4pm Weds 4th March, Prof David Laven on gondoliers and British gay men (MB2204)

4pm Weds 4th March, Prof David Laven on gondoliers and British gay men (MB2204)


Prof David Laven (University of Nottingham) will talking us on:

Amedeo, Angelo, and Antonio: agency, allure and annuities. Gondoliers, British gay men, and the economics of homosex in Venice in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’

This paper looks at a number of well-known British men (Horatio Brown, John Addington Symonds, Frederick Rolfe) who, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, bought sex in Venice. There has been something of a historiographical tradition – typified by the work of Robert Aldrich – of suggesting the Italian boys and young men who sold their bodies to older north European men regarded their ‘patrons’ benignly and with affection. There is another widespread approach to prostitution that sees it as entirely exploitative. In this paper, I want to suggest another model. I propose an interpretation of the sale of sex by Venetian boys and men to visiting or resident Britons based on the – unsurprising – starting point that it was an essentially economic transaction in which those selling the sex had considerable agency. They were not merely passive victims of exploitation, but rational economic agents, albeit ones with an often limited range of choices. What they were selling, however, was not simply physical gratification but also the chance to transcend class and cultural barriers, offering an understanding of a Venice as a simultaneously exotic and domestic place. British clients sought not simply penetration of the body, but penetration of venezianità. Relationships between British punters and Venetian men – often gondoliers who came to represent an ideal of masculine beauty – who prostituted themselves also built on an imaginary of Venice as a site of hetero-erotic excess, which referenced both art (from Titian to Fildes) and literature (Aretino, Casanova, Byron). I hope my paper will both puncture the Aldrichian myth of the ‘happy rentboy’ – the narratives of love and affection and mutual gratification were artful constructs – and restore some agency to the Venetian men who sold their bodies.


David Laven is Associate Professor of History at the University of Nottingham. He has held positions in both early modern and modern history as well as in Italian Studies, and has published on Italian history from the late fifteenth to the twentieth century. The focus of his work at present is on the way in which historians – Italian, British, German and Austrian, Swiss, French and American – writing on the Venetian Republic in the 150 years after its fall negotiated questions of identity when addressing Venice’s past. He has also published extensively on Austrian rule of Venice, on Italian identity in the Risorgimento and Liberal period, on British attitudes to Italy. He is engaged heavily in contemporary Italian struggles to challenge state-fostered myths of the Risorgimento as a successful mass movement. He is additionally involved in a project to reclaim the history of southern Italy’s industrial heritage, while addressing the imbalance in Italy’s UNESCO sites which are disproportionately and absurdly clustered in a few regions.

4pm Weds 5th Feb, Dr. Jonathon Shears on Hangovers (MB2204)

Our first session of 2020 is a topic to which surely no-one in the nineteenth-century group can relate: hangovers. More specifically, Dr. Jonathon Shears from Keele University will be talking to us on ‘Penitents and Egotists: Hangover Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century’.


The session takes place in MB2204 (Minerva Building, 2nd Floor). Refreshments are at 4pm and the paper is due to start at 4.15pm. All are welcome. Please find Jon’s abstract and biography below:




While research into the hangover is now a subfield of medicine and psychology, the topic has rarely featured in the field of drinking studies in the humanities, which has preferred to focus on drinking cultures and customs, particularly male and female sociability. Yet, hangover literature has much to tell us about the ways in which drinking is governed not only by physiology but also ‘cultural beliefs and social practices’ of the sort that Jonathan Herring has identified as central to understanding the representation of alcohol. In this paper, I will explore the presence of the hangover in literature of the long nineteenth century, considering what it tells us about the relationship between an individual and their environment, the politics of controlling alcohol consumption and the complex ways in which alcohol affects our perception of body and mind.




Jonathon Shears is Senior Lecturer in English at Keele University. He has recently completed work on a monograph on the hangover in literature (published by Liverpool University Press in March 2020). He has also published books on Milton and the Romantics, Lord Byron, The Great Exhibition and Victorian bric-à-brac. He was Editor of The Byron Journal from 2012-2019. He is currently editing the Oxford Handbook of Lord Byron.

Weds 4th Dec, Dr. Renée Ward on ‘The Earliest Beowulf for Victorian Children’

Our final C19 of 2019 features Dr. Renée Ward talking on ‘The Earliest Beowulf for Victorian Children: E. L. Hervey’s “The Fight with the Ogre”’. The session will take place on Weds 4th Dec in MB3201. Refreshments will be served from 4pm, with the paper due to start at 4.15pm.


