The Institute of English Studies

History of the book, manuscript and print studies and textual scholarship research

IES Winter Reads: A Midway Round-Up

Over the winter months, the Institute of English Studies asked our staff and research fellows about their favourite winter reads.

From the classic Dickens to a classic reinterpretation in the form of Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed, we’ve had a fantastic selection of answers that have kept us going during these long winter evenings. Although the cold months are still with us, here’s our answers so far:



Charles Dickens, Bleak House 

Dickens is my master of seasonal conjuring. The first paragraph of Bleak House, published between 1852 and 53, is as evocative of the onset of winter as anything I have ever read:

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers.” – Cynthia Johnston (Lecturer in Book History and Communications)



Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors

The start – a car accident in a dyke in the drear fenlands of Cambridgeshire on a snowy New Year’s Eve. The protagonists – Lord Peter Wimsey (plus manservant) and assorted vicars, young gals, locals, petty criminals. The plot – intricate. The crime – theft of emeralds. The resolution – murder by bells. The book – Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors (London: Victor Gollancz, 1934).” – Susan Powell (Visiting Research Fellow) ⠀




Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed

I’d recommend Margaret Atwood’s novel Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold for winter entertainment. Atwood gives a new twist to Shakespeare, reimagining his themes and characters for a performance of The Tempest in a men’s prison in Canada, where magic, monsters, and spirits are now wittily transformed by digital technology. Characteristically, behind the theatrical spectacle Atwood encourages us to think about the value of liberal arts education in prisons and about prisoners’ human rights.” – Coral Howells (Senior Research Fellow)⠀


One book I’ve recently enjoyed reading was Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed.  Time and time again I found myself laughing out loud. I hadn’t thought something she’d written could be so funny and cheering. The sheer cleverness of plotting was a delight” – Jane Roberts (Senior Research Fellow)⠀



Charles Dickens, The Signalman

Winter is the season for ghost stories, so I’d choose Dickens’ dark, unsettling The Signalman, or one of M.R. James’ even more disquieting tales. Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, first published in 1977 but now enjoying a renaissance, is a lyrical, very personal account of the Cairngorms throughout the year, but her chapter on ‘Frost and Snow is especially evocative of the endlessly changing winter conditions in Scotland’s mountains.” – Alan McNee (Postdoctoral Visiting Research Fellows) ⠀



Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising

Every winter I turn to Susan Cooper’s ice-cold children’s fantasy, The Dark is Rising for its heady combination of snowy magic and icy menace. Set between the Winter Solstice and Twelfth Night, it is a novel about change, transition, and growing up, poised between the safe warm spaces of childhood and a snow-filled landscape, full of unknown dangers, but full too of magical possibility.” – Susan Cahill (Visiting Research Fellow)⠀

Call for Papers: Decadence, Magic(k), and the Occult

Decadence, Magic(k), and the Occult

Goldsmiths, University of London, 19-20 July 2018 

Keynote speaker: Professor Patricia Pulham (University of Surrey)


Nineteenth-century Decadence coincided with a resurgence of esotericism, alternative religions, and a belief in magic as a rejection of secularism and science. Until now, this intersection has been most richly considered in relation to Catholicism. Most well-known is Huysmans’s tetralogy, which traces Durtal’s movement from the Black Mass to the monastery. However, Decadent literature has a much more complicated relationship with mystical, supernatural, and magical realms, one which extends beyond a simple rejection of Christian faith and has a legacy reaching beyond the long nineteenth century.

This two-day interdisciplinary conference is organized by the Decadence Research Unit at Goldsmiths. Our aim is to investigate the role of occultism and magic(k) in the Decadent literary and artistic tradition through a consideration of the relationship between Decadence and the esoteric revival of the fin de siècle, providing an opportunity to re-examine the Occult roots of Decadence and explore the wide range of artistic responses to the blurred boundaries between Decadence, mysticism, ritual, and the Dark Arts. Is the meeting of practical magic and literary esotericism indicative of a symbiotic relationship between Decadence and the Occult, or does it represent merely another aspect of the Decadent rejection of mainstream ideologies?

