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University of Brighton

The Neo-Victorian and the Late-Victorian:
Texts, Media, Politics

Conference Programme, Abstracts, Bios

Please note: All times are in UK time zone (BST)

Thursday 2 September

 09.00-09.45     Registration

09.45-10.00     Welcome (Victoria Margree & Aris Mousoutzanis)
                        Intro from Professor Graham Dawson, Director of the Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories

 10:00-11.45     Panel 1: Revisiting the Late-Victorian (Chair: Victoria Margree)

Theadora Jean, ‘The Fin De Siècle Monster That Never Dies: Dracula In Neo-Victorian Adaptation’
This paper evaluates the adaptations of the novel Dracula in mainstream Anglo-American neo-Victorian film and televisual mediums in the twenty-first century. This paper will take an interdisciplinary and anti-racist approach, considering particularly the depiction of people of colour on screen. I will also be problematizing the definitions of ‘Neo-Victorian’ and reflect upon the nostalgic legacies of conservative and discriminatory practices from the period which seem to be echoed uncritically into our own. I will be applying concepts and values from Critical Race Theory to explore the normative geographies of racialized construction via the story of Dracula. Rather than using the opportunity to subvert the anxieties of the fin-de-siecle period, negotiating a form of post-colonial writing-back, these Victoriana adaptations instead routinely reflect the racialised hierarchies and prejudices of the current time. I suggest that the literary fin de siècle monsters of Bram Stoker’s ur-text have, in the visual mode, conformed to ideologies of racialised discrimination and biased preoccupations. With reference to Baudrillard’s concept of the ‘copy’, this paper seeks to challenge the white hegemonic lack of investigation into the racial tropes presented. In the condemnation of such frameworks, the paper will consider the ramifications of these strategies of racialised monstrosity. While these monsters are made corporeal on screen, this paper considers how the pedagogical response may undermine, reinvent, and reimagine the critical interpretations of the text. In the conclusion of this paper, I will be reflecting upon the difficulties and potential opportunities this radical anti-racist work can offer practice/s within the academy.

Theadora Jean is a PhD researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her current project is a critical-creative thesis on Bram Stoker’s Dracula in relation to the ‘New Woman’ phenomenon of the fin-de-siecle period. She completed a BA in English Literature at the University of Liverpool and an MA in Critical & Creative Writing at the University of Sussex. Outside academia, her short fiction and non-fiction have been published in a range of online literary journals and her chapbook, Tower Block Ghost Story, is out now with Nightjar Press.


Saverio Tomaiuolo, ‘Detecting the Disease: The Sherlock Holmes Paradigm’
Scientists, epidemiologists and medical researchers in their studies on Coronavirus, focused on the detection of its origin and on the interest to trace back the trail of contagion, have often compared their activity to Sherlock Holmes’s investigations. In particular, the references to Sherlock Holmes abound in Chinese medical reports on Coronavirus, perhaps in an attempt to redeem themselves from a sense of guilt by using a well-known Western literary and cultural icon, and because Doyle’s detective has always enjoyed great success in China. For instance, “The Adventures of the Dying Detective” (1913) by Conan Doyle, where Holmes is (seemingly) infected by a deadly tropical disease, may be seen as a possible declination of “The Sherlock Holmes Paradigm” – which identifies with the investigator’s fight against contamination, disease and infection coming from “outside” – and, at the same time, as a narrative anticipating contemporary perceptions and fears of the virus as a metaphorical and biological threat menacing, and altering, our Western lifestyle. In the literary and artistic field, the “Sherlock Holmes Paradigm” has been adopted and updated in a series of neo-Victorian texts directly or indirectly borrowing from Holmes’s adventures: from David Stuart Davies’s Sherlock Holmes. The Shadow of the Rat (2010) to Tom Holland’s Supping with Panthers (1996) and The Affinity Bridge (2008) by George Mann. Here Sherlock Holmes and Holmesian investigators have to face diseases contaminating London, proving that the scientific methods adopted by Doyle’s detective are an extremely useful and widely-applied approach in both medical and literary discourse.

Saverio Tomaiuolo is Associate Professor of English Language and Translation at Cassino University, Italy. His areas of research are translation and adaptation studies, Victorian Literature, and neo-Victorianism. He has published In Lady Audley’s Shadow. Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Victorian Literary Genres (Edinburgh University Press, 2010) and Victorian Unfinished Novels. The Imperfect Page (Palgrave, 2012). More recently, he has written an entry on “neo-Victorianism” in the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature (eds. Dino Franco Felluga, Pamela K. Gilbert and Linda K. Hughes, 2015). His latest book is entitled Deviance in neo-Victorian Culture: Transgression, Canon, Innovation (Palgrave, 2018). Forthcoming is a new project on the Italian /screen adaptations of Victorian novels.


