Thursday 9th May 1-2pm, Dr D-M Withers (Sussex) ‘Virago Modern Classics and Libraries’

The Virago Modern Classics series – and offshoots such as the Virago Victorian Classics – reprinted ‘forgotten’ works by women writers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; it remains one of the most iconic publishing interventions of recent times. Yet how did Virago find books for the series given that the women writers it celebrated were, in the late 70s, apparently ‘hidden from history’? This presentation draws on material from the Virago and Carmen Callil archives based at the British Library to reveal how Virago used a variety of libraries to source out-of-print works and establish bibliographic details for the Modern and Victorian Classics series. Virago’s readers were also central to the process of discovery: they provided the company with detailed information about where to find titles, but also enabled Callil and her colleagues to understand the challenges readers faced when they tried to acquire ‘hard-to-reach’ books. Such knowledge, in turn, informed decisions about marketing and selection as Virago gained awareness of the scarcity of texts alongside idiosyncratic appraisals of their literary and cultural value. As such, these archives offer fascinating insight into how a cutting-edge publishing series was constructed while enabling wider understanding of reading practices and library infrastructures in the late 70s and early 80s. Overall, I want to suggest, these materials affirm the vital – and under-emphasised – role of libraries in the commercial ecology of the publishing industry.

Thursday 9th May, 1-2pm

G10, Edith Morley, Whiteknights campus, University of Reading

All welcome! Feel free to bring your lunch.

Image credit:


Thursday 14th March (wk 9), Dr Rowena Kennedy-Epstein (Bristol) ‘So Easy to See: Muriel Rukeyser and Berenice Abbott’s Unfinished Collaboration’

This talk will focus on the lost collaboration between Muriel Rukeyser and Berenice Abbott, So Easy to See, which pairs Abbott’s innovative Super-Sight photographs with Rukeyser’s poetic-theoretical discussions of ‘seeing’ in order to discuss lesbian desire, the atomic bomb, the relationship between art and science, and female genius. Their project was repeatedly rejected by male editors and curators, who demeaned and undervalued its innovative nature, in part because Abbott and Rukeyser dared to assert themselves as scientific experts; nevertheless, it is an intellectually rich and artistically innovative collaboration by two of the twentieth century’s most versatile artists. Through their collaboration, Rukeyser and Abbott worked against accepted gendered and disciplinary boundaries, in order to show how ‘science and art meet and might meet in our time’ as sources of imaginative possibility and social progress. In doing so, they engendered questions about what kinds of collaborative and artistic practices are sanctioned, about the ontology of things and the everyday, about materialist philosophy and about the radical possibilities of interdisciplinarity. By making visible this lost collaboration, this essay participates in the recovery of an innovative and exciting modernist collaboration, and asks us to see both the lost potential of its inventiveness as well as to contextualise its disappearance. In order to see their work on ‘seeing’, we must also undertake an exploration into the cultural mechanisms that obfuscated it at mid-century.

5-6pm, Edith Morley, G44

All welcome!

RKE headshot1.jpg


‘”A Wedge from the North”: The Founding of Poetry Nation’, Dr Will Davies (Reading)

This talk will deploy materials from the Carcanet Press archive at John Rylands Library in order to consider the role played by Poetry Nation, then the first issues of PN Review, in re-energising the interaction between international modernism and a version of an English national poetry.

Specifically, the talk will focus upon the correspondence in the archive relating to two figures: Donald Davie and Charles Tomlinson. The letters speak much about the ambitions of the journals regarding the political and cultural landscape of Britain into which the editors wished to intervene. They are also significant for what they tell us about the potential ‘groupings’ of writers at that time – those who were seen to be possible contributors to the journals because of their attitudes and poetries, and those who were definitely excluded. From this process, a clear picture emerges about the distance between the Press, the journals and a ‘metropolitan’ poetry which was taken to be hostile to it.

The paper forms an initial stage of a larger project to ‘map’ the ways in which English poetry in the decades following the Second World War was being opened up to American and European influence at the same time as the ‘little Englandism’ of Larkin and Amis was being heralded in the mainstream media and in academic literary criticism. Davie and Tomlinson form the central ‘pivots’ of the project. But the role of Carcanet and of its associated journals inevitably forms the latter end of the history which is to be created – a history which has become particularly relevant again, and which might have much to say to recently emergent poets in this country.


Dr William Davies is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Reading. His research focuses on the intersections of war and literature in the twentieth century, particularly in the work of Samuel Beckett. Alongside forthcoming articles in Twentieth-Century Literature, Journal of War and Culture Studies and Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui, his monograph, Samuel Beckett and the Second World War is forthcoming with Bloomsbury in 2020 and he is the co-editor with Dr Helen Bailey of Beckett and Politics, forthcoming with Palgrave in 2019. He is also writing a series of essays examining the impact of the Second World War on post-1945 English poets. The first of these, ‘Donald Davie and Englishness’, is published in The Review of English Studies.

Thursday 28th Feb, 5-6pm in Edith Morley, G44. All welcome!

