Four Nations Fiction: Women and the Novel, 1780-1830


28 September 2013, National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth 


In Blackwood’s Magazine in September 1819, John Wilson reflected on the towering fame of three contemporary women poets in the following terms: ‘Scotland has her Baillie – Ireland her Tighe – England her Hemans.’ The work of these women in fact represents all four parts of Britain in 1819, but who would replace them if fiction was the focus, rather than poetry?

Recent book-length studies of women writers who have, until now, occupied more peripheral positions within accounts of the period – Anna Seward, Elizabeth Hamilton, Joanna Baillie, Margaret Holford Hodson – and republications of lesser-known novels by major writers, such as Lady Morgan, have moved these writers into new zones of reception and criticism. But as literary canons continue to be contested and reconfigured by new readings and scholarly editions, where should we be looking next? Who will move into the spaces formerly occupied by familiar-but-peripheral writers? How, in the case of Welsh, Scottish and Irish novelists, might they be viewed within a comparative but often problematic four nations framework? What about regional or provincial English writers, and the ways in which identity may be shaped or played out in these contexts? What do form and narrative contribute to the creation of national fictions, or representations of Wales, Ireland or Scotland in the period?

The conference will be held at the National Library of Wales, and hosted by the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, an internationally recognized centre for the study of Welsh Romanticism.