Alex Fitch, ‘Creating, Distributing and Marketing Ally Sloper – Comics’ First Multimedia Superstar’
Ally Sloper was the first British comic multimedia sensation, a character who featured in a popular satirical periodical (Judy) and a variety of his own titles between 1867 and 1916. Created by Charles Henry Ross and greatly developed by Marie Duval, Sloper was also credited as the author of some of his own strips, adding a playful intertextuality between the fiction and authorship. Beyond the page, Sloper was advertised through collectables including watches, pocket knives, greetings cards, condiment bottles, walking sticks and tie pins. Sloper puppets, masks and performances were seen on stage in music halls, comedy revues and pantomimes by the late 19th Century, and on the cinema screen between 1898 and 1921. With an artist of French heritage, and Sloper himself fictionally sent to other continents to report back on the British Empire, the strip was also international in influence and outlook. Early adventures from Judy magazine were reprinted in what might be seen as the first graphic novel: Ally Sloper: A Moral Lesson (1873). Further to this, the performative nature of Sloper in print helped the character to break out into other media, as actors and puppeteers brought him to life on stage and screen, which in turn influenced comedic performances by Charlie Chaplin and other silent movie personalities. Recent interest in the character’s co-creator Marie Duval has seen three books (academic, coffee table and graphic novella) on the cartoonist produced by Simon Grennan and other collaborators over the last three years, and the launch of the online Marie Duval archive by the University of Chester. This paper will explore how the creation and production of Ally Sloper was enormously ahead of its time, invoking proto-feminism and proto-transmedia distribution of the character, anticipating similar phenomena related to comics in the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Alex Fitch has been published on the subjects of comics and film by the University Press of Mississippi, Intellect, McFarland, Strange Attractor, and University of Michigan Library. He has presented a variety of radio shows on these subjects for the Arts Council Radio Station – Resonance 104.4 FM – in London, has previously been an assistant editor of Electric Sheep Magazine, and a co-curator of Cine Excess. He is currently pursuing a PhD on the Representation of Architecture in Comic Books at the University of Brighton.

 Anhiti Patnaik, ‘Neo-Victorian Disorientation in Penny Dreadful (FX 2016) and Ivan Allbright’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1944)’
This paper extends the concept of ‘orientation’ – as it has being connected to neo-Victorian adaptations of late-Victorian literature – to an aesthetics of ‘disorientation.’ Where orientation connotes a dialogic and reciprocal move towards familiarization, embodiment, and the creation of new meaning, disorientation implies a turning away from a cardinal point, or meaning itself. By comparing two neo-Victorian images – the promotional poster for Season 3 of the television series Penny Dreadful and Ivan Albright’s 1944 painting Picture of Dorian Gray, this paper argues that neo-Victorianism does not ‘represent’ the Victorian age conventionally but rather ‘disorients’ the audience. The poster art for Penny Dreadful disavows any connection to the assumed Victorian context and shows instead a crouching, tormented body fused with the image of a skull. The same dissociation is generated in Albright’s painting where the Victorian phenomenon “Dorian Gray” is reduced to its noumenon: a rotting, disintegrating and abject body. This paper further shows how this aesthetics of disorientation has roots in Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Through Dorian’s singular relationship with his portrait, Wilde proved that art and literature do not merely represent reality but change reality by disorienting and de-familiarizing. Thus, this paper appends the term ‘disorientation’ to Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn’s seminal definition of the neo-Victorian as a genre self-consciously engaged in “(re)interpretation, (re)discovery and (re)vision concerning the Victorians.”

Anhiti Patnaik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani. Her areas of interest include Victorian and World Literature, Crime Fiction, Gender Studies. Anhiti submitted her PhD dissertation Nineteenth-Century Aesthetics of Murder: Jack the Ripper to Dorian Gray at the Department of Cultural Studies, Trent University funded by the Ontario Trillium Scholarship. A Fellow of The School of Criticism and Theory (Cornell) and The Institute of World Literature (Harvard), her research has been published in journals like Neo-Victorian Studies, Victorian Network, and Brontë Studies.


12.45-13.45     Lunch


13.45-14.45     Keynote 1: Professor Wolfgang Ernst (Humboldt University, Berlin), ‘Disclosing A Different Archive: A Radical Media-Archaeological Critique of “Neo-Victorian” Steampunk Techno-Narratives’ (Chair: Aris Mousoutzanis)


14.45-15.00     Comfort Break


15.00-16.30     Panel 3: Photography, Media, Performance (Chair: Stuart Cartland)

Ana Cristina Mendes, ‘Princess Tadj es-Saltaneh and Queen Victoria in the Neo-Victorian Frame’
This paper examines Power, a 2014 mixed-media creation (composed of acrylic on canvas, perspex sheets, and mirror films) by the Iranian artist Roxana Manouchehri, where Queen Victoria and the Persian Princess Zahra Khanoum Tadj es-Saltaneh (1883–1936) are deceptively captured in the same photographic frame. Manouchehri’s figurative painting in black and white is realistic and has a quasi-photographic look, with the sepia tone giving it an archival, real-life Victorian quality. The artist plays with the indexical, documentary quality of the image (what Barthes terms the photograph’s studium) and a more affective, subjective quality (as of a painting, but a quality that Barthes locates likewise in the photograph’s punctum). In the neo-Victorian canvas, the British Queen and the Princess from the Iranian Qajar royal family are made to face each other, though not entirely. Their perspectives are slightly skewed as their eyes do not meet: though set one in front of the other, caught on the same visual frame, Manouchehri’s neo-Victorian retrovision has Queen Victoria looking slightly downwards, and the Qajar Princess turning her head to look in another direction. Power is the literally at the centre of Manouchehri’s work: the universal power symbol is replacing the face of another British monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, standing for British power and the universalising thrust of its imperial control. This paper interweaves the disconnectedness within Manouchehri’s Neo-Victorian, quasi-photographic representation with issues of inter-imperiality (Doyle 2014 and 2015) and retrovision as epistemic restitution.

Ana Cristina Mendes is Associate Professor in English Studies at the School of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon. She uses cultural and postcolonial studies to examine literary and screen texts (in particular, intermedia adaptations) as venues for resistant knowledge formations to expand upon theories of epistemic injustice. One of her research interests is in Victorian afterlives, specifically, the global/postcolonial dimensions of Victorianism and its fandoms.

