The Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell and the Legacy of Romanticism.

Thank you so much to all of you who came to our conference ‘The Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell and the Legacy of Romanticism’ on the 1st June. It was wonderful to see so many of you in Cambridge. It is widely acknowledged that the Brontës and Gaskell were enormously inspired by the generation of Romantic writers who preceded them, but this conference set out to explore the manifestation of these Romantic legacies in depth. Gaskell and the Brontës’ lives intersect so closely, and yet politically and theologically they differ significantly, making a comparison between their internalisation, re-fashioning and resisting of Romantic tropes such a rich ground for discussion.

Simon Avery set the tone for the conference with his fantastic keynote lecture on the Brontës’ 1846 collection of poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, drawing out a variety of Romantic legacies within these poems and teasing out many themes that were unravelled by our panellists throughout the day.

In our first panel, Clare Walker Gore and Lucy Hanks tackled Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë, scrutinising Gaskell’s attempts to comprehend Charlotte’s position as a post-Romantic female writer.

After a continued discussion over tea and coffee, Marie Moxon began our next panel with an analysis of Gaskell’s Ruth and the influence of Wordsworthian poetics of nature, before Ann-Marie Richardson introduced us to the Romantic poet Henry Kirke White and his impact on Emily Brontë’s poetry. Elena Violaris rounded off the panel with an invigorating paper on imagining imagination in Villette, Shirley and Jane Eyre.

In our final panel, Edwin Marr placed Branwell Brontë’s poetry in the tradition of proto-Romantic graveyard writing, before Lucy Sheerman closed the day with a deeply nuanced paper on the Byronic hero.


Reflections from unit member Abderrezzaq Ghafsi on the 56th anniversary of Algiers’s University Library fire and on the burning of Dickens’s novels

As good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, God’s Image; but he who destroys a good Book, kills reason itself, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.

― John Milton, Areopagitica

This blog post recounts the bombing of the Algerian library and the burning of Dickens’s Pickwick Papers and Bleak House in Algiers’s University Library 56 years ago. In 2015 the Algerian Newspaper El-Massa published a column entitled ‘The Burning of Algiers’s University Library: A Forgotten French Tragedy’ which described how, on 7th June 1962 at around 12:40 pm, three phosphorous bombs exploded, leading to a disastrous fire in the Library which destroyed about 600,000 rare transcripts and books. Many observers considered this event as a terrorist attack intended to destroy Algerians’ cultural memory. Some Algerian politicians attributed the fire to the French policy known in Algeria as ‘The Scorched Earth’. Others argued that the fire had been planned by a terrorist group known in Algerian history as OAS (French Secret Army Organisation). For more details, please click here.

The fire at Algiers’s University Library increases the challenge of tracking the reception history of Charles Dickens’s works in Algeria. In September 2016, I conducted fieldwork to look at the holdings of Dickens’s novels at Algiers University Library during colonial Algeria. The early novels the library held were in two languages: French and English. As a researcher in the publication history of Dickens in Algeria, I encountered many difficulties in locating the archives and pinning down the dates of the acquisition of the novels by the library. There are two main reasons for this. First, the systematic organization of archives in Algeria did not begin until the early twentieth century. Second, the huge fire in Algiers University Library shortly before Independence in 1962 meant that copies of The Pickwick Papers and Bleak House were included in the many volumes that were destroyed or partially burnt.

 The Burning of The Pickwick Papers and Bleak House at Algiers University Library in 1962

CFP: Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Fluids in the Long Nineteenth Century. One-day conference at Aston University

Call for Papers: Anxious Forms 2018

Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Bodily Fluids in the Long Nineteenth Century

Friday 27th July 2018, Aston University, Birmingham


Professor Talia Schaffer, CUNY

Dr Kate Lister, Leeds Trinity University

‘The power of blood is so difficult to decipher because it is at once the foundational social metaphor and the most basic necessity for life.’

(Priscilla Wald, foreword of The Cultural Politics of Blood, 1500-1900)

After the success of Anxious Forms: Bodies in Crisis (2014) and Anxious Forms: Masculinities in Crisis (2016), we are pleased to announce a third one-day conference which considers the construction of bodily fluids—both metaphorical and material, both abject and desirable—in the long nineteenth century. The period in question witnessed the first blood transfusion, the first English medical text on menstruation and menopause, anxieties around spermatorrhea and hysteria, the rise of vampire and werewolf fiction, and massive infrastructure reform around sewage and water to combat infectious diseases. This interdisciplinary event will explore the advancements, crises, contradictions, and understandings of bodily fluids in the long nineteenth century across a range of media, including fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, photography, visual arts, material culture, and medical and scientific texts. The event will also explore the challenges of critical discussions of topics traditionally considered taboo or hampered by the dynamics of disgust. Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Blood

Bloodlines, lineage, and primogeniture

Diseases and treatments

Wounds and trauma

Blood as metaphor

Vampirism, and lycanthropy

Puberty, menstruation, and menopause

  • Sweat

Work and exertion

Sports and Christian masculinity

Fever and illness


  • Tears

Discourses of emotion

  • Digestion

Bile and vomit


Sewage, wells, and communicable diseases

  • The Eucharist and Transubstantiation
  • Sexual Fluids
  • The Humours
  • Ectoplasm and the Supernatural


We welcome proposals for individual 20 minute papers or panels from PGRs and ECRs as well as more established academics. Please send 300-word abstracts with an academic CV and a 50-word biography to Abby Boucher and Daniel Jenkin-Smith at by 1st May. Successful applicants will be notified by 15th May.

We are able to award a number of postgraduate travel bursaries. If you would like to be considered for a bursary, please include a 200-word explanation about how the conference relates to your research, along with a breakdown of your expenses.