Bound up by Respectability: Women Writers at Coarse Brontës and BAVS 2017

I attended five conferences in the summer of 2017, giving papers at three of these.  At both the British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS) conference, and a conference organised by the Brontë Society and University of Durham entitled ‘The Coarseness of the Brontës’ (how could anyone resist this one?), I gave papers about Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell. I was lucky enough to get a bursary to attend the BAVS conference, which meant that I also got to live-tweet from the conference twitter account, publish a report in the BAVS newsletter, and write a blog for the Victorianist – the BAVS research blog. This was published this week and, as it effectually acts as a round up of the papers I gave at BAVS and the ‘Coarse Brontës’, I thought I’d reblog it here. 

The Victorianist: BAVS Postgraduates

Angharad Eyre is a Teaching Associate at Queen Mary, University of London, where she completed her PhD in 2014 with a thesis exploring the influence of the female missionary figure on women’s writing. Her edited collection, Love, Desire and Melancholy: Inspired by Constance Maynard was published in 2017 by Routledge. Her blog ‘A Woman’s Thoughts about Women, Writing and Mission in the 19th Century’ can be found at: She also tweets @AngharadEyre.

A few weeks before BAVS 2017 ‘Victorians Unbound’, I attended ‘The Coarseness of the Brontës’ conference at the University of Durham (a collaboration between Durham, Brunel University and the Brontë Society). I had been looking forward to both these conferences as an opportunity: firstly, to develop my ideas on Charlotte Brontë’s reception, before and after Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë; and secondly, to explore the more dissolute side of the Victorians – to revel…

View original post 1,218 more words


VPFA Conference 2017: Gender and Adventure Panel

This blog post was originally written for the Victorian Popular Fiction Association’s blog following the Association’s annual conference this summer. The theme of Travel, Translation and Communication made for an engaging and varied programme, and I couldn’t resist attending this panel on gender and adventure. 

VPFA image

The papers of this panel promised adventure, and did not disappoint.

Alisha Walters’ paper was titled ‘A “woman-comrade upon the bleak and barren heights before Sebastopol”: Mary Seacole and the Affective, Feminine Modelling of Wartime British Identity’. Walters’ paper focused on Seacole’s autobiography, which, as it was written to save her from bankruptcy, after the Crimean War, consciously deployed the tropes of the adventure story in both title – “The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole” – and style.

As well as a profitable adventure story, though, the autobiography was a chance for Seacole to construct herself as an imperial subject, and Walters provided a fascinating analysis of how Seacole did this. Most radically, Seacole created and sustained her imperial identity through affect, stressing her emotional connection with the British soldiers and the imperial project of war. In locating identity in this communal, emotional experience of imperialism, she challenged Robert Knox’s inheritance model of identity.

Walters’ gave a great impression of the fun Seacole had as an imperial subject among the British servicemen – including when, as a joke, they presented Seacole to some Russian soldiers as Queen Victoria! Sadly though, all this adventuring came to an end when the war ended, and Seacole had to return to England, and a less certain imperial position.

Imperial identity was also seen as communal in Matthew Crofts’ paper, ‘Crossing The Bounds of Decorum and Travelling in the First Ages: Transformation and Travel in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Kipling’s “The Mark of the Beast”’. However, Crofts emphasised ambivalence around ideas of the communal project of imperialism, which led writers like Conrad and Kipling to write new forms of gothic horror in response.

Crofts argued that both writers display a fear that the imperial position was by no means secure – that reverse colonisation could occur, and darkness could return to the civilised world. But Crofts also argued that these stories show an awareness that darkness was already inherent within the imperial race and that the gothic is used to express this deep dark truth. In Kipling’s story, the supernatural Other literally transforms the coloniser into a beast. However, after his transformation, his companions continue to act alongside him, even allowing the torture of a colonised subject, and are seemingly bound to the beast by their shared nationality. In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness there is no need for anything supernatural to turn Kurtz into a monster: only the machinery of empire is required.

