recognition for the form with which she is so closely aligned, the short story.
Editing was in many ways well suited to the careers of women of letters in the Victorian period. Editing a magazine, unlike practicing a traditional profession—for instance, law and medicine, from which women were still chiefly excluded—could be carried out in domestic spaces or alongside familial duties. Rachel Beer (1858-1927), for example, often edited the Sunday Times (1821-) newspaper from her home in Mayfair in the mid 1890s, and Ellen Wood (1814-87) edited and wrote much of the Argosy (1865-1901) confined to her invalid setting. Editing could also be combined with other jobs, and working methods could be tailored to an individual woman’s needs. One contributor was surprised at being summoned to see Charlotte Riddell (1832-1906) at her husband’s shop where she was “engaged in making out invoices” for his business while simultaneously conducting her editorial work for St James’s Magazine (1861-1900). Some female editors adopted more professional spaces for their work. Henrietta Stannard (1856-1911) produced Golden Gates (1892-5, renamed Winter’s Weekly) from her office in Fleet Street, and the Langham Place Group had their own lively central London offices, which included a reading room and meeting spaces. Thinking about female editorship requires a relatively fluid understanding of professionalism in which the commercial and the social are interwoven.
This essay argues that sensation fiction’s most significant legacy is its selfconsciousness about how print culture both constructs the present moment and mediates the past. These resonances are particularly evident in the work of neo-Victorian novelists Michael Faber and Sarah Waters, who, like the sensationalists, are writing at a time of great stress and change in the publishing and print industries. Faber and Waters’s self-awareness of the materiality of writing echoes concerns raised in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret and Wilkie Collins’s Armadale, both of which draw attention to the importance—and the fallibility—of print while still recognizing their own embeddedness in print culture.
This article seeks to explore Victorian and modern ideas of theatricality and performativity by examining the work of the novelist, actor, singer, lecturer and magazine-editor Florence Marryat (1833–1899). Unlike her fellow sensation novelists, Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Ellen Wood, Marryat’s work has only recently begun to be recovered for critical attention. As an under read but prolific writer who balanced several careers at once, Marryat might stand for dozens of women working in nineteenth-century popular culture; however, her fiction specifically and repeatedly connects with issues of theatricality and performance – issues in which she was thoroughly invested. I argue that Marryat’s fiction and her self-constructions offer us ways of realising the complexity of ideas about authenticity, theatricality and performance operating within the realm of popular culture and sensational fiction in the nineteenth century.
Ella Hepworth Dixon took on the editorship of the monthly magazine the Englishwoman between March and August 1895 at an exciting moment in the history of women's involvement in the periodical press. This essay seeks to shed as much light as possible on Dixon's editorship, seeing the choices she makes about contributors, content and style as fundamentally influenced by her wide-reaching understanding of female roles at the fin de siècle. Throughout her life, both before and after working on the Englishwoman, Dixon was interested in editorship: the methods by which editors worked, the relationships forged with their contributors and the ways in which the editorial role might adapt to changes in publishing conditions. Thinking carefully about editorship—in her magazine and in her fiction—also entailed considering the varying expectations held about women's roles in the periodical press. The six months of Dixon's editorship of the Englishwoman gives us a window into late-century female journalistic endeavour that differs markedly from the narrative of drudgery lacking editorial opportunity or authorial autonomy which she had provided in The Story of a Modern Woman the year before.
Prose, of varying length, tone, purpose, and style, made up the vast majority of periodical content throughout the nineteenth century. It was the vehicle for conveying news, assessing cultural, political and social events, offering personal opinions, and entertaining readers. The variety of competing prose discourses in the nineteenth-century periodical provides a rich field for research but is not always the easiest terrain to navigate. Structuring an analysis of these prose forms inevitably gives rise to questions about readership and precedence. We find ourselves asking how we should read across these competing voices, how do we prioritise, and how did nineteenth-century readers do so? Which is more important: the editorial which allows us to orient the periodical’s political outlook, the cryptic “Notice to Correspondents” advising an individual in difficulties, or the serialised fiction that attracted the eye of the casual reader? Furthermore, do we see these different pieces of prose in periodical issues as competing with one another for attention and even survival; or does this Darwinian language of struggle gloss over the connections and correspondences between an issue’s separate units? A scholarly analysis of prose forms in nineteenth-century periodicals cannot recreate the reading practices of previous centuries, nor can it hope to trace all the connections or contradictions that exist between the pieces of prose in a particular run of periodicals. It can, though, explore the most prominent prose forms across the nineteenth-century press and give a sense of how they fitted into the larger context of the periodical issue and the publishing world.
