Katie Baker

Katie Baker

From Fallen Woman to Businesswoman: The Radical Voices of Elizabeth Gaskell and Margaret Oliphant.

January 2017 will be the beginning of my fifth year of part-time research. My project is focussed on the writing of Elizabeth Gaskell and Margaret Oliphant. I am especially interested in Gaskell’s treatment of the ‘fallen’ woman in her novels and how her works appear to demonstrate a spectrum of fallenness, in which female sexuality is a normal part of development, rather than dangerous and corrupting. This spectrum shows that ‘fallen’ women can come from any level of the social scale and can include the prostitute and also the sexually knowledgeable woman. My research centres around four of Gaskell’s female characters: Esther (Mary Barton); Ruth Hilton (Ruth); Margaret Hale (North and South) and Cynthia Kirkpatrick (Wives and Daughters). I have focussed also on several of her short stories. I have carried out extensive research about Gaskell’s own life and letters, the ‘fallen’ women and female sexuality in the nineteenth-century.

I am interested also in Oliphant’s creation and development of the nineteenth-century ‘businesswoman’. Her writing demonstrates a useful continuation and a chronological development from Gaskell’s work regarding women’s development in the nineteenth-century. Oliphant appears to suggest that women could enjoy power in both the public and private spheres, even managing their own careers. My research centres on four of Oliphant’s ‘businesswomen’ including Lucilla Marjoribanks (Miss Marjoribanks); Phoebe Beecham (Phoebe Junior); Catherine Vernon (Hester) and Kirsteen Douglas (Kirsteen). Again, I carried out extensive research into Oliphant’s own life and writing, along with secondary critical viewpoints.

My research has uncovered connections between both authors, particularly their similarities as professional writers with families to support. I explore how both Gaskell and Oliphant educated their young female readership through their writing, and how both were able to demonstrate ‘radical’ ideas because of their commitment to realism and the ‘ordinary’. My research engages primarily with the critical approaches of George Levine and Josie Billington.

Additional Work

  • I have presented papers on several occasions at Postgraduate Symposiums and Research Days at the University of Chester. I also presented at the inaugural ICVWW conference at Canterbury Christchurch University in 2014 and the BAVS annual conference 2017 at Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln in 2017.
  • I have taken part in public engagement events within the University of Chester such as the Textiles Stories day in 2014 and 2016. Both times, I have contributed to the blog.
  • I was invited to speak about my research at the February 2017 meeting of The Gaskell Society London and South East Branch and the April 2017 AGM of The Gaskell Society North-West.
  • I was the Postgraduate Research Representative from 2015-2016 attending the Student Experience Committee.
  • I have taught on several modules in Chester and University Centre Shrewsbury. I have also been involved with  public engagement seminars on Elizabeth Gaskell in UCS.