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The Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English

Nonconformist Women Writers

Saturday 30 May 2015

Dr Williams’s Library, 14 Gordon Square WC1H 0AR

A conference organised as part of the distinguished visiting fellowship of Timothy Whelan at QMUL.

This conference seeks to shine a light on the literary cultures that flourished among orthodox dissenting communities in the period 1650–1850. Often informal, familial, and ambivalent towards the commercial and urban imperatives associated with print publication, these intimate groups sustained complex traditions over time, and were shaped by faith, practice, and locality. In focusing attention on women writers—including those represented in Timothy Whelan’s eight-volume collection Nonconformist Women Writers (2011)—the conference will explore work that is under-studied in scholarship both on eighteenth-century Calvinist literature and on women’s writing of the period more generally.


10.15am                                  Registration

10.30–11.15am                       Introduction & Plenary
Timothy Whelan (Georgia Southern): ‘Prove yourself a Heroine!’: Mary Steele’s Danebury and Women’s Manuscript Coteries

11.15 – 12.30pm                     Poetry and Influence
Katarina Stenke (Cambridge): Time of death: the metres of Anne Steele’s graveyard poems

Jessica Clement (York): ‘Philomela, Theodosia, and the Divine: Writing the Self in the Poems of Elizabeth Singer Rowe and Anne Steele’

Nancy Jiwon Cho (Seoul National University): Theodosia’s Sisters and Daughters: Three Contemporary Nonconformist Women Writers’ Poetic Negotiations with Anne Steele’s Exemplary Authorial Identity

12.30–1.30pm                         Lunch

1.30–2.30pm                           Narrating Experience
Sylvia Brown (Alberta): Foremothers of Eighteenth-Century Nonconformist Spiritual Autobiography: From Evidences to Experiences

Karen Smith (Cardiff): ‘To know myself’: The spiritual discipline of self-examination in the diary of Frances Barrett Ryland


2.40–3.40pm                           Creative Practices in Context
Felicity James (Leicester): Mary Scott: Calvinist, Arian, Unitarian

Amy Culley (Lincoln): ‘My ever lov’d companion’: faith and friendship in the writing of Jane Attwater and Mary Fletcher

3.40–4.10pm                           Tea

4.10–4.30pm                           Roundtable & Closing Remarks
Timothy Whelan, James Vigus, Tessa Whitehouse

4.45pm                                    Drinks reception

Conference themes

Genres: Poetry, letters, diaries, orations, eulogies, drama, hymns, spiritual meditations, professions of faith, conversion narratives, spiritual autobiography, religious tracts and moral fiction, historical writing; formal and informal modes of writing

Circles: families, friends, servants, religious associates

Emotions: how are they expressed, theorized and practiced? What generic conventions are at work in representations of love or friendship (for example) that are specific to nonconformist writers, to women, and to nonconformist women writers?

Cycles and tradition(s): the life-cycles of individual writers and their associates; connections between generations; dissent as a movement with a history and future

Faith: the impact of specific Calvinist doctrines on writing; denominational experience; community worship; literary and sociological practices inculcated by religious tradition (such as diary-keeping); faith may be sustaining and generative or disabling and alienating

Varieties of dissemination: publication in manuscript and printed forms; anonymous, pseudonymous and public writing; collaborative composition and distribution; occasional and durational work

Processes of preservation and recovery: familial archival practices; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century publication of seventeenth-century texts; twenty- and twenty-first century attitudes to these writers; editorial practice; gaps in literary history


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