Forthcoming Study Days

Since 2009, VPFA Study Days have explored the works of writers such as Rhoda Broughton, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and addressed themes from Victorian Animals to the Threatened Child.

View details of past Study Days here.

‘Silenced Voices and Erased Agencies in Victorian Life and Victorian Popular Fiction’

Online | 8-9 June 2024

Call for Papers

There has been an important scholarly turn to studies in silence and erasure since at least the 1970s by those eager to uncover hidden, marginalised, and underrepresented voices of the past. UK Research and Innovation currently list Hidden Histories as an area of investment and support. Tillie Olsen’s Silences (1978) revolutionised the study of silence and agency in literature. Her book considers the circumstances that surround writers’ periods of silence, focussing on factors that particularly impact marginalised groups such as women, people of colour, and the working class. Her book makes a distinction between “natural” and “unnatural” silences, deeming the former as ‘that necessary time for renewal’ and the latter as the ‘unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot’. These ‘unnatural’ silences are primarily caused by specific social circumstances that accompany being a marginalised individual e.g. for women, an obligation to family and home.

The Victorians were particularly concerned with matters of voice and agency. Throughout the nineteenth century, numerous reforms were introduced to grant more rights and autonomy to women, children, animals, and those considered insane. These concerns inevitably found their way into Victorian fiction. Drawing on numerous advancements in the understanding of the human mind and psychology as a discipline, as well as emerging social
and cultural anxieties regarding empire, the Victorians created new methods of representing marginalised groups, their voices and their silences. From literal refusals to speak, to blank spaces, to monstrous figures, these works of fiction ask us to consider methods of communication that were adopted when restrictions were placed on the

This study day wishes to contribute to the robust conversations regarding voice, silence, and agency that are very much relevant today. It is the hope of the hosts that participants will leave with a better understanding of the institutions and mechanisms that worked in tandem to regulate and control marginalised voices and agencies in the Victorian era. We
also hope to encourage participants to re-evaluate the idea of silence as strictly an absence, specifically an absence of agency.

We invite papers on topics including, but not limited to:
  • Is there a difference between silence and the absence of words?
  • Forgotten texts, particularly by women writers
  • Marginalised groups in the Victorian era
  • Insanity, the madhouse and human agency
  • Non-human agencies: animals, nature, and the monstrous
  • Presentation of silence in textual form and its interpretation
  • Hidden or erased sexualities and genders
  • Colonial relations and race
  • Silence as a tool of communication
  • Trauma, psychology, and silence
  • Implicature
  • Unspeakability/ Unnarratability
  • Masculine adjudication over female voice
  • Illness and disability
  • Hierarchies and power imbalances
  • Victorian soundscapes: technological advances and amplified voices/sounds
  • The relationship between genre and types of silence

This will be an online Study Day (spread over two days to allow for speakers from different time zones). We invite proposals for papers of 15-20 minutes in length, panels (please send abstracts in one email), and also 10-minute Flash Papers that outline an ongoing or future research project. Please send abstract proposals of 200-300 words accompanied by a short bio to Rebecca Hamilton ( by Monday 11th December 2023. Please direct any questions you might have to this email.

If you would like to get involved in organising this Study Day, please also contact Rebecca Hamilton.


OUIDA: High Priestess of the Impossible

Online November 3rd–4th 2023

Organised by Frankie Dytor and Helena Esser.

You are invited to attend the Ouida Study Day online. Register via the Eventbrite page (link to website) to receive the zoom meeting links. This is for everyone who would like to attend as a non-speaker, listen in, learn about Ouida; you are free to drop in and out as you like! 

Check out the programme for the Study Day here (link to PDF).

Call for Papers
(please note the submission deadline has passed)

Ouida (Marie Louise de la Ramée, 1839-1908) was a Victorian celebrity, non-conformist, and literary enfant terrible whose life and work conformed neither to dominant literary, cultural, or gendered conventions of the nineteenth century, nor neatly affirms our present-day expectations of Victorian literature. She was an internationally read, self-supporting writer, wholly uninterested in realism or the domestic sphere and sceptical of the New Woman, even as she lived alone, condemned marriage, or wrote happy divorcées. She pioneered the aesthetic novel and the desert adventure, synthesised sensation fiction, French romance, and social satire, mastered the Italian novel, and influenced the emerging Decadent movement. Her literary networks included Robert Browning, Richard Burton, Wilkie Collins, Marie Corelli, Oscar Wilde, and Max Beerbohm, and she drew admiration from John Ruskin, Henry James, and Vernon Lee. 