Derya Sayin, ‘Neo-Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite: Tracing Victorian Art in Contemporary Fashion Photography’
The Pre-Raphaelite Movement was born as a rebellion from traditional Victorian artistic practices; yet the surge of interest in anything-and-everything Victorian, or to put it academically, Neo-Victorianism, also includes this rebellious member of the Victorian family. Motifs or imagery taken from the Pre-Raphaelite art style are dispersed throughout a variety of mediums in contemporary visual culture, such as “high” art, fashion photography, movies, TV shows, comic books and even stage personalities of musicians. The impact of Pre-Raphaelitism on contemporary visual culture is especially important because it often has a specific gendered narrative which results in feeding into the current stereotypes of womanhood and femininity. The mediums I mentioned above use different components of the Pre-Raphaelite style, yet the visual archetype of the Pre-Raphaelite Woman with her prototypical red hair and melancholy disposition is often at the very centre of these reimaginings. This visual archetype has its own culture connotations, such as being an erotic, objectified construction that was shaped by the male gaze. However false, connotations such as these prove to have carrried on from Victorian culture to our contemporary one. Therefore, this paper aims to determine the specific ways that contemporary visual culture draws on Pre-Raphaelitism to create and contest a this gendered stereotype of women. I will limit my focus to the medium of fashion photography since it  fully reveals the scope of the Pre-Raphaelite influence on contemporary visual culture. While it is easily accessible by the everyday consumer, especially with the rise of social media, its primary audience is a very elite group, which consists of high-brow individuals in the fashion industry. Therefore fashion photography oversteps the boundaries of its audience and has a wider influence on visual culture. All the artists I chose to focus on for this paper center Pre-Raphaelite Woman in their art, hence contributing to the contemporary reimaginings of this visual archetype, as well as shaping of the stereotype of femininity brings with. A preliminary list of the photographers whose work I will discuss in this paper is as follows: Donna Stevens (Australia), Tom Hunter (Britain), Annie Leibovitz (US), Malgorzata Maj (Poland), Miles Adridge (Britain), Billy&Hells (Germany) and Ekaterina Belinskaya (Russia).

Derya Sayın studied Art History in Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University (Istanbul, Turkey) for her Bachelor’s degree between 2013-2018; and spent a semester in University of Ljubljana (Ljubljana, Slovenia) in 2015 as a part of the Erasmus+ exchange programme. She completed her Master’s education between 2018-2020 in European Women’s and Gender History (MATILDA), which took place between two universities: Central European University (Budapest, Hungary), and University of Vienna (Vienna, Austria). The title of her extended master’s thesis (35,000 words) is “Not Your Object of Desire: Reclaiming Women’s Role in Constructing the Pre-Raphaelite Woman.”


Marie Léger-St-Jean, “Preserved from Oblivion”: Using Victorian Toy Theatre to Recreate Early Melodrama
Quarantining has brought back toy theatre, at least on YouTube, with dozens of videos of performances, how-tos, and interviews. Toy theatre was a common pastime in nineteenth-century Britain as in other Western countries. It required children and teenagers to buy printed sheets with images of the characters in different postures and the various scenes of a play. They would then colour them, and cut up the characters to paste them on cardboard. On a miniature wooden stage, they could enact the plays by following the instructions of the book of words (similar to a playtext), placing the proper scenes as backdrop and moving the paper figures along rails. A significant part of the juvenile drama repertoire stems from early melodrama, the most popular being The Miller and his Men (1813). Shakespeare and the stage adaptations of Sir Walter Scott’s novels were also widely produced for toy theatre. The sheets of characters and scenes as well as the book of words thus captured the live performances from the 1810s to the 1840s and provide a source to study their reception throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. Toy theatre did not preserve in print the Victorian plays adapted from sensation fiction most commonly associated with melodrama, such as The Woman in White (1859-1860) and Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). Victorian consumption practices can be reconstructed through the recorded and published experiences of white Englishmen who went on to have careers in the arts. These nostalgic writings recount the painstaking preparation of the paper figures more so than the restoration to three dimensions in miniature stage performances. One important exception is the famous explosion in The Miller and his Men, which led to many tales of fires breaking out. Collectors to this day favour “virgin” sheets that have not been cut-up and pasted or even coloured, unless by the printer-publisher himself. Some collectors present shows with their fully functioning toy theatres. This presentation will highlight the nostalgia in recorded experiences of toy theatre.

Marie Léger-St-Jean is an independent scholar and digital humanist based in Montréal and working on nineteenth-century transnational transmedia mass culture. She is the founder of Price One Penny, a bibliographical and biographical database about the countless publishers and authors involved in the production of cheap literature in London between 1837 and 1860. She received the 2020 Research Society for Victorian Periodicals (RSVP) Field Development Grant to update the site for its 10th anniversary. Her solo work has appeared in edited collections (Edward Lloyd and his World and Media and Print Culture Consumption in Nineteenth-Century Britain). She has three forthcoming co-authored articles following her publication with Katie McGettigan in Amerikastudien/American Studies.


16.30-16.45     Tea & Coffee Break


16.45-18.00     Panel 4: Material Cultures (Chair: Aris Mousoutzanis)

Ksenia Papazova, ‘Material Culture in the USSR and Steampunk Tinkering: Points of Intersection’
Opposite the Western overabundance, the lack of commodities in the USSR shaped the everyday practices of consumption very differently. With a clear difference between the Western trends of DIY as counter-cultures and protests against consumerism and capitalism, the Soviet accounts for repair and re-adjustments were a result of the necessity caused by the “shortage economy” (or “storage economy” as proposed by Serguei Oushakine). Such consumption often led to the level of physical destruction of the commodity, and on the other hand a practice of constant repair and repurposing that would “revive” the commodity over and over again. It also meant the forging of a special relationship between people and things, which was described as “taming a veshch” [a thing] by Galina Orlova, or saving a friend by Ekaterina Gerasimova and Sofya Chuikina. In this paper, I argue that certain practices of consumption in the USSR share similar steampunk attitudes to things in terms of tinkering and remaking, repair and recycling, as well as a technocratic vision of the future. To do so, I draw mainly on James H. Carrott and Brian David Johnson’s Vintage Tomorrows (Maker Media, Inc., 2013) and works by Russian scholars on material culture in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia (Orlova, Olga Gurova, Gerasimova and Chuikina, and Ekaterina Dyogot). I will conclude by discussing “Soviet vintage” as an emerging category, which as time unfolds will likely become more expensive and desired, and enter the domain of popular culture, while certain objects of technological advancements of the Soviet Union, in a similar way to Victorian culture with its steam engines, can be re-imagined (or re-discovered?) as Soviet steampunk or “red steam” in the years to come.

