ESSE Book Awards for 2018

LITERATURE

Award in Category A

Maxwell, Catherine

Scents and Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture

Catherine Maxwell’s book (xviii+361 pp.), cited above, includes an introduction, eight chapters, an appendix, a bibliography, and an index. There are also included in the book various photographs of fragrant flowers as well as some other photographs and facsimile prints of Victorian fragrance advertisements.

Maxwell’s study is extremely original and engages with the issue of representing scents through writing and by visual means in the Victorian period. It provides a history of scents from gendered (and gendering) perspective. It is richly intertextual. By studying references to scents, the author may be said to have uncovered a hidden language of the olfactory which was a shaping force in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Anglophone poetry. It also opens paths that can take one far into a new consideration of reading Victorian literature. Its chronological approach revises the history of Victorian literature from a new perspective, adding one dimension to close reading that ends precisely at the time when Modernism opens to the recreation of the senses. The research does not stop at literature, but also covers artefacts, incipient advertisement and, therefore, fashion, thus making the book not only informative but also entertaining. The approach adopted the author is inter- and cross-disciplinary, impinging on history, literature, art, cultural studies and, as regards the descriptions of fragrant flowers, botany (e.g. pp. 2, 43, 68, 179 et passim). Her study combines textual analysis, biographical details, and Victorian perfume production, culture and symbolism (class, gender, body, identity, personality and so forth). Meticulously carried out through extensive documentary research, numerous primary and secondary readings, and museum visits in and outside Britain, Maxwell’s study of the personal uses and metaphorical significance of perfume in Victorian literature, culture and society presents a new perspective not only of the period but also, more importantly, of its literature. Indeed, as the author points out in her Introduction, her book is a study of “the role played by scent and perfume in Victorian literary culture [… and] explores the unfamiliar scented world of Victorian literature” (p. 1) with the main focus on Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Gaskell, and A.C. Swinburne, and also on their less well-known contemporaries such as Lafcadio Hearn and Andre Raffalovich. Evidently, through her extensive study of Victorian perfume culture, the author has excellently demonstrated how socially and aesthetically it was important for the Victorians to regard perfume as indispensable for personal adornment and, accordingly, develop a distinctive taste for perfume. Undoubtedly, the book is a great work of scholarship and a very unique source for a full understanding and appreciation of Victorian literature, culture and society in terms of self-adornment, perfume taste, sensuousness, carnality, personality, class and gender. It is a valuable contribution to the study of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century English literature and is also relevant to latter-day debates about creativity, gender and sexuality. Many specialized readers – such as researchers and doctoral students – are likely to profit from reading this book. It is easy, clear reading and one might enjoy it as background reading for many of our philological disciplines or as mere interesting reading. The title is also a good choice: it is attractive and recognizable, both for readers of literature and for readers of culture.

Award in Category B

Laura Olcelli

Questions of Authority: Italian and Australian Travel Narratives of the Long Nineteenth Century

Olcelli’s book is a demonstration of the multidimensional aspect and shifting nature of travel writing. Tackling a very original argument, the book focuses on accounts of late 18th-century to 19th-century travels that took place both ways, to Australia (by the Italians) and to Italy (by the Australians), and proposes to examine issues of authority, peripatetic, as connected to authorship, and also of identity and how they are constructed and displayed in these accounts. Drawing on a large body of literature, critical, historical and literary, and well-grounded theoretically, in key texts from travel writing criticism and postcolonial theory, the book examines travel narratives, some of which unanalysed before, by Italians in Australia (part 1 of the book) and Australians in Italy (part 2), which evidence the changes in 19th-century travel writing as a result of the shift in the very purpose of travelling, which grew more professionally or touristically oriented, but also of the social and political changes that both countries underwent. Olcelli makes sure that the focus of her study is clearly defined and proposed in the thorough introduction of the book. The arguments are dealt with in a straightforward manner and written in a reader-friendly language.

