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Black, White, and Read All Over: Mines, Mountains, and the Paysage Moralise of the British Press in the Early Twentieth Century

Wednesday 1 May 2019, 5.00PM

Speaker(s): Dr Abbie Garrington, Durham University

CModS Modernist Peripheries research strand seminar 

In the years c.1900-1920, polar exploration and mountaineering became entrenched as features of British newspapers and the pictorial Press. Both meeting and propagating the appetites of an emerging audience of ‘armchair’ explorers, such publications exploited the opportunities afforded by the development of printing and lay-out technologies to offer eye-catching typography and photographic images that conveyed the scale of Alpine adventure, and put the wastes of polar snows into the hands of the reader. Meanwhile, reporting on labour disputes connected to the British mining industry offered the yin to exploration’s icy yang: the chance to convey the greys and blacks of mines and miners through the liberal application of ink. This relationship between the black/white of the mines/snows, and the black/white of the page can be seen triangulated by a further force: literary modernism’s development of a kind of paysage moralisé or spatialised moral economy.[1] Seeking to depict mines, mountains, and acts of exploration, and inspired by the Press’s own spatial distributions and colour contrasts, writers including Arnold Bennett, E. H. Benson, and D. H. Lawrence used depths and heights, light and shade, in a resonant geography that permitted philosophical and psychological exploration. Commencing with consideration of the newspapers of 1912 and their depiction of the first Thule expedition to the Arctic, and of the first national coal board strike, this talk considers the tensions and coincidences between a Press in transition, an armchair audience in the waning days of exploration, and a body of work (culminating in Lawrence’s Women in Love of 1920) that made the most of the greyscale and the vertical axis in offering to the reader a moral and emotional landscape.

[1] The term ‘paysage moralisé’ was coined by art historian Erwin Panofsky in 1936, and first set out in full in his Studies in Iconology of 1939. Now largely discredited as a means of understanding Renaissance painting (Panofsky’s original subject) the notion took hold in literary and artistic circles in the 1930s and ‘40s, retrospectively making sense of earlier art-making practices. The term was granted further prominence by W. H. Auden’s adoption of the phrase as the title for his poem previously known by its first line, ‘Hearing of harvests rotting in the valleys.’


Location: Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul Building

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