Ksenia Papazova is a PhD candidate researching book design and book culture in modern Russia at the department of Russian Studies at The University of Manchester. For her research, she looks at material culture, vintage aesthetics, and how a concept of time can be embedded in the material object of the book. Ksenia received her MA in Book and Digital Media Studies from Leiden University, The Netherlands. She is also a TA for the UCIL courses AI: Robot Overlord, Replacement, or Colleague? and Digital Society.


Kay Lawrance, ‘Leather Apron Men and Nostalgia: Using Images of Victorian Industry to Construct a Modern Masculinity’
The rapid decline in industrial employment in the latter part of the twentieth century and the growth of service sector jobs in the early twenty first century, has shifted the ways masculinity is performed and perceived.  Graeber (2013) argues that many of the roles performed in a post-industrial economy are not essential and are often simply the provision of services to workers in other non-essential roles. Building on the work of scholars of nostalgia such as Trimm and Myers this presentation examines the modern trend for leather aprons, industrial design in coffee shops, and the styling of hipsters and considers how nostalgia for a time when men worked in heavy industry is used to build, and protect, a particular type of modern masculinity.  By comparing contemporary advertising images, quasi-industrial interior design, and hipster dress with pictures of nineteenth-century factories and labour it demonstrates that the photographs used by the companies selling the aprons mirror images from the industrial past and imply a direct equivalence between the hot and heavy labour in factories and foundries and the modern man at his barbeque or espresso machine.  The aprons protect the modern men both literally and figuratively, allowing them to signal and perform their masculine identity in a post-industrial economy where work often has no tangible product. The time that has elapsed allows for a nostalgic reconstruction of the reality of working in heavy industry, an elision of the hard, physical labour, and the construction of an almost mythical real man.

Kay Lawrance recently graduated from the University of Brighton’s BA Hons Fashion and Dress History course and will be joining the History of Design and Material Culture Master’s programme at Brighton.  She is particularly interested in why people choose the clothes they wear and what influences their choices.


Sabina Fazli, ‘The Secret Lives of Neo-Victorian Things’
My paper focuses on two neo-Victorian novels which prominently feature Victorian objects and the fates of their ‘collectors’: Brian Moore’s The Great Victorian Collection (1875) and Harry Karlinsky’s The Evolution of Inanimate Objects: The Life and Collected Works of Thomas Darwin (1857-1879) (2010). In Moore’s novel, a Canadian history professor inadvertently becomes the guardian of a mysterious collection of Victoriana, which materialized over night in front of his window. A ‘miracle’ and burden at the same time, the collection’s origin is never explained, while Moore details the deleterious effect it has on its owner. Karlinsky’s protagonist, the fictional youngest son of Charles Darwin, too, is defined by his relationship to things. Inspired by his famous father’s work, Thomas Darwin seeks to expand the Theory of Evolution to include ‘inanimate objects.’ His studies on the procreation and hybridization of cutlery eventually lead to his admission in an ‘asylum’ in London, Canada. Although differing in period of publication, setting, and style, both novels reflect on Victorian objects leading real and imagined secret/social ‘lives’ (cp. Appadurai, “Commodities and the Politics of Value,” 1988; Brown, “The Secret Life of Things,” 1999). They imagine the collections’ uncanny animation and influence on their owners’ lives, teasingly withholding (Moore) and overtly presenting frameworks and explanations for the objects’ strange agency. Such uncanny collections prominently appear in late-Victorian fiction, where this constellation of dubious owners and their curated possessions evokes the period’s concerns with life in high capitalism, commodity culture, and new patterns of consumption, often fictionalized as verging into the Gothic (cp. Goetsch, “Uncanny Collectors,” 2007). The two novels triangulate these ‘secret lives’ with Victorian, and especially late Victorian, ideas about objects and commodities and our own desire to access the Victorian past through original evocative objects, antiques, and memorabilia.

Sabina Fazli is a postdoc in the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at Mainz University (in the project Transnational Periodical Cultures) and the English Department at Göttingen University. Her PhD thesis was in Victorian studies and explored the entwinement of memories and things in sensation novels. It has been published as Sensational Things: Souvenirs, Keepsakes, and Mementoes in Wilkie Collins’s Fiction in 2019.


