Charlotte Cushman, above, played the character of Meg Merrilies in transatlantic theatrical adaptations of Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering (1815). Meg is described by Scott as a ‘harlot, thief, witch and gipsy’.
Thesis: ‘Moveable Type: How might a contemporary ekphrastic practice illuminate Traveller representations in Thomas Bewick’s tail-piece prints?’
The Equality Act (2010) marks the first legal acknowledgement of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller ethnicity. From Edward Rochester’s masquerade as an otherworldly blanketed fortune teller, the ‘gipsy vagabond’ in Jane Eyre (1847) to Meg Merrilies, Walter Scot’s ‘harlot, thief, witch, and gipsy’ in Guy Mannering (1815), when GRT people – especially women – are acknowledged in literature and art, they are often unveiled as weird prognosticators and withdrawn wanderers from whom, as with Rochester, difference can be established. My research brings to the fore this minority ethnic group’s peripherality. It alerts readers to ideologies that continue to ‘other’, misrepresent and define ‘gypsiness’.
As a writer and educator of GRT ethnicity, my research identifies the absence/presence of the culture in literary tropes and visual art. Through the comparative exploration of eighteenth and nineteenth century literature alongside the Thomas Bewick print archive (Natural History Society of Northumbria), and The Freed Verse study (2005), I establish that a ‘lack of [institutional] understanding towards [GRT] history and cultures’ (Bhopal, 2004) is evident in art history and the literary canon, as well as in contemporary archival and publishing practices.
Examined by Dr. Tony Williams (Northumbria) and Professor Sinéad Morrissey (Newcastle), my Ph.D. research explored Traveller disengagement with the Academy, publishing industry and archive as institutions possessed by settled peoples. To disrupt damaging cycles of ethnocentrism with both creative and critical response. I ask: how might GRT peoples negotiate a profuse and damaging application of our cultural heritage, as perceived by settled writers? Through a new collection of poetry, I answer: we can critically address, re-imagine and restore it for ourselves.