The non-government organisation now known as the Royal Commonwealth Society began its existence as the Colonial Society in 1868. With a charter from Queen Victoria it became the Royal Colonial Institute (hereafter RCI) in 1870. Presided over by the Prince of Wales and comprised of a range of high-profile men involved in trade and politics its membership reached 3000 by the late 1880s. James Anthony Froude, the historian and author of Oceana, or England and her Colonies (1886), the writer Anthony Trollope, and the journalist Justin McCarthy were amongst those who gave papers at regular meetings. Baden-Powell, Gladstone and Tennyson attended meetings and dinners, as did prominent imperialists such as J.R. Seeley, author of The Expansion of England (1883). The institute aimed to promote union between Britain and its colonies through education and debate. Its objects were to provide a place of meeting for all Gentlemen connected to the Colonies and British India and others taking an interest in Colonial and Indian affairs; to establish a Reading Room and Library, in which recent and authentic intelligence upon Colonial and Indian subjects will be constantly available… to afford opportunities for the reading of Papers, and for holding Discussions upon Colonial and Indian subjects generally; and to undertake scientific, literary, and statistical investigations in connection with the British Empire. The Institute did not manage all of this but it did create a meeting place, in which papers were read and meetings attended, which also housed a library and reading room. The creation of a colonial library was the RCI’s most important educative project. The collection began slowly but by 1900 they had over 43,000 periodicals, pamphlets and volumes pertaining to the Colonies and India. It continued to grow throughout the twentieth century and was sold in 1993 to Cambridge University which now holds the vast collection. Many of these publications are official historical records like Blue Books, and Staff and Civil Lists. But the RCI’s first librarian, James Boosé, also made sure that in its earliest days the Fellows of the RCI had access to a wide range of literary and periodical productions from across the Empire. This article asks questions about who read the texts in this library in the last decades of the Victorian period and how they were read. I assert that the RCI aimed to select those books that would reinforce its own mission for its readers, that is, those books that reinforced the greatness of Empire, the civilizing power of the coloniser and the ‘otherness’ of colonised peoples. However, I go onto argue that the library’s collection also offered some strategies of resistance to such imperial characterisations. There were texts in the library that did not fit with this glorifying attitude and some readers whose reading selections, habits and experiences cut across imperialist ideology. This article pieces together evidence from the RCI archive including minutes of the library committee meeting, suggestions books, catalogues and shelving guides in an attempt to re-construct reading practices that shed light on the transmission and resistance of imperialist ideologies. Of necessity this piece will utilise the notions of the implied reader and of ‘reading communities’ put forward by Stanley Fish. It will though, attempt to delineate the relationship between the implied reader and the actual historical reader as closely as possible with the archival resources available.
For many critics Charles Reade (1814-1884) has seemed to fulfil Henry Mansel’s disparaging definition of the ‘newspaper novelist’ as a naïve appropriator who takes the ‘outline of his story […] ready-made’ from the ‘criminal reports of the daily newspapers’. However, this article argues that Reade’s use of the press for source material, usually perceived as unsophisticated or plagiarizing, has over-shadowed the other ways in which he operated strategically and innovatively within networks of press production, influencing the press as much as it influenced his fictions and helping to usher in a new form of journalism that would come to be known as investigative. Reade, and particularly his relationship with the Pall Mall Gazette, begins to trouble the idea of the newspaper as a ‘separate and distinct form of printed text’ whose power relies on difference from other print forms. He saw the novel and the press as interdependent. For Reade the novelist had a duty to make private inequities public and to do so had to utilize the public forum of the press to stir up publicity, to enter into debates, and to provide a space for the serialisation of his novels. Examining the research, publication, and post-publication press correspondence surrounding Reade’s novel Hard Cash (1863) highlights Reade’s unrecognized but important place in the story of the relationship between the novel and the news.
Chapter. 3. Reading. Langham. Place. Periodicals. at. number. 19. Beth Palmer 19 Langham Place in central London was the headquarters for a group of female reformers interested in increasing opportunities for female work and education ...
