Celebrate International Women’s Day 2017 with These Essays on Gender and Literature


A sepia photograph of Mary Pickford writing at letter at an antique desk

The groundbreaking actress and writer, Mary Pickford, writing at her desk (1918), by Hartsook Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy International Women’s Day 2017! The study of literature plays an important role in helping us to understand gender and the issues that confronted women in the past, or that continue to shape our society today. To celebrate IWD 2017, here is a selection of three pieces of published by our researchers over the past year, which look at gender, writing and culture. All of them are freely available to download from Durham Research Online.

Affective reading: Chaucer, women, and romance

Medieval thought emphasized the integration of thinking and feeling, an integration central to literary representations of mind, body, and emotion, and to the idea of reading as affective. Chaucer’s romance writings are profoundly concerned with the power of affect on minds and bodies, particularly in relation to the psychology of love and loss. As Corinne Saunders explores, ideas of mind, body, and affect resonate with women’s literary culture and with the crucial roles of women as thinking and feeling subjects in Chaucer’s works, and open up consideration of how women readers might have engaged with these representations.

A body undressed for text: ‘Trilby’ in parts

George Du Maurier’s best-selling novel, Trilby (1894), is as important because of its defiance of social and cultural norms as it is for its apparent compliance with them. The eponymous heroine is an artist’s model who enchanted the fin-de-siècle reading public. As Simon James and Emma Miller show, Trilby negotiates the perilously fine line between the highbrow and the lowbrow, or to put it another way, between fine art and political commentary on one side, and pornography and sensationalism on the other.

Arnold Bennett and home management: domestic efficiency

Arnold Bennett’s fictional and non-fictional writing represents a key transition in the shift from the Victorian to the modern home that would emerge after the First World War. John Nash examines how his writing on household management displays an advocacy of modernisation while also suggesting scepticism over its possible successes.

You might also enjoy looking back to International Women’s Day 2016, when we commemorated the lives and influence of the Brontës in this reading and podcast.

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