Exploring the past through objects: religious faith during the industrial revolution

Posted on: November 7th, 2022 by mlpEditor

What can books, embroideries and ceramics tell us about religious faith during the industrial revolution?

Professor Hannah Barker’s talk will explore the religious faith of ordinary people in northern English towns, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Many descriptive accounts of domestic devotion survive in diaries, memoirs, correspondence, and commonplace books. A variety of non-textual sources in the collections of museums and galleries also shed light on religious practice and belief.

Domestic objects such as needlework samplers, annotated books, printed pictures, and a variety of ceramics including figures, teapots, and plaques, are rich sources for the study of domestic piety. Their existence supports the contention that religious belief continued to be widespread and influential during this period which is often associated with the decline of faith.

Even if you are not interested in religion, most people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were. To tell their stories and understand the world in which they lived, we also need to explore their faith.

Symbolism in art (*second date added)

Posted on: November 3rd, 2022 by mlpEditor

What can the paintings in Manchester Art Gallery’s collection tell us about the history and development of ‘Symbolism’?

Art historians tell us that it was the 1880s that witnessed the inception of ‘Symbolism’ as a movement. But more than a generation before this, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood startled and outraged sensibilities with its depiction of strange and unsettling parallel worlds, bejewelled with luminous colours. Its rebellious spirit sought to awaken moral, spiritual and religious reflection through the deployment of mysterious signs and symbols. And yet even this tendency had its antecedents, most especially in the entertaining genre paintings and eerie still lifes of the Dutch Golden Age.

Guide John Ward will be leading us through Manchester Art Gallery, on a quest for the finest examples of a fascinating visual language.

Good to know: We will meet in the entrance of the gallery. The tour will start promptly at 2.00pm, so please arrive in good time.

Interview with Michael Wood

Posted on: August 15th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Q: Where did your interest in Shakespeare begin? Was there a particular line, play, or sonnet that hooked you?

A: At Manchester Grammar School – the school dramatic society was very active and we did the Tempest in my first year, aged 11. I played assorted goddesses, dogs and demons!  I was completely hooked.  Around the same time we saw the Olivier films – especially Hamlet with Jean Simmons.

The ghost scene with William Walton’s music was just mind-blowing. To someone brought up in Wythenshawe, it was the gripping stories and the other-worldly power of the language. I’ll always be grateful to our wonderful and inspiring teachers Bert Parnaby and Brian Phythian, who directed us in plays, took us on trips to Stratford to see Shakespeare, and generally were the spirit guides to our younger selves.

“To someone brought up in Wythenshawe, it was the gripping stories and the other-worldly power of the language. I’ll always be grateful to our wonderful and inspiring teachers…”

Q: What do you believe was the single biggest influence on a young Shakespeare? How does it manifest itself in his work? 

A: That’s a long story and there’s no one answer. That’s what I’ll be talking about in my lecture!

First: Family: As with anyone family is really important – his mother and father, his father’s rise to become mayor of Stratford only to be ruined financially;

Second: Religion – he’s born at a crucial point in the Protestant Reformation. In the twenty years, or so, before he was born there had been four official changes of religion: His parents obviously were born and brought up Catholic. He was born on the cusp of the new world and had a foot in both. The way forward wasn’t really resolved till the 1590s, so his generation are part of the change; the target generation.

The third is politics, national and local. Warwickshire was a battleground for the struggle between the old Catholic community of the shire and the new Elizabethan powers that be; especially Elizabeth’s favourite, the Protestant enforcer Robert Dudley. This struggle touched William’s family.

Fourth is school, through which he discovered poetry. He had probably decided he wanted to be a poet before he left Stratford at some point in the 1580s.

Q: How has our understanding of Shakespeare changed over the past few decades?  Have older models of literary analysis — New Criticism, Textual, maybe even Biographical — been eclipsed? How do you personally prefer to contextualize his work? 

A: Older models have not been superseded. I think they’ve all given something to the mix which these days is very rich indeed. Some terrific biographies have come out over the last twenty years.

And the documentary discoveries continue. I’ll be mentioning twenty new documents concerning his father’s various crises. They are not published in full yet but a summary came out in a new book this year. In terms of personal preference, I’m a historian so my approach is historical.  He’s made by his times and cannot be understood except through history – and that of course includes the twenty years or so before he was born. He’s a late Elizabethan.

“He’s made by his times and cannot be understood except through history – and that of course includes the twenty years or so before he was born.”

Q: As the English literary canon is constantly morphing, what case would you put forward that Shakespeare should continue to be taught throughout educational institutions? 

A: A big question!

It is after all an extraordinary thing that where, say, the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible have been modernised, his plays remain as 16th-century texts in the forefront of public culture.  Things are gradually being cut back now, even in university English courses (e.g. Old and Middle English, Langland and Chaucer, etc.) but he’s so important to our literary culture that I think he will stay at the centre of it for some time yet. His ‘difficulty’ (language, ideas etc.) after all is part of what makes him fascinating to study.

