The Affective Affordances of Victorian Women

Experiential Criticism and Nell Stevens’s The Victorian and the Romantic


  • Lana Dalley California State University, Fullerton



affect, creative memoir, Elizabeth Gaskell, experiential criticism, feminist literary criticism, personal voice, recognition, Nell Stevens, The Victorian and the Romantic, women writers


There has been a recent turn towards the personal voice and creative memoir in Victorian Studies; works like Nell Stevens’s The Victorian and the Romantic: A Memoir, a Love Story, and a Friendship Across Time (2018) and Annette R. Federico’s edited volume My Victorian Novel: Critical Essays in the Personal Voice (2020) explore and dramatise personal engagements with Victorian literature. Such texts make explicit what often remains invisible in literary criticism: scholars’ personal, affective relationships with historical texts and the imagined lives of authors, and how such relationships shape their scholarly and pedagogical pursuits. In so doing, such texts challenge the established idea that rigorous scholarly work necessarily precludes the inclusion of personal experience. In this essay, I situate The Victorian and the Romantic within the genre of new experiential literary criticism to demonstrate how affective engagement with literary texts can expand – rather than contract – interpretive possibilities and give readers insight into women’s writerly lives.