Writers in Neo-Victorian fiction
Writers in Neo-Victorian fiction / La figure de l’écrivain dans le roman néo-victorien
International One-Day Conference / Colloque international organisé by ERIBIA (EA2610)
October 11, 2019 / 11 octobre 2019
Université de Caen Normandie, France
Maison de la recherche en Sciences Humaines
Confirmed Keynote Speaker: Patricia Duncker
Reflecting on the art of writing neo-Victorian fiction, Patricia Duncker draws a whole list of “authors ripe for imitation, adaptation, or reinvention, […] [such as] Wilkie Collins, all the Brontës, the 1860s fashion for sensation fiction, Henry James and the Victorian ghostly writers, especially M.R. James, the ubiquitous Oscar Wilde, and more dangerously, Charles Dickens.” (Duncker 257). Not only does Duncker specifically stress the art of adaptation, pastiche and/or parody that, in part, is at the bottom of the neo-Victorian project, but her enumeration also significantly alludes to the presence of Victorian writers within neo-Victorian fiction, as is to the case, literally, in her recent novel, Sophie and The Sybil (2015) that features George Eliot amongst its main characters.
Considering, with Kate Mitchell that, “[n]eo-Victorian fiction prompts authors, readers and critics to confront the problem of historical recollection […] what is involved in this re-creation of history, what it means to fashion the past for the contemplation of the present” (3), the present conference seeks to engage with the recollection and re-presentation of writers in neo-Victorian fiction.
Which writers are remembered or not? Who is remembered and what is remembered, obliterated or mis-remembered about them? Is the focus on their activity as writer or/an on their private lives? How are these writers turned into characters? Such are some of the questions this conference will address in relation with the politics and revisionary aims of the neo-Victorian project.
The neo-Victorian genre, especially its biofictional branch, seems to have benefited from and followed the booming demand for historical narratives (especially biographies) in the 1990s (Steveker 68). In the case of “celebrity biofictions” which often revolve around “revelations of the salacious and traumatic aspects of the lives of participants in the long nineteenth century” (Kohlke 4), the notion of canonicity seems to be questioned. Famous Victorian writers like Charles Dickens and Lord Tennyson have indeed been the object of mocking depreciating neo-Victorian representations (Gutleben). On the other hand, recent Neo-Victorian representation of writers might be understood as the early twenty-first-century’s “fresh commitment to what we might call the reality of history” (Boxall 41).
Taking up the figure of a writer in fiction is an act of appropriation but also of denial. As Georges Letissier puts it about transfictional characters: “the neo-Victorian character denies the death verdict of the closed book, or any compulsory order of textual residence, through a process of migration that is an extension of fictitious life.” (Letissier n.p.). In the course of migration and expansion, the return of dead authors in neo-Victorian fiction may range from a sort of collapse between the author figure and his/her work (e.g. Tobias Oates in Jack Maggs (1997)) in contradiction with Barthes’s “Death of the author”, a thin boundary between biography and fiction (e.g. Peter Ackroyd’s The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983)) to the staging of the encounter with a writer from the past (e.g. Kathleen A. Flynn’s The Jane Austen Project (2017)).
Considering the self-consciousness and meta-reflexivity which define neo-Victorian fiction (Heilman and Llewelyn 4), the representation of the act of writing is of particular interest, be it in the representation of Victorian writers as well as the self-staging of neo-Victorian writers themselves – one may think of Fowles in The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969). Our concern with the representation of the writer includes fictional figures of such as Lamotte and Ash in Possession, or Sugar in The Crimson Petal and the White.
Possible topics may include, but need not be limited to the following:
- Retrieving/staging/plotting authorial figures of the past
- Literary tradition: staging the relation with the predecessor
- the representation of fictional writers
- Reception/transmission/construction of the authorial figure – canonicity/oblivion
- Cultural afterlife of writers
- Nomenclature (biofiction/fictional biography etc.)
The organisers welcome proposals for 20-minute papers about the representation of writers in neo-Victorian fiction. Please send 250-word abstracts, with a 50-word biography to Armelle Parey and Charlotte Wadoux by April 30th, 2019. Notification will be sent in the following month.