Panel Speakers


Chair: Dr. Pam Thurschwell (University of Sussex)

Dr. Jana Funke (Exeter)

Modernism’s Queer Child: Bryher, Boyhood, and the Adventure of Development

In Bryher’s autobiographical fiction of the late 1910s and early 1920s, her alter ego, Nancy, repeatedly connects the desire for freedom with the longing for childhood and, in particular, boyhood. Contemporary reviewers like Marianne Moore were critical of Bryher’s desire to be a boy, insisting that ‘modern’ women no longer needed to rely on male identification to experience freedom. Critics today continue to be confounded on Bryher’s understanding of individual and sexual development, reductively equating the wish to be a boy either with lesbian or transgender desire. What is overlooked in these readings is that Bryher associates boyhood with the desire to go to sea, to travel and to experience adventure. Drawing on such gendered metaphors of travel, she articulates a highly idiosyncratic model of gender and sexual development that combines a celebration of temporal dislocation with a strong belief in the telos of individual development.

Exploring the links Bryher forges between childhood, spatial and temporal mobility and development, and drawing on recent work on queer temporality (particularly Kathryn Bond Stockton’s exploration of the queer child), this papers shows that Bryher viewed individual development as a queer form of adventure across borders of gender, space and time. Focusing primarily on Bryher’s autobiographical novel series, Development, Two Selves and West, the paper traces the multiple influences that shaped Bryher’s writing: her friendship with its ‘vertical and deep’ exploration of the individual’s past; her fascination with the narratives of boyhood adventure stories; her engagement with gendered reading and translation practices as a means to travel imaginatively through time and space; and, finally, her own childhood experience of travel as the excessively privileged daughter of wealthy shipping magnate Sir John Ellerman. Overall, my paper critically reassesses Bryher’s little-understood autobiographical fiction and proposes that she uses the figure of the boy to articulate a queer model of childhood development that is progressive and anticipatory, but also insists on delay, retrogression and backwardness.


Jana Funke is an Advanced Research Fellow in Medical Humanities at the University of Exeter. She works on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literature and sexual science. Jana is the co-editor of Sex, Gender and Time in Fiction and Culture (Palgrave, 2011) and has published various articles and chapters on modernism and the history of sexuality. Her forthcoming volume The World and Other Works by Radclyffe Hall (Manchester University Press, 2015) presents a wide range of previously unpublished writings by Radclyffe Hall. She is also working on a monograph entitled Sexual Modernism: Femininity, Subjectivity, and Sexual Science. Jana is a participant on the AHRC- and Wellcome-Trust-funded New Generations in Medical Humanities Programme (2014/2015) and has been awarded a Wellcome-Trust Joint Investigator Award to lead with Professor Kate Fisher (History, University of Exeter) a 5-year research project on “The Cross-Disciplinary Invention of Sexuality: Sexual Science Beyond the Medical” (2015-2020).


Dr. Ben Nicholls (KCL)

Reproduction Line: Making Children in the Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Production-line-style machines often emblematise dystopia in modernist representation. E. M. Forster’s story “The Machine Stops” (1909), Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927), and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) are just three examples in which routinizing mechanization becomes the bane of humanity.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s response to the machine age is somewhat contrasting: for her, making people via factory-like processes of social and biological reproduction is the basis for utopian worlds. In Herland (1915), the inhabitants of a single-sex society reproduce parthenogenetically through machine-like processes of copying; reproduction becomes a production line for efficiently making people in established molds. However, this standardization is the basic condition for social levelling. Contrasting herself with her contemporary Ellen Key, Gilman argued for collectively raising children to commonly agreed standards as a means of safeguarding this equality.

Whilst this may simply sound like what queer scholarship has critiqued as “reproductive futurism,” this paper uses Gilman to reflect critically on the rhetorical status of reproduction in contemporary thought. Devalued in queer theory as a dreary, repetitive commitment to more of the same, reproduction is often imagined to be inherently problematic. But seeking to reproduce a world without a culturally-mandated heterosexuality—a world like Gilman’s utopia—needn’t perhaps seem so manifestly bad. Gilman is therefore the occasion to consider what lends the sameness in reproduction its capacity to seem unquestionably undesirable in queer work and to ask, counterintuitively, whether this is related to the devaluing of homosexuality in the modern West as a misguided orientation towards sameness.


