The Michaelian
the michaelian

issue two: december 2010



Women Writers of the Fin de Siècle Conference, University of London (28-29 June 2010).

As academics and researchers that work on Michael Field, we are acutely aware of the ever-growing, diverse body of scholarship on these writers. Similarly, those that work on Vernon Lee or Olive Schreiner—to choose just a couple of examples—must be equally conscious of comparable developments in their field of study. This increase in scholarly interest is, of course, due to significant developments in fin de siècle studies during the 1980s and 1990s, which focussed particularly on late-Victorian ‘New Women’ writers.  Therefore, the task of grouping together this already sprawling and still rapidly growing area of scholarship is a particularly daunting one.

To explore women’s writing across a range of genres between the years 1880-1900 was the ambitious aim of the ‘Women Writers of the Fin de Siècle’ conference organised by Dr Carolyn Oulton and Dr Adrienne Gavin. To accommodate this broad remit, panels comprised of four fifteen-minute papers (instead of the customary three). The result was an intense conference, tightly-packed with research of interest to the Michael Field scholar

The opening plenary given by Professor Linda Peterson focused on the ways in which women poets were constructed as celebrities within fin de siécle literary culture, using Alice Meynell as a particularly pertinent example. The paper was thought-provoking and entertaining in equal measure (I liked the anecdote about Marie Corelli returning a publicity photograph with the note: ‘Why this stoutness?’). Following this, the Michael Field panel offered a range of papers representative of the diverse work on these equally diverse writers. It was particularly satisfying to see Michael Field’s drama as a focus of attention: Dr Andrew Eastham offered a reading of Michael Field’s Roman Trilogy, whilst Donna S. Parsons discussed the Wagnerian influences of Anna Ruina. Both papers gave a sense of the richness of interpretation invited by Bradley and Cooper’s densely-patterned dramatic work.

Next, Dr Elizabeth Primamore covered the familiar ground of Long Ago, describing how Michael Field construct transgressive female sensibility via their Sapphic communities. But perhaps most enlightening of all was Dr Marion Thain and Dr Ana Parejo Vadillo’s discussion of the editorial decisions behind their volume for Broadview Michael Field: The Poet. Detailing the practicalities and problems faced when offering a (necessarily limited) sample of the work of such prolific writers, Thain and Vadillo offered a valuable insight into a difficult but rewarding editorial challenge.

Elsewhere, a panel on ‘Collaborations/Literary Relationships’ was also relevant to Michael Field. In particular, Dr Kirsty Bunting’s paper on Somerville and Ross offered an interesting parallel to Bradley and Cooper’s collaborative dynamic. Elsewhere at the conference, there were two fascinating panels on Vernon Lee, showcasing the range and quality of work on Lee. On the second day of the conference, Professor Lyn Pykett gave a fascinating paper on the New Woman writer and national identity.

Unfortunately, I do not have space here to do justice to the wide variety of work on offer at this bustling, densely-packed conference. I conclude by stating how inspiring it was to witness the sheer amount and multiplicity of high-quality research being conducted on such a wide range of women writers, proving that women writers of the fin de siècle continue to inspire — and will do so for many, many years to come.

Sarah Parker
University of Birmingham

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