Pettitt, Clare

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Pettitt, Clare


Education: Cambridge University, B.A.; Oxford University, D.Phil.


Office—King's College, London, Department of English, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, England. E-mail—[email protected].


Academic. King's College, London, London, England, lecturer and convenor for the M.A. in English program. Cambridge University, Newnham College, Bye fellow.


British Association for Victorian Studies (committee member).


Patent Inventions: Intellectual Property and the Victorian Novel, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Dr. Livingstone, I Presume? Missionaries, Journalists, Explorers, and Empire, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2007.


Clare Pettitt is an academic. She earned a bachelor of arts degree at Cambridge University and went on to complete a D.Phil. at Oxford University. Pettitt eventually became a lecturer at King's College, London, where she also acts as the convenor for the college's M.A. in English program. She has also served as a Bye fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge University. Her research interests include the history of the book, media and technology, and Victorian understandings of multiple pasts.

Pettitt published her first book, Patent Inventions: Intellectual Property and the Victorian Novel, in 2004. The account deals with the Victorian understanding of authors and inventors. Jennifer Ruth, writing in Victorian Studies, noted that the book "is a fascinating meditation on a largely overlooked, arguably repressed nineteenth-century discourse that analogized the inventor and the author." Ruth pointed out that the first part of the book, where Pettitt discusses the overlapping of rhetorical identities between mechanical inventors and literary authors, is the "most successful half." Ruth concluded that "Patent Inventions uses original research and careful analysis to dismantle an entrenched critical presumption of the inevitability of the Romantic notion of authorship. Pettitt states, ‘My object in writing [Patent Inventions] was not so much to intervene at a theoretical level, as to situate a discussion of creativity specifically and carefully at certain moments in the nineteenth century.’ … She succeeds beautifully in achieving her object, but I wish she had been more speculative about some of the broader implications of her work. In its emphasis on ‘careful’ historicism, Pettitt's book is not unlike a good deal of recent criticism in Victorian studies."

Sundeep Bisla, reviewing the book in Studies in the Novel, stated: "Displaying impressive research skills, Pettitt fulfills her ambitious goal of taking ‘the current critical discussion of copyright law and the construction of the artist in the Victorian period out of its literary-critical isolation and restor[ing] it to the wider debate in the period about labour and value.’" Bisla was more specific in noting that the third chapter of the book is "her strongest," but went on to say that "the readings of various novels that make up the latter half of the book are less successful." Bisla posed a few questions while concluding her review, pondering: "Could some of Pettitt's insights have been more a product of historical framing and focus than of fact? Any good student of photography knows about the effects of selective framing. Can intellectual property be discussed properly when viewed solely over the relatively short time span between 1830 and 1900?"

Pettitt published Dr. Livingstone, I Presume? Missionaries, Journalists, Explorers, and Empire in 2007. The book brings to light the actual events of the famed meeting between American reporter Henry Morton Stanley and Scottish missionary and explorer Dr. David Livingstone in central Africa in 1871. Despite the entrance of this encounter into popular culture, Pettitt shows that Livingstone was a largely unsuccessful missionary and Stanley was a reporter with a mind to make a story that would be sensational, in order to benefit his career rather than tell the facts straight. Pettitt also uncovers Western indifference and ignorance towards Africa and its people.

Natasha Hegde, reviewing the book on, described the book as being "historical, accurate, thorough, lucid," and "illuminating." Hegde warned, however, that the book "is certainly not an easy read. Because Pettitt's aim is to present the reader with various accounts of the incident and then shatter them, she draws heavily on historical quotations, illustrations and documents. Although this may be necessary for her purpose, it makes the book read more like a history textbook than a novel." Hegde summarized that Dr. Livingstone, I Presume? "is extremely well-researched and skilfully assembled, but it's just too complex to be accessible to all but the most diehard fans of Victorian history."

Robert Clemm, reviewing the book on eHistory, commented that "Pettitt does an admirable job exploring the deeper meaning of the famous handshake at Lake Tanganyika." Clemm opined that "two themes which are interspersed throughout her chapters could have used some more focus. She alludes [to] the lingering effect of this meeting on popular culture, but tends to scatter her references throughout the book. Another pattern she notes is how Livingstone's missionary and exploratory work was subsumed behind a Boys Own adventure narrative. Both of these cultural themes could have been developed more fully in a chapter of their own." Nevertheless, Clemm said that "these substantive problems are relatively minor. Pettitt has demonstrated that this meeting between Stanley and Livingstone has become part of a symbolic landscape, and as such it deserves to be examined critically." Nick Smith, reviewing the book in Geographical, called the book "a great read," despite its small size. Smith concluded that the author "has done a wonderful job in condensing this sprawling tale into a clear and compact introduction to one of the greatest stories of 19th century exploration." David Keymer, reviewing the book in Library Journal, called the prose "vigorous," adding that "her historical judgment is always on the mark." Keymer noted that the author is not "afraid to say what the historical record can't tell us."



BJHS: The British Journal for the History of Science, September, 2006, Greta Jones, review of Patent Inventions: Intellectual Property and the Victorian Novel, p. 437.

Economic History Review, November 1, 2004, Christine MacLeod, review of Patent Inventions, p. 782.

Geographical, October 1, 2007, Nick Smith, review of Dr. Livingstone, I Presume? Missionaries, Journalists, Explorers, and Empire, p. 88.

Library Journal, July 1, 2007, David Keymer, review of Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?, p. 104.

Novel, fall, 2005, Daniel Hack, review of Patent Inventions, p. 146.

Studies in the Novel, spring, 2007, Sundeep Bisla, review of Patent Inventions, p. 130.

Technology and Culture, July 1, 2005, Joel J. Brattin, review of Patent Inventions, p. 649.

Victorian Studies, spring, 2007, Jennifer Ruth, review of Patent Inventions, p. 509.


Cambridge Victorian Studies Group Web site, (April 18, 2008), author profile.

eHistory, (April 18, 2008), Robert Clemm, review of Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?, (May 22, 2007), Natasha Hegde, review of Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?

King's College, London, Department of English Web site, (April 18, 2008), author profile.