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Claire Connolly (University College Cork), ‘Formations and deformations of empire: Maria Edgeworth and the West Indies’

This paper traces the threads of scattered details, repeated images and occasional plot twists found in the fiction and letters of Maria Edgeworth in order to consider the scope and extent of her engagement with the West Indies across a long career. The topic of slavery makes an uncomfortable home within Edgeworth’s broader intellectual interests, not least because she does not set the ownership, sale and exchange of people apart from the trade in ideas, books and goods. In order to develop these ideas, I consider also about the ways in which the kinds of violent improbabilities that help to form the particular texture of Edgeworth’s realism often concern seeds and plants. Within the specific scenes that flow from Edgeworth’s thinking about slavery in the context of improving debates about education and domesticity, she allows seeds, plants and gardens to sharpen and define lines of imperial connection, shaping fictions that are formed and deformed by empire.

Joan Passey (University of Bristol), ‘'Fixes the gaze on all we most fear': Shipwreck as Gothic Mastertrope’

The image of the shipwreck was prominent in the popular imagination throughout the nineteenth century due to an increase in maritime traffic and, subsequently, a rapid increase in maritime disasters. By 1850 half of the world’s carrying capacity was conducted by British shipping companies, and in Britain alone shipwrecks cost over two million pounds in damages and led to the loss of approximately a thousand lives annually.  This, alongside the rise of popular print media, meant that stories of maritime tragedy and horror were rapidly circulated, retold, and reimagined. Newspapers and periodicals reported wrecks in increasingly terrific, Gothic ways, inspired by and inspiring fictional retellings. The shipping news was initially a financial service to alert investors of incidents and successes but became a source of sensation for the wider public. This paper will consider the image of the shipwreck in the nineteenth-century imaginary as representative of multivalent anxieties surrounding imperialism, globalisation, and identity.

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