Honourable mention

Laurence  Publicover

Dramatic Geography, Romance, Intertheatricality, and Cultural Encounter in Early Modern Mediterranean Drama

In Dramatic Geography, Publicover proposes a discussion of early modern plays from three main approaches—from the perspective of what he calls ‘intertheatrical geography’, that is, locations of early modern plays being interrelated with those from earlier plays; from a generic or modal perspective of writing, drawing particularly on romance literature; from the perspective of the environment or the scenery in which early modern drama was created. In this regard, the book offers an interdisciplinary reading of ‘Mediterranean’ plays favouring a focus on cultural encounter as pertinent to the discussion, especially in view of the fact that contacts between England and the Mediterranean were more frequent by this time. In the extensive introduction to the book, Publicover thoroughly explains why a reading of well-known and less known early modern ‘Mediterranean’ plays, which examines the construction of space and location especially as related to earlier plays and looks closely into cultural encounter in romance, is important especially for understanding the relationship they bear with earlier plays in exactly these terms. The book adds to previous research on early modern drama that explores the setting as a milieu that enacts many forms of relationships, social and political primarily. It is also a demonstration of the author’s extensive reading on the topic, which is well-documented through the various and many secondary sources listed and referred to in the text, although more sources from the 17th century could have been made use of. On the whole, Publicover presents his arguments very elegantly, convincingly and eloquently.

LINGUISTICS

Award in Category A

Sandrine Sorlin

Language and Manipulation in House of Cards: : a Pragma-Stylistic perspective

This book reports on a pragma-stylistic qualitative analysis of the dialogue from the first three seasons of the popular American political TV series House of Cards (HoC). Sorlin set up a detailed investigation in which she successfully combines and uses insights from sociopragmatics (mostly (im)politeness studies), stylistics, cognitive linguistics, conversational analysis, critical discourse analysis as well as media and film studies. The book, though laden with references from various theoretical models, is written in smooth and engaging narration with lucid argumentation, and offers ample examples for illustration, making Sorlin’s research accessible to both experts in pragmatics and newcomers to the field. The strength of the work lies in the fact that it promotes the analysis of fictional language to understand the potential power of linguistic choices in shaping (the political) discourse. Sorlin’s innovative approach provides an analytical model for the study of the language of manipulation in fictional language, real-life interaction, and other types of discourse. Thus, her investigation is not only valuable for the insights into various aspect and nuances of language manipulation in HoC, but also for its methodological and theoretical implications for future research.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Award in Category B

Robert Fuchs

Speech Rhythm in Varieties of English: Evidence from Educated Indian English and British English

The book addresses the topic of speech rhythm in varieties of English, focussing on the differences and similarities between educated Indian English and British English. Fuchs sets up a comprehensive multidimensional empirical quantitative (as well as qualitative) analysis of different factors influencing speech rhythm in the two varieties of English, both from the production and perception perspective. The research is embedded in an interdisciplinary landscape as it includes historical linguistics, dialectology, phonetics, phonology, sociolinguistics, and language acquisition, among others. The author first provides an insightful and thorough overview of relevant literature and current theoretical developments, which is followed by his evaluation of different empirical methods. Building on preliminary results of the pilot study, Fuchs devises the analytical model that is applied in the empirical part of the study. He meticulously analyses the collected data using dedicated software (MOP, Rhythm Ratio, Praat). In addition to presenting and identifying the differences/similarities between the two varieties, the author offers convincing explanations for the observed differences/similarities. The book is well-structured, methodologically impeccable, and the argumentation is sound, convincing and presented in a logical manner. All in all, we believe that the monograph represents excellent scholarship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honourable mention

Michael Percillier

World Englishes and Second Language Acquisition: Insights from Southern Asian Englishes

The book is published in the series Varieties of English around the World and addresses the issue of the differences between Southeast Asian Englishes, more specifically, the difference between the ESL (Singapore English, Malayan English), and the EFL varieties of English (Indonesian learner English). Using the data that have been previously collected and computer processed, Percillier analyses these varieties of English at the traditional levels of linguistic description: from phonology, morphology, syntax to sociolinguistics, discourse, and pragmatics. The introductory chapters provide a historical and sociolinguistic overview of the role of English in each country. The impressive body of empirical findings related to structural features for each variety is contrastively presented in chapter 6, and these are then analysed in chapter 7. The two final chapters successfully round up the empirical findings and discussions with the initial questions related to development of postcolonial Englishes. The book is well-written and amply illustrated with tables, figures and several graphic models of mutual interrelationships and influences of the examined varieties of English. As such, it is interesting not only to those interested in Englishes in South East Asia, but relevant for the possible studies of other ESL and EFL varieties.

