Roomscape: Women Writers in the British Museum from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf

Roomscape: Women Writers in the British Museum from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf

Roomscape: Women Writers in the British Museum from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf

Roomscape: Women Writers in the British Museum from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf

Synopsis

Examines the Reading Room of the British Museum as a space of imaginative and historically generative potential in relation to the emergence of modern women writers in Victorian and early twentieth-century London Drawing on archival materials around this national library reading room, Roomscape is the first study that integrates documentary, theoretical, historical, and literary sources to examine the significance of this public interior space for women writers and their treatment of reading and writing spaces in literary texts. This book challenges an assessment of the Reading Room of the British Museum as a bastion of class and gender privilege, an image firmly established by Virginia Woolf's 1929 A Room of One's Own and the legions of feminist scholarship that upholds this spatial conceit. Susan David Bernstein argues not only that the British Museum Reading Room facilitated various practices of women's literary traditions, she also questions the overdetermined value of privacy and autonomy in constructions of female authorship, a principle generated from Woolf's feminist manifesto. Rather than viewing reading and writing as solitary, individual events, Roomscape considers the meaning of exteriority and the public and social and gendered dimensions of literary production.

Excerpt

‘Victorian’ is a term, at once indicative of a strongly determined concept and an often notoriously vague notion, emptied of all meaningful content by the many journalistic misconceptions that persist about the inhabitants and cultures of the British Isles and Victoria’s Empire in the nineteenth century. As such, it has become a by-word for the assumption of various, often contradictory habits of thought, belief, behaviour and perceptions. Victorian studies and studies in nineteenth-century literature and culture have, from their institutional inception, questioned narrowness of presumption, pushed at the limits of the nominal definition, and have sought to question the very grounds on which the unreflective perception of the so-called Victorian has been built; and so they continue to do. Victorian and nineteenth-century studies of literature and culture maintain a breadth and diversity of interest, of focus and inquiry, in an interrogative and intellectually open-minded and challenging manner, which are equal to the exploration and inquisitiveness of its subjects. Many of the questions asked by scholars and researchers of the innumerable productions of nineteenth-century society actively put into suspension the clichés and stereotypes of ‘Victorianism’, whether the approach has been sustained by historical, scientific, philosophical, empirical, ideological or theoretical concerns; indeed, it would be incorrect to assume that each of these approaches to the idea of the Victorian has been, or has remained, in the main exclusive, sealed off from the interests and engagements of other approaches. a vital interdisciplinarity has been pursued and embraced, for the most part, even as there has been contest and debate amongst Victorianists, pursued with as much fervour as the affirmative exploration between different disciplines and differing epistemologies put to work in the service of reading the nineteenth century.

Edinburgh Critical Studies in Victorian Culture aims to take up both the debates and the inventive approaches and departures from . . .

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