Next meeting: ‘Experience of Time and Subjectivity in Motherhood Writing’, Monday 20th March, 4pm, HumSS280

Hello everyone

We warmly invite you to join us for our very last talk of this academic year. The talk will be given by Mariana Howell from English department the University of Southampton. Her title is ‘Experience of Time and Subjectivity in Motherhood Writing’ and she’ll be speaking at the usual time of 4pm, in HumSS280 on Monday 20th March. Here is her abstract:

What happens to a woman during pregnancy, post-partum and early motherhood? How is her perception and experience of time, space, and self/other altered during the process? The maternal experience, loaded with power, terror, ambivalence, joy, confusion, and pleasure, has long been ignored by the psychoanalytic tradition. My work will look at how ‘maternal memoirs’ narrate the writer’s mothering journey. Their work contests the dominant cultural expectations of motherhood and attempts to construct a maternal dialogue that emphasises compassion, rather than guilt. I will use psychoanalytic theory to discover new analyses of maternal subjectivity and psychical experience to show that the mothering experience has a profound effect on women’s lives.

We look forward to seeing you on Monday, for what will be the last session of the network run by Sophie and myself (Maria) before we hand it over. It’s been a real pleasure watching the Gender and Sexuality Research Network grow over the past few years…


Meeting Report – “Facing the Hardships”: Mixed Race Relationships and Women’s Magazines in 1950s Britain, by Anna Maguire

Thank you again to Anna Maguire for sharing her new research project with us. Anna has just finished her PhD and is exploring postdoc opportunities. Providing us with extracts from agony aunt pages in Women’s Own and Woman Magazine, she discussed how mixed race couples were perceived in Britain in the 1950s. In 1948 the Empire Windrush docked in London carrying men from Jamaica and marked the first of many recruits from the commonwealth. She explained that in this context of immigration to Britain from its overseas territories, mixed race relationships challenged colonial and racial boundaries.

Usually, the letters in the agony aunt pages were from white women in relationships with black men on subjects such as a girl’s parents not allowing her black boyfriend into the house. Mothers would also write in to question their own attitude to their daughters mixed race relationship. One mother stated that she is happy for her daughter to date her partner, yet she draws the line at marriage. The theme of parental control is a recurring feature both within the context of mixed race relationsips and others – women under 21 were not allowed to marry without their parents’ consent! Differences in religion and class were also raised as a concern.

One interesting example of the time which Anna provided was a letter sent by a white girl who wanted to marry a black widower who was many years her senior. She was unsure how or whether to tell her parents. The agony aunt, rather than challenging why anyone should disapprove of such a relationship, instead confirms the girl’s fears. She advises the girl to wait until she is older since her relationship may just be a crush. The agony aunt underlines that the relationship must be strong enough to survive the social pressure and that mixed marriage is a great risk.

We wish Anna the very best of luck with her project – we look forward to hearing how her research on this interesting topic develops!

We will see you next week for our very last seminar of the academic year 2016/2017. Sophie and I (Maria) will be handing over the running of the network very soon. We’d love to see as many of you as possible for our last seminar in charge, we’ll really miss running the network. The paper is by Mariana Howell, in the English Literature department at Southampton. The title is ‘Experience of Time and Subjectivity in Modtherhood Writing’. We hope to see you there!




Next Meeting: ‘“Facing the Hardships”: Mixed Race Relationships and Women’s Magazines in 1950s Britain’, 13th March, 4pm, HumSS280

Hello everyone!

We look forward to welcoming you to our network on Monday 13th March at 4pm in HumSS 280 for a talk by Anna Maguire from the history department at King’s College London.

