Second Conference on British Women Writers at Chichester University May 27th 2017

Really pleased that Dave Clayton and Miles Leeson are organising a second conference at Chichester next year.
Would be great to see some of you again along with a new batch of authors and scholars! (Who is going to keep the ball rolling and do the next one?!!)
website and further details re closing date etc to follow…

We are delighted to announce a new conference at Chichester in 2017!

British Women’s Writing between 1930 and 1960: ‘Influences and Connectivity’

A One-day Conference at the University of Chichester
Saturday May 27th 2017
Co-organised by Dr Miles Leeson and David Clayton
Department of English & Creative Writing

The conference aims to extend the discussion of British women’s writing that was initiated at the University of Hull in June 2016.

“Located in the ‘no-man’s land’ recently labelled ‘intermodernism’ by Kristin Bluemel and others, the work of women writers in the period between 1930 and 1960 has been too easily overlooked in assessments of large movements in literature. Situated after the Women’s Suffrage movement, World War One, and high modernism, it remains distinct from the Auden generation, but precedes the appearance of the ‘kitchen sink’, the ‘sexual revolution’, and the woman’s ‘confessional novel’”. Sue Kennedy. University of Hull. 2016

The thirty-year time span in question is characterised by what Claire Seiler has called its ‘middleness’ whereby it confronts the past, and at the same time, anticipates the future. In considering the concepts of influence and connectivity, fiction by women has been well examined for influences from Elaine Showalter’s ‘Big Five’ women who head the canon in what might be called a feminine tradition, unconsciously or, as in the example below as an overt act of homage:

“One of the best meals I ever ate in my imagination was the boeuf en daube in ‘To the Lighthouse’ said Julia, ‘I see it now and smell it – the great earthenware dish and its’” (she closed her eyes and breathed deeply) “its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats, and its bayleaves and its wine”.
In her debut novel, At Mrs Lippincote’s (1945) Elizabeth Taylor thus pays homage to one of her great influences.

There is, however, a substantial body of innovative and experimental work by women that deserves rehabilitation and scholarly recognition. To this end the conference will offer a thought-provoking environment in which to consider the influences that acted on women writers of the period, and in what ways they may be connected to Modernist, Intermodernist, and Post-Modernist impulses in addition to following a realist tradition. The conference title is intended to be broad enough to allow for the many varied interpretations which contributors may bring, whilst maintaining an underlying thread of common interest.

Our first confirmed keynote is Emeritus Professor Avril Horner (Kingston University) who will be discussing her forthcoming biography of Barbara Comyns.

We invite abstracts of up to 300 words for papers of no more than 20 minutes or panels of three associated papers to cover a range of women’s fiction, poetry and drama in relation to the conference title ‘Influences and Connectivity’. Please include brief biographical details and email to

Proposed Essay Collection

"We Can Do It!" World War II War-Efforts Poster
Following the success of the ‘British Women’s Writing 1930 to 1960’ Conference last month, Jane and I are pushing ahead with plans for an essay collection using some of the best papers from the day.
So, the first stage is to gauge interest from those of you who presented a paper in extending the piece for inclusion (around 5-7000 words).
Our first ports of call regarding publishers will be Edinburgh University Press, Manchester University Press and Palgrave. Our aim is submit an introduction, contents page and as many complete essays as possible. 
If you would like to put forward a different essay form the one you presented (which may already be destined for publication elsewhere) please submit a new 200 word abstract. If you missed out on the day but would like to submit a piece for consideration then please get in touch.
Although it is the summer holiday period we wanted to make a start before the trail goes completely cold! Please let us have expressions of interest, intention to submit, abstract or, better still, the complete essay by 31st October.
Thank you again for your contributions to the conference, and for your positive feedback. 
We wish you a good and productive summer.

Post-Conference Remarks

Post-Conference Remarks

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It happened on such an inauspicious day that I feel a little reticent to express appreciation, or indeed celebration, but I must!

Firstly, I will thank the delegates for making it from all points of the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. There were three who sadly fell foul of modern travel, facing cancelled flights from Spain and illness picked up on the plane journey from New Zealand. It is sad that they missed it and we missed their papers. But of those who arrived finally in sunny Hull (yes we arranged a sunny day to be cooped up in a darkened room!), they all took part in a great event.

