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Doctoral Defence of Hannah Champion, MA, 30.8.: Floral Queerness in New Englandly Short-Form Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century

The doctoral dissertation in the field of English Language and Culture will be examined at the Philosophical Faculty. This doctoral dissertation is part of a co-tutelle degree agreement between University of Bordeaux Montaigne and the University of Eastern Finland and it will be held at University of Bordeaux Montaigne. The public examination will be also live streamed from lecture room AG102 (Agora building, Joensuu campus), starting at 15.00.

What is the topic of your doctoral research? Why is it important to study the topic?

The research analyses short-form writing by lesser-known women writers from New England and the ways in which they employ roses, lavender, and other floral symbolism in their writing. It examined the literary use of gardens, flowers, and the broader notion of growth, as symbolic of the female friendships and New England marriages of the nineteenth century. It proposes that such feminine language was used by those whom I call “New Englandly” writers, in order to gain distance from the foreign tropes of the exotic “lesbian” and the masculine “invert” that were increasingly gaining influence in America during this period. It maintains that writers attempted to situate rather a form of New Englandly queerness at the centre of acceptable society and the developing American nation at the turn of the nineteenth century. The dissertation argues against the notion of historical “lesbianism” to describe New Englandly writers. It therefore complicates traditional critical delineations of historical “lesbians” as necessarily masculine. It also attempts to queer the queer itself, by arguing that a New Englandly queerness was not one based on obvious negation of heteronorms, but one that appropriated social imperatives of marriage and procreation. Overall, through an analysis of historical context, queer theory, and close readings of sketches, poems, and essays, It traces the way in which these writers revisit the past to shape the present and build a future, reconfiguring historical and conventional formulations of the femininity of floral imagery, flower language, botany and herbalism in order to sow seeds of queer futurity.

What are the key findings or observations of your doctoral research?

The doctoral research aims to question current conceptions of queerness as necessarily opposed to heteronormativity. Through the use of close reading against a historical and theoretical framework, it underlines how queer characters in New England literature were not excluded from society but merely considered different. Similarly, the thesis veers away from traditional understandings of femininity. Through the use of traditional “feminine” primary sources (writing written specifically for women), alongside floral symbolism and flower manuals, the thesis questions constructions of gender itself.

Finally, the thesis takes into account the transatlantic influence on writing from New England. Acceptable queer figures from North America are directly opposed to the French “lesbienne” or German “invert." This underlines the ways in which foreign understandings of sexuality began to impact American sensibilities. Overall, the doctoral project claims that New England female writers of the late nineteenth-century appropriated this “feminine” historical past in order to conceal desires in the present, as a form of protection against foreign ideas of sexuality that threatened their existence. It looks towards the future, proposing that this repurposing of the past also allowed such writers to imagine potential queer futurities. 

What are the key research methods and materials used in your doctoral research?

The methodology used is close reading, alongside a historical and theoretical approach which serves as a framework to the research. Archival research was also crucial in order to engage in recovery work (the discovery of lesser-known writers).

The doctoral dissertation of Hannah Champion, Master of Arts, entitled ’Rose-and-Lavender Pages:’ Floral Queerness in New Englandly Short-Form Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century will be examined at the Philosophical Faculty. Professor Cecile Roudeau (Université Paris Diderot), Associate Professor Samaine Lockwood (George Mason University) and Mathieu Duplay (University of Paris) will act as opponents (the jury).  Supervisors Professor Stéphanie Durrans (Université Bordeaux Montaigne) and Senior Lecturer Sirpa Salenius (University of Eastern Finland) participate in the jury but do not take part in the decision and grading. The custos for the UEF will be Senior Lecturer Sirpa Salenius. The public examination will be held in English.

Public examination