This talk introduces to modern audiences the short story “Roderic’s Tale: The Fight with the Ogre,” by Eleanora Louisa (Montagu) Hervey (1811-1903), a forgotten but prolific and well-known children’s writer in the nineteenth century. This previously unrecognized and unexamined tale, which appears in Hervey’s volume The Children of the Pear-Garden (1878), may, in fact, be the earliest known adaptation in English for children of the Old English poem Beowulf, as it predates more widely recognized early adaptations. Hervey’s story, “The Fight with the Ogre”, speaks directly to the nineteenth century’s heightened fascination with and concern for heritage, history, and empire, transforming its source into an highly condensed narrative, one which effaces much of the original’s material that grapples with questions of humanity, identity, and otherness (racial, behavioural, and religious). It ignores narratorial digressions (genealogies and contextual tales); eliminates the final battle between Beowulf and the dragon; and employs a heavily Christianized tone. Presented as an entry in an ornamental gift book, the story includes an illustration of Grendel as far more human than the original poem or Hervey’s adaptation suggest. Additionally, the story-telling framework positions the male child as the precursor to the adult patriarchal head and provides instruction on how he should rule himself and his household.


My research has two main branches: medieval and post-medieval. Much of my research on the medieval period concerns the literature and culture of the high to late Middle Ages, with particular emphases on monsters; the romance genre and its cultural contexts; and relationships between English and Continental narratives. My published works to date on medieval romance explore embodiments of liminality and their connections to violence, and investigate how medieval authors use these representations to challenge or reinstate social hegemonies. These interests likewise inform my current book project, The Werewolf in Medieval Romance (under contract with Palgrave Macmillan) and my research on medieval outlaw figures.

4pm, 6th November, MB3201 – ‘”I am God from Eternity to Eternity”: reading William Blake’s The Four Zoas’


The next session of the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Research Group will take place at 4pm on Weds 2nd October in MB3201 (Minvera Building).

Annise Rogers

‘”I am God from Eternity to Eternity”: reading William Blake’s The Four Zoas’

Vala, or The Four Zoas is one of William Blake’s most over-looked and under-read works. An unfinished manuscript containing an epic prophecy of over 4000 lines, that was not published in its entire (highly edited) form until 1893, this poem forms the connection between the earlier Lambeth prophecies and the later, much longer epics of Milton and Jerusalem. The Four Zoas is the hinge between the two differing styles and forms, showing the development of Blake’s mythological structure as well as his poetic techniques. Due to the new digital versions, the poem is now becoming more available to the wider public in its original form.

By placing The Four Zoas in its historical connection to Blake’s illuminations of Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, I will consider how these two texts work together to create a new way of reading both; linking artwork with artwork, as well as text. This connection between texts to create new ways of reading is then expanded to include my PhD research on linking The Four Zoas and Jewish Biblical poetry. Whilst Blake’s poem is usually considered a Christian epic, it is important to consider how the poetic techniques of the Old Testament influenced the text, changing how we read and understand each text.


Annise Rogers is a 2nd year PhD student at the University of Lincoln. Her thesis research focuses on William Blake’s The Four Zoas, the poem’s place within the canon of Blake’s works, and its connections to Jewish Biblical poetry.

4pm 2nd Oct, MB3201 – Gender, Sculpture and the Studio in early Nineteenth-Century Rome

The first session of the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Research Group will take place at 4pm on Weds 2nd October in MB3201 (Minvera Building).


Dr. Maeve O’Dwyer will be talking to us on ‘Rethinking the Female Gaze: Gender, Sculpture and the Studio in early Nineteenth-Century Rome’. Refreshments will be available from 4pm and the talk will begin at 4.15pm.


Drawing on the British Library’s collection of travel writing by British visitors to Rome, this paper will consider the struggle of the female gaze to emerge from the traditionally male space of art appreciation on the Grand Tour in the early nineteenth century. Interaction with sculpted classical bodies was socially problematic, especially at a time when methods of viewing sculpture changed towards focusing more keenly on the physicality and materiality of the object, and British society began to experience what Dror Wahrman titled ‘gender panic’. Some women, like Pauline Borghese, exploited this potential prurience, deliberately performing as what Chloe Chard would term ‘spectacles’. Others prefaced written accounts of their travels with apologia around their ability to engage with art. In both cases, interacting with artists in the studio allowed them to reframe and rethink their position within the social geography of Rome and the established sociability of the Grand Tour. This paper posits that those women normally constrained by societal norms when viewing the canon of the antique were enabled to diversify and develop their self-fashioning through the space of the artist’s studio.



Dr Maeve O’Dwyer is the Programme Manager for HEAR, the internal programme for achieving HEA recognition at the University of Lincoln. Maeve is an Associate Lecturer in the School of History and Heritage, teaching undergraduates on the Art History and History BA and the History BA. She also offers a technique class, open to all students regardless of level of study or School.