CULTURAL and AREA STUDIES

Award in Category A

Silke Stroh

Gaelic Scotland in the Colonial Imagination. Anglophone Writing from 1600 to 1900

In the context of current political debates, the question of Scottish independence and Brexit, Silke Stroh’s Gaelic Scotland. addresses the dilemmas that belong both to the past and to the present. The book appears to be more timely than the Author might have expected though, as we believe, historia magister vitae est. Gaelic Scotland is Silke Stroh’s second publication in this area and provides the most comprehensive study in terms of postcolonial discourse of a period fairly neglected as regards the perspective assumed by the study.

The book interrogates the colonial status of the Gaelic Scotland by scrutinizing how the critical framework of post colonial studies applies to literary and cultural texts that reflect Anglophone readings of Scottish Highlands (as distinct from the de-Gaelicised Lowlands) from 1600s to the 1800s. The interrogation is framed by an understanding of the tropes of the colonial discourse which, while recognizing its undisputed reality in distant imperial colonies, requires nonetheless of its application to European cultural and political landscape a careful mapping to establish more substantial groundings than those provided by the contemporary political and cultural rhetoric of nationalism. Revealing the complexity of the chosen subject, Stroh enquires whether Scottish political and cultural nationalism can be perceived as analogous to anti-colonial resistance.

This work is a knowledgeable and fascinating study and a well written book too. In a succession of chronologically arranged, self-contained chapters the Author reveals the policies used by Anglophone writers, the various ways in which the Gaelic subjects were to be stereotyped, civilized, and assimilated culturally by being romanticized as the ‘noble savage’. The book constructs its argument by revisiting a number of both well-known and less familiar texts – Martin Martin’s A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland and A Late Voyage to St. Kilda, Walter Scott’s Waverly, Robert Knox’s The Races of Men, Fiona MacLeod/ William Sharp’s Green Fire, J. MacGregor and L.MacBean’s essays “Celts and Teutons” and “The Mission of the Celt” – and identifies the lines of continuity and change in the depiction and understanding of the Gaelic Other(s).

The book, aimed at a general academic public readership, makes a very important contribution not only to Gaelic and Scottish scholarships but also to post-colonial, identity and cultural studies. It goes far beyond a local, though significant, re-reading of a compendium of texts. Pointing out new directions in Gaelic/Scottish studies, Silke Stroh’s book recognizes their right to share in the discourse of the international community of postcolonial studies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Award in Category B

Eduard Moyà

Journeys in the Sun: Travel Literature and Desire in Balearic Islands (1903-1939)

This study traces the origin and the construction of the image of an accessible ‘Balearic paradise’ by looking at visual and textual representations of the Islands in the first decades of the 20th century. It aims to deconstruct a generalized and popular perception of a de-historicized and homogenized Southern “Medland” by reconstructing the dynamics of discovery and of image construction in a number of travelogues written by British travelers to the Islands and published between 1907 and 1939. Though familiarized through travel and tourism, the area and the subject of its representation has attracted relatively little research.
The textual and visual representations of the Balearic experiences evident in these travelogues are analyzed in terms of their construction of national/ cultural images and stereotypes, of their projection of the travelers’ self-image, of the landscape they select as representative of the Southern “difference”, and of their choice of material evidence of social interfaces and relationships with the local population. Taking the pastoral representations of the islands as the “sea n’ sun” destinations, Eduard Moyá travels back in time to reveal their prototypes and to explain their origin.
Weaving together methodologies from diverse fields, such as tourism studies, visual culture, cultural and identity studies and sociology, the study makes a relevant contribution to British travel writing and to early twentieth century cultural studies. The book is a brilliant comparative and cultural research project which rereads the ‘south’ and the concept of ‘travelling south’ in search of identity.