We welcome proposals on any aspect of Decadence from any era, in relation to magic(k) and the Occult.  Papers (about 20 mins in length) might include discussion of, but are not limited to:

Occult/Decadent poets: Charles Baudelaire, Remy de Gourmont, Arthur Rimbaud, Jean Lorrain

Occult/Decadent artists: Henry de Groux, Jean Deville, Fernand Khnopff, Felicien Rops

Great beasts: Aleister Crowley, Joséphin Péladan, W. B. Yeats

Salons and sects: the Salon de la Rose+Croix, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

Satanic and occult feminism: Berthe de Courrière, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Althea Gyles


  • Big ‘Isms’: Spiritualism, Rosicrucianism, Neo-Paganism, Symbolism
  • Freemasonry, Theosophy, and New Age Spirituality
  • Aesthetic esotericism and Decadent occulture
  • Geomancy and liminal spatiality
  • Poetry and ritual magic(k)
  • Occlusion and the ocular
  • Music and mysticism
  • Rituals and rivalries
  • Incubi and succubi


Abstracts of 500 words plus brief biography should be sent to: by 31st March 2018

‘Something for my native town’ conference, November 2017

This post first appeared on the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery blog from Art Curator Stephanie Seville. 

Dr Cynthia Johnston wishes to add, “This conference was a culmination of many years of work on the R.E. Hart collection, which was very little-known when I began work on it in 2012. It has been thrilling to see the collection take its place on the international stage, and to be recognised as a significant cultural asset by the Blackburn community. To see Jack Straw speaking so knowledgeably about the Hart Collection was immensely satisfying!”

On 10 November 2017, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery in partnership with the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London, hosted a conference which focused on the manuscript and coin collections bequeathed to the museum by Robert Edward Hart in 1946. The museum’s academic partner, Dr Cynthia Johnston drew together a programme of speakers, each associated with world class research and cultural institutes, for the conference which was hosted by University Centre at Blackburn College. Each specialist presented research they had undertaken in visits to look closely at the collection since 2014.

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Call for Papers: Literature and ‘The Woman Question’

Literature and ‘The Woman Question’

A Mark Rutherford Society Symposium hosted by RIMAP
at the University of Bedfordshire

Saturday 23 June 2018


‘The Woman Question’ – encompassing not only debates over women’s suffrage, but gender equality more widely, including professional, economic, domestic, and sexual issues affecting women – was one of the most disruptive and fiercely contested issues of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The role and position of women in society, and relations between women and men, were widely discussed by writers of the period. These included the Bedford-born novelist William Hale White (1831–1913), better known by his literary pseudonym, ‘Mark Rutherford’. In his final three novels – Miriam’s Schooling (1890), Catharine Furze (1893), and Clara Hopgood (1896) – White created and presented with great insight and sympathy a series of female characters who defy the social, sexual and political constraints placed upon them. The aim of this Symposium is to open up discussion of the wider context within which the particular qualities of this aspect of White’s work may be better understood. Papers are therefore invited on any writer or literary text dealing with the ‘Woman Question’.

Please send a title and 200-word summary of a 20-minute paper to Professor Bob Owens (, no later than 1 May 2018.



  •  Elisabeth Jay, Professor Emerita of English, Oxford Brookes University
  • Jean-Michel Yvard, Associate Professor of English, Université Angers



The Symposium will be held at the Bedford Campus of the University of Bedfordshire, Polhill Avenue, Bedford MK41 9TD. Attendance is free of charge, but registration by 1 June 2018 is essential as numbers are limited. The Symposium will open at 10.30am and close at 5.00pm. Morning and afternoon refreshments and a light lunch will be provided, costing £20 payable on the day. To register, please email, giving details of name; title; affiliation; postal and email addresses; and any dietary requirements. The Mark Rutherford Society may be able to offer modest financial assistance with travel costs of postgraduate students whose papers are accepted. If you wish to be considered for this, in addition to sending the outline of your paper, please explain briefly why you would need help with travel costs.

Call for Papers: Brigid Brophy … in Transition

“Brigid Brophy … in Transition”:

Co-Editors: Professor Richard Canning and Visiting Professor Gerri Kimber, University of Northampton, England

In 2015, I and the ECW team at the University of Northampton ran a two-day international conference to celebrate all aspects of Brigid Brophy’s literary career, as well as her leading contributions to animal rights, vegetarianism, anti-vivisectionism, humanism, feminism and her advocacy of the Public Lending Right.

