Finding Middlemarch in Coventry, 2021

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: English


George Eliot's novel Middlemarch, set in a fictional version of the city of Coventry, will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2021; the year in which Coventry itself is UK City of Culture. This project will reimagine George Eliot's radical artistic vision of 'provincial life' in the Midlands through creative collaborations in Coventry across 2021.

There is evidence from a previous AHRC project led by PI Livesey that public interest in Eliot's life and legacy is sometimes held back by the perceived difficulty (and length) her work, but that this can be overcome through creative engagements with her work in the shape of new writing, the visual arts, and research-led social media campaigns. This project will work with diverse communities in Coventry in 2021 to retell Eliot's story and the ground-breaking literary experiment of Middlemarch, with the people living in the city which it fictionalised. The project will work with local and family history groups to build a collaborative online exhibition, telling the story of 19th century Coventry through a dozen professions and institutions that feature in the novel. The exhibition research will be in partnership with the Herbert Museum and Coventry Archives, and Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery and be told through materials in their archives and collections. This collaboration, drawing on Livesey's expertise in literature and public engagement, will enhance the ongoing work of these museums as they develop a new interpretation strategy for their extensive collections relating to Eliot.

In order to draw fresh attention to Eliot's significance as an artistic innovator for audiences unfamiliar with her novels, Co-Investigator Olsen will work in dialogue with Livesey to research and direct an experimental short film. The film, 'Of that Roar Which Is...', will use Olsen's own poetic and filmic language to respond to Eliot's art of attention to life forms that might otherwise go unnoticed. The work will demonstrate Eliot's ongoing cultural influence of contemporary practice and draw on the physical landscape of contemporary Coventry and the collections of museum and archive partners. Building on Olsen's previous creative reinterpretations of museum collections and reputation for research-led film-making, the new film will be shown at partner museums. It will form a useful model for long-term reflections on the place of contemporary arts in reinterpreting the narratives of established collections.

The final strand of the project will bring scenes from Eliot's novel to life in three sites in central Coventry during 10 public performances in autumn 2021. Partners Dash Arts will lead devising workshops with community groups in Coventry. The participatory process will identify key themes from the novel for contemporary Coventry. Participants will be offered opportunities to take part in the professional production, supported by Warwick Arts Centre, Principal Partner in Coventry City of Culture. Founded in 2005 Dash, develops productions, events and participation projects that enhance diverse audience's understanding of other peoples and cultures through an artistic lens. 'Scenes from Middlemarch' will use Eliot's novel and Livesey's research to open out conversations with often overlooked middle of Britain through participatory devising and performances. Emphasis is likely to fall on the novel's interest in narratives of public health, and the power of bankers, exploring trust and communication in a changing community.


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