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English professor invited to give plenary lecture at England's Manchester University

August 27, 2010
On Aug. 5, Whitworth Professor of English Pamela Corpron Parker, '81, presented a lecture, "Woman of Letters: Elizabeth Gaskell's autograph collection and Victorian celebrity," at The John Rylands Library at Manchester University, England, as part of the school's Elizabeth Gaskell Bicentenary Celebration.

Gaskell's autograph books are among the world-class collection of 19th century manuscripts and letters preserved in the John Rylands Library, which Corpron Parker describes as one of England's most beautiful libraries. The books were on public display during the evening of the lecture.

Attendees were given a facsimile of a letter from George Eliot to Elizabeth Gaskell that Corpron Parker cited her lecture. She says she has copies to give students during her Victorian seminar at Whitworth this fall.

In her lecture, Corpron Parker discussed how Gaskell's autograph book records the writer's fashioning of herself as a British woman of letters. Corpron Parker says the book provides a "fascinating interpretive project that traverses the artificial boundaries usually established between popular and intellectual cultures." The document shows evidence of Gaskell's place in a broad and illustrious community, and it records her concerted attempts to develop an epistolary network of professional writers, particularly women. The book also testifies to the esteem of her literary peers, Corpron Parker says, and presents a dossier of her professional credentials.

Corpron Parker says she was glad that the lecture made her research available to other Gaskell scholars, especially as no one has written about the collection since 1935. She was particularly excited to present the lecture at the John Rylands Library, and to have her son, Danny, join her.

"Literary critics and autograph collectors alike have sometimes apologized for their fascination with and acquisition of the material remnants of those figures who inspire us and inscribe our histories." Corpron Parker says. "Perhaps the populist element of autograph collecting embarrasses them, or they fear not being sufficiently academic or 'literary.' Until recently, scholars routinely privilege primary textual analysis over cultural criticism, relegating autograph collections to the scholarly margins as literary ephemera."

She claims that all kinds of collections, whether photo albums or family scrapbooks, can provide productive sources of analysis for literary research.

Marking the 200th anniversary of Gaskell's birth, the celebration, "Elizabeth Gaskell: A Connected Life," launched July 14. Various related events will continue until Nov. 28.

In 1991, Corpron Parker co-founded the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century British Women Writers Association (BWWA), and currently serves as the organization's president and chair of the board. In 2008 she received the BWWA's inaugural Award for Contributions to the Study of British Women Writers. Last April she received the Chawton House Fellowship, which enabled her to work in Chawton's British women writers special archive.
Corpron Parker, who joined the Whitworth faculty in 1997, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon, master's degrees from Middlebury College and Eastern Washington University, and a bachelor's degree from Whitworth. She is the recipient of the 2010-11 Armstrong Browning Fellowship at Baylor University, where, during Jan Term 2011, she will conduct research on Elizabeth Barrett Browning for a forthcoming book, Literary Tourism and the Victorian Woman of Letters. The book will focus on how the practices and publications of literary tourism shaped existing myths surrounding women writers.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,900 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Pamela Corpron Parker, professor of English, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4204 or
Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or