Ambivalence about imperial identity continued with Elly McCausland’s paper, ‘”I wouldn’t trust that map”: Unmapping Adventurous Masculinity in Victorian Imperial Romance’. At its heart, this paper was a captivating reading of the relationship between maps and adventure, with adventure being defined as a sudden temporal event, an attitude, and a rejection of plans. Though this might seem to go against the structure of maps, McCausland reminded us that in boys’ adventure stories maps enact a slippage between knowledge and possibility: some can’t be trusted, there are blank spaces and edges – in effect, they offer a false omniscience and become the inspiration for adventure.

Adventure stories developed boys’ imperial masculinity by providing hypothetical situations in which boys could imaginatively be prepared (like boy scouts) for their imperial future. However, McCausland noted that there was ambivalence around this form of literature for boys, and fears that the genre was creating an ever-increasing appetite for adventure. The heroes of these stories arguably suffer from too much adventure: in the end they are left restless and unsatisfied, unable to make plans, and therefore unable to be of much help as the imperial project developed.

Overall, the British imperial project was a hard to ignore backdrop to these papers, but the speakers showed how this context offered rich opportunities for identity creation, new literary genres, and, of course, adventure.

2017 update

About two years ago, when I relaunched this blog, I wrote that 2016 would be the year of the book.

Instead, it turned out to be the year of Trump, and Brexit, and a somewhat difficult return to the UK. 2017 started well with the publication, not of the book, but at least a book: the book version of the Women’s History special issue that I had co-edited with some colleagues the year before (available here). It’s also been a year of conferences, a short-term fellowship at the John Rylands Research Institute, and a British Academy application. I still believe that I’ll write the book of my PhD – how women’s missionary writing shaped the development of nineteenth century women’s literature – especially now that I’ve been given the opportunity to also edit a volume of primary texts related to my subject.

So it looks like I’ve another busy academic year ahead – follow my blog to see how it goes. Any advice always welcome!

May’s Tips for Tuesday

In case anyone missed them, here are the pieces of advice (or anti-advice in one case) from Twitter and the blogosphere that I found most helpful in the past few weeks.

First, from one of my most trusted blogs, advice on how to revise a messy first draft:

Some of the advice reminded me of my experience revising a chapter submitted about a year before, that I wrote about here.

And then Will Pooley’s blog post was just what I needed as I struggled over yet another job application:

I love my research, even though it’s a topic that sometime other people sneer at.

I like social media: I think it contributes to my career, and I find it useful.

I applied for jobs people told me I would never get. And I got some of them.

Well I can honestly make the first two statements about my own work and life, so hopefully I’ll be writing similar advice about jobs in a few years time!

April’s favourite blogs

I had three favourite blog posts this month – though really one of them comes from January 2015!

That one was Lucinda Matthews-Jones’s post on Henrietta Barnett’s office, which was re-posted to link with the Guardian Higher Ed’s #MyHEoffice. Despite feeling rather jealous – my ‘portable office’ of a laptop and library gear has to be lugged around with me in a Penguin bag – I’ve enjoyed peeking into others’ work spaces, and this piece on Henrietta Barnett made me think of the physical lives of the professional women I write about, such as Constance Maynard, from a similar time period.

Lucie screenshot

More recent was this post from the Snapshots of Empire project at the University of Sussex: Security, Economy and Education in Mauritius, 1857. It’s not a part of the world that has featured in my research, but the to-and-fro between pragmatism and idealism on the part of the Imperial government was familiar to me from my research on missionaries.

Finally, I really enjoyed Charlotte Mathieson’s blog post on literary tourism in Charlotte Brontë’s Brussels. Brontë, of course, was born almost exactly 2o0 years ago (last Thursday), and I’m looking forward to attending Chawton House Library’s conference marking this anniversary in May – and presenting some of my own thoughts on Brontë and literary tourism.