Friday 3 September

09.00-10.00     Keynote 2: Professor Kim A. Wagner (Queen Mary, University of London), ‘Afterlives of Empire: Between Nostalgia and Amnesia’ (Chair: Deborah Madden)

10.00-10.15     Comfort Break

10.15-11.30     Neoliberalism, Neocolonialism, Neovictorianism (Chair: Victoria Margree)

Anna Rivers, ‘Not Billed the “Cockney Venus” for Nothing!’: Thatcherite ‘Victorian Values’ and Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus (1984)’
This paper concentrates on neo-Victorianism in Angela Carter’s 1984 novel Nights at the Circus. I argue that Carter deploys neo-Victorianism to subvert the idealization of the national past which represented so crucial and violent a foundation to Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal politics throughout the 1980s. Thatcher’s rhetoric of “Victorian values” was a key part of her ideological strategy, aimed at fanning patriotic flames, reinventing Britain’s past according to models such as, in particular, the importance of a strong family structure combined with a focus on individual responsibility and self-discipline [1]. Carter’s novel, I argue, rewrites and reconceptualises this narrative of the Victorian, painting her wild, absurd and overflowing late-Victorian backdrop as a direct critique. Carter’s late-Victorian world is one of backstreet encounters, theatre dressing rooms, brothels, broken-down trains: her Victorian characters are impossible hybrids, outcasts, the dispossessed, the marginalized. Her families are supportive communities of “freaks” or sex workers; history is written by clowns; self-discipline signals (specifically) men ludicrously deluded as to their own authority. Carter’s protagonist, Fevvers, is a trapeze artist who happens to have wings. She is at once both animal and human, a subversive hybrid, described as “Rubenesque” and with a face like a “meat dish”; she is dirty, loud, excessive. Billed as the “Cockney Venus”, Fevvers’ narrative represents an alternative British history, which walks the line, in the tradition of the grotesque, between exoticization and subversion of the categories she refuses to fit. Through Fevvers, Carter’s neo-Victorian novel challenges the image of Britain and British history upon which# Thatcherite policy and ideology rested. Revisiting this text in the contemporary context of discourses about British “independence” from Europe, imperial nostalgia and the rise in racially-motivated violence, as I propose to do, therefore seems especially timely and vital.

[1] Thatcher, Margaret. “TV Interview for London Weekend Television Weekend World (“Victorian Values”)”. Interview by Brian Walden. 1983.

Anna Rivers is a PhD student at the University of Warwick, researching the poetry of Emily Brontë, Christina Rossetti and Mathilde Blind. Her thesis concentrates on how poststructuralist ideas of spectrality and haunting intersect with sound studies, looking at resonance, rhythm and echo as ways of renegotiating the limitations and possibilities of ethics, memory, mourning and subjectivity. More broadly her research interests cover poetry and poetics, feminist theory, spectrality, the supernatural, disability studies, monster theory, affect theory, posthumanism, phenomenology, Romantic and Victorian studies and the long nineteenth century.

Deborah Madden & Anita Rupprecht, ‘Neo-Victorian Constructions of Nursing During Covid-19: Contested and Contesting Representations of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole’

That Florence Nightingale’s bicentennial commemoration coincided with Covid-19 and the UK’s first lockdown gave ample opportunity for discussion about how the so-called ‘lady with the lamp’ would have ‘tackled’ the global pandemic. From claims that Nightingale would have been a ‘fearsome thorn’ in the British Government’s side (Hoyos, 2020), to the extolling of her clinical and public health principles as a reminder when curbing the spread of Covid-19, Nightingale’s ‘legacy’ and cultural memory has been leveraged in variously complex ways, sometimes at a critical angle to the UK Government’s remediation of her as a symbol of imperial nostalgia and a forerunner of NHS nationalism. Temporary Covid-19 hospitals built around the UK were named in honour of Nightingale, while British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, repeatedly invoked the public to remember the ‘pioneer of modern nursing’, praising ‘today’s Nightingales’, while citing ‘traditions’ in countries like India that continue to honour exceptional nurses with a Florence Nightingale Award every year. This overtly nationalist remediation of Nightingale, unmoored from the wider transnational colonial contexts in which she was engaged, has served as a convenient ‘screen memory’ during the emerging crises of pandemic times. Meanwhile, the Florence Nightingale Foundation released a ‘special collage’ of nurses and midwives working on the frontline during COVID-19 to mark the 72nd birthday of the NHS in July 2020, as part of a ‘Nurse Behind the Mask’ campaign to celebrate the many nationalities making up the NHS, encouraging ‘all non-BAME nurses and midwives to join in and to show solidarity with their BAME colleagues’. This formed part of a contested politics of memory around Nightingale that drew explicit attention to the rich ‘cultural tapestry’ and medical heritage of healthcare in Britain in light of health inequalities and Covid mortality rates amongst BAME frontline workers. In this context, Yvonne Coghill, diversity lead nurse of NHS England, highlighted the importance of naming temporary COVID-19 recovery centres after Mary Seacole, Jamaican nurse and fellow ‘pioneer’. Contemporaneous with Nightingale, Seacole continues to be either marginalised within British history and cultural memory, eclipsed, indeed, by the preponderance of mainstream commemorative practice dedicated exclusively to Nightingale or represented repeatedly as the exceptional racialised ‘other’ to Nightingale in support of (neo)liberal narratives of multicultural inclusivity that work to construct, manage and organise histories of ‘difference’ within the fraught racial politics of the contemporary health crisis, and more widely. This paper will track and trace the remediation of specifically neoliberal, neocolonial and neo-Victorian constructions of Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole and histories of nursing during Britain’s first lockdown. These trajectories are situated within the complex politics of memory that has also sought to simultaneously challenge the legacies of British Empire imbued within the Government’s adoption of Nightingale and a corresponding NHS nationalism. This counter-politics of memory has seen the mobilisation of a transnational and anticolonial critique that historicises the healthcare inequalities exposed by Covid-19, further compounded by neo-liberal austerity measures.

Deborah Madden is a cultural historian and Deputy Director for the Centre for Memory, Narrative and Histories at the University of Brighton, where she leads on the area of medical histories. Her forthcoming book, Victorian lives between Empires: Perspectives on Colonial Knowledge, Imperialism and British Cultural Memory, is due to be published in the Palgrave Studies in Life Writing series.
Anita Rupprecht is a Principal Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Brighton. Her research focuses on histories and representations of transatlantic enslavement, resistance and abolition. She is also interested in the politics of cultural memory and reparative history, especially in relation to archives, ‘race’, and the legacies of Empire. She has published widely in these areas, e.g. History Workshop Journal, Race & Class, Slavery & Abolition and International Review of Social History.

