The Transatlantic Literary Women symposium left us with a huge list of summer reads, so to tide you over the summer break we’ve compiled a handy book list full of transatlantic women writers!
First up was Melanie Dawson’s talk on Age-Conscious Modernity. Melanie examined changing and conflicted attitudes towards the experience of age and ageing. Edith Wharton’s Summeris a fantastic exploration of the power dynamics in relationships between young women and older men, and Zora Neale Hurston dignifies the experience of ageing in Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Next, Gary Totten presented ‘Transatlantic African American Women Writers and Racial Justice in the Age of Jim Crow’. If you’re interested in African American female travel writing, Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells and Jessie Redmon Fauset’s columns in The Crisis are must reads. Both writers politicised their form in order to present a social critique of the violence and social limitations of the Jim Crow era, though in very different ways.
After lunch, Tracy Brain presented ‘Plath and You’. As well as more famous novels such as The Bell Jar, Tracy reminded us of Sylvia Plath’s (often overlooked) poetry. You can find a selection of her poetry here.
Later in the afternoon, Claire Heuchan led a workshop on the connections between UK and US Black feminist writing. She touched on Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outrider, and the Bare Lit Anthology. Plenty to get your teeth into!
And finally – YOUR transatlantic literary women! This was where we gave participants in the symposium an opportunity to make a case for their favourite transatlantic women writers. Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me the Waltz and Nella Larsen’s Passing were both championed, as was work by Leonora Carrington, Clarice Lispector, and the Galician poet Rosalia de Castro.
Whether you attended the symposium, or you’re just looking for something to read, there should be plenty here to get you started. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to share them with us! Happy reading!
I hope you’re well, and ready to join us for a tour of the Digging In trenches this Saturday from 2pm onwards. In today’s post, I’m excited to present you with a full programme for the day, as well as some practical advice…
First of all, if you would like to have a look at the topics our speakers will be broaching during the afternoon, you can download our full programme here. In short, here’s what you can expect on the day:
2pm: Welcome from the team
2:10pm: Dr. Laura Rattray (University of Glasgow), ‘American Women Writers and the First World War’
2.30pm: Dr. Alice Kelly (University of Oxford), ‘Nurse, Suffragette, War Writer: Ellen N. LaMotte and The Backwash of War’
3pm: Tour of the Trenches led by Dr. Olivia Lelong (Northlight Heritage)
3:40pm: Long Table run by Mags Keohane, Marine Furet, Saskia McCracken, and Louisa Burden
3:40pm: Dr. Hannah Tweed (University of Glasgow), ‘Women Writers at the Front: Medical Service and Subversion in the First World War’
4pm: Anna Girling (University of Edinburgh), ‘Maddened with War: Nancy Cunard and the First World War’
As you can see, we have a lot planned for the day, and you can come and go as you like, or spend the whole afternoon with us if you want! We do hope you’ll stick around!
Secondly, if this is your first visit to the Digging In trenches, here’s some advice to help you make the most of the day…
How do I get there?
Pollok Park is easily accessible by public transport, a few minutes’ walk away from Shawlands and Pollokshaws West railway stations in the Southside of Glasgow. The Digging In trenches are located near the parking, close to the Burrell Collection. You can check out Digging In’s website for more information on how to find them.
What should I wear?
As you know, this is an outdoors event, and we cannot guarantee that this will be a sunny day – this is Scotland after all. You should dress accordingly, and wear strong shoes (ideally hiking boots or even wellies as the trenches can get a bit muddy), and bring a raincoat or an umbrella.
Where is the bathroom?
I knew you’d ask! The Burrell Collection and its café are currently closed for renovation, but the bathroom is still accessible to the public, 5 minutes away from the trenches.
Please also feel free to take some nibbles and refreshments with you and enjoy a picnic in the park if the weather is nice!
We look forward to seeing you on Saturday. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact us in the comments or on the page of the event here if you have any questions about the day.
On Saturday 22nd April, the Transatlantic Literary Women series will be joining forces with Digging In to deliver an afternoon of talks, workshops, and tours of the reconstructed trenches in Pollok Park, all dedicated to transatlantic women’s experience of World War I. The event will kick off at 2pm, and as usual, all are welcome!
In April 1917, the American government officially announced their engagement in the conflict alongside the Allied Forces. Their involvement impacted on the lives of millions, not just the soldiers who went to fight. With this event, we would like to give voice to a different narrative of the transatlantic relationship during World War I, by shedding light on the experiences of the women who took part in the conflict, as doctors, nurses, campaigners and carers, but also as intellectuals, journalists and writers.
With Dr Laura Rattray, from the University of Glasgow, we will discuss the contribution of American women writers on the frontline, and the importance of the conflict to their literary production. Dr Alice Kelly, from the University of Oxford, will give a talk on the life and writing of American nurse and activist Ellen LaMotte. Dr Hannah Tweed, from the University of Glasgow, will present her research on women writers at the front, in a talk on medical service and subversion. Anna Girling from the University of Edinburgh will tell us about Nancy Cunard and her neglected poetry of the First World War.
There will also be activities for all, with a tour of the trenches led by Dr Olivia Lelong, accompanied by readings of texts on the conflict written by women. We will also give you an opportunity to participate in the debate, with a long table discussion facilitated by Margaret Keohane, and Transatlantic Litery Women committee members Marine Furet, Saskia McCracken and Louisa Burden.
Organised by the charity Northlight Heritage, DIGGING IN will be taking place in Glasgow until 2018, to celebrate the centenary of the conflict. Following archaeological excavations in the North of France, Digging In recreates trenches based on the historical Allied and German trenches in Pollok Park. By engaging with this environment, participants have the opportunity to explore the stories and myths associated with the conflict, and to imagine the experiences of the men and women whose lives became entangled with warfare.
We look forward to what promises to be an exciting day, and hope to see many of you there!
I hope you’ve all had a good Christmas break, and have now made it back to university, or work, or whatever it is that keeps you busy these days. If you have been following the Transatlantic team on social media lately, you will have noticed that we have been quite busy ourselves, so here’s a short summary of what we have been up to, and of what you can expect from us.
The latest – and best-looking – addition to our project has come from lovely Katie Falco, who has been working with us to design our new logo and posters. We are really proud of the result, and Katie’s evocative work will set the visual trend for the rest of the series. If you have been walking around Glasgow, or at the University, you may have seen some of our posters popping up here and there…
The second great news is that, well, we are getting started at last! We are now counting the days to our launch, and we are looking forward to welcoming you, and to imagining the future of this series with you. Remember we will be giving some free copies of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country! We have been thinking about different ways we could talk about women writers, the transatlantic relationship, and mobility, starting with a free afternoon of talks on Modernism on February 8th, and an all-day symposium at the Glasgow Women’s Library in June. This gives us plenty of time to explore possibilities for the series, so we would really love it if you could think about ideas you would like us to tackle, or even ways you would like to get involved. It could be by coming up with a theme or writer you’d really like us to put on our book club selection!
Finally, we are now expecting you to get writing too! We currently have two writing opportunities open: an Edith Wharton competition, and a collaborative creative writing showcase with the Scottish Writers Centre. We are already receiving some really great texts, and the winning submissions will be published here. Our showcase, which will be on February 28th, will also be a great opportunity to perform / read your work to an audience.
I hope that I’ve said enough to make you curious! If you have time, or ideas, or both, please drop us a line at @atlantlitwomen or at email@example.com. We’d be particularly keen on knowing your thoughts for books and authors you’d like us to celebrate together.
At this point all I have left to say is that I look forward to seeing how the series will unfold in the next few months, and that I hope to meet you next Monday at 5.15 in Room 203, 10 University Gardens, University of Glasgow.
In Saskia’s last post before the holidays, we left off with Woolf’s parting shot to Edith Wharton in her essay “American Fiction” – her accusation that Wharton was ‘obsessed with surfaces’, and that her representation of Englishness reflected a focus on the most superficial aspects of foreignness. This week, my task will be to grant Wharton her right to reply, by looking at our inaugural book for the series: The Custom of the Country, published in 1913. British identity was not the only one Wharton took an interest in, and The Custom’s heroine, Undine Spragg of Apex, ‘American-branded’ as she may be, leads a cosmopolitan life on both sides of the Atlantic, moving between New York and Paris. Edith Wharton’s love of France and Europe is well documented. A famous expat, she travelled multiple times to Italy, and lived in France from 1909 until her death. But how did she look at expatriation?
In The Custom of the Country, pre-war Europe, and France in particular, both feature primarily as a holiday destination for fashionable New-Yorkers. When she first sets off to Italy, Undine is appalled by this ‘dreadfully dreary’ country, and quickly leaves to console herself in Paris. No wonder she looks back rather bitterly on the first months of her stay on the old continent:
She knew now with what packed hours of Paris and London they had paid for their empty weeks in Italy.
