Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Call for Papers - Catherine Cookson

Catherine Cookson (d. 11 June 1998) 'reigned supreme as the UK’s most borrowed author for 17 years' (Public Lending Right) and the
region of the north-east in which Catherine Cookson's novels are said to be situated is openly advertised as 'Catherine Cookson Country'. Yet the moral, commercial, historical and future-oriented purpose of identification like this is little considered, necessitating, as it does, close attention to how such a novelist is perceived among her readers, or even perhaps among those who have no immediate familiarity with her pages. (Snell 1998: 41)
In April Sarah gave a summary of the paper Julie Taddeo presented to the 2007 PCA/ACA Conference on the topic of 'Searching for Romantic Heroes in Catherine Cookson Country'. Taddeo has now put out a call for papers for an academic volume of essays about Cookson and she writes that
Romance scholars typically ignore Cookson, who herself resisted the label of romance novelist in favor of social historian, while historians are too eager to discredit the accuracy of her largely Victorian settings and plots. It is time to revisit Cookson Country and assess Cookson’s legacy as a publishing phenomenon. [...] Possible topics include but are not limited to:
  • Cookson as a distinctly “British” novelist
  • Representations of femininity, masculinity, and sexuality, especially homosexuality and lesbianism, in Cookson’s novels and life
  • Cookson Country and the Heritage Industry (includes the museum, trails, on-line websites by and for fans, and TV movie versions of her novels)
  • Re-evaluations of her texts: Feminist? Conservative? Subversive?
  • Historical fiction or romance—do such labels really matter?
  • Re-imagining Victorianism
  • Class and gender politics in the historical/romance novel
The full call for papers can be found here and the closing date for submissions is the 15th of August 2007.


  1. Ana academic re-evaluation of Catherine Cookson, hmm? Interesting. I'll leave that to the scholars, but I do have a comment. Was her body of work feminist, conservative or subversive? I wonder. As a young reader I graduated from Enid Blyton straight into Catherine Cookson, with no stops in between. It was quite traumatic - from lashings of clotted cream and ginger ale into the Fifteen Streets in the course of one day. Well, it was quite traumatic. The brutalization of many of her young heroines had a deep and lasting influence on me. I vowed I would never allow myself to be victimized in such a way. In short, Catherine Cookson, is in large part, responsible for the rabble rousing feminist that I am today. Was that her intent? Did she have this effect on anyone else? Can't wait to see what the academics come up with.

  2. Catherine Cookson, is in large part, responsible for the rabble rousing feminist that I am today. Was that her intent?

    I haven't a clue since I've not read any Cookson but it seems to me that the way we respond to texts may often be selective, and we may ignore certain aspects and focus instead on those which resonate with us. In other words, even while we may be aware of what the author did intend, what we get out of a text may quite often be different from that because our emotional responses as readers are shaped by our own personalities and histories. A part of Alison Light's essay about historical novels concerning the lives of queens (so at the opposite end of the social spectrum from Cookson's heroines) may nonetheless be relevant here. She says that

    Ultimately no one can legislate for when we wander the twilight world of reading, laying down in advance what we might wish to encounter, and which bits we'll simply ignore. What's clear is that the capacity to fantasize which novels encourage, is notoriously unbiddable, and that for those of us who judge novels by their messages, moral, social or political this has always been a mixed blessing. (1989: 69-70)

    Light, Alison, 1989. 'Young Bess': Historical Novels and Growing Up', Feminist Review, 33: 57-71.