Sussex professor teams up with British fashion designer to launch virtual book club
By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Friday, 15 May 2020
An online book club, launched by fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood, is to be curated by a University of Sussex professor.
Lucy Robinson, Professor in Collaborative History first met Vivienne at her IOU: Intellectuals Unite event in 2016. Founded by the designer, Intellectuals Unite are a group of people who have conversations rooted in the now and focused on the future, covering topics from climate change to austerity. Professor Robinson quickly became involved, based on both her background as an activist and her historical research on structures of protest and political organisations.
Professor Robinson said: “The politics of Vivienne’s vision extends beyond the academy. Her starting point is that we are all intellectuals. If you think about the world, if you participate in it critically and culturally – then you are an intellectual too.The context in which we find ourselves forces us to do just that.”
The Intellectuals Unite book club, due to launch on Monday 25 May at 6pm was partly inspired by a letter that Vivienne wrote to her granddaughter Cora. She provided a list of reading recommendations, suggesting that Cora begin by working through various 19th-century novels.
This became the basis of the book club.
Professor Robinson said: “As someone who misses her grandchildren so much that it hurts and has been trying to maintain a connection by sharing books with them online, this totally struck a chord.
“But more than that. This is the literature that I grew up loving, grew in confidence studying and, I hope, could help us to feel connected to both each other and to the past, in these extraordinary times. The 19th-century novel demands that we find ourselves in the bigger picture.The expansiveness of the novel’s totality takes us outside of our own carefully measured safe distances from each other. Books’ characters are our comrades.”
While Vivienne will share her book recommendations every two weeks, Professor Lucy Robinson will be curating the book club on her Instagram @ProfLRobinson. She will be sharing an introduction to the book, thinking about things to look for, contextual background and other ideas to think about while reading, before holding a virtual book club with questions and discussions.
Others from the University of Sussex will also be involved. Dr Pamela Thurschwell, Reader in English, is also taking part.
She said: “Novels matter in the time of coronavirus because art makes connections between people, even in the absence of hugs and handshakes; novels help build our shared understandings of our worlds.”
Professor Robinson added: “We want to want to find a space to think about virtual and literary communities. Vivienne is always clear how much she values the book as a physical object – but reading comes in many forms. This might be audiobooks, or a screen reader, eBooks, or a variety of different adaptions available from BBC Sounds or iPlayer, for example.
“We want to find as many ways to get people involved and providing content as possible.”
The first book to be read and discussed will be The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. You can join in on Lucy Robinson's instagram @ProfLRobinson.
Lucy is also calling for people to email her their reactions to the books to be collated for the live event, along with thoughts and reviews as either text or videos.