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

Keynote speaker: Professor Alexandra Valint (University of Southern Mississippi)

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
speakable.

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.

This will be an online Study Day (spread over two days to allow for speakers from different time zones). Please direct any questions you might have to to Rebecca Hamilton (r.hamilton1.21@abdn.ac.uk).

Organising Committee: Rebecca Hamilton, Rosie Blacher, Ethan Evans, Hayley Smith

Follow us on Twitter/X @SilenceVPFA

View the call for papers in PDF form here

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 Jeremy Newton at vpfainfo@gmail.com