An accessible and wide-ranging introduction to the era, this Companion explores influential dramatic works by Ibsen, Shaw and Wilde; the poetry of mourning; novelistic genres, including social problem novels and sensation fiction; and the literature of the fin de siècle’s aesthetes and decadents. Cultural and historical debates – focussing on empire, national identity, science and evolution, print culture and gender – supply essential context alongside discussion of relevant critical theory.
In 1957, Richard Altick's groundbreaking work The English Common Reader transformed the study of book history. The collection aims to conceptualise some of the new directions that the field is taking fifty years afters the publication of this seminal work and to interrogate the category of the ‘common reader’ itself. What do we now mean by the term ‘common reader’? Is it still a useful term in book history and the sociology of literature? Though the history of mass readerships attests to a rise in literacy in the second half of the nineteenth century, and to snobberies and anxieties surrounding the development of a mass reading public, how did different institutional contexts, different groups of readers (such as women, soldiers, prisoners and radicals) and different forms of publication respond differently to the general trend of a growth in literacy? Were there groups of readers or forms of publication, for example, which complicate the picture of a growth in mass literacy and an elite fear of that growth? And who is to be included or excluded from the concept of the ‘common reader’? How did changing concepts of what constituted the ‘common reader’ in the first place contribute to the development of literary and print forms, educational institutions, and concepts of reading and readerships within the period? This privileging does not aim to disassociate the ‘common reader’ from Robert Darnton’s formulation of the author/publisher/reader circuit central to Book History, but rather to more closely analyse the multiple functions and interactions of the reader therein. Importantly, the interrogation of the concept of the ‘common reader’ is brought to bear, in every essay, on questions about the development of the novel in the period. The book offers important textual analyses of literary works by Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Ouida and a range of other popular novelists fruitfully bringing together Book History, print culture and literary methodologies in order to further research into the relationship between the social history of reading and the development of literature in the late nineteenth century. Bringing together a collection of essays, each of which explores distinctive cases of constructions of the ‘English common reader’, this book will further research in the sociology of literature by taking one of its fundamental categories of thought and exploring the complicated set of sociological, literary and historical assumptions and ideas which both underpin and contest it.
This article discusses the ways in which London was represented and navigated in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Belgravia, a shilling monthly magazine, during the ten years of her editorship between 1866 and 1876. Using Braddon’s serialised novels and the diverse articles over which she had editorial control as evidence, I argue that by deploying a sensational discourse to represent London -- in contradistinction to discourses of professionalism, politics and business -- Braddon made potentially alienating territory accessible to her primarily female readership.
This book considers the ways in which women writers used the powerful positions of author and editor to perform conventions of gender and genre in the Victorian period. It examines Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Ellen Wood, and Florence Marryat's magazines (Belgravia, Argosy, and London Society respectively) alongside their sensation fiction to explore the mutually influential strategies of authorship and editorship. The relationship between sensation's success as a popular fiction genre and its serialisation in the periodical press was not just reciprocal but also self-conscious and performative. Publishing sensation in Victorian magazines offered women writers a set of discursive strategies that they could transfer onto other cultural discourses and performances. With these strategies they could explore, enact, and re-work contemporary notions of female agency and autonomy, as well as negotiate contemporary criticism. Combining authorship and editorship gave these middle-class women exceptional control over the shaping of fiction, its production, and its dissemination. By paying attention to the ways in which the sensation genre is rooted in the press network this book offers a new, broader context for the phenomenal success of works like Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret and Ellen Wood's East Lynne. The book reaches back to the mid-nineteenth century to explore the press conditions initiated by figures like Charles Dickens and Mrs Beeton that facilitated the later success of these sensation writers. By looking forwards to the New Woman writers of the 1890s the book draws conclusions regarding the legacies of sensational author-editorship in the Victorian press and beyond.
This pioneering edition provides access to some of the most popular plays of the nineteenth century. Characterised by exhilarating plots, large-scale special effects and often transgressive characterisation, these dramas are still exciting for modern readers. This anthology lays the foundation for further scholarly work on sensation drama and focuses public attention on to this influential and immensely popular genre. It features five plays from writers including Dion Boucicault and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. These are supported by a substantial critical apparatus, which adds further value to the anthology by providing rich details on performance history and textual variants. The critical introduction situates the genre in its cultural context and argues for the significance of sensation drama to shifting theatrical cultures and practices.
The book explores the drama, poetry and prose of an age of great innovation that engaged with debates about empire, science and evolution, print culture, and gender. Connecting texts with their historical and scholarly contexts, this is essential reading for any student of Victorian literature.