The Modernist Brontës - MLA 2017 Philadelphia

full name / name of organization: 
Shawna Ross
contact email: 

The institutional and conceptual conveniences of periodization maintain various productive fictions about the differences between the Victorians and the modernists to narrativize the history of British literature. In particular, the disciplinary formation of modernism as a result of avant-garde experimentation depends on a convention in which the modernists heroically dismantle Victorian literary norms. As much as this narrative is helpful in illuminating the stakes of modernist aesthetics, it can oversimplify the complexities of Victorian-modernist relations.

To recast this history, this panel proposes to recover the influences of the Brontës on modernist writers—even if as a negative model to avoid. How did the avant-garde adapt, use, or abuse the Brontës to establish modernism? How do these relations challenge the assumed borders separating the modernists and Victorians? In what ways does the contemporary reception of the Brontës result form modernist interventions and interpretations?

Topics might include, but are not limited to,

• Modernist recuperations of the Brontës (e.g., Maurice Maeterlinck's recuperation of Emily Brontë)
• Modernist parodies of the Brontës (e.g., Stella Gibbon) or modernist ambivalence toward the Brontës (e.g., Virginia Woolf)
• Early 20th century literary criticism on the Brontës
• Early 20th guidebooks on or tourism to "Brontë country"
• The relations between the Brontë Society and modernism in the early 20th century
• May Sinclair's imaginative reinvention of the Brontës through The Three Sisters and The Three Brontës
• Biography, including the 1930s "middlebrow" industry of Brontë biography and Daphne DuMaurier's biography of Branwell Brontë, specifically as a response to or alternative to high modernism
• Early film adaptions of the Brontës' works
• Modernist rewrites of Jane Eyre, such as Rhy's Wide Sargasso Sea or DuMaurier's Rebecca, particularly insofar as they imagine the intimacies or distances between modernity and the 19th century

Preference will be given to proposals that foreground the impact of Brontë-modernist interaction on periodization and disciplinary boundaries. Please submit 250-300 word abstracts by 1 March 2016 to