- The University of Exeter
- I returned a couple of weeks ago from a trip to England — I’ve just now had time to write about my travels! The original purpose of my trip was to attend a Decadent Poetics conference at the University of Exeter (but it turned into a holiday, as well). One of my main areas of study in graduate school is late 19th century art and literature, and I especially adore works associated with the Decadent Movement (think: Oscar Wilde).
- I was excited about the conference because I was presenting on some of my recent research, and I had the chance to meet other like-minded folks and talk about all manner of bookish topics.
- All of the scholars I met there were gracious and warm, and the speakers gave some fascinating talks. One scholar in particular, Catherine Maxwell, piqued my interest — she is working on a book about 19th century perfume! For her research, she has been traveling around to various perfume houses to learn more about the history and tradition of perfume-making. What a wonderful project – I absolutely cannot wait until she publishes her book, so I can learn more.
- Exeter, which is located in Devon, was a lovely little town. I was thrilled to take the train there from London and see the rolling hills and fluffy sheep along the way. The photo above left shows the view from rooms at the university — so serene. The image on the right shows the dormitories we stayed in during the conference.
- English gardens.
- Yes, I am one of those annoying travelers who takes a million photos of flowers and then forces everyone to look at them. I couldn’t help it – England is just so closely associated with flowers and gardens in my mind. I think it all started with my girlhood obsession with the Victorian “Language of Flowers” books. For the Victorians, each flower had a meaning and was symbolic of a deep-felt emotion. I was not disappointed by the colors and array of flowers I saw while there. I came across so many lovely gardens on our walk around the old castle walls in Exeter, as well as a traditional English garden hidden in the middle of Battersea Park in London.
Once the conference was over in Exeter, I headed back for a few days of holiday in London. It was a bit strange and surreal to wander the city on my own, but I felt very accomplished to be able to use the Tube and find my way all by myself!
My two primary destinations while there were: the Cult of Beauty exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Vorticist exhibit at the Tate Britain. I was totally blown away by both! I even splurged on exhibition books, so I can re-live them whenever I want. I never wanted to leave the Cult of Beauty exhibit — I just wanted to remain there, surrounded by peacock feathers, velvet, embroidery, Pre-Raphaelite art. So breathtaking.
I tried to fit in as much sight-seeing as possible…as well as some fun, frivolous outings. I absolutely had to stop by the Penhaligon’s perfume shop. This is the quintessential British perfumery (around since the 1860s). When I was young, I had several Victorian poetry books scented with Penhaligon’s perfumes. I read and sniffed them so much that the scent faded completely by the time I grew up. Being in the shop and sampling their perfumes brought back so many memories of my precious little books.
I also visited Liberty of London — it was truly a shopping paradise (with the exception of the prices!): niche perfumes, brightly printed scarves, peacock-embellished home accessories. It is literally floor after floor of aesthetic pleasure. There is even a floor of Arts and Crafts furniture and art from the late 1800’s — all for sale! I can’t even imagine having a home filled with these pieces of history.
I think one of the most impressive things about England is the architecture — sometimes it’s hard for Americans to wrap our brains around how old these structures really are. The house in the above photo (middle) was built in the 1400’s…and people still live there. Wow — and my parents think they deal with a lot of upkeep on their house built in the early 1900’s! The strangest thing (for me) was walking along a row of modern office building and then suddenly coming upon a fragment of a Roman wall or a pub that Jack the Ripper supposedly frequented!
I was so grateful that my friends Audrey and Enrique took me sight-seeing on the second day I was there. It was nice to have someone to chat with and to catch up with old friends! I have already started making a list in my head of all things I want to see when I return to England — Stonehenge and the National Gallery, for sure. It was all such a learning experience, and I am so grateful that the conference allowed me the opportunity to go on an adventure…
Thanks for reading!
Fragrantly Yours, Tara