Thursday 6th Dec (wk 10), 5-6pm Dr Sara Sullum (Milan, British Academy Visiting Fellow, MLES) ‘Reading for translation: Anglo-Italian literary transfer in publishers’ papers’

The importance of publishers’ papers for the study of literary history has been highlighted by several studies over the last decade. In the twentieth century, the “mediation of publishing” became as relevant an institution as literary criticism in the definition of a literary canon, be it domestic, foreign or transnational. The concurrent professionalization of specialized intellectual work based in publishing including professional figures such as literary agents, series editors and consultants (readers and translators) played a key role in the shaping of publishers’ catalogues and their papers therefore represent an invaluable source for studies in the field.

By focusing on Anglo-Italian literary transfer, with specific attention to the novel, my paper will analyse archival evidence – readers’ reports and publishers’ correspondence – to illustrate the ways in which professionals working in literary publishing coined and/or used a set of easily translatable cultural categories to select, evaluate and market fiction produced between the Forties and early Sixties in both United Kingdom and Italy. In particular, I am interested in showing how their particular use of these categories – e.g. “realism” or “neorealism” – can shed new light on the dynamics of literary transfer and reception.

Sara Sullam is Assistant Professor of English Literature at Milan University and British Academy Visiting Fellow at the Department of Modern Languages and European Studies.

G44 Edith Morley, Whiteknights Campus. All welcome!


Thursday 15th November (wk 7), 5-6pm Dr Sophie Heywood (MLES, Reading) ‘The children’s ’68’

This paper presents some of the findings of the project “The Children’s ’68” led by Sophie Heywood, based in the University of Tours InTRu Laboratory, and financed by the STUDIUM/Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellowship programme 2016/17.

The aim was to analyse 1968 as a watershed moment in children’s culture and its related disciplines, following Marwick’s (1998) definition of 1968 as the crystallisation of the cultural revolution of the ‘long sixties’ (c.1958-c.1974). By thinking about children’s culture as a site for artistic and intellectual experimentation, at the centre of ideological activity across disciplinary boundaries and national borders, this project opened up new ways of understanding the 1968 liberation movements and their legacies. Culminating in a series of public events and exhibitions in 2018 for the fiftieth anniversary of 1968, it brought the children’s perspective into scholarly debate and public commemorations.


Dr Cathy Clay (English, Nottingham Trent) ‘Rereading the Time and Tide Archive: The Feminist and Cultural Politics of a Modern Magazine’

Thursday 25th January (wk 3), 5-6pm

Edith Morley G10

All welcome 

Time and Tide, the feminist weekly review founded in 1920 by Welsh businesswoman and suffragette Lady Margaret Rhondda, is one of the richest archives for exploring British feminism and women’s writing in the interwar years. During its first decade the periodical was a vocal participant in post-war feminist debates, and regularly carried articles on issues relating to women. It also published poems, stories and other features by leading women writers of the period, from middlebrow authors such as E. M. Delafield to Britain’s best-known female modernist Virginia Woolf. The periodical’s gradual rebranding, however, as a more general-audience, less woman-focused magazine, has been read as an abandonment of its feminism. According to David Doughan and Denise Sanchez, ‘in the 1930s [Time and Tide’s] feminism gradually faded away’ (1987: 45), with the periodical becoming ‘a highly respected political/cultural/literary weekly […] at the cost of divesting itself of any specific feminist commitment’ (Doughan 1987: 268-71).

This paper offers a rereading of Time and Tide that necessitates a more nuanced understanding of its relationship to feminism and to the wider political and cultural landscape of interwar Britain. Based on extensive new archival research conducted for my forthcoming book Time and Tide: the Feminist and Cultural Politics of a Modern Magazine (EUP, 2018), I argue that far from abandoning its feminist commitment Time and Tide extended beyond a narrow definition of feminism as it worked to secure women’s position at the heart of public and political life: a goal entirely consistent with an equalitarian feminist tradition. Through an analysis of Time and Tide’s internal and external marketing strategies, its uses of design and illustration, and strategic staging of voices in its correspondence columns, I show that despite surface appearances feminism remained a central motivating and shaping force on Time and Tide’s editorial policy and content. Establishing itself as the only female-controlled intellectual weekly in the ‘golden age’ of the weekly review, Time and Tide remains a beacon of feminist achievement throughout the interwar years and beyond.

Jessica Sage (Newcastle, Seven Stories) ‘Edith Morley: Writing the Female Professor’

In 1908, at what was then Reading University College, Edith Morley was appointed as the first female professor in the UK, 37 years after Harriette Cooke achieved the same distinction in the USA and 5 years before Caroline Spurgeon was appointed to the role at King’s College London.  Far from being feted as a landmark decision, Morley’s appointment was met with resistance and calls for retraction and is only now starting to become more widely known.

This paper examines the 1908 letters between Morley and William Childs the principal of Reading at the time, as well as the letters and paperwork regarding Reading’s discussion of demoting Morley in 1912 in preparation for becoming a university.  In doing so it considers the ideas at stake in naming a woman as professor for the first time and the ways in which these identities are produced as conflicting and contradictory.  It also examines Morley’s construction of her career in her memoir Looking Before and After, which was rejected by Allen & Unwin when she first wrote it and has recently been published by Two Rivers Press.  The talk focuses on selfhood and identity and the ways in which constructions of Morley as female, an academic, a writer and a colleague intersect and it considers the implications this has for our thinking about female professors then and now.

Tuesday 3rd May, 1.10pm – 2.30pm, HumSS 181. All welcome!

Morley - young