The Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell and the Legacy of Romanticism – Call for Papers

The Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell and the legacy of Romanticism

Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

1st June 2018

Keynote Speaker: Simon Avery (University of Westminster)


(Illustration from 1943 Random House edition of Jane Eyre, illustrated by Fritz Eichenberg)

…we can now find something to muse on in the humble daisy, and something to see on a desolate moor. (Branwell Brontë, ‘Thomas Bewick’)

The above quotation, taken from Branwell Brontë’s published article in the Halifax Guardian on the Northumbrian artist Thomas Bewick, demonstrates the extent to which Branwell, and indeed all the Brontë family, had internalised the tropes of Romanticism, finding something worthy of poetic reflection even in the humble flower that would hitherto have been trodden underfoot. In fact, the very first chapter of Jane Eyre finds the eponymous heroine reading Bewick’s A History of British Birds (1794-1804). Despite her tyrannous upbringing, the young Jane declares, ’With Bewick on my knee, I was then happy.’ The book with its celebration of the natural world takes Jane out of the wretched Gateshead Hall and allows the flight of that thing celebrated above all else by the Romantics: her imagination. Agnes Grey also promotes a post-Romantic view of nature, with Agnes’ plea to ‘Remember, the birds can feel as well as you’. Charlotte Brontë urges her friend Ellen Nussey not to ‘be startled’ by her recommendation to read Byron, or at least the tamer parts. Meanwhile, Wuthering Heights, Villette, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, all engage with the darker side of Romanticism through their gothic themes, whilst the trope of the Byronic hero haunts many of the Brontë novels, and a significant portion of their Juvenilia.

Elizabeth Gaskell too was hugely influenced by the Romantic poets and artists, writing of Wordsworth ‘my heart feels so full of him I only don’t know how to express my fullness without being too diffuse’, and expressing a similar sentiment to Branwell’s article, with Gaskell lamenting how ’the beauty and poetry of many of the common things and daily events in life in its humblest aspect does not seem to me sufficiently appreciated’. Irene Wiltshire has been more specific, arguing that Wordsworth’s greatest impact on Gaskell’s writing was ‘his belief in the importance and universality of feeling…and, in particular, Wordsworth’s alignment of nature with feeling and moral growth’. Certainly, one can see such emphasis on feeling within Wives and Daughters, Ruth, Sylvia’s Lovers and her shorter fiction such as ‘Lizzie Leigh’. However, it is not just the universality and intensity of feeling that Gaskell borrows from Wordsworth, but the focus on previously disenfranchised individuals too, most notably in Mary Barton and North and South. Moreover, as with the Brontës’ work, one can also find traces of the Byronic hero, the gothic, and the celebration of the natural world throughout Gaskell’s novels and short stories.

In this the bicentenary year of Emily Brontë, arguably the most overtly Romantic out of Gaskell or the Brontë siblings, this one-day conference seeks to re-evaluate some of the ways in which these writers responded to, reacted against, or elucidated their Romantic inheritance. It also seeks to compare and contrast how the Brontës and Gaskell responded to Romanticism in their unique ways, foregrounding how their differences in politics, religion and attitudes towards the moral role of literature more generally, influenced their reactions towards and development of Romanticism.

We welcome 250 word abstracts for 20-minute papers from all Brontë and/or Gaskell researchers and enthusiasts. Topics may include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Representations of liberty and the imagination.
  • Romantic versus Victorian attitudes towards sentiment and sentimentality.
  • The role of Romanticism in the industrial North.
  • Textual allusions to Romantic literature.
  • The legacy of Romanticism on depictions of the poor.
  • Representations of Romanticism in Gaskell’s and/or the Brontës’ correspondence.
  • The celebration, critique or reshaping of the Byronic hero.
  • Romantic self-fashioning on the part of the author.
  • The relationship between Gaskell’s Unitarianism and the Brontës’ Evangelicalism, and their reading of Romantic literature.
  • Post-Romantic responses to nature, animals and/or science.
  • Gaskell and/or the Brontës’ re-working of dark Romanticism and gothic elements.
  • Politics in the wake of Romanticism.
  • Romanticism in adaptations of the Brontës’ and/or Gaskell’s works.
  • Post-Romantic attitudes towards children and childhood.

All proposals should be emailed to Edwin John Moorhouse Marr via no later than 20th April 2018. Please feel free to email with any questions, and we look forward to reading your abstracts.


Reading Group Semester 2 2017-18

For our reading group this semester we will be moving into the future by around 50 years from our last text, Shirley, and will be reading Sarah Grand’s The Beth Book (1897). All are welcome to come along and discuss this intriguing, fin de siècle text by an author known for pushing the conventions of nineteenth-century literature. The group will meet on alternate Thursdays, 17:00-18:00 in HEL112.