Ben Nichols recently completed a PhD in English at King’s College London. His research is published or forthcoming in the Henry James Review and GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.


Elly McCausland (York)

‘The Ill-Made Knight’: Childhood trauma and daydreams of chivalry in modernist Arthuriana for children

‘It is so fatally easy to make young children believe that they are horrible,’ muses the narrator of T. H. White’s Once and Future King. White’s 1940s adaptation of the Arthurian legend is full of such children. Lancelot, his ‘ill-made knight,’ is plagued by an unidentifiable self-loathing implicitly linked to his deficient upbringing. Mordred becomes ‘misshapen’ and ‘embittered’ under the malevolent Morgause’s ‘maternal powers’. Arthur is tormented in adult life by the actions of his youth, while the Orkney brothers are left ‘suspicious and frightened’ by their ‘curious feelings’ towards their mother. Undergoing psychoanalysis at the time of writing, White frequently linked his original interpretations of the King Arthur story to his own unhappy childhood, identifying particularly with the ‘sullen and unsatisfactory’ Lancelot.

Products of a culture that encouraged self-analysis and perceived human experience through the developmental narratives of popular psychology, modernist retellings of the Arthurian legend stand in stark contrast to their Victorian and Edwardian predecessors. Where these constructed the child as a passive vessel to be moulded and enhanced by their didactic teachings, modernist reworkings of the tale focus on the vulnerability of childhood, its susceptibility not only to didacticism but also to damage. This paper will explore how John Steinbeck’s Acts of King Arthur and T. H. White’s Once and Future King invoke contemporary understandings of trauma, consciousness and repression in their depictions of childhood, offering a radically different interpretation of the Arthur story in which chivalry is no longer the heroic code of the Victorian gentleman, but simply the misguided daydream of a group of fragile individuals, identified as the damaged products of their childhood conflicts.


Elly McCausland is a third-year PhD student at the University of York. Her thesis examines adaptations of Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur for children from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, focusing on the socialization of middle-class boys into idealized forms of masculinity through the presentation of chivalry and adventure.


Helen Tyson (QMU)

‘Little Mussolini’ and the ‘parasite poets’: Modernism, Psychoanalysis, and ‘the Child’

 In May 1931 an article appeared in The New Statesman and Nation entitled ‘Free Speech in Childhood’. This article, by Bertrand Russell about his Beacon Hill School, insisted that although not ‘completely free’, the children at this newly-founded school did have ‘complete freedom of speech’. Invoking the authority of ‘Freudian text-books’, Russell went on to illustrate the peculiarly ‘literary’ benefits of this policy of ‘free speech’. Printing two poems produced ‘by a sindicate’ of children rather than by a ‘single author’, Russell underscored the children’s unique capacity to create, freely and as a group, poems ‘suggested by the ordinary sights and events of their everyday life.’[1]

 This did not go unchallenged. One correspondent wrote in to denounce the practice of group composition as a form of ‘séance’, in which one ‘little Mussolini’ dictates to ‘several little parasite poets, whose […] acquisitive faculties are being unhealthily exercised by this process of communal authorship.’[2] Russell’s romantic espousal of the child as a paragon of the possibilities of free speech and aesthetic purity was scorned for dangerously and ‘unhealthily’ exercising the fascistic susceptibilities of children. Barbara Low (a teacher, psychoanalyst and friend of D. H. Lawrence) then wrote in vituperatively to condemn the celebrated philosopher’s utter failure to grasp the real impossibility, in psychoanalytic terms, of ‘free speech’. Low insisted instead on the enormous psychic difficulty of ‘free speech’ for the child.[3]

In the same year, Virginia Woolf published The Waves. ‘[T]his shall be Childhood; but it must not be my childhood,’ Woolf wrote.[4] Unpicking the exchange about ‘Free Speech in Childhood’ in the context of Woolf’s portrayal of childhood in The Waves, this paper suggests that the idea of the child in modernism is, crucially, overdetermined. Modernism’s child is, I argue, a contested site for two apparently opposing ideas of the child. On the one hand, there is a romantic, but frequently politically suspect, conception of the child as a figure of pure identification and pleasure, uninhibited by the problematic mediations of language; on the other hand, the child may be read as a figure for our own adult helplessness and childish estrangement in the face of the difficulties of language.


