Shaping the Self: The Construction of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Fiction

deadline for submissions: 
April 20, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
The University of Edinburgh
contact email: 

‘An obsession with individual identity pervaded Western world thinking in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many people were worried they might lose themselves in the frightening darkness lying just beyond the earthbound. [...] The literature of the time reflects this fascination with the shaky foundations on which rested these authors’ desires for certainty in an unpredictable world.’

Judy Cornes, Madness and the Loss of Identity in Nineteenth Century Fiction


‘But literature has much to do with life, that is, ordinary experience, or, to put it another way, it helps in that never-ending, never fully-realizable, process of finding out what we are, and, to a certain extent, what we must do.’

John Henry Raleigh, ​​Time, Place, and Idea: Essays on the Novel



We are pleased to announce a call for papers for the ‘Shaping the Self: The Construction of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Fiction’ Conference held at the University of Edinburgh (The University Central Campus, 50 George Square) on Thursday 19th May 2022. This day conference aims to explore the changing perspectives on individual identities and the construction of the self in nineteenth-century fiction.

From Austen’s exploration of subjectivity to Wilde’s portrayal of conflicting Gothic identities, we welcome a wide range of papers exploring the period’s rapidly changing conceptions of the self in an age of significant social, scientific and economic change. Individual lives were undergoing perpetual adaptation in the face of scientific innovation, industrialisation and urbanisation. Oscillating between the stability and familiarity of the past and the instability of a world that was establishing a new identity: nineteenth-century lives were shaped by the simultaneous fear and enthusiasm inspired by progress.

We welcome papers that engage with these notions in exciting and innovative ways.

Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:


  • Creation of the Self
  • The Changing Self
  • The Fragmented Self
  • The Self in Time/Temporality 
  • The Double/Doubled Self
  • Identity and the Supernatural
  • Internal/External Worlds
  • The Contextual/Historical Self
  • The Gendered Self
  • Imposed Identity


Papers should be approximately 20 minutes long and individual speakers will be sorted into panels of 3–4 speakers, with time for questions and further discussion at the end of each. Please send an abstract of around 250 words as well as a 100 word biography to by 20th April 2022.

There will be 2-3 travel grants of £50 each available for students who wish to present at the conference. Participants should state their interest and explain how this would benefit them and will be notified if successful.


Celeste Callen and Emily Vause – Conference Convenors.