Nov. 18, 2019

Building 74, room 516

​​​Focusing on now-obscure British novelist Isabella Kelly (c. 1759-1857), my presentation will describe what a recent journey through the archives has revealed about the surprising things that go on between the covers of Romantic-era popular novels. Based on a series of archival and textual finds, I will argue that Kelly used one of her novels to settle a private score with a prominent political figure of her day: beneath the conveniently bland surface of her formulaic fiction hide a series of clues that tie Kelly's generic villain to a real-life referent, thus allowing her to protest her humiliating mistreatment by a powerful man. Unnoted either in her time or in ours, Kelly's act of fictional “shaming" raises compelling questions about the supposed triviality of the numerous unstudied popular novels that packed the shelves of Romantic-era lending libraries. I will use this test case to argue for the importance of paying authors of such novels serious attention and identify the unique challenges presented by the invisibility, then as now, of these virtual literary “nobodies."​