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Women Writers in the British Museum from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf

Susan David Bernstein

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Examines the Reading Room of the British Museum using documentary, theoretical, historical, and literary sources

Roomscape explores a specific site—the Reading Room of the British Museum—as a space of imaginative potential in relation to the emergence of modern women writers in Victorian and early twentieth-century London. Drawing on archival materials, Roomscape is the first study to integrate documentary, historical, and literary sources to examine the significance of this space and its resources for women who wrote translations, poetry, and fiction. This book challenges an assessment of the Reading Room of the British Museum as a bastion of class and gender privilege, an image established by Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Roomscape also questions the value of privacy and autonomy in constructions of female authorship. Rather than viewing reading and writing as solitary, Roomscape investigates the public, social, and spatial dimensions of literary production. The implications of this study reach into the current digital era and its transformations of practices of reading, writing, and archiving. Along with an appendix of notable readers at the British Museum from the last two centuries, the book contributes to scholarship on George Eliot, Amy Levy, Eleanor Marx, Clementina Black, Constance Black Garnett, Christina Rossetti, Mathilde Blind, and Virginia Woolf.

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About the Author

Susan David Bernstein is Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison


In a work of pioneering archival recovery and dazzling theoretical innovation, Susan Bernstein discovers a space where British women writers from George Eliot to Virginia Woolf found solace, intimacies, and communities crucial to their professional identities and intellectual development. Bernstein's ground-breaking feminist study produces startling new discoveries. No one will regard Virginia Woolf the same way. Roomscape is a tour de force of interdisciplinary cultural history of the highest order.

- Priya Joshi, Temple University

Roomscape [demonstrates] the continuing relevance, across time and space, of keeping our ears and eyes trained on the past in the interest of shaping our collective future as feminist scholars.

- Mary Jean Corbett, Miami University, Nineteenth Century Gender Studies; Issue 9.3

Roomscape deserves to find a readership, for its original pursuit of a rich topic and the possibilities it suggests for further study.

- Matthew Ingleby, TLS

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