A Space of Their Own: Women, Writing and Place, 1850-1950, Conference Report

Shaina Paggett is an undergraduate English and History student at Keele University. You can find her on twitter @ShainaPaggett .

This summer, I had the honour of attending my first academic conference held outside of my own university. My interest in Victorian Literature has grown over the past couple of years and, in spite of my nerves at attending a conference at which I knew nobody, I was excited to be able to gain a deeper insight into different areas of research being conducted in the field.

Not having considered the use of space in literature in any depth prior to attending this conference, I was unsure of what kind of talks to expect. Pleasantly surprised by the range of topic areas covered over the course of the day, some of my favourite papers included an exploration of the links between place, space, and ‘The pursuit of independence in Charlotte Bronte’s Villette’ (Dr Kimberley Braxton) and the importance of space for the development of the female detective in Agatha Christie’s novels (Sarah Martin).

Underlying several talks throughout the day was the notion that men and women have different experiences of space, experiences which make their way into writings of the period. This was a concept I had not previously considered, but find fascinating and hope to bring into future research of my own, wherever it may fall. PhD student Annie Strausa’s talk on Virginia Woolf’s Orlando suggested that male ‘attempts to manipulate women’s experiences of space’ may have led to women writers of the era becoming determined to lay claim to literary space; making me consider space not simply in a geographical sense, but as a concept which underlies all aspects of life and culture, opening up an infinite amount of avenues regarding literature and space which have yet to be explored.

As you may have noticed, this conference did not cover only the Victorian period, but also the 20th Century. Consequently, the shared themes between papers (particularly those on the same panel) highlighted the way in which literary eras are not as clearly defined as their labels often lead us to believe. As prominent features from one era work their way into the next, we have to ask ourselves: ‘how do the ghosts of previous writers define our writing now?’ In understanding the ways in which thoughts and feelings from various literary movements and eras flow into and out of one another, we can gain a greater appreciation of the origins of the culture we consume, and the relationship between the works of one writer and another.

I’d like to thank Dr Katie Baker and Naomi Walker at University Centre Shrewsbury for organising such a fascinating event with a range of thought-provoking papers, delivering a variety of research amongst which there was something for everybody to enjoy. I’d like to encourage everyone who is, like me, at a very early stage in their career, to attend conferences like this one. If this day taught me anything non-literature related, it’s that people are friendly, and are willing to talk to you. You might think that you’re not intellectually, academically, and socially advanced enough when doing your undergraduate or master’s degree to attend an event like this, but I have since learned that these events are for anyone who wants to learn and gain a greater insight into the literature which surrounds us.

Without intending to make the ending of this blog post as cheesy as possible, I want to conclude by saying that this conference proved that everyone; of all genders and stages of their career, can make academic conferences a space of their own.

For more information about this event and the speakers who presented, please visit @Aspaceoftheiro1 on Twitter.

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