Niyati Sharma, ‘Strangulating Fictions of the Empire and the Thuggee in M.J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine (2014)’
The paper examines the resurgence of the thuggee trope in neo-Victorian fiction, with a special focus on Miranda J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine (2014). In previous readings of the thuggee in Victorian texts, Parama Roy and Alexander L. Macfie have argued that the British Empire constructed the thuggee as an exceptionally deviant figure that eluded the Empire’s gaze. A construct of the hyper-vigilant British Empire, the thuggee, as historians have previously argued, served as an excuse for the Empire to legitimise its regime of control in colonial India. The paper explores how the thuggee mythology, primarily consolidated through fictional narratives in early nineteenth century, is now used by neo-Victorian writers to retrospectively expose the workings of the British Empire. The paper argues that M.J. Carter’s orientalist novel offers a critical commentary on the imperialist project through its exploration of a triangulated relationship between the figure of the thuggee, the British Empire, and the realm of popular fiction/poetry. The novel revolves around the British Empire’s hunt for a libellous Scottish writer, Xavier Mountstuart who embarks on a search for the thuggees. The paper will investigate how, in placing the writer at the heart of the thuggee’s den, the novel suggests that a thread of fictionality links them with the Empire itself emerging as the manipulator of fNiyati Sharma completed her doctorate in English from the University of Oxford in 2019. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of English at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat, India. Her research interests include studies of the unconscious, theories of race, crime fiction and policing, and forms of reader reception in nineteenth-century British and South Asian popular fiction.ictions. Drawing on clichéd tropes (a transformative journey inwards into the colonized country) from Victorian imperial adventure novels, Carter in the novel creates an atmosphere that subverts these very tropes to expose the Empire’s depravity, and most significantly, its role as a master generator of fictional narratives.

Niyati Sharma completed her doctorate in English from the University of Oxford in 2019. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of English at O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonepat, India. Her research interests include studies of the unconscious, theories of race, crime fiction and policing, and forms of reader reception in nineteenth-century British and South Asian popular fiction.


11.30-11.45     Tea & Coffee Break


11.45-12.45     Panel 6: Identity, Marginality, Criminality (Chair: Deborah Madden)

Emma Catan, ‘Rosie Garland: Challenging the Neo-Victorian Status Quo in The Night Brother (2017)’
Neo-Victorian literature is often associated with mirrors and dual imagery; simultaneously depicting Victorian settings and events for twenty-first century readers, whilst reflecting our own issues and anxieties. While Neo-Victorianism frequently celebrates marginalised identities and tells hidden histories, many works reinforce Western-centric, cis-normative ideologies through their narrative voice. This paper draws on my PhD research into cross-dressing and ‘criminality’ and shows how Rosie Garland’s work disturbs this trend. As a novelist, poet and performer, Garland defies categorisation, and this is also reflected in her neo-Victorian works. In The Night Brother (2017), Garland actively centres marginalised identities through her use of first-person perspective; this allows the protagonists to tell their own stories in their own voices, rather than being spoken for by third-person narrators. Moreover, by setting the novel in Manchester, Garland rejects the London-centric focus that the literary genre tends to pursue, giving a voice to northern communities. Finally, I contend that Garland’s fiction is one example of a neo-Victorian novel which highlights and challenges the continued imbalance of representation between London and the affluent south, and other regional communities.

Emma Catan is a second year (part time) PhD candidate at Northumbria University; her thesis is titled ‘Cross-Dressing and ‘Criminality’ in the neo-Victorian city’. Her research interests focus on gender and space; how city-spaces are constructed and policed, and how social codes can be transgressed through gender performance (specifically, cross-dressing).

Rachel, M. Friars, ‘“You’re not the Stuff of a Chapter”: Queer Life and Women’s Activism in Biofictions by Emma Donoghue’
The ethics and ambitions behind appropriating the lives of historical figures in biographical fiction has become a subject of debate amongst neo-Victorian critics in recent years. Cora Kaplan (2007) identifies “Feminism’s ambitious and ongoing project of recovery and restitution and its interest in life writing and writing lives” as a crucial factor behind the resurgence of interest in biofictional accounts (38). But if neo-Victorian fictions “self-consciously engage with the act of (re)interpretation, (re)discovery and (re)vision concerning the Victorians” (Heilmann and Llewellyn 4) then neo-Victorian biofiction will ultimately provide “the novelist’s vision of life and the world” (Lackey 7). My presentation will examine two biofictions by Emma Donoghue, “The Fox on the Line” (2002) and The Sealed Letter (2008). Each biofiction engages with real historical figures in the latter half of the nineteenth century by focusing on Frances Power Cobbe and The Codrington Divorce trial, respectively. In the dual act of “recovery and restitution” that Kaplan outlines, Donoghue’s fictions also elaborate on the queer lives of her characters. They frame lesbian lives within early suffragette activist movements, integrating the female/lesbian body within an advocate culture of marginalized identities.  My study will draw on Kym Brindle’s (2014) theories on neo-Victorianism and Victorian documents to discuss Donoghue’s use of documentation, particularly in the form of letters, as a legitimizing force. Donoghue’s construction of documents in both texts provide a queer ‘evidence’ that the literal archive lacks in-full. However, my study will also explore the limits of biofiction. In reading lesbianism in the silences of Victorian women’s lives, Donoghue narrates various forms of unfulfillment, whether it be thwarted desire, activism, or personal honesty—all of which are often bound together in Donoghue’s biofictions. In articulating the lesbian’s links with early-feminist movements, Donoghue both celebrates the adaptive potential of her subjects and implicitly indicates the limits of the neo-Victorian biofictional form.

Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her dissertation centers on neo-Victorian lesbian literature and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing and the gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan (2020), in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies (2020) and is forthcoming from Crime Studies Journal (2022). Find her on Twitter @RachelMFriars.


12.45-13.45     Lunch 


13.45-14.45     Keynote 3: Associate Professor Dr Claire Nally (Northumbria University), ‘Steampunk and Postcolonialism’ (Chair: Victoria Margree)


14.45-15.45     Comfort Break


15.-00-16.15    Panel 7: Adaptation, Gender and Race (Chair: Anita Rupprecht)

Stephen Grandchamp, ‘The Video Game Afterlife of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)’
While gothic horror of the Victorian period has frequently served as an atmospheric backdrop to video games of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries, direct adaptations of specific texts from the era have been relatively rare. And, in most instances, these adaptations are rather loose, as is the case with the many games inspired by Dracula. Contrary to this general trend, however, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde has provided direct source material to a host of video games in the last several decades, from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Nintendo Entertainment System, 1988), to Jekyll and Hyde (Microsoft Windows, 2001), to, most recently, MazM: Jekyll & Hyde (various platforms, 2017-2020). Whereas previous scholarship has focused solely on the 1988 game’s narrative structure and reconceptualization of characters, this paper will consider why Stevenson’s novella has provided such a fertile source text for video games, as well as the politics of these digital adaptations. In so doing, it will explore these games as a dynamic neo-Victorian terrain in which a superficial educational impulse masks an intervention into critical issues surrounding colonialism and gender. For instance, MazM: Jekyll & Hyde follows the novel’s plot while featuring new characters who provide “facts” about nineteenth-century culture. These “facts” recirculate problematic period notions of gendered violence (through anachronistic references to Jack the Ripper) and colonial economics (through engagement with seafaring merchants). Overall, this paper will argue for the significance of these video game adaptations as a nostalgic neo-Victorian ideological space in which the contemporary understanding of the Victorian era is being constantly remade, particularly in the imaginations of youthful gamers.

Stephen Grandchamp is an Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities and Literature at the University of Maine at Farmington. His research engages the intersection of traditional literary texts and emerging digital media like streaming platforms and video games. He is also Co-Director of the New Commons Project, a public and digital humanities initiative building an in-person and online cultural commons for the state of Maine, as well as Manager of the Digital Humanities Lab at the University of Maine at Farmington.


 Chandrica Barua, ‘“Terrible” Femininity: Of Ornaments and Automata’
“Good Hunting”, Ken Liu’s 2012 story which has been adapted into an episode of the Netflix show Love Death + Robots (2019), foregrounds an anti-colonial feminist revision of the huli jing1 myth in a narrative arc of dehumanization, agency, and empowerment. Liang and Yan, the protagonists of “Good Hunting”, are Chinese colonialized subjects trying to survive in a world (the setting is Hong Kong) that is rapidly changing into a steam-powered and automata-enhanced colonial regime. The story is set in a steampunk universe – a retro-futuristic Victorian period – which folds in the colonial history of Hong Kong and China. While Liang finds an affinity for automata and machine-making to survive in the new world, Yan discovers a “terrible” femininity in becoming-cyborg. These processes of orienting towards objects in Neo-Victorian imperial fantasies repeat and amplify, what Achille Mbembe termed as “aesthetics of superfluity”, the tumultuous mediation between “indispensability and expendability” during periods of global movement of ‘bodies’, such as at the height of imperialism. I ask if and how these Neo-Victorian feminist revisions posit an object-becoming that is ethical and non-oppressive for people of colour, particularly women of colour, whose ontologies have historically been “encrusted” with imperial intimacies of violent objecthood and invisibilized labor. How can this Neo-Victorian object-becoming resist, or rather disrupt, the global capitalist politics that benefits from and supports the exploitation of laboring bodies founded upon sedimented histories of colonization and subjugation?

Chandrica Barua is a doctoral researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She has an MSc in Medieval Literatures and Cultures from the University of Edinburgh, UK, and a BA (Hons.) in English from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, India. Her interests are peripatetic – gender and sexuality, memory, trauma, and embodiment, posthumanism, critical theory, and intimate histories – and transhistorical, spanning the medieval, early modern, and the periods of global coloniality. She is also a creative writer and translator; her recent work “Stories by the Fire on a Winter Evening” (feminist translations of Assamese folktales) has been published by Zubaan Books, India, and SPF, Japan.


Alyssa-Carolyne Burnette, ‘19c Female Serial Killers in American Horror Story: Coven (2013) and Crimson Peak (del Toro 2015)’
My research interrogates the representation of nineteenth-century female serial killers through critical analysis of their depiction in the neo-Victorian visual narratives American Horror Story: Coven (2013) and Crimson Peak (2015). In studying the characters of Delphine La Laurie, a serial killer and socialite in 1834 New Orleans, and Lucille Sharpe, an heiress and serial killer who operates in 1887 Cumbria, my work examines visual contemporary narratives that employ the tenets of Victorian Gothic novels and their attempt to subvert the Victorian stereotype of passive female victim by allowing Delphine and Lucille to reclaim a sense of agency through modern cinema. By interrogating the extent to which the texts accept and reject Victorian Gothic tropes and the narrative devices which are employed to update the figure of the violent nineteenth-century woman, my research questions the texts’ subversion of passive, punished femininity to ask how they empower Delphine and Lucille to reclaim their original voices. In analyzing these texts through an interdisciplinary lens comprised of forensic psychology, feminist theory, and Victorianist scholarship, my work not only articulates a new way of reading these texts but a new genre of literary criticism: a neo-Victorian lens that examines the role of violent women in film. My conference presentation would center primarily on the role of poison as a weapon as seen through Lucille’s murders in Crimson Peak. By contrasting Lucille’s use of poison with Delphine’s sadistic torture experiments, my work compares the methodologies, motivations, and psychology of female serial killers in these neo-Victorian films.

