Over the past couple of years we have seen the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre at Durban House converted into a ‘beauty lounge‘ and the subsequent artefacts that comprised the museum are currently homeless. But not all is doom and gloom. Heather Green, a first year PhD student at Nottingham Trent University, is researching the potential of creative writing to interpret literary heritage and thereby engage with new audiences…
It is often said that texts we consider to be “classics” within English Literature are considered so because they continue to resonate with each coming generation. My research explores how we present these classics within the museums and heritage sites devoted to their authors. Many literary heritage sites struggle to interpret their collections in a way that I feel is engaging enough to inspire new readers. The trouble, I suspect, is with the nature of literary collections: antiquarian books or archives can be displayed, but must be conserved. The easiest story to tell is often the life of the author; interesting in relation to ideas of inspiration, but not really the reason an author would be considered part of our literary heritage. If an author’s legacy is one of stories which stand the test of time, it is surely ideas and themes which you would expect to encounter at a museum devoted to them.
The exploration of Newstead Abbey, Byron’s ancestral seat in Nottinghamshire, was the first inspiration for my research into how literary heritage sites interpret their collections. In my opinion, although much of Newstead was engaging for those who were either already engaged with Byron’s works or simply interested in historic houses, not much was done to explore his legacy for those who were complete novices. This, I felt, was an aspect particularly missing for a younger audience – always a key audience for museums, but not a group ready to directly engage with Byron’s work. It was an ideal audience, however, to explore some of Byron’s heritage. I felt the difficulties of being born with a condition that made you different, the pain of standing out from the crowd and the embracing and exaggerating of individuality were ideal subjects for those younger visitors. But how to do it? How to make it engaging? Research suggests that fictional narrative is more engaging that the didactic, and as a method this seemed appropriate for sites dedicated to the written word.
The result of these musings was a PhD proposal, and a picture book entitled Mad, Bad and Dangerous Crow, which endeavoured (rather clunkily) to take ideas of Byron’s literary heritage and present them through a new piece of creative writing. The text was illustrated by Jonathan Green and printed as a one-off accompaniment to my MA research.
In relation to Lawrence, I recently presented a paper proposing the use of creative practice to respond to Lawrence’s more controversial aspects. It should be noted that by controversial, I was not referring to the salacious and sexual content which causes such scandal on publication, but instead the elements which might raise eyebrows when reading Lawrence today. Lawrence remains difficult, because although so forward thinking in many ways, his writing can also be considered problematic. We are left with a dilemma when heralding him as – for example – a queer modernist writer, because his imagined relationship between Ursula and Miss Ingram in The Rainbow is short-lived, stereotypical and ultimately regretted. This aspects are thus often ignored (or skated over) in sites devoted to his heritage. I suggested that responding to these aspects through new creative fiction could address these issues without negating Lawrence’s impact.
My paper was theoretical, but there was substantial interest about taking the idea further from potential contributors. Sean Richardson (an English literature PhD student at NTU) and myself are currently aiming to edit and produce an anthology of creative writing which would present various responses to Lawrence’s work; such as female responses to his portrayal of women, or a response by a queer writer to his portrayal of queerness. Our intention is to put out of call for contributions this summer, and perhaps the publication will inspire a cohort of new readers to delve into the unique wonders and frustrations of Lawrence’s works. If it does, I would consider it an effective contribution to Lawrence’s heritage.
Heather was recently commissioned to produce interpretation for children at Beeston Canalside Heritage Centre, which took the form of a children’s picture book. Dog and Duck’s Canal Adventure can be seen at the Canalside Heritage Centre itself and will be available to purchase as a picture book later this year. Heather is also a vital component of the final year English module ENGL30512, where she gives students critical feedback on their proposed designs for our digital ‘memory theatre’.
- Artwork for Mad, Bad and Dangerous Crow (behance.net)
- Modernist Podcasts (soundcloud.com)
- NTU Doctoral School (ntu.ac.uk)
- Durban House closes (leftlion.co.uk)
- English Literary Heritage (englitheritage.wordpress.com)
- Eastwood Could be Like Stratford-Upon-Avon (eastwoodadvertiser.co.uk)
- Follow us on Twitter! @MemoryTheatre
- Memory Theatre project website (memorytheatre.co.uk)
- Becky Cullen: Newstead Abbey Poet-in-Residence (newsteadabbey.org.uk)
- DH Lawrence Zombie Hunter (dawnoftheunread.com)