Helen Tyson is an AHRC-funded PhD student and Teaching Associate in the Department of English at Queen Mary University of London. Her PhD, Reading the Reader in Modernist Literature and Psychoanalysis focuses on the conceptualisation and imagination of reading in modernism and psychoanalysis. This project is supervised by Jacqueline Rose and Peter Howarth.

Alongside working on her PhD, Helen has taught undergraduate courses on literary theory and the novel, psychoanalysis and literature, poetry, and academic writing. Helen is a co-editor of the recently published book English Studies: The State of the Discipline, Past, Present, and Future (Palgrave, 2014).

[1] Bertrand Russell, ‘Free Speech in Childhood’, New Statesman and Nation, 1.14 (30 May 1931), 486-8 (p. 486).

[2] W. E. Williams, ‘Letters: Free Speech in Childhood’, New Statesman and Nation, 1.15 (6 June 1931), 540.

[3] Barbara Low, ‘Letters: Free Speech in Childhood’, New Statesman and Nation, 1.17 (20 June 1931), 606-7.

[4] Virginia Woolf, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 3, 1925-30, ed. Anne Olivier Bell and Andrew McNeillie (London: Penguin, 1982), p. 236.



Chair: Dr. Dennis Duncan (Oxford University)

Dr. Beryl Pong (Cambridge)

Semicolonial Filiation: Katherine Mansfield and the Short Fictions of Childhood

Regarding modernism, critics have suggested that children represent the desire to ‘make it new’, to subvert literary and generational legacies. In postcolonial literature, uses of the parent-child relationship have by turns reinforced or destabilized ideas about colonial dependency on the imperial centre. But what of the child in a concept which combines both fields, semicolonial modernism?

 Semicolonialism, in Derek Attridge’s and Marjorie Howes’s formulation, describes a ‘complex and ambivalent set of attitudes’ towards nationalism and colonialism. The term, as Gregory Castle puts it, captures ‘the ambivalence and complicity inherent in a colonial condition defined as much by close cultural contact and borrowing as by repression and violence, as much by sameness as by difference.’ Although only Irish writers have been considered thus far, Katherine Mansfield’s situation as settler colonial and émigré to London, with complex affiliations to her New Zealand homeland and to her British-European inheritance, offers a diversifying case study.

Focusing on her New Zealand short stories, and drawing from Edward Said’s terms of filiation and affiliation, this paper argues that Mansfield’s preoccupation with childhood goes beyond her troubled past and her inability to produce children. Instead, representations of children are part of a protracted negotiation with multiple identities and senses of belonging, dispossession, and dislocation. In examining the relationship of semicolonialism to Mansfield, this paper also argues for the centrality of its relationship to short fiction: a form long noted for its ‘childishness’ and immaturity when compared to the novel, but also, for narrative properties of marginality (Frank O’Connor), liminality (Claire Drewery), and restlessness (Nadine Gordimer).


 I am a Research Fellow at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. Previously, I was at the University of Toronto as a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow. I am completing a project on British literature and culture during the Second World War, parts of which can be read in Journal of Modern Literature and Literature & History. I am also the incoming editor of the 20th Century and Contemporary Literature Section of Literature Compass.


Dr. Veronica Barnsley (Sheffield)

‘As sweet as can be’: Modifications of the Child and Mother in Anti-colonial Women’s Writing


Veronica Barnsley is University Teacher in Contemporary Literature at the University of Sheffield. She is working on a monograph on postcolonial children in South Asia, due for completion in 2016. Veronica has published articles on topics including anti-colonial modernism and postcolonial film in Feminist Theory, The Journal of Postcolonial Writing and The Journal of Commonwealth Literature and is a founder member of the Northern Postcolonial Network.


