Women writers: Emily Brontë to Elizabeth Bowen

8 to 13 July 2018
Homerton College, Cambridge

This course studies five great women writers working in Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We will study one book per day, with accessible lectures, discussions, and supervisions (tutorials) in the Cambridge style. 

Our teachers include leading Cambridge scholars Gillian Beer, Aoife Byrne, Alison Hennegan, Trudi Tate and Clare Walker Gore.

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'We think back through our mothers, if we are women', wrote Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own (1929). But is this always true? Woolf herself read deeply and widely across all of English literature, and by no means restricted herself to writing by women. But she, like other major women writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, perhaps enabled more women to take themselves seriously as writers, and to commit themselves to the highest standards of literature. 

Is there a 'women's tradition' in English Literature – a literature of one's own? Are these helpful ways of thinking about writing by women, or is it better to consider women, like men, in their full cultural and historical context?

We will explore these and other questions as we study five major works by women writers. They are all wonderful books in their very different ways, and they raise questions and ideas which remain relevant to everyone, women and men, writers and readers, right up to the present day.

Lecture list

  • Alison Hennegan on Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847)
  • Clare Walker Gore on George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)
  • Trudi Tate on Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927)
  • Claire Davison on Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party and Other Stories (1922)
  • Aoife Byrne on Elizabeth Bowen, To the North (1932) 
 Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf


We are delighted to confirm that Professor Dame Gillian Beer will jointly lead a seminar on Woolf, and Professor Claire Davison of the Sorbonne will lecture on Katherine Mansfield. Claire will explore Mansfield's interest in music, accompanied by acclaimed cellist Joseph Spooner. Claire Davison discusses this topic on our Blog page. More information about our lecturers here

 Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield

Take the opportunity to live for a week in the lovely Victorian environment of Homerton College. Immerse yourself in literature, with time to read and think. There will be visits to places of literary interest in Cambridge, a welcome dinner, a formal closing dinner, and a traditional English afternoon tea. 

Each day starts with a lecture presented by a leading scholar. This is followed by a seminar or a Cambridge-style supervision (tutorial), given to students in very small groups, and taught by lecturers and post-docs from the University of Cambridge. Supervisions are a unique opportunity to discuss a work in depth, try out ideas, and refine your close reading skills. We will also have a group seminar in which everyone can participate.

 George Eliot

George Eliot

After lectures, supervisions, and excursions, students will have some time to read and think in the beautiful setting of Homerton College. And there will be chances to read further, explore Cambridge, talk with other students, and to reflect.

We also offer a week of study on Woolf and Politics, 1-6 July 2018.
Email us: info@literaturecambridge.co.uk


Supervisions last for one hour. Students meet in small groups (usually 3 or 4 students) with a Cambridge supervisor to discuss the topic of the day, looking closely at the text of the day. Weather permitting, some supervisions can take place in Homerton's lovely gardens. 

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Every day there will be time to spend reading, to reflect upon the work covered so far, and to prepare for the next day's work. A rare chance to immerse yourself in some superb writing and to take the time to read and think.

A valuable part of the course is the chance to talk with other students, of all ages, who are interested in literature, and come with a wealth of experience and ideas. And there are plenty of places in and around college where you can read and think by yourself. Evening activities include talks, readings, and a formal Cambridge college dinner. Some evenings will be free for you to pursue your own interests, or spend time with other participants.


 Girton College: Woolf gave a talk here in 1928

Girton College: Woolf gave a talk here in 1928

We will pay a visit to several places of interest around Cambridge. We will go to Girton College, established in 1869, the first residential university college for women. Clare Walker Gore will talk about George Eliot’s support for women’s education, and Alison Hennegan will discuss the remarkable history of Girton.

We will visit the room in which Virginia Woolf gave a talk that became A Room of One’s Own (1929). We will also go to the Wren Library at Trinity College to see some of its manuscripts – Milton’s ‘Lycidas’; letters from Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and others; many first editions of classic works; not to mention the manuscript of Winnie the Pooh.

There will be a display about the Pethick-Lawrences, activists in the women’s suffrage movement. We will also learn about women at Trinity and about the history of the library. The building is stunning, and now much more open to readers than in Woolf’s day. 


More information

  • Robert McCrum on Wuthering Heights in the Guardian (16 December 2013)
  • Kathryn Hughes on The Mill on the Floss in the Guardian (27 March 2010)
  • John Mullan on Philip Davis' biography of George Eliot, Guardian (31 May 2017)
  • British Library entry on Katherine MansfieldThe Garden Party (brief but useful)
  • Katherine Mansfield Society (UK).
  • Lucy Delap: brief comments on the Cambridge women's colleges and the women's suffrage movement.
  • Click for gallery of images from our 2017 summer course.
  • Read accounts of studying in Cambridge by PhD student Selin Kalostyan, and by Hans Grietens and Adam Chugg.
  • Clare Walker Gore's thoughts on George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, on our Blog page.
  • Claire Davison's thoughts on Katherine Mansfield and music on our Blog page.


Comments on our 2017 Summer courses

  • What a wonderful experience. Great to share with so many vibrant people from around the world.
  • I could not be happier with my Literature Cambridge week. Getting to experience the ‘Cambridge way’ of attending supervisions, in such an engaging and stimulating course and group of people, is a gift I’ll not soon forget.
  • Fantastic lectures.
  • I would like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to attend such a well run, informative course.
  • The excursions gave us entry into areas that as individuals we would not have access to.
  • To attend this course was the accomplishment of a dream.
  • I think I can say we all felt privileged to see Woolf’s manuscript.
  • Tea time at Fitzbillies was great.
  • The group reading aloud of The Waves was wonderful.
  • Incredibly inspiring.
  • Thank you very much for organising such an interesting summer school.
  • Gillian Beer is amazing.

Banner image: Elizabeth Bowen

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