Ouida shocked and delighted her audiences with her dandy guardsmen and happy adventuresses, her artists and revolutionaries, her depictions of aristocratic splendour and casual adultery. Known in turns for her ‘Swinburnian fleshiness’ and making Zola look ‘clean-tasted in comparison’, Ouida was lauded for her vitality and eloquence, but critiqued for infectious immorality. As a popular novelist and self-identified artist, she occupied an uncertain space in the literary imagination, and her relationships with publishers were—with the exception of her friend, Bernhard Tauchnitz— often volatile and disadvantageous. A libertarian, democrat, and individualist, her novels, short stories, and critical essays espouse cosmopolitanism, anti-imperialism, eco-criticism, and animal rights, but are also suffused by misogynist or antisemitic commentary. 

Following her (now-contested) dismissal from the feminist canon, scholarly interest in Ouida has been resurging in recent years. Despite many excellent contributions from various fields, as a staple of the Victorian and pan-European literary landscape she remains crucially understudied. This Study Day aims to bring together scholars contributing to any aspect of Ouida scholarship, whether through recent and ongoing projects or at any point in the past. We want to contribute to building lasting networks of Ouida scholars and fans, facilitate dialogue and exchange, and make visible the vital work that is being done on a complex, sometimes confounding woman writer, yet which is also often scattered across disciplines and genres. Our aim is to consider how Ouida’s life and work challenge or complicate dominant meta-narratives of Victorian paradigms about gender, genre, culture, and identity, but also highlight and discuss Ouida’s legacy in collections and archives, as well as the practical and theoretical challenges of Ouida scholarship across time. 

We hope this Study Day will invigorate the exchange of ideas and projects and provide a forum in which to celebrate an extraordinary Victorian personality, for example through a concomitant online exhibition or neo-Victorian fan perspectives. We aim to publish a collection of selected papers after the event.

We invite papers on topics including, but not limited to:

  • Ouida’s life: Langham salon, military friendships, Florentine circles, Ouida as a celebrity, her correspondences & friendships (with Burton, Blunt, Tauchnitz…), her biographies, etc. 

  • Ouida, her literary contemporaries, & the marketplace: M.E. Braddon, Marie Corelli, Vernon Lee, G. A. Lawrence, Ouida as inspiration or competitor, etc. 

  • Ouida & publishing: Chapman & Hall vs Chatto & Windus, Tauchnitz, Heinemann, Lippincott, Review des Deux Mondes, serial publications, marketing, etc. 

  • Ouida as aesthete or decadent icon: proto-aestheticism, Oscar Wilde, Max Beerbohm, Algernon Swinburne, G.S. Street, Gabriele D’Annunzio 

  • Ouida across genres & modes: muscular adventure, sensation, social satire, New Woman fiction, romanticism vs realism, eco-criticism, political satire, etc. 

  • Ouida’s short stories & critical essays 

  • Ouida international: cosmopolitanism, Baden Baden, Paris, summer capitals, Italian novels, anti-imperialism, translations, reception (France, Italy, Japan, etc) 

  • Ouida’s politics: libertarianism, anti-authoritarianism, animal rights (horses and dogs, especially), New Woman debate, etc. 

  • Ouida & gender: Masculinity, masculine heroism, homosociality, potential queerness, femininity, female agency, misogyny, etc. 

  • Ouida’s afterlives: 20C collections, biographies, Belgian statues, Japanese animes, etc. 

  • Ouida in the archive: researching, collecting, teaching, and studying Ouida then vs now, etc.

We invite 20-minute papers and 10-Minute Flash Papers that outline an ongoing or future research project. This format will be a great opportunity to get feedback on a project.

Please send proposals of 200-300 words and a short bio to Frankie Dytor ( and Helena Esser ( by October 6th 2023 (extended deadline) or direct any questions you might have to us. The Study Day will take place across two days to accommodate UK and US time zones. 

If you are interested in running a VPFA study day, please download the Study Day Proposal Form (Word), and email it to Helena Ifill and Brian Jukes at