Wharton’s portrayal of Undine’s ascent from ambitious debutante to femme du monde hints at unspoken cosmopolitan hierarchies. Upon arriving in Switzerland, Undine quickly befriends her fellow compatriots, only to ditch them when she eventually sets her views on the more desirable circles of the Parisian ‘Faubourg’ and their attractive whiff of ancient nobility. ‘The Faubourg’, which is short for the Faubourg Saint-Germain, now part of the 7th arrondissement of Paris, has a rich literary history, connecting Undine to the novelist Honoré de Balzac’s ambitious young heroes. This prestigious lineage is completely lost on Undine, for whom the Faubourg is only shorthand for the glamorous…
Indeed, through Undine, Wharton paints a rather damning picture of the ‘expat’: cynical, shortsighted, devoid of poetic sensibility and mingling with bland cosmopolitan crowds peopled with the likes of Mrs Shallum, a caricatural example of the species:
Mrs Shallum, though in command of but a few verbs, all of which, on her lips, became irregular, managed to express a polyglot personality as vivid as her husband’s was effaced. Her only idea of intercourse with her kind was to organize it into bands and subject it to frequent displacements…
Undine’s own ignorance is later exposed when she naïvely surmises that:
Paris existed for the stranger, that its native structure was merely an obscure foundation for the dazzling superstructure of hotels and restaurants in which her compatriots disported themselves.
In contrast with her heroine, Wharton took a deep interest in France and its culture. She even became involved in the French war effort between 1914 and 1918, an experience she drew on in her novella The Marne (1918), and which seems to redeem her from Woolf’s accusations of shallowness.
To Wharton, it is only by blending with the culture of one’s host country that one can hope to become a part of it. And yet those who, like Undine, adopt a utilitarian view of cosmopolitanism and only take in as much as they can use to reach their ends, seem to have the upper hand, while those who cling to their identity are fated to fade in the past. Wharton’s vision of France with its ancestral hierarchies and its Théâtre français is portrayed through the eyes of such characters as Ralph Marvell, the heir to the honourable but destitute Dagonet clan.
At the turn of the twentieth century, anxiety about national identity and culture is in the air. It was even a predominant theme among modernist writers. Critic Juliette Taylor-Beatty talks of the sudden peak in ‘awareness (…) of the condition of Babel’ to describe the pull of the theme of foreignness on the authors and thinkers of that time, where travelling is as frequently associated with linguistic and cultural creativity as it is with fear and hostility to otherness.
Wharton’s portrayal of Undine as the corrupt child of the century makes it very difficult to sympathize with her, and we are more inclined, as readers, to choose Ralph Marvell’s view of Europe over hers. And yet, if Undine’s behaviour betrays her ignorance and selfishness, Wharton’s elegiac view of France seems to preclude all possibility of mingling, of métissage – a surprising position considering her own cosmopolitanism. National identity and ancestral prejudices – the titular ‘Custom of the Country’ – weigh upon the protagonists with crushing ineluctability. In its loving homage to France, the novel does not entirely resist the temptation to reify the culture it reveres.
The Custom of the Country was, after all, published in 1913, and we cannot reproach Wharton for embracing the prejudices of her time. Still, not all writers agreed with her. In 1915, a young Katherine Mansfied published the short story, ‘An Indiscreet Journey’, where she took abundant liberties with France and French language by portraying a British woman travelling to the war front to see her lover. The story reveals a more intimate and questioning relationship to French identity and symbols: ‘But really, ma France adorée, this uniform is ridiculous’, the narrator muses when thinking about the French military uniform. A life-long expat, Katherine Mansfield was born in New Zealand, and does not quite qualify as a transatlantic woman. Still, her approach of foreignness reveals the playfulness with which writers, and especially women writers, in the early twentieth century, could assume new identities.
Undine’s transatlantic progress raises many questions on women, writing, and expatriation. We will broach this topic, and many other, over the next few months of our series, starting with our launch on January 16th: we hope to see you there!
Mansfield, Katherine, The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield, Penguin Twentieth-century Classics (London: Penguin Books, 1981)
Taylor-Batty, Juliette, Multilingualism in Modernist Fiction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013)
Wharton, Edith, The Custom of the Country (Penguin Books, 1987)
Plenty of transatlantic women writers including Edith Wharton visited, lived in, and wrote about both Europe and the US. One famous writer, however, published work on America despite having never crossed the pond. In 1938 an American magazine, Hearst’s International, asked Virginia Woolf: ‘What interests you most in this cosmopolitan world of today?’ She replied with her article ‘America, Which I Have Never Seen’. To read it in full check out The Dublin Review. Woolf’s article gives me the perfect excuse to write about my favourite author.
So how do you write about a place you’ve never visited? Apparently you ‘Sit on a rock in Cornwall’ and let Imagination (‘not an altogether accurate reporter’), ‘fly to America and tell you’ all about it. Woolf claims that ‘America is the most interesting thing in the world today.’ Given the recent US elections, some might agree with this sentiment, though for reasons altogether different from Woolf’s.