The title of Anna’s talk is ‘“Facing the Hardships”: Mixed Race Relationships and Women’s Magazines in 1950s Britain’

Here is her abstract for what promising to be a fascinating 20 minute talk…

The arrival of the Empire Windrushin 1948 was a symbolic turning point as the British Nationality Act saw the ‘Empire come home.’ At the centre of debates about new ‘race relations’ were mixed race relationships, challenging racial, colonial and gender boundaries. This paper examines discussion of mixed race relationships in British women’s magazines in the 1950’s, particularly in Agony Aunt pages, to examine how women represented their experiences and how responses were framed. This paper is part of a new research project that investigates the representation of mixed race relationships in cultural productions and maps the connection between discourse and experience for those in these relationships.



‘The Medieval Woman in the Western World’ – meeting report

We’d like to say thank you to Marco Prost for his talk on the medieval woman and the western world. It took us on a journey of 12th century adventure – battles, romance, jealousy, adultery and death! What was particularly striking were the parallels that Marco drew between tropes in contemporary romance stories and the lyric poetry of the Troubadours who portrayed courtly love in the 12th century. Marco quoted a poem by  Bernart de Ventadorn (Tant ai mo cor ple de joya) and handed us an extract from André le Chapelain so-called Art of Courtly Love (De Amore). In the latter, le Chapelain examines a variety of 12th century stories about courtly love and draws up a set up rules which he believes underlined them. Rules include ‘He who is not jealous cannot love’ and ‘He whom the thought of love vexes eats and sleeps very little’.

Marco informed us that the ‘femme fatale’ figure can also be traced back through time and is present in the myth of Tristan and Iseult. With a jovial expression, Marco added that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette was not at all original – Iseult commits suicide at the sight of a dying Tristan. Such love was viewed by romance writers as the ‘perfect’ love and referred to as ‘amour fine’. A 12th century author, Marie de France, who is known for her ‘lais’ (short stories)  explained that perfect love must always end in death.

Another very pertinent part of Marco’s talk was his discussion of consent in 12th century texts. Indeed, ‘consent’ is a rather modern term to use. However, Marco explained that there did appear to be an element of choice for the women depicted in stories such as Tristan and Iseult as the male character desires for the love to be mutual and waits for the woman’s approval before acting. He quoted a lovely line (in translation) from Bernart de Ventadorn’s poem: ‘She holds me in balance like a ship on the wives’, which refers to the male protagonist’s agonising wait for his lover to submit to his desires. Marco subsequently problematised this idea by discussing the prevailing elements of misogyny in 12th century narratives (such as the woman having little time to make a decision). At the time of these writings, marriage was not an act of love but an alliance, and therefore women had little say in choosing their husband. Marco acknowledged that these romances of courtly love were an inversion of the political reality of the time. Nevertheless, this idea of consent reflected the changing attitude of the church. In the 12th century the church started to recognise the wedding ceremony as a sacrament and therefore insisted that the will of both parties was considered.

Thanks again to Marco and everyone who attended, we are back next week with a history talk on mixed race relationships and women’s magazines in 1950s Britain (13th March, 4-5pm, HumSS280).




‘The Medieval Woman and the Western World’ 6th March, 4-5pm, HumSS280

Our next talk will be given by Marco Prost from the Centre for Medieval Studies at Reading University. His title is ‘From Bernart de Ventadorn to Denis de Rougemont: The Medieval Woman and the Western World’. The meeting is on 6th March, at 4pm in HumSS 280. We look forward to seeing you there!

Marco’s abstract:

How far into the past should we track the cultural idealization of women as objects of male desire? In Love in the Western World (also translated as Passion and Society) Denis de Rougemont has argued for a specificity of the western conception of love, whose origin may be precisely traced back to the 12th century, the age of troubadours’ lyric and courtly love, such as illustrated by Bernart de Ventadorn’s poems (Tant ai mo cor ple de joya) or André le Chapelain so-called Art of Courtly Love (De Amore).

That era saw the rise of a celebration of the admired and beloved “Lady”, a trope which appears to help the recognition and respect of women’s own will, while also trapping them onto an impossible throne of sovereign perfection. Even more important for de Rougemont, though, is the legend of Tristan and Iseult, where love and death would prove as two interconnected desires, which have shaped our modernity. Maurice Barrès’ Jardin sur l’Oronte (1922) will illustrate how vivid and structural such a paradigm can be in works of fiction fascinated with the medieval period.