Hannah Proctor (Birkbeck)

Children of the Revolution: The Soviet Child and the Modernism of Reality

In Kotik Letaev (1922), the Russian symbolist novelist Andrei Bely attempted to recreate his early childhood experience. The result is a fragmentary text riven with lacunae, strewn with surreal images and wracked by temporal discontinuities. For Bely, modernist literary form is necessary to capture the splintered reality of childhood consciousness.

But such visions of reality were not long tolerated by Soviet authorities. The Soviet Writers’ Congress in 1934, which saw socialist realism enshrined as the official literature of the state, coincided with equally radical reforms in Soviet child psychology and pedagogy. Similar concerns – about chaos and order, fantasy and reality, fragmentation and unity – animated debates across disciplines.

Untarnished by the past, the image of the happy child functioned as an icon of socialist transformation. But psychologists found actual Soviet children departed alarmingly from the disciplined Bolshevik ideal. The children they observed were said to perceive the world as an incoherent jumble of sensations and were thus presented as a psychic mess who needed tidying up before they could form a neat vanguard of tiny comrades leading the march into the bright communist future.

Denunciations of modernist literature for adults were accompanied by attacks on children’s literature that departed from everyday life. But Soviet psychologists described in the child a human subject whose fragmented experience of reality challenged the conventions of literary realism. This paper will consider the Soviet child as a disruptive, genuinely revolutionary figure, suggesting that modernist forms might be necessary to convey the realities of modernity.


Hannah Proctor is a Doctoral Candidate at Birkbeck, working on the Soviet psychologist and neurologist Alexander Luria. She has published on the ideological underpinnings of contemporary neuroscience, queer theory, psychoanalysis and the history of Soviet sexuality.



Chair: Dr. Vike Plock (Exeter University)

Dr. Daniela Caselli (University of Manchester)

Fluffy Bunny Modernism: The Child in Modernist Experimental Fiction (Woolf, Joyce and Beckett)

Modernism and the child are a rather disconcerting couple: where the first term stands for serious and radically experimental literature suspicious of the masses, the second is associated with spontaneity, simplicity, and sentimentality.

Yet, the apparent incompatibility of this pair (artifice and nature) is celebrated by modernist authors: in his writings of the 1920s, Roger Fry recommended artists to look at the world with the innocence of a child; Virginia Woolf referred in her diaries to her ‘childish vision’; and Pablo Picasso famously quipped that ‘if an adult can draw like a child at forty he is a genius’. Joyce’s Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are often read as representing the workings of a child’s mind, and so are Woolf’s The Waves and sections of To the Lighthouse. Generation and parturition are central metaphors in H.D.’s work, whilst children are the focus of many short stories by Katherine Mansfield. Children populate both D.H. Lawrence’s novels and, more surprisingly, Samuel Beckett’s geriatric prose and drama. T.S. Eliot’s The Old Possum Book of Practical Cats and Djuna Barnes’s Creatures in an Alphabet were described as intended for children; Walter Benjamin broadcast children’s programmes between 1929 and 1933; Gertrude Stein was often accused of stylistic ‘childishness’; and Wyndham Lewis, in contrary fashion, deplored the ‘child cult’ that, for him, afflicted modernists from Stein to Hemingway and Anderson.

The pervasiveness of the child’s presence in early twentieth-century literature has gone almost unrecorded (with the exception of Coveney’s 1957 and Dusinberre’s 1987 studies). This paper argues that it is not surprising that the child, carrying its double burden of Victorian sentimentality and Romantic visionary force (both treated with almost equal suspicion by most modernists) has passed under the radar of the scholar of twentieth-century experimental literature. More widely, however, the paper contends that the child, working as spontaneity, transparency, and matter, resists interpretation in quite specific ways, which I will discuss by looking at some examples from the works of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett. I will analyse moments in Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, Jacob’s Room and Between the Acts, Joyce’s Portrait and Beckett’s Company to find out what is critically at stake in critiquing the child’s apparent ability to defy analysis and its silent underpinning of notions of affect and the human.