Brophy (1929-1995) wrote books of all kinds in all genres. The 600-page monograph Prancing Novelist: A Defence of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography in Praise of Ronald Firbank (1973) may have created a genre. Her fiction career began with the short-story volume The Crown Princess (1953), followed by seven novels, each entirely unlike its predecessors. Hackenfeller’s Ape (1953) concerned the relationship between an ape at London Zoo and a Professor observing the animal’s mating rituals. The King of a Rainy Country (1956) depicted a set of Bohemians in post-war London and Venice. Flesh (1962) portrayed the erotic tutelage of an inexperienced husband by his wife.

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Call for Papers: Writing Wrongs – Contemporary Women’s Writing Association Conference

Writing Wrongs
Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
20-21 September 2018

Keynote speakers: Professor Clare Hemmings (London School of Economics, UK) & Ruvani Ranasinha (Kings College London, UK)

How do we right wrongs? And how do we write these wrongs?

The organisers of the 2018 CWWA international conference warmly invite submissions for 20-minute presentations that examine how women in the contemporary period have used writing to highlight injustices and interrogate inequalities. Welcoming papers that analyse women’s writing in any of its diverse forms – from poetry, prose, drama, and print journalism to spoken word, online periodicals, websites, blogs, and social media feeds – Writing Wrongs will explore the limits and possibilities of writing as a political act. In light of the environmental, political and economic disasters and crises of the past fifty years, to what extent can we right wrongs by writing wrongs? How, for example, are historical violations and/or triumphs mediated in contemporary women’s writing? How do women use fiction and/or non-fiction to expose inequalities in the public and private spheres? In what ways do social movements shape what and how women write? And what is the relationship between writing and activism? We especially welcome contributions exploring the relationship between feminism and critical race studies, disability studies, ecocriticism, lesbian and gay studies, postcolonial studies, queer theory and transgender studies.

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Call for Papers: Oxford Research in English, Issue 7: Craft

“In my craft or sullen art” – Dylan Thomas

Thomas is one in a long line who self-reflexively meditates on his own work. Indeed, a writer’s craft has been the topic of much discussion both by critics and by authors themselves, considering the interplay between a writer’s natural ability and her tendency to consciously create, between the ingenuity of her ideas and the discipline of putting them into practice. In doing so, Thomas, along with others, bring to the forefront an epistemological question: Is ‘crafting’ in opposition to art? The term ‘craft’ also brings about various material and textual interpretations, from ’crafters’ and their products to the ‘crafty Odysseus’ outwitting his foes. Between capability, contrivance, and chicanery, craft covers all concepts of creation, in its various artistic forms and the authorial attempts to achieve greatness. After all, and in the words of the immortal Snoop Dogg, “If it’s flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s, be the best hamburger flipper in the world. Whatever it is you do you have to master your craft.”

This issue seeks to explore these different interpretations of craft, and welcomes papers investigating, but not limited to, any of the following topics:

• Writerly ability: can binaries of nature/nurture, inspiration/practice, art/craft be resolved or held in tension? What does it mean to ‘be’ a writer? (Does the reader ‘craft’ as well?)
• Style and authenticity: how do we define style? Does it represent a stable core of self? What about when it changes?
• Craft as deviation: cunning, wile, aberrations; trickster figures and hypocrites; witchcraft
• Cultural sensitivity: what are the boundaries of appropriation, appreciation, adaptation, assimilation?
• Craft as metaphor for writing: weaving, sculpture, embroidery, house-building, painting
• Representations of craft/crafters in media and literature: who are the makers and why do they make? What are the ethics and limits of crafting a work, a creature, an idea?
• Gender and craft: women’s work (vs) craftsmanship; associations of women and craft, both in the sense of artisanal work and of cunning and scheming
• Rhetorical exercises: ekphrasis as craft about craft; the interplay between spontaneity and craft

Oxford Research in English (ORE) is an online journal for postgraduate and early career scholars in English, Film Studies, Creative Writing, and related disciplines. All submissions are peer-reviewed by current graduate students at the University of Oxford. The journal is currently seeking papers of 5-8,000 words for its seventh issue, to be released in Autumn 2018. Please submit papers for consideration to by the deadline of 1st March 2018.