Meeting Report: ‘Reflections on Writing the Female Grotesque’ by Karina Lickorish Quinn

A big thank you to Karina Lickorish Quinn for her fascinating talk at the network. Thanks also to those who attended – it was brilliant to see some new faces alongside our very loyal members.

Karina introduced the group to a variety of theories exploring the subject of the grotesque before treating us to some extracts of both her published and unpublished fiction. She illustrated how her creative process is influenced by her doctoral research and advised the group not to ignore academic writing as a source of inspiration. At the beginning of her talk, Karina defined the grotesque by presenting us with a series of decorative work which depicts human faces interwoven with foliage. This highlighted the hybrid nature of the grotesque and its absurdity. She then outlined the theories which have so far inspired her fictional works such as ‘OÖGENESIS’ which won the White Review short story prize in 2016.

One theory in particular which took a prominent place in the talk was Julia Kristeva’s theory of ‘abjection’. According to Kristeva, the abject is something which threatens stability and order because it disturbs the boundaries between the inside and the outside of the body. It reminds us of our body’s slow decay and eventual death. Examples include pus, menstruation, and excrement. A particular ‘grotesque’ image with which Karina confronted us was the ‘pregnant crone’. Karina showed us a photograph of a model created by Cindy Sherman of an old woman giving birth to an ambiguous string type substance which resembles sausages. She asked the audience how they responded to this ‘abject’ image. When it first appeared on the screen, faces around the room displayed reactions such as curiosity, horror, amusement and repulsion. Karina argued that Sherman’s model would be seen by philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin as the epitome of the grotesque since it is an image of ‘death giving birth’ and ‘decaying flesh’.

It is impossible in a short report to demonstrate the ambiguity, intensity, and intrigue of Karina’s writing so we’ll leave you with an extract she presented to us from ‘OÖGENESIS’ …

“Before the week was out, in an act of extravagant contempt for her mother’s wishes, Georgia had developed two more pairs of nipples – a set on her abdomen and a set on her groin. The sprouting of thick, black hairs followed soon after: from each nipple erupted a stiff, dark tendril so coarse that it resisted any form of depilation. The aestheticians at the beauty salon, who valiantly but vainly applied everything from hot wax to electrolysis, were horrified; but while Jane remained under a dark cloud of humiliation for the rest of the day, Georgia seemed wholly unashamed of her aberrant hirsutism. Quite the contrary: she seemed to get a perverse satisfaction out of standing in front of the mirror and stroking the long black strands, curling them tenderly around her fingers.”

If you’d like to read more about Karina’s creative writing, have a look at her website:


Next Meeting: ‘Reflections on Writing the Female Grotesque’ 27th Feb, 3pm, HumSS144

Hello everyone

Our next talk will be by Karina Lickorish Quinn who is doing her PhD here at the University of Reading. She is from the department of English literature and Creative Writing. Her title is ‘Reflections on Writing the Female Grotesque’.

The talk will take place on Monday 27th February at the earlier time of 3pm in HumSS 144.

Here is Karina’s abstract:

The grotesque is a powerful means for writers to challenge the male gaze, subverting the idealisation of the female body as static, passive, and restrained with the portrayal of the female anatomy in all its unaffected corporeality. The female grotesque overflows: she lactates, menstruates and births. Powerfully transgressing boundaries, both her own biological barrier, the skin, and the barriers imposed by society in the form of taboos, the female grotesque is dynamic: she is exciting and troublesome in equal measure.

Alongside providing an introduction to the theory behind the female grotesque and her portrayal in works of fiction, this paper presents the reflections of a creative writer of the female grotesque, exploring the artistic process from the spark of inspiration through the ethical dilemma of how much a writer might ‘borrow’ or ‘steal’ from others to the battle of capturing a vision on the written page. Perhaps most vexing is the thorny question of whether literature can really change societal discourse at all.

We hope to see you there next week!