'Shaping the Self': Exploring Identity in the Nineteenth Century


Thu May 19 2022 at 09:00 am to 04:00 pm


University of Edinburgh | Edinburgh, SC

This conference will explore the changing perspectives on individual identities and the construction of the self in the nineteenth century.
About this Event

‘An obsession with individual identity pervaded Western world thinking in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many people were worried they might lose themselves in the frightening darkness lying just beyond the earthbound. [...] The literature of the time reflects this fascination with the shaky foundations on which rested these authors’ desires for certainty in an unpredictable world.’
Judy Cornes, Madness and the Loss of Identity in Nineteenth Century Fiction
‘But literature has much to do with life, that is, ordinary experience, or, to put it another way, it helps in that never-ending, never fully-realizable, process of finding out what we are, and, to a certain extent, what we must do.’
John Henry Raleigh, Time, Place, and Idea: Essays on the Novel

From Austen’s exploration of subjectivity to Wilde’s portrayal of conflicting Gothic identities, we aim to explore the period’s rapidly changing conceptions of the self in an age of significant social, scientific and economic change. Individual lives were undergoing perpetual adaptation in the face of scientific innovation, industrialisation and urbanisation. Oscillating between the stability and familiarity of the past and the instability of a world that was establishing a new identity: nineteenth-century lives were shaped by the simultaneous fear and enthusiasm inspired by progress.

Celeste Callen and Emily Vause – Conference Convenors.


8:45am - Registration

9:00am – Welcome and Introductory Remarks: Celeste Callen and Emily Vause

9:10-10:45 – Panel 1 : The Constrained Self: Society, Class and Structure

o Michela Gerardin (The University of Edinburgh) – ‘John Keats, A Poet of No Identity’

o Kristy Strange (Independent Researcher) – ‘It’s In Their Blood: Identity creation inside monstrous family units in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things

o Dr Helena Ifill (University of Aberdeen) – ‘Identity as Reputation and Identity as action in Charlotte Riddell’s City Fiction’

o Deborah Giggle (University of East Anglia) – ‘Making sense of the middle men: Analysing lower middle-class authorship and identity at the fin de siècle

10:45-12:00 – Panel 2 : The Gendered Self

o Amal Abdi (The University of Edinburgh) – ‘Emma Through Time’

o Ishita Krishna (University of York) – ‘“One doesn’t do that kind of thing!”: Subject-Object Inversion as Resistance to Victorian Female Suicide Genre in Hedda Gabler

o Milly Kate Harrison (Loughborough University) – ‘Uncovering Queer Undercurrents: Water and Queer Identity in Late Nineteenth-Century Weird Fiction’

12:00-12:45 – Lunch Break

12:45-13:55 – Panel 3 : The Physical Self: Visual Identity and the Senses

o Chao Lin – ‘Faces with Masks: Transgression of Identities’

o Aija Oksman (The University of Edinburgh) – ‘Re-imagining the Self: The Portrait Photography of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth’

o Dr Isabella Brooks-Ward (University College London)– ‘Eliot’s Onion: Self-taste in George Eliot’s ‘A Minor Prophet’’

13:55-15:10– Panel 4: Locating the Self: Place, Landscape and Dialogic Space

o Nick Smith (University of Exeter) – ‘Becoming the Ettrick Shepherd: James Hogg and Highland Journeys

o Alexia Ainsworth (Stanford University)– ‘Madame Bovary’s Dialogic Frameworks and the Unseen Mad Scene of Lucia di Lammermoor

o Lara Virrey (The University of Edinburgh) – ‘Haunting landscapes and the self in time in The Story of an African Farm (1883) and After London (1885)’

15:10– Tea, Coffee & Biscuits

15:30-16:00 – Roundtable Discussion with Dr Jonathan Wild and Closing Remarks


Where is it happening?

University of Edinburgh, 50 George Square, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Event Location & Nearby Stays:


GBP 0.00

Celeste Callen and Emily Vause.

Host or Publisher Celeste Callen and Emily Vause.

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