Papers should be formatted according to the journal’s house style, details of which can be found on our website:

Call for Papers: Corresponding with Beckett Conference

A London Beckett Seminar conference
Friday 1 – Saturday 2 June 2017, Senate House


Keynote: Lois More Overbeck, Emory University, Director, Letters of Samuel Beckett Project

What does it mean to correspond with Beckett? How does Beckett’s correspondence give us insight into the work? In what ways are critical reading and writing a form of correspondence with an author? What would it mean to perform the epistolary? The publication of the fourth and final volume of The Letters of Samuel Beckett marks an appropriate moment to take stock of the role of autobiography in research, and the importance of the epistolary in literary studies. A recent review by Cal Revely-Calder cautions that letters “are not propositions, manifestos, or statements of intent”, but rather “rough forays, conducted in private”. Corresponding with Beckett raises issues around the development of the “grey canon” (S.E. Gontarski), the use of digital resources, translation, visual metadata, and the role of corollary correspondence. Given Beckett’s hesitation to render the personal public, the conference will address how we negotiate issues of privacy, permissions, and copyright. The conference will generate new thinking on the letter as artefact, the textual and stylistic aspects of the epistolary, and will explore the legacy of a correspondence project and how the research that underpins it can be deployed for further research. Using literary correspondence and related materials raises older literary questions on authorial intention and reading methodologies that continue to inform literary analysis. In the age of Snapchat and WhatsApp, correspondence is primarily digital: the conference will question the longevity of contemporary digital correspondence, and explore strategies for future engagement with the epistolary in literary research.

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Call for Papers: Brits Abroad, Brits at Home: Travel Narratives from the Grand Tour to the End of Empire

A one-day symposium on texts by British tourists and travellers
Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Senate House, University of London

Travel narratives have long been the focus of critical, historical, and sociological analysis. The legacy of the Grand Tour, the growth of mass tourism in the nineteenth century, and the opportunities afforded by a vast empire to travel in ‘exotic’ regions have meant that British travellers, in particular, have been the object of a great deal of research. However, much of this research has focused on those travellers with the cultural capital to have their work formally published, and this in turn has perhaps skewed the picture towards narratives from upper-middle and upper class tourists.

This symposium will focus on British travellers, but with the intention of broadening the definition of travel writing to include unpublished texts written, for example, by ordinary tourists, rather than by the relatively small elite who were able to publish their accounts. Conversely it will also examine ‘unreliable’ narratives – for example, by elite colonial travellers, subaltern travellers, and others whose accounts are potentially compromised by censorship and political agendas.

The aim is to deepen our understanding not only of lower-middle class and working-class tourists and travellers, but also to interrogate the reliability of travel narratives in general, by exploring textual and travel practices that are often overlooked. These practices reveal how tourists experienced and responded to travel both within the British Isles and abroad, but also how those in the service of Empire mingled tourism with duty, and how their accounts were structured accordingly.

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An insight into the Women in Punch Symposium

Mariam Zarif is a doctoral candidate in English, nineteenth-century Literature, and Journalism at King’s College London. Her work focuses on New Woman fiction by male writers and the intersections between gender, sexuality and authorial disguise in the fin-di-siècle. She is also the Chief Editor of The Still Point Journal, which is a literary journal for Arts and Humanities researchers in London.

“The stimulating one-day conference, hosted at the Senate House Library marked the end of Punch’s 175th anniversary year. Centering on the theme of gender, sexuality, and journalism in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, this conference explored the representations of women in Punch and its female contributors. Incorporating two panels, two keynotes and a roundtable discussion, provided a wide experience of scholarship and reflected diversity in disciplines. The program began with an archive session at the Durning-Lawrence Library room, in which various copies of the magazines were set out for the conference attendees. This handling session was an opportunity to closely examine Punch and its cartoons on 19th and 20th century political and social history. The interdisciplinary nature of Victorian studies and journalism brought together scholars and researchers from different fields.

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