For those of you who need a copy, there are some good quality second hand Virago editions of The Beth Book on Abe Books still available at a very modest price. Or, for those of you who prefer a digital edition, the Kindle version can also be bought on Amazon for £3.59.


WEEK 1: 1st Feb: Chapters 1-8 (led by Lizzie Ludlow)

WEEK 3: 15th Feb: Chapters 9-16 (led by Kathy Rees)

WEEK 5: 1st Mar: Chapters 17-23 (led by Raj Mann)

WEEK 7: 15th Mar: Chapters 24-33 (led by Chris Lyon)


WEEK 9: 12th Apr: Chapters 34-43 (led by Anna Phillips)

WEEK 11: 26th Apr: Chapters 44-52 (led by Marie Moxon)

The Challenge of Religious Transformation in the 19th Century: Symposium on Friday November 24th

We are excited to announce that our afternoon symposium, ‘The Challenge of Religious Transformation in the Nineteenth-Century’, will be taking place on the 24th November 2017, from 15:00-18:30 in LAB216. This event will also be live streamed with Lancaster University via Google Hangouts.

Speakers are: Stephen Prickett, Andrew Tate, Lesa Scholl and Elizabeth Ludlow.

Respondents include: Mark Knight, Val Purton, Clare Walker Gore and Jo Carruthers.

All are welcome, and we are really looking forward to what promises to be a rich and varied discussion. Please confirm your attendance by registering here.

Panel 1: 3.00-4.30

Chair: John Gardner (Anglia Ruskin University)

Stephen Prickett (University of Kent), “Airbrushing Religion: The Reconfiguration of the Victorian Image”

Respondents: Andrew Tate and Mark Knight (Lancaster University)

Andrew Tate, “The Psalms and Social Justice”

Respondents: Stephen Prickett and Val Purton (Anglia Ruskin University)

BREAK: 4.30-4.45

Panel 2: 4.45- 6.30

Chair: Marie Moxon (Anglia Ruskin University)

Lesa Scholl (University of Queensland, Australia), “The Material Eucharist: Feeding the Hungry on Sunday”

Respondents: Clare Walker Gore (Cambridge University) and Elizabeth Ludlow (Anglia Ruskin University)

Elizabeth Ludlow, “The transfigured body of the prodigal daughter in Victorian women’s poetry”

Respondents: Lesa Scholl and Jo Carruthers (Lancaster University)

The Gaskell Journal: Joan Leach Memorial Graduate Student Essay Prize 2018

Deadline for submissions: 1st February 2018

The Gaskell Journal runs a biennial Graduate Student Essay Prize in honour of Joan Leach MBE, founder of the Gaskell Society.


The essay competition is open to all graduate students currently registered for an MA or PhD in Victorian Studies. Entries are invited that offer an original contribution to the field of Gaskell studies, whether by reading her works in relation to Victorian cultural, religious, aesthetic and scientific contexts, or through innovative close readings enlightened by critical theory, or a comparative study connecting Gaskell’s with another author’s work.  Essays will be shortlisted by the Gaskell Journal Editorial Board, with the final judgment being made by a leading scholar in Gaskell studies.


The winning essay will be published in the Gaskell Journal (subject to appropriate revisions), and its author will receive £200 from the Gaskell Society, and a complimentary copy of the Journal. High quality runners-up will also be considered for publication.


Essays should be 6000-7000 words, and not under consideration for publication elsewhere. Please see the Gaskell Journal website for the stylesheet (MHRA with endnotes), and for the form to submit with your anonymised essay:

Please submit these directly to the Editor Dr Rebecca Styler by/on 1st February 2018, who can also answer any inquiries.


Marianne Van Remoortel: “Pioneer or Copycat? The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine in its European Context.”

On Wednesday 1st March at 4pm, Marianne Van Remoortal (Ghent University) will come and give a talk as part of our seminar series. Her talk is entitled ‘“Pioneer or Copycat? The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine in its European Context.” Do come along! The talk will take place in Helmore 112 and tea, coffee and cookies will be provided.

Marianne is the author of of Lives of the Sonnet, 1787-1895: Genre, Gender and Criticism (Ashgate, 2011) and Women, Work and the Victorian Periodical: Living by the Press (Palgrave 2015).

New centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy: Launch Wed 15th Feb 4-6 pm in LAB 207.

All are welcome to attend the launch event for this centre next Wednesday. Do come and hear Kirsty Harris and Steven White talk about their research beforehand.

The Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy connects writing and publishing with literary criticism. It is comprised of Faculty members, associate lecturers and postgraduate and undergraduate students. Launching in 2017, we will hold a series of symposia and conferences designed to bring together academics, authors, editors, and members of the book publishing industry.

Join us for two short readings from Dr. Una McCormick’s Star of the Sea(Abaddon, October 2016) and Marian Womack’s Lost Objects (Luna Press, forthcoming 2018). Readings to be followed by wine, snacks, and mingling!

For information about the Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy, visit: