In 2018 we celebrate events which took place two hundred years ago: the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the birth of Emily Brontë. While the two events are markedly different, as the former is a tangible work of art and the latter more of a promise of what was to come, both have contributed to challenge and change the conceptions and perceptions of the time, thus performing a silent, subtle revolution in the world of letters.
Shelley and Brontë are mostly famous for one novel each, but these novels have helped shape Western imagination and literature, as they arguably ‘disclose uncommon powers of poetic imagination’, as Walter Scott said a propos Shelley’s oeuvre [Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 2 (March 1818)].
By focusing on characters who do not belong anywhere – ‘I am an unfortunate and deserted creature; I look around, and I have no relation or friend upon earth’ (Shelley, 2004: 160) and ‘Not a soul knew to whom it [Heathcliff] belonged’ (Brontë, 1965: 78) –, both novels seem to question the hegemonic discourse of the time. As such, their global appeal may precisely reside in their radical difference and ‘unbelonging’ (Rushdie, 2013), which, paradoxically, make them potential sites for multiple identifications – the female, the savage, the foreigner.
This conference brings the two female authors together, for their œuvres, as different as they are, may shed light on a topic that resonates nowadays – how gender impacts on authorship, imagination, and a sense of humanity. If, as Woolf claims, ‘women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man as twice its natural size’ (Woolf, 2000: 45), is it entirely possible that women authors have resorted to the misshapen, dark, monstrous Other as alter egos of their own perception of themselves and their place in society?
The conference wishes to be a locus of celebration and discussion, both by placing the authors in the context of their time (coeval artists and ideas), and by displacing them and investigating their impact on literature and other media (music, cinema, videogames, etc.). By rereading the works critically in the context of a 200-hundred-year time lapse, the conference aims to look at the texts as clues ‘to how we live, how we have been living, how we have been led to imagine ourselves, how our language has trapped as well as liberated us, how the very act of naming has been till now a male prerogative, and how we can begin to see and name – and therefore live – afresh’ (Rich, 1979: 35).