For the Literary Society’s second event of the year, Susan Garrard led a workshop on Female Victorian Writers. Susan is a PhD student here at St Andrews – some of you may be in her tutorials! While the Victorians may be known for being conservative and closed off, Susan definitely was not, and her vision of the Victorians was filled with scandal. Her excitement and passion for her topic brought new life to the Victorians, specifically to the working class writers.
In the workshop, she discussed the different perceptions of females from the point of view of working class and middle class men and women. She started by discussing The Angel in the House by Coventry Patmore, ‘the second most Victorian name ever’. The poem is about a man meeting his future wife Honoria at a party, and how she improves his character. Susan Garrard comments that even though the poem is meant to be about his wife, the Angel, it is really about how the husband feels about his wife.
She then moved on to an excerpt from Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The poem, published in 1857, was the first poem of its kind – a poem written by a woman that focuses on the self-expression and the ambitions of a woman.
From these two middle class poets, she moved on to a poem by Thomas Hood, The Song of the Shirt. This poem was widely popular in Victorian times, and was written for the purpose of making the middle class question themselves and to encourage them to get involved in the social reformation of the working class.
Lastly, she discussed the writings of two working class poets, Ellen Johnston and Edwin Waugh. Ellen Johnston was the ‘basic bitch’ of her time, while Edwin Waugh lived a depressing life as an alcoholic. Their poems were published in newspapers, separate from middle class poetry, and were extremely popular.
As a ‘middle class bitch’ myself, I was shocked to realise that I had yet to read any Victorian working class writings in my courses here at St Andrews. It was so interesting to learn about a group of writers that had remained rather quiet in my studies. Susan’s enthusiasm, as well as her anger towards the middle class, made the workshop all the more exciting.
Samantha Emily Evans
(Original Article on The Tribe)