And in today’s world of Me Too, BLM, LGBT, his texts are still capable of endless reinvention, although they are 16th-17th texts. I saw a production of Measure for Measure at the Donmar the week Brett Kavanaugh was being vetted for the Supreme Court and the scene with Angelo and Isabella said it all in the space of a few minutes.

Q: Are you currently working on any new projects? What have you got planned for 2022? 

A: I’ve been working in China since 2013 where we have made a dozen films. My last Shakespeare contributions were more recent: a chapter on his mother for Shakespeare’s Circle (Cambridge 2015) and an introduction to Finding Shakespeare’s New Place (2016).

Our last film was on the Chinese poet most compared with Shakespeare – Du Fu (China’s Greatest Poet, BBC 2020 with Sir Ian McKellen doing the readings). And I am currently writing a little travelogue with lovely photos and maps, following Du Fu’s life journey – especially the last fifteen years when he was constantly on the move with his family as a refugee in time of war.

The journey describes a great arc from the Yellow River Plain up to Xi’an and Qinzhou, over the mountains south to Chengdu. Then all the way down the Yangze through the Gorges to Changsha and Pingjiang where he died. A labour of love I guess you could call it. Needless to say, distant as he is in time and place, there will be comparisons with Shakespeare!

Everything for me comes back to Shakespeare!

Thank you to Michael for taking the time to answer our questions.

Interview with Emma Marigliano

Posted on: August 15th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Q: When did your interest in Dante and the Divine Comedy begin?

A: I wanted to do a postgraduate degree many years ago and, as I wanted it to be on book illustration, a colleague suggested Dante – with me being Italian.

I looked for something original and decided to work on two completely different artists who had completed all 3 canticles of the Divine Comedy since the 18th century. John Flaxman and Gustave Doré were the only ones. They couldn’t be more different from each other! Researching them, though, took me to many more interesting Dante illustrators and the rest is history, as they say.

As a result of that tangent I think I may have one of the best – maybe even the best – post 18th century collections of illustrated Dante.

Q: Which illustrated version of Dante is your personal favourite? Is there a particular edition in your collection that you find yourself returning to more than others? And what makes it so special?

A: Each has something that I really like or really don’t like. I discover something new and love it (or not), but each design or style fits a moment or mood. I like being able to pluck a Dante book off the shelf because something has reminded me of it and I look again through the illustrations. I don’t always think that the artist gets it but I might like the style.

There’s so much out there and there are ones I’d really love but my budget doesn’t allow. When I was Librarian at The Portico Library I would get asked which was my favourite book – and I couldn’t answer that either. Those I loved had different qualities but they were invariably illustrated and that’s what drew me to them.

Q: At the time of writing The Divine Comedy, was Dante responding to the political climate within Florence? Is there a clear ideological motivation behind the poem, or do you encourage a different reading?

A: I do think that Dante responded to the political and religious climate around him, particularly as it resulted in his permanent exile. He was part of a continually warring faction within a faction, so one wonders if we only know about his exile because of successive fame with the Divine Comedy.

“I do think that Dante responded to the political and religious climate around him, particularly as it resulted in his permanent exile. He was part of a continually warring faction within a faction…”

But I think he also wrote it for other reasons – showing off his intellect (I suspect he was quite vain), to take his revenge the best way he could on those who harmed him, angered or hurt him. And, of course, to feed his obsession with a woman that we know so amazingly little of – if she ever existed as anything other than the woman who filled Dante’s head. This isn’t to say that he didn’t feel that he had reached a juncture of self-questioning, one that required him to go on a spiritual journey through his writing.

Q: James Joyce said that: “I love my Dante as much as the Bible,” adding: “He [Dante] is my spiritual food, the rest is ballast.” What was it about Dante that caught the glances of Modernist writers?

A:  Joyce did speak of “the Divine Comic Denti Alligator” in his Finnegans Wake and both that and Ulysses is based on the Divine Comedy, however loosely. Joyce also said that Dante inspired him to invent a new language. Dante didn’t invent a new language, though. He simply wrote in the language he and those around him commonly spoke – his Tuscan dialect. Which, to the rest of Italy at that time, I suppose, was like a new language.

Dante inspired T S Eliot’s poetry. Lines from his poems are borrowed from Inferno and Purgatory, for instance. The Italian novelist, Curzio Malaparte, was fond of projecting Dantescapes from Inferno into his films.

Even though I don’t know that much modernist writing I do think that Modernist writing would have tried to address questions of existentialism. Dante’s journey and the questions he poses to us in the 20th and 21st centuries would have touched cords. He goes deep into souls and this is why he doesn’t stop being relevant to pretty much anyone who meets him.

“He goes deep into souls and this is why he doesn’t stop being relevant to pretty much anyone who meets him.”

Q: Your talk focuses on Dante’s influence on popular culture. Do you continue to be surprised by his impact? Where is the unlikeliest place where Dante’s influence has appeared?

A: No, I’m not surprised by his influence, although some of the places he appears make me laugh!

