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Whitworth Professor, Student Take Part in Collaborative Research of Victorian Women Writers

Pamela Corpron Parker, assistant professor of English and director of the women's studies program at Whitworth, is collaborating with four faculty members from other universities to conduct a research project on how Victorian women writers influenced British religion and culture.

As part of the multifaceted project, Parker and collaborator Alexis Easley, assistant professor of English at the University of Alaska-Juneau, conducted research in England for a book about literary tourism in 18th- and 19th-century Britain. Tentatively titled Literary Tourism and the Victorian Woman Writer, the book should be published by 2005.

Literary tourism - visiting the homes and haunts of literary figures in England - became a common practice at the end of the 18th century, Parker says.

"It was fostered by increasing literacy, growth in England's economy, as well as a desire to shape British national identity," Parker says. "People, especially the middle class, had more money and leisure time, and they wanted to celebrate what was great about England."

Women writers were increasingly popular at home and abroad, and readers wanted to experience firsthand the places and people made familiar to them by the authors' literature, Parker says. Tourists visited the places where literary icons lived, wrote and socialized. Some of the most popular of these women writers, such as George Elliot, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, Harriet Martineau, and Elizabeth Gaskell, are the focus of the group's research.

The crux of their research is on the authors' conflicting efforts to obtain notoriety yet remain "behind the scenes," Parker says.

"They displayed an ambivalence between pushing their books and doing things to become known, and hiding themselves and wanting privacy," Parker says.

While in England, Parker and Easley conducted research in London's British Library archives and at the Brontë Parsonage Museum and Library in Haworth, Yorkshire, where the Brontë sisters lived. Easley presented part of their research on Harriet Martineau at the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals annual conference held in September at The City University of New York Graduate Center.

Parker and her other research colleagues also met on Orcas Island for a week of critiquing each other's work and brainstorming about collaborative projects. Whitworth senior English major Annie Dwyer, who is conducting research on George Elliott as part of the Pew Younger Scholars Program, joined the group and presented her research for discussion and critique.

"One of my primary goals for this project is to engage Whitworth undergraduates in the research and to encourage the other collaborators to get their students involved," Parker says. "Our research is providing really exciting material to bring into the classroom and it's also a great way to prepare for the 2002 British Isles Study Tour."

The group's research project, "Gender, Genre and Faith: Religion and the 19th-Century Woman Writer," is supported by a $15,000 grant from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. The team will apply for a National Endowment for the Humanities collaborative grant later this year to help support their continued research and writing.

Next spring Parker and Dwyer will attend the 10th annual British Women Writers Conference at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The conference, which Parker co-founded, is attended by scholars who specialize in 18th- and 19th-century British women writers. Parker and Easley have coordinated a panel discussion on literary tourism for the conference, and the other members of the research team will coordinate a panel on Catholicism and Victorian literature.

Parker, a 1981 Whitworth graduate, earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Oregon in 1994, and master's degrees in English from Middlebury College, Bread Loaf School of English and Eastern Washington University in 1989.

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