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Women and the Railway, 1850-1915

Anna Despotopoulou

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Examines cultural representations of women’s experience of the railway in the nineteenth century

Examining the representation of women in the spaces of the railway in literature and culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this book explores the extraordinary and unprecedented opportunities that the train offered women. An emblem of the conquest of national and imperial space and of the staggering advances of science and technology, the train gave women a taste of its omnipotence, eventually becoming a space of emancipation, transgression, and fear for women. The book brings together the sensation, mystery, realist and early modernist railway narratives by female and male authors, analysing women’s trajectories within and beyond the city and the nation, as urban passengers, travellers, tourists and colonists.

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Chapter 1: Geographies of Fear in the Age of Sensation
I. Ephemeral Chills and Thrills
II. Sensational Women and the Railway: Accidents, Risks, and Speculations in Ellen Wood, Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Margaret Oliphant
III. Death by Railway: Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Wyllard’s Weird
Chapter 2: Railway Speed
I. Fast and Forward: Women and Railway Manners
II. Trains to Perdition: Transgressive Transit in Rhoda Broughton, Dora Russell, and Margaret Oliphant
III. Urban Speed: Women and Traffic in Henry James’s London Underground
Chapter 3: Breaching National Borders: Rail Travel in Europe and Empire
I. Women and Railway Tourism in Anthony Trollope and Henry James
II. Imperial Railways
III. The Canadian Pacific Railway and Mrs Humphry Ward
IV. ‘In the Permanent Way of Civilization’: Flora Annie Steel and the Railway in India
Chapter 4: Railway Space and Time
I. Industrial Traffic
II. Railway Time – Trains of Thought
III. Modernist Railway Anxieties
Coda: Mrs Bathurst and Mrs Brown

About the Author

Anna Despotopoulou is Associate Professor of English Literature and Culture at the University of Athens, Greece, where she teaches nineteenth and twentieth-century English fiction. She is the co-editor of Henry James and the Supernatural (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), Transforming Henry James (Cambridge Scholars, 2013), and Reconstructing Pain and Joy (Cambridge Scholars, 2008) and author of many articles on Victorian literature and culture.


From geographies of fear to resistance, empowerment, agency and unbounded imaginative forays, the gendered literary railway spaces as they are configured in Anna Despotopoulou’s study will, no doubt, engage the interest of gender studies and Victorian studies specialists as well as that of the general reading public.

- Reghina Dascăl, West University of Timișoara, Romania, The European English Messenger, 24.2

Anyone interested in the cultural dimension of the railway will find this book of great interest. Some previous treatments of this topic (including my own) have had little enough to say on the gendering of the experience of technology and this enjoyable and well-researched study offers a valuable corrective.

- Nicholas Daly, University College Dublin, Literature and History

One of the strengths of Women and the Railway lies in the range of materials examined; those interested in the representation of railway travel in the period’s journalism and literature (and not only in familiar texts like Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, but in many lesser-known fictional works as well) will be grateful for its author’s comprehensive efforts.

- Tina Young Choi, Journal of Victorian Culture
a very readable, well-researched, and, in places, humorous exploration of the way locomotion brought in new rules of
circulation for men and women.
- Jane Stabler, Recent Studies in the Nineteenth Century
Despotopoulou’s study brings to light a fascinating and until-now forgotten fragment of gender history.
- Lois Burke, Edinburgh Napier University, NINETEENTH-CENTURY GENDER STUDIES, ISSUE 12.1

One of the finest of recent scholarly interventions in studies of the railway.

- Victorian Studies, Vol 59, No 2

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