MLA Annual Convention: Boston 2013

L to R: A Beardsley illustration for the Morte D’Arthur; an Edward Burne-Jones window in Trinity Church; and the Frontispiece for The Wood Beyond the World.

This year, the Society sponsored two very well-attended sessions at the Modern Language Association Convention. During our first session, “Morris and New England,” we were treated to talks by Michael P. Kuczynski, Associate Professor of English at Tulane; Maureen Meister, affiliate Professor of Art History at Tufts; Paul Acker, Professor of English at St. Louis U; and Margaret Laster, PhD candidate at CUNY Graduate Center.

During Kucynski’s talk, “Morris and Company Windows at Trinity Church,” we learned about Morris and Burne-Jones’s stained glass work for Boston’s Trinity Church in the 1880s. He spoke about the famous then-rector, Philips Brooks, who had a passion for “pure color” and whose vision guided the church’s decoration. From Meister’s talk, “Arts and Crafts Architecture in New England,” we learned about the inter-tangled worlds of Arts & Crafts architecture in Britain and New England, and the group of New England architects that deliberately mirrored the “quiet beauty” of England’s restrained ornament. Then, from Acker’s presentation “Morris and Company Windows for Vinland Cottage,” and Laster’s talk “The Vinland Windows in Newport,” we learned much about a remarkable set of Viking-themed windows created by Morris & Co. for the American tobacco heiress, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe.

The second session, “Print and Beyond: Publishing Rossetti, Morris, and the Aesthetes,” was co-sponsored by the Society for the History of Authorship, Readingand Publishing (SHARP), and brought us talks by Laura Golobish, Gallery Assistant/Curator from the Nashville Public Library; Elizabeth Carolyn Miller, Associate Professor of English from UC Davis; and Britten LaRue, an independent lecturer, scholar, and curator.

Golobish gave a talk entitled “Printing a Pocket Cathedral: Morris’s The Wood Beyond the World,” using the titular theme to explore the architectural features of The Wood Beyond the World, from the architectural frontispiece that invites readers to walk into a separate space, to the “textual landscape” created by illuminated capitals and dingbats. Miller’s talk, “William Morris and Socialist Print Culture,” traced Morris’s role in the “outlaw” Socialist press as distinct from the mainstream, capitalist press. Miller argued, among other things, that Morris thought of Socialist print as an entirely separate news sphere, aimed at “making a clean sweep of existing institutions all at once.” LaRue’s talk “Marginal Figures, Marginal Texts: Aubrey Beardsley’s chapter headings for Le Morte D’Arthur” was rich with imagery of Beardsley’s pictorial work for the 1893-1894 Morte D’Arthur in two volumes. Beardsley plays with gender and strange juxtapositions throughout, creating images including androgynous knights, peacocks and angels. LaRue discussed how his themes of gender, “hybridity and transformation” form a counter-text to the masculine Morte d’Arthur.

MLA 2013 was another year of excellent presentations; next year in Chicago, we hope for more of the same. If you’d like to submit an abstract to our proposed panel on “any aspect of text, illustration, or design of Pre-Raphaelite, Aesthetic, or Fin de Siècle children’s books,” submit an abstract to florence-boos@uiowa.eduand If you’d like to submit an abstract to our guaranteed panel on “Morris and Arts and Crafts in the Midwest,” please write to Abstracts for both sessions are due by the 15th of March.

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