Monthly Archives: March 2011

Nicholas Dixon (Howard Essay Winner 2010-2011): Victorian Parlour Music

Nicholas Dixon, a student in the MVI, gave a lecture on Victorian Parlour Music based on his winning entry to this year’s Howard Essay Prize. Illustrating his points with music examples, he gave us a fascinating introduction to the nature and characteristics of this hugely popular, and largely forgotten, genre, explaining how it is as important to our understanding of the Victorians, as, for example, the Beatles are to the 1960s, or jazz to the 1920s. A wide discussion ensued, focusing on areas such as the songs’ musical, as opposed to historical, importance, and the relationship of parlour music to more working-class types such as music hall.

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Stephen Banks: A Polite Exchange of Bullets: Duelling and Honour

Dr Stephen Banks, from Reading University, spoke to all branches of the WP about duelling in England, with swords and then pistols, and the violent culture of honour of which it was a part. He shared, in a fascinating, fun and clear way, his original research into the history of this (to us) alien cultural practice: 16% of duels ended in death, 40% in injury, yet only a small percentage of challenges actually ended in a duel. Duels were usually fought not on great issues of politics or religion, but over apparently trivial matters of respect, matters which nevertheless were to do with the all-important concept of honour: one man was killed when his labrador shook water over a lady’s dress…

Alan Stubbs: What Poetry is for

Alan Stubbs, an up-and-coming poet, and brother of the Deputy Head of our Junior School, gave three talks to the Williams Project on what he thinks poetry is, and what he thinks it’s for. His talk was illustrated by several of his own poems, including the Arvon-prize winning ‘a philosophical provocation’, an intriguing attempt to describe a tree in ways which take the reader through various stages of reality: from literal ‘scientific’ truth, to wonderfully rich ‘poetic’ sounds and images, to surrealism, and on to using the tree as a metaphor for the very attempt to describe itself – and all in 16 lines! Other poems included “To Ithaca”, the only poem Alan has deliberately ‘constructed’, written for his daughter’s marriage. It’s a haunting piece which uses the Japanese ‘kesa’, a formal garment made from reused silk, as an image for the ceremonial strength and deep-rootedness of marriage itself.

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