A really pleasing feature was the range of people who signed up to attend, including five professors, several eminent academics, early career researchers, and PhD candidates. A welcome presence was a contingent from the Hull Women’s Literary Club, which fulfilled very admirably the wider public engagement criteria so much sought in Universities. I know they contributed freely to the day and took much away from it. What is more, we welcomed alumnae including a former member of the Hull band Red Guitars (bass player Lou Duffy-Howard), wearing a very different hat!

The tone of the day was set by the Keynote speakers, Mary Joannou and Gill Plain, whose work in the period has been groundbreaking and wide-reaching. They began and ended the day with fine talks, giving a personal take on the significance of this often under represented period of women’s writing.

The quality and range of the papers was remarkable, but with the usual frustration at conferences of having to make a choice between panels. The day began with an unashamedly Hull re-connection, however ‘tenuous and frivolous’, with fascinating aspects of the work of Stevie Smith and Winifred Holtby.

From here on the papers took off in diverse directions, each panel designated its own “Re” word headings, and all contributing to a re-reading and re-interpretation of women’s writing of the mid-twentieth century. A number of writers, unknown even to this special gathering, were highlighted and shown to be deserving of broader recognition. Not unexpectedly, writing before, from and about Second World War featured strongly, with little-known names like Edith Pargeter, Nancy Spain, Eileen Bigland. There was a focus on the queer writing of Katharine Burdekin, Dorothy Strachey, and lesser-known aspects of Vita Sackville-West’s career were showcased.

A more familiar name whose writing represents the broader geographical and personal experiences of the war was Olivia Manning, whose televised trilogies finally brought her more popular acclaim in 1987.

The postwar period also had its place and delegates were intrigued to discover Barbara Comyns’ idiosyncratic style in tandem with the much better known work of Iris Murdoch. Importantly in a women’s writing forum, an examination of the domestic and how it impinges on not only feminine but masculine anxieties found an interesting place.

The question of whether we can still call Elizabeth Taylor ‘undervalued’ was raised in a panel dedicated to her. A range of approaches and expanding potential for study was revealed as testimony to the growing appreciation of her fiction.

No assembly of mid-century women’s writing would be complete without Virginia Woolf, but the papers in this panel approached her reputation and interpreted her work from different critical angles. The absence of women authors other than Woolf from the canon, and hence from widespread academic study was explored in a panel that also suggested innovative ways of interpreting her work.

There was room, too, for the historical fiction of Mary Stewart, and the sadly little known political activist, campaigner and poet, Claudia Jones in a broadly based selection which furthermore explored the difficulties of the creative re-imagining of what might be called ‘neo-interwar’ writing for the twenty-first century.

A welcome addition to the scrutiny of fiction came with the examination of new manifestations of femininity and the domestic in women’s magazines, in autobiographies and in ‘fashion writing’.

The keynotes bookending the day admirably anticipated and re-iterated much of this diversity and left everyone wanting more!

Such a range of presentations surely does deserve some permanent inscription and maybe there will have to be a publication to record the work of the participants…

One question RE-mains: Who will put on a RE-peat conference next year?




Beautiful Poster Image

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We are really pleased with the image to be used on the poster and other media and must express appreciation for permission to use it to the Hull University Art Collection and especially to John Bernasconi who is responsible for this wonderful collection.

The painting, Girl Reading, (1933) is by Adrian Paul Allinson (1890- 1959).

It is a fine example of the vision involved in amassing the University’s marvellous collection of 20th Century art works.

The University of Hull Art Collection is a small but outstanding collection specialising in paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints produced in Britain 1890-1940.

It includes works by Beardsley, Sickert, Steer, Lucien Pissarro, Augustus John, Stanley Spencer, Wyndham Lewis and Ben Nicholson as well as sculpture by Epstein, Gill, Gaudier-Brzeska and Henry Moore. The Camden Town Group and Bloomsbury artists are particularly well represented.

It is now housed in a large exhibition space in the re-modelled Brynmor Jones Library, open daily from 10 till 5, later on Tuesdays, till 7. Well worth a visit!

Full details and a virtual tour are here:

Registration closes soon…

Time moves on and the online registration facility will shut down on Wednesday June 8th. If you are presenting and haven’t yet registered I urge you to do so very soon.

As always, any problems please get in touch.

For interested scholars, academics and readers the deadline also applies to you.

Lots to be arranged before the day so we need final numbers for catering, printing and fine tuning of the programme.