Online book club explores works of trailblazing female writers

Tuesday, 06 March 2018

Emotions Book Club800x450

An online book club founded by historians at Oxford Brookes University and Queen Mary University of London is encouraging readers to examine how novels by women throughout history present women’s changing emotional styles and sensibilities.

Dr Sally Holloway, Research Fellow in History and History of Art at Oxford Brookes University, and Dr Jane Mackelworth, of Queen Mary University of London, launched the Emotions Book Club to shine a spotlight on books by 18th, 19th and 20th century women that are often neglected by modern readers.

Dr Mackelworth explains: “We were particularly interested in selecting writers who defied the conventions of their time through their life and work, but wanted to avoid the high-profile names we all know such as Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and the Brontë sisters.

“The novels we’re discussing in the Emotions Book Club were all best-sellers in their day but have since been overlooked or largely forgotten. Each of the authors challenged expectations of appropriate or natural feminine behaviour and we want to explore what these pioneering women did back then, and think about how our emotional tendencies are portrayed today.”

Women were portrayed as naturally restless, wayward, and much more likely to give way to temptation than men, and so needed teaching virtues such as shame and modesty. We can clearly see the legacy of these beliefs today, as women are regularly presented as being less rational, more emotional, and more empathetic than men.

Dr Sally Holloway, Research Fellow in History and History of Art, Oxford Brookes University

Dr Holloway continues: “Men and women have historically been associated with certain emotions. During the 18th century, for example, women were often identified with physical delicacy, emotional sensitivity, softness, sympathy, and tenderness.

“Women were portrayed as naturally restless, wayward, and much more likely to give way to temptation than men, and so needed teaching virtues such as shame and modesty. We can clearly see the legacy of these beliefs today, as women are regularly presented as being less rational, more emotional, and more empathetic than men.”

The inspiring writers selected for the Emotions Book Club include Hannah Crafts – the first woman to publish a novel while enslaved, Ann Radcliffe – one of the creators of the Gothic novel, and Buchi Emecheta – a trailblazing author raised in poverty in Nigeria who reinvented herself as a best-selling novelist.

The Emotions Book Club is encouraging readers from around the world to read one of the chosen novels each month between February and September 2018. Readers can then share their thoughts on the books either via the Emotions Book Club website – emotionsbookclub.com - or on Twitter ( @emotionsbkclub). The Club is also hosting a meeting once a month at Mycenae House, a community centre in southeast London.

There are already men and women from around the world who have signed up to read along including participants from the UK, America, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The club’s book for February is Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner. A full list of authors and books being covered by the Emotions Book Club can be found on the club’s webpages.