Daniela Caselli is Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Manchester. She is the author of Improper Modernism: Djuna Barnes’s Bewildering Corpus (2009) and Beckett’s Dantes: Intertextuality in the Fiction and Criticism (2005). She has co-edited, with Daniela La Penna, Twentieth-Century Poetic Translation: Literary Cultures in Italian and English (London: Continuum, 2008) and edited Beckett and Nothing: Trying to Understand Beckett (2011). Her work has appeared in Textual Practice, Feminist Theory, and Parallax. She is currently working on two book projects: one on the figure of the child in modernism, entitled Modernist Children, and the other (funded by the British Academy) on Dante in English-speaking modernism.


Katherine Kruger (Sussex)

Games and Play in the work of Elizabeth Bowen

Time, inside Eva’s mind, lay about like various pieces of a fragmented picture. (…) To resemble the picture was impossible; too many of the pieces were lost, lacking. Yet, some of the pieces there were would group into patterns – patterns at least. (…) Occupationally, this pattern-arriving-at was absorbing, as is a kindergarten game, and, like such a game, made sense in a way – Elizabeth Bowen, Eva Trout.

Confined to her room in a fevered malaise Eva contemplates her past, providing the reader with a brief glimpse into the famously impervious psychic life of Bowen’s final protagonist. Here Bowen juxtaposes two interlocking images of toys which encourage contrasting versions of play: the jigsaw puzzle and the kaleidoscope. Though both toys take fragmented, tessellating images as their point of interest, the jigsaw puzzle is a teleological game in which meaning is achieved only through the reunification of a definite image; in contrast, the perpetual ‘pattern-arriving-at’ of Bowen’s favourite toy, the kaleidoscope, in which mobile fragments shift, grouping and ungrouping into patterns, requires solely imaginative interaction on the part of the entranced player. The kaleidoscope provides the foundational image for Bowen’s mosaic of memory which reflects the inward-coiling temporal structure of the novel.

In Walter Benjamin’s ‘Toys and Play’ he describes the toy as ‘a site of conflict’; Bowen, fills her novels with contrasting images of toys and play that reveal the tensions within cultural assumptions about “healthy” growth and development. This paper will explore Bowen’s fascination with the tropes of toys and play, showing how she uses them to understand and to convey the evolving tensions inherent to a modern identity negotiating new rifts between the psychic and the social.


I am a CHASE funded doctoral candidate in the first year of my research with the School of English at the University of Sussex.  My research is supervised by Dr Pam Thurschwell; the primary concern of my research is to scrutinize what versions of the Romantic child exist in modern and postmodern literature, and whether the Romantic child is still a workable ideal for conceptualising and representing childhood.


Dr. Joe Kennedy (Sussex)

‘He spoke simply, and without innuendo, as one stating a fact’: Henry Green and John Wyndham’s Affectless Children

In his 1914 study on narcissism, Freud, as an aside in a famously inflammatory passage, states that the ‘charm of a child lies to a great extent in […] his self-contentment and inaccessibility’. Contrastingly, modernism provides us with examples in which the inscrutability of children is perceived as menace: consider Miles’ gnomic threat in James’ The Turn of the Screw and Freud’s own minatory infants in The Interpretation of Dreams and ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’. This paper will examine the legacy of this idea in British postwar literature, using both late modernist writing – Henry Green’s Concluding (1948) – and science fiction – John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos (1957). In both novels, children are portrayed as affectless and deadpan, figuring unreadability. I will approach this phenomenon both in its post-1945 historical context and in the light of Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok’s discussion of the unconscious incorporation of preceding generations’ losses, a situation in which, as Derrida has it, the ‘self is not the proprietor of what he is guarding’.


Dr Joe Kennedy is a Teaching Fellow in English Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Gothenburg at the University of Sussex. He specialises in modernism and postwar British literature.



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