In her article, Imagination flies across the Atlantic, passing fishing boats, steamers and a cruise ship, until she finally sees ‘the Statue of Liberty. Liberty introducing America!’ In New York ‘everything shines bright’, the city ‘is made of immensely high towers, each pierced with a million holes.’ Here, ‘The old English words kick up their heels and frisk. A new language is coming to birth –’
Woolf interrupts Imagination, she wants to know more about how people live. Imagination replies, ‘The houses stand open to the road. No walls divide them; there are no gardens in front and no gardens behind.’ Imagination sees a building which in England ‘would be the King’s palace. But here are no sentries; the doors stand open to all.’ Perhaps things were different when Woolf wrote this article in 1938, or perhaps she was being naïve. I doubt it, given that she wrote her pacifist manifesto Three Guineas that same year. She certainly wasn’t ignorant of exclusionary politics and rejected nationalist boundaries, claiming that ‘As a woman I have no country, as a woman I want no country, as a woman my country is the whole world’ (Three Guineas, p. 234). Woolf uses Imagination to remind her readers of the values the nation is built on, and what life could be like, what the alternatives could be. In her article she says that ‘America has room for all ages, for all civilizations’ and from ‘this extraordinary combination and collaboration of all cultures, of all civilizations will spring the future –’ And here we are, in what was then the future.
Well. That was 1938. Back then, Woolf asked Imagination to ‘tell us about the Americans in the present – the men and women. What are they like now, the inhabitants of this extraordinary land?’ That question is just as pertinent now as it was then. The answer is complex, and we have an exciting series ahead of us to help navigate our understanding, not just of Americans, but of Europeans, and the transatlantic relations that shape our cultures. There are new boundaries, yes. But there are also new connections. Woolf says that, while the British ‘have shadows that stalk behind us’, Americans ‘have a light that dances in front of them. That is what makes them the most interesting people in the world – they face the future, not the past.’ Bringing transatlantic women writers together we can look at both the past and future, and reassess the shadows and light of the present.
At the close of Woolf’s article, she says ‘we must remember, Imagination, with all her merits, is not always strictly accurate.’ The accuracy or inaccuracy of Woolf’s Imagination probably had a lot to do with the books she read by or about Americans. After all, she’d never visited the USA. So what does Woolf think of American writers, specifically American women writers? Our answers might be found in Woolf’s article ‘American Fiction’. In it, she praises Willa Cather and a few other women writers who I’ll admit, I’ve never heard of, including a Miss Canfield and Miss Hurst. Woolf claims that ‘Women writers have to meet many of the same problems that beset Americans’, as they stumble, ‘eager to shape an art of their own.’ They have some of the same opportunities too, as each is ‘the worker in fresh clay’. She waxes lyrical about Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman: ‘the real American undisguised’.
Woolf is not so generous when it comes to Edith Wharton, who we’ll be discussing at our first reading group. Woolf claims that Edith Wharton and those like her are ‘not Americans; they do not give us anything that we have not got already.’ She accuses Wharton of having an ‘obsession with surface distinctions’ and of ‘exaggerating the English culture, the traditional English good manners, and stressing too heavily or in the wrong places those social differences which, though the first to strike the foreigner, are by no means the most profound.’
Is Edith Wharton as shallow as the lead character of her novel Custom of the Country? We wouldn’t have selected it for our book club if we thought so, but the best way to find out is to read the novel and discuss it with us. Whether you side with Woolf of Wharton, or neither, there’ll be plenty to talk about. We’ll be holding our first book club session on January 30th but in the meantime, give our Edith Wharton competition a go, and make sure you keep an eye out for the series launch on January 16th too. See you soon!
Virginia Woolf. ‘American Fiction’. The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf. Hastings: Delphi Classics, 2014.
We hope you are well! The Christmas break is drawing near, and we are looking forward to seeing you at our launch in January.
Many of you are following us on social media, and we decided we’d give you a chance to get creative. As the countdown to our first event is on, we are very excited to present you with our very first writing competition! If you haven’t opened it yet, this might give you the extra push you need to start reading our first pick for the Book Club, The Custom of the Country…
Enter our customised competition on Wharton’s most controversial female protagonist Undine Spragg. We’re even giving you a choice!
A. Write an online dating profile for Undine. It can be written by Undine herself or by any other protagonist. Maximum 150 words.
B. Create one of Mrs. Heeny’s newspaper clippings: Write a journalistic report on one of Undine’s parties. Maximum 150 words.
Pigeon-blood notepaper with white ink not essential.
Please send your entries to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 January 2017. Open to all, one submission per person for each category. Please include your name and email address. If you’re from outside Scotland, please let us know where you’re based. Entrants must be willing to have their submissions posted online, so that we can share the top picks. And yes, there will be a prize!