Beth Brigham (Northumbria University)
The PGR/ECR workshop ‘The Gothic Women Writers of the Minerva Press’ took place on 10th March 2022 as part of the Gothic Women Project’s series of online events. The workshop spotlighted the largely overlooked gothic women writers of William Lane’s Minerva Press and provided an opportunity to discuss the central concerns of Minerva Press scholarship. My thanks go to the Gothic Women team for supporting the development and running of the workshop and to Colette Davies (University of Nottingham) and Fern Pullan (Leeds Beckett/Opera North) for their invaluable contributions as panellists.
When I was asked to run a workshop as an associate of the Gothic Women Project, the Minerva Press immediately sprang to mind. During the 1790s, Lane’s Press published as much as one third of all novel titles in London, and while the amount of gothic fiction Lane actually produced is often overestimated, Minerva Press gothic undoubtedly forms an integral part of the history of women’s writing, gothic studies, print and book history, and studies in Romanticism.1 The rise in scholarly attention around the Minerva Press in the last ten years, as noted by Elizabeth Neiman and Christina Morin, also reflects an increasing drive to de-canonise and de-colonise Romantic literature, a drive similarly reflected by the Gothic Women event series.2 For example, Morin’s paper on the literary impact of Minerva’s Irish gothic novelists as part of the ‘Gothic Revolutions’ seminar particularly exemplified the essential work that can be done around the Minerva Press, despite its reputation for producing cheap, lowbrow fiction.
However, a large amount of Minerva Press gothic fiction remains in obscurity and the novelists attached to the Press rarely receive individual scholarly attention. Indeed, the poor critical contemporary reception of Minerva Press fiction has endured in modern scholarship, while Minerva’s gothic has traditionally been devalued as part of a feminine sub-genre.3 It is clear that, as Deborah McLeod states, ‘to look at the gothic is to look at the very core of the perceptions and assumptions surrounding the Press’.4 The workshop was thus an opportunity to address these perceptions and assumptions through a discussion of how and why the Minerva Press’ gothic women writers should be reclaimed. Most importantly, the workshop raised the question: why reclaim them now?
The three papers given by the panel responded to the main questions and concerns of the workshop through a range of different approaches. In my paper, I discussed the possible identity (or identities) of the gothic writer ‘Mrs Carver’ in order to suggest that authorial obscurity or anonymity should be taken as an opportunity for greater scholarly interpretation rather than a limit on it. Colette’s paper then explored literary constructions of the gothic novelist through an extract from Anna Maria Bennett’s The Beggar Girl (1797) in order to interrogate the cultural perception that Minerva’s women writers were unskilled hack writers. Ending our panel, Fern’s discussion of the petitions made to the Royal Literary Fund highlighted the inequalities between male and female writers that allowed Minerva’s gothic women authors to earn so little while their writing was so popular.
It became clear when pulling the workshop together that even identifying early-stage researchers working on or interested in the Minerva Press, especially Minerva Press gothic, could be challenging. As the workshop was attended by around forty PGRS/ECRS, the event was therefore a valuable opportunity to bring together a community of researchers with a shared interest in the Minerva Press, women’s writing, and of course, the gothic.
Following the panel, the discussion section of the workshop focused on the practicalities of working on Minerva Press fiction. The foremost issue raised by this discussion was the limited accessibility of the texts themselves. Many researchers currently working on Minerva Press texts have never physically handled an original edition and are limited to using modern reprints, digitised editions and microfilm versions, many of which are low-quality. The workshop thus presented an important opportunity to share these experiences, offer useful tips, and exchange knowledge of useful archives and databases with Minerva Press holdings. As most of these holdings are based in either the UK or America, the workshop highlighted a clear demand for Minerva Press related events that allow for a transatlantic knowledge exchange.
The attached resource list was created as a result of the workshop and includes a bibliography of scholarship that may be useful for those working on the Minerva Press, alongside a list of archives/holdings and useful online databases:
Beth is a postgraduate researcher at Northumbria University, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Her thesis places eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gothic fiction within the history of medical professionalisation and reform, exploring how medical appropriations of the gothic reshaped cultural conceptions of the body, particularly during the bodysnatching era. Beth is an associate of the Gothic Women Project and a recent recipient of the British Association for Romantic Studies’ Stephen Copley Research Award. Her forthcoming chapter on the Minerva Press novel The Horrors of Oakendale Abbey (1797) is due to be published in an edited volume with Manchester University Press.
- Deborah Anne McLeod, ‘The Minerva Press’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Alberta, 1997), p.13.
- Neiman, E.A., & Morin, C., ‘Re-evaluating the Minerva Press: Introduction’, Romantic Intertextualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780-1840, 23 (Summer 2020), 11-23 (p.12).
- McLeod, p.86.
- McLeod, p.59.