Abstracts for 1 October Seminar
An Anxious Seaward Gaze: Nevill Johnson, Surrealism & the Second World War in Northern Ireland
Nevill Johnson, the English artist, writer and photographer who lived in Northern Ireland from 1934 to 1948 represents one of the forgotten figures of Irish cultural life. The decline of his once formidable reputation is surprising when we consider his diverse body of work and the widespread critical acclaim he received both locally and internationally while based in Belfast and, following the war, in Dublin. One of Johnson’s most important and unique contributions to art in Ireland is the way in which his surrealist styled paintings of the 1940s confront the traumatic events of the Second World War. This paper will focus on his early painting Kilkeel Shipyard. Completed in 1943, it is a powerful expression of the anxiety and isolation Johnson felt while living in a variety of rural retreats throughout Northern Ireland during the war. The painting represents Johnson’s own personal disquiet at the events unfolding on the Continent, but I will also show how it can more broadly be contextualized in relation to the art commissioned by the War Artist’s Advisory Committee in Britain and Northern Ireland during the Second World War. The anxious seaward gaze of Kilkeel Shipyard is emblematic of the international conscience that compelled Johnson’s most striking paintings in the 40s and which perhaps most distinguished him as painter in Ireland during this time.
“The Red Gods call me out and I must go.”: The early colonial fiction of Beatrice Grimshaw
The Ulster writer Beatrice Grimshaw worked as a journalist for a decade in Dublin in the 1890s before making several around-the-world voyages, settling in Papua-New Guinea for most of her life, and dying in Australia in 1953. For some forty years, her pioneering travels and adventures in the South Seas gave her global celebrity as she drew on her experiences for an extensive output of travel writing, popular cultural anthropology, more than thirty travel-based romantic adventure novels and hundreds of short stories published internationally.
This paper traces how Grimshaw, after several years of government-sponsored travel writing and journalism in the early 1900s aimed at attracting both capital and settlers to the growing South Seas “daughter” colonies now administered by Australia and New Zealand, identified a genre of romantic adventure with the exotic background of the South Seas perfectly suited to her talent for storytelling and vivid narrative. The first of her best-selling adventures, When the Red Gods Call, set in Papua New Guinea made use of what was to become her highly successful formula of a love triangle depicted against an enthusiastically grisly background of murder, headhunting and cannibalism. It was published by the then young and innovative publisher Mills & Boon and marketed in a new publishing strategy targeted at the growing and increasingly segmented literary marketplace of the early twentieth century.
This paper places Grimshaw in the context of the dynamic early twentieth-century publishing industry and retrieves a best-selling and expedient writer, an early global celebrity who is now almost entirely forgotten in her native country.