The Gladstone Centre at Gladstone’s Library
The First of May: Politics in the Victorian Imagination
Gladstone’s Library, 6-8 July 2016
An international, interdisciplinary conference that brings together scholars from across the arts and humanities to explore the array of imaginative responses to the Victorian political environment.
Personally commissioned by Queen Victoria, Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s The First of May 1851 depicts Arthur, Duke of Wellington, exchanging gifts with Prince Arthur, Wellington’s godson and the seventh child of Victoria and Prince Albert. The painting symbolises a particular vision of Victorian self-definition: victorious in war, conservative in government, expanding overseas and titans of industry. Both Arthurs were born on the 1st May; the elder a leading military and political figure who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and was twice Prime Minister, the younger a prince who would oversee much of the Victorian empire into the twentieth century. Prince Albert’s attention is distracted by the Crystal Palace, the setting for The Great Exhibition that celebrated Britain’s role as an industrial leader.
Nevertheless, Winterhalter’s image represents a political image that was rapidly changing and evolving. By 1851 the Prime Minister was not Wellington but Lord John Russell; his premiership would be the last Whig administration. Russell’s second premiership could be described as the first Liberal government, ushering in the time of Gladstone and Disraeli. By the 1880s, May 1st had become International Workers’ Day, standing for a politics of resistance and protest; workers unionised and the suffrage movement began. Firmly opposed to Socialism, the Liberal politician Charles Bradlaugh formed the National Secular Society in 1866 and was arrested in the House of Commons for refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance. Bradlaugh would be prosecuted for obscenity in 1876, together with Annie Besant – herself firmly associated with trade union activity in the public mind – due to their publication of a pamphlet advocating birth control. Victorian politics, sometimes underrepresented in Victorian studies across the discipline, is a whirlpool of contradiction and challenge.
This conference brings together a range of critical perspectives that describe how this febrile political environment was considered by Victorians, and interpreted by scholars, writers and thinkers in a range of disciplines. The conference welcomes papers from across the arts and humanities. Possible topics may include:
Proposals should be received by 11 April 2016. Papers should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.