Alyssa-Caroline Burnette is a first-year PhD student and Wolfson scholar at the University of Southampton. Her dissertation conducts a feminist reading of nineteenth century female serial killers and their representation in the contemporary Victorian gothic as seen through the television series American Horror Story: Coven and the film Crimson Peak. You can find her on Twitter at @alyssacwrites and Instagram at @acbandthefloofs


16.15-16.30     Tea & Coffee Break


16.30-17.45     Panel 8: The Female Detective in Neo-Victorian Crime Fiction (Chair: Stephen Grandchamp)

Christa van Raalte, ‘Enola Holmes and the Mystery of the Missing Mother
Enola Holmes is a piece of teen-neo-victoriana whose eponymous heroine, played by Millie Bobby Brown, directly addresses her young audience, emphasising the ‘double register’ which Imelda Whelehan describes as typical of the genre – and perhaps another kind of ‘double register’ in relation to its status as a feminist text (a status Brown has been keen to stress).  The film is adapted from the first in Nancy Springer’s series of Enola Holmes mysteries, entitled “The Case of the Missing Marquess”. The Marquess, however, is soon discovered – although the questions of who is trying to kill him and why take rather longer to solve. The missing person whose absence structures the narrative, and Enola’s developing relationship with her better-known older brothers, is her mother, played by Helena Bonham Carter, who remains mysteriously missing for most of the film. The ‘matrophor’, as Nadine Muller has termed it, is striking. It transpires that Enola’s mother is involved in a form of radical feminist politics that, with its organised direct action, consciousness raising and somewhat anachronistic self-defence classes above the tea shop, offers a distinct pre-echo of the second wave. Enola, meanwhile, like a late Victorian Katie Roiphe, rejects her mother’s politics, agreeing with her brothers that she is “dangerous” and choosing for herself a rather more neo-liberal path. Yet this cheerful romp, with its blithe disregard for historical accuracy or indeed narrative logic, is marked by nostalgia for the mother of childhood. It is also marked by a nostalgia for a simpler time when resistance to patriarchy could be signified by riding a bike, dressing in boy’s clothes or earning a living. In this paper I will explore the significance of the “matrophor” of the missing mother in this articulation of proto-post-feminism, along with the elements of nostalgia which stylistically and thematically underpin it.

Christa van Raalte is Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Media and Communications at Bournemouth University. She gained her BA in English from Oxford and her MA in Cultural and Textual Studies from Sunderland, where she also completed her PHD: Women and Guns in the Post-War Hollywood Western. Current research interests include constructions of gender in science fiction and action films, narrative strategies in complex TV, and workforce diversity in the media industries.


Annette Wren, ‘Re-Visioning the Detective Flâneur: Sherlock Holmes to Charlotte Holmes’
In Ghost-Seers, Detectives, and Spiritualists, Srdjan Smajić reflects on the flâneur’s thrill of reading people as texts (94) – a thrill coded as masculine and epitomized in characters like C. Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes. This connection between flâneur and detective gives the flâneur purpose, per Isabel Vila-Cabanes: “The flaneur’s likely identification with the detective has a positive effect on the social perception of the type, for it legitimises the stroller’s apparent laziness” (Vila-Cabanes 2008: 205). I undertake to scrutinize this masculine legitimization in my presentation through an examination of Sherry Thomas’s Neo-Victorian Lady Sherlock novel series. As a Neo-Victorian character, Lady Charlotte Holmes directly challenges social and cultural conventions through her mastery of the patriarchal ‘masculine script’ (Kestner 1997: 2), including the role of flâneur. Specifically, as a transgressive woman, Charlotte’s presence in London is an infraction against prescribed Victorian gender codes and re-visions the flâneuse, a figure not fully realized in the nineteenth century (Vila-Cabanes 2008: 221). Charlotte decisively loses her virginity to avoid marriage, renounces her noble title, moves into a residence with a former actress, and starts up a consulting detective agency under the guise of Sherlock Holmes. Given such radicalism, I argue that Thomas’s historical setting revisions the relationship between detective and city. Moreover, Thomas’s Lady Sherlock novels challenge the Neo-Victorian New Woman’s superficial engagement with radicalism. As Karen Sturgeon-Dodsworth argues, the Neo-Victorian New Woman embodies “an entirely illusory radicalism” (165) not in keeping with the historical New Woman. Instead, Thomas’s novels echo Conan Doyle’s own attention to the New Woman in characters such as Irene Adler and Violet Hunter. Thus, while appropriating Conan Doyle’s consulting detective, Thomas plays to conventions in the Sherlock Holmes canon and gives voice to the flâneuse.

Annette Wren obtained her doctorate in December 2019. Titled “Now Watson, the fair sex is your department”: Gender and Sexuality in Post-2010 Sherlock Holmes Adaptations, she examines gender and sexuality in transatlantic post-2010 adaptations of Sherlock Holmes. She has spoken about adaptation studies at conferences and has a forthcoming book chapter in an academic collection on the sidekick in detective fiction. An examination of Dr. John Watson in adaptation, Wren’s chapter argues that popular psychology’s use of I.Q. and E.Q. has shifted the
role of a detective’s sidekick.


17.45-18.00     Concluding Remarks (Victoria Margree & Aris Mousoutzanis)


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