Centre for Studies in Literature

Symposium 2016: Orphan Identities

University of Portsmouth, Saturday November 12th 2016.

Keynote Speakers

Laura Peters and David Floyd

Orphan Identities

In 1975, Nina Auerbach commented: “Although we are now ‘all orphans,’ alone and free and dispossessed of our past, we yearn for origins, for cultural continuity. In our continual achievement of paradox, we have made of the orphan himself our archetypal and perhaps only ancestor” (1975 p 416).

The literary orphan figure occupies a liminal position in culture. Poised on the margins of the family, examining the relationship between the influence of the past and the capacity for self-fashioning in the creation of identity, orphan figures prompt important questions about the relationship between the self, the family and the wider social matrix, and self and other in especial.

Forty years on from Auerbach’s influential essay, and in the wake of important new contributions to the debate from Laura Peters and David Floyd (our keynote speakers), it is timely to consider the roles played by literary orphans, and assess the ways in which they reflect and refract the concerns of their contemporaneous cultures.

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Topics may include (but are not limited to):

  • fashioning orphan identity;
  • the liminal nature of orphan figures;
  • orphans and transportation/colonial narratives;
  • the orphan as scapegoat;
  • the orphan and modernity;
  • the orphan as dangerous supplement;
  • the therapeutic power of the orphan;
  • the war child/refugee.


Download Orphan Identities 2016 programme.

Download Orphan Identities 2016 abstracts.

Speaker biographies

David Floyd is an Assistant Professor of English at Charleston Southern University. He earned a PhD in English from the University of Stirling, Scotland, and is currently working on a second PhD, in Cultural History, through the University of Turku, Finland. Floyd’s first book, Street Urchins, Sociopaths, and Degenerates (University of Wales Press, 2014) discusses orphans figures in late-Victorian and Edwardian British literature. His essay, “Bram Stoker’s Generational Anxiety,” appeared in Bram Stoker: Centenary Essays (Four Courts Press, 2014), and examines the cultural dimension of Stoker's lesser known fiction. Floyd has also published and presented papers on medieval, Gothic, and Victorian literature in the US, England, and Scotland, and serves as peer reviewer for several academic journals. His current research deals with British imperialism, the development of nineteenth-century criminology and psychology, Victorian publishing, the city in Gothic fiction, and Victorian children's literature.

Laura Peters is Professor of English Literature and Head of Department of English & Creative Writing at University of Roehampton. She has published widely and her books include Dickens and Race (MUP, 2013), Dickens and Childhood (Ashgate, 2012) and Orphan Texts (MUP, 2000). Her newest research project looks at reading and cultural memory.