I will show this in the talk, but a Dante body painting competition is one that struck me as slightly unlikely – it’s how relevant it keeps to Dante though that’s the thing…

Q: What are you currently working on? Are there any other projects that you would like to tell us about?

A: There are aspects of Dante illustration that have not been explored – not even by the academics, who are often more concerned by the textual analysis. And I intend to see what I can do about that – without giving anything more away. Just a question of watch this space…

Thank you to Emma for taking the time to answer our questions.

Dante’s journey through popular culture

Posted on: August 11th, 2022 by mlpEditor

2021 was the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, yet his influence on contemporary artists, designers and film-makers still holds strong.

Is it because Dante had such a deep understanding of the human condition, and verbalised it so imaginatively?  He is most famous for his epic poem, ‘La Commedia’, a testament to his spiritual journey from a place of turmoil to one of safety.  Why have his graphic and painterly descriptions of Inferno influenced so many?

In this richly illustrated talk, Emma Marigliano examines Dante’s wide influence through exploring the work of early film-makers and modern artists, including some rather unexpected examples from the world of advertising.

MCR History Talks: Tourism

Posted on: July 28th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

Jessica White and Adam Waddingham from the University of Manchester explore the history of tourism, travel and heritage in Manchester’s past and present.

They discuss the history of Manchester Airport, alternative tourism and the National Trust.

Jessica and Adam are also joined by Jamie Farrington. Jamie is a third year PhD History Candidate who is interested in the emergence of the Industrial Revolution, and how it impacted on the health and well-being of those employed in the developing textile industry of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century.

This podcast was produced by Jessica White & Adam Waddingham for The Manchester Lit and Phil in July 2020.

A celebration of the music of Christmas

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

The Figgy Pudding Collective present their cornucopia of classical and modern music, poetry, readings and general festive cheer.

They perform to a loyal and appreciative audience each year at Bramall Hall, Stockport. And also do the occasional ‘tour’ year to include other venues across the North of England.

They are delighted to bring a specially tailored performance to the Manchester Lit and Phil this Christmas.

The programme will be an exploration of the diversity of music that Christmas offers us. Vocal and piano solos, duets and trios, ranging from early 16th century carols through to well-known Christmas gems. From the likes of Mozart and Purcell and into twentieth-century American sparkle.

All this is woven through with original Christmas poems and readings created by actor and author Kate Millward.

Expect to find food, drink & mince pies!

Symbolism in art

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

What can the paintings in Manchester Art Gallery’s collection tell us about the history and development of ‘Symbolism’?

Art historians tell us that it was the 1880s that witnessed the inception of ‘Symbolism’ as a movement. But more than a generation before this, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood startled and outraged sensibilities with its depiction of strange and unsettling parallel worlds, bejewelled with luminous colours. Its rebellious spirit sought to awaken moral, spiritual and religious reflection through the deployment of mysterious signs and symbols. And yet even this tendency had its antecedents, most especially in the entertaining genre paintings and eerie still lifes of the Dutch Golden Age.

Guide John Ward will be leading us through Manchester Art Gallery, on a quest for the finest examples of a fascinating visual language.

Good to know: We will meet in the entrance of the gallery. The tour will start promptly at 2.00pm, so please arrive in good time.

Double Dutch ‘Still Life’

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

The detailed realism of Dutch still life paintings is compelling. But is there more to Dutch art than meets the eye?

Merchants of the Dutch Golden Age filled their townhouses with paintings. But these upright Calvinist citizens rejected biblical subjects and Baroque melodrama. Their favourite themes were found closer to home.

Still lifes of this period reflect the prosperity and self-esteem of the new Republic. Banketje (banquets) and ontbijtjes (breakfasts) appear to celebrate an abundance of both local and imported foodstuffs. But could the platter of oysters or kraakware bowl of blemished fruit instead warn of the dangers of gluttony and pleasures of the flesh?

Vanitas, ‘pronkstilleven’ and ‘blompots’ display collections of books and instruments, luxury goods and vases overflowing with exotic flowers. But if we look closely, the pocket watch, fading bloom or human skull, might hint that consciences are troubled by such ostentation.

Life is fragile and worldly beauty is fleeting. Join Lynne Gibson to explore the secret symbolic language of still life paintings.

The Glass Menagerie – Theatre Group discussion

Posted on: July 13th, 2022 by mlpAdmin

Find out more about Tennessee Williams as a playwright, the context in which he was writing and the themes he tackled.

This member-led discussion will consist of a short, informal introduction to Tennessee Williams’ play, The Glass Menagerie, prior to our visit to see the production at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

A presentation will be given by Tony Jackson, with additional input from Joanna Lavelle. As well as providing the background to the play and Williams, some questions and talking points will be suggested to consider when attending the performance.

The session will be 45-60 minutes long and will include ample opportunity for questions and discussion among the participants.

All welcome, whether or not you can attend the production at the Royal Exchange.

Good to know: the meeting will be online using zoom, allowing all users to be seen and join the discussion.