My First Foray into the World of Publishing – Kim Pratt

In September 2022 I presented a paper at a Conference on ‘Monsters’ at Reading University, held jointly by Limina Journal and ARC Centre for the History of Emotions at UWA (University of Western Australia) and the Classics Department at the University of Reading, UK. This went well and I was subsequently invited to submit it for a special Conference edition of the Limina Journal which was both unexpected and very exciting. I had based my paper on Chapter One of my thesis, ‘Monsters as the Other: A “Defence” of Polyphemos from Homer’s Odyssey to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’. This chapter covers Homer’s Odyssey and challenges the supposed binaries between the ‘monster’ Polyphemos and the ‘hero’ Odysseus. To submit the paper for publishing some revisions needed to be made including an unexpected and tedious exercise of changing everything to the required Chicago referencing style. This style was unfamiliar to me and took a little while to get used to.

One of my supervisors, Peg Katritzky suggested this would be a good time to choose an author name and to register for an ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) as they can both help in the attribution of work. We decided it would be a good idea to include my maiden name (Emmerson), as this would help to distinguish it from other Kim Pratts. So, I became Kim Emmerson Pratt and duly sent off my article in October 2022. At the beginning of December my article was sent back asking for some revisions which, as I told my supervisors was ‘a little deflating to say the least’. I had thought it would just go straight to peer review, the thought of which was already nerve-racking, and some of the editors’ comments seemed rather abrupt and harsh at first. Luckily, my supervisors reassured me it was all quite normal, and that the editor was just making sure I had an article more geared to the requirements of the special edition before being submitted for peer review. Indeed, when I asked the editor for clarification on some of the revisions, she couldn’t have been more

helpful and friendly, which is how our communication continued throughout the whole publishing process. At the beginning of May I was told my article had been accepted on condition of minor changes based on the reports of two reviewers. When I read the reports, they could not have been more different. While Reviewer One was obviously not a fan, Reviewer Two was very much in favour and luckily the editors agreed with Reviewer Two’s suggestions. Having received good feedback from both Reviewer Two and the editors it was much easier to deal with the very negative comments from Reviewer One and this time I didn’t feel at all disheartened.

The journal had also decided to incorporate a creative writing section on the same theme of monsters. As I have been interested in creative writing since I was a little girl, I decided to submit a poem on the same subject entitled ‘Polyphemos’ Lament’ which I sent off in January 2023. This too was accepted, which was amazing, and I was not asked to revise anything on this until the copyediting stage in September. They just suggested I add an introductory couple of sentences and link it with my article. This was so exciting as I had almost given up of thinking I might one day have a creative piece published and certainly didn’t think it would be while I was still working away on my academic work.

I believe creative writing helps me to see connections and avenues of research where I may not otherwise have done so. When I read the Odyssey I felt sorry for Polyphemos and couldn’t stand Odysseus – I also felt the same about the Creature and Victor in Frankenstein and saw a connection between the two works. This idea grew as I read other works involving Polyphemos such as Theocritus’ Idylls 6 and 11 and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I feel that it was my creative side that immediately rearranged the tales of the Cyclops to make one linear story rather than viewing them in chronological order of authorship. Seen that way Polyphemos’ experience is very similar to that of Shelley’s Creature – both begin life as benevolent beings who become malevolent by the treatment and rejection they receive from

others because of their monstrous appearance. If I had been writing a fictional piece about Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein, I could just have said she read the ancient works which inspired her in her writing. Of course this cannot happen in academic writing. Although these limitations can be frustrating it led me to search for evidence of a link between the two characters – and I found one! Hidden away in correspondence between Leigh Hunt and Mary Shelley was a little comment in parenthesis in Mary’s letter to Hunt saying, ‘I have written a defence in favour of Polypheme, have I not?’ This became the basis for my thesis and in time my academic work on the ancient works enabled me to write my poem.

On 3 January 2024, I was finally informed that the journal had gone live. The process was long and tedious at times, but it was certainly worth it – I am now a published author in both academic and creative writing! It was such an exciting experience which has really boosted my confidence and gone a little way to dispel that imposter syndrome that constantly lurks at the back of my mind. The numerous revisions and condensing a whole overlong chapter into a shorter article have also helped with the writing of my thesis by focussing on the important details. Also, having one poem published makes me feel there is no reason why it should be my last and my creative writing career may have only just begun!

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GOTH Live Performance Event

On the 12th October, GOTH ran an exciting Live Performance Event featuring work by two theatre companies.

The event, held in the OU library seminar room ran from 2.30-5pm, showcased work from Theatre of the Gentle Furies followed by performances by Exchange Theatre. To set the scene, Dr. Christine Plastow, (Co-Artistic Director of The Gentle Furies and lecturer in Classics at the OU), presented a brief overview of GOTH and introduced the range of work explored by this newly-renamed theatre company (formerly known as By Jove). The performance included new writing by SJ Brady and Wendy Haines, starring SJ Brady, Sinead Costelloe and Malinda Smith. These scenes involved the lugubrious ‘bog bodies’ that inspired a lively discussion on roots, ecology, motherhood, grief, and why we tell and retell the stories/ myths we tell. The other scene continued the theme of motherhood, exploring the myth of the Celtic goddess Macha and her relationships to human beings, birds, and the earth itself.

The second part of the afternoon was devoted to French theatre (performed in translation). We were delighted to welcome David Furlong, artistic director of Exchange Theatre (and an actor and translator) and performer and translator Rosie Hilal. After a brief introduction on seventeenth-century theatre (and specifically Molière and Racine) by Dr. Emilia Wilton-Godberfforde, (lecturer in French at the OU), both performers introduced their work and showcased three scenes from Becoming Berenice (a new translation of Bérénice by Rosie Hilal). In their analysis, the actors underscored themes of colonialism, gender, and otherness (with Bérénice the ‘foreign’ queen). The discussion also led to exploring the difficulty of rendering the play into English and Rosie’s motivation for bringing this play to new audiences. Moving on to Molière, the performers then introduced David Furlong’s adaptation of The Misanthrope with two scenes from this curious comedy. David and Rosie underlined how they saw their mission of translation to be a political act (since both are immigrants with families of immigrant backgrounds). Having both experience of being othered, even within their own languages and communities, they offered a nuanced perspective of the importance of rewriting and reframing the ‘classical canon’.

This event was a powerful reminder of how much can be gained from writers, theatre practitioners and academics coming together to explore the works that fascinate, entertain and trouble us. We look forward to further collaborations and creative ventures. A big thank you to all our performers and attendees!

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GOTH Symposium 2024: Gender and Otherness in Drama, Literature and Visual Culture – Call for Papers

CFP DEADLINE: 25 February 2024
EVENT: 4th Annual GOTH Symposium
DATE: Thursday 16 to Friday 17 May 2024
HOST: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, School of Arts & Humanities
LOCATION: The Open University, Milton Keynes (live, on campus event)
THEME: Gender and otherness in drama, literature and visual culture, II.
KEYNOTE (and guest co-organizer): Professor Dr Birgit Ulrike Münch (Art History, University of Bonn)

The Annual GOTH Symposium welcomes scholars from within and outside The Open University for two days of productive interdisciplinary discussion and debate. The Program Committee invites proposals for 20-minute papers focusing on any aspects of gender and otherness in pre- modern drama, literature and visual culture, with particular emphasis on:

1. Gender and/or otherness in pre-1800 images of drama and literature, with topics including but not limited to:
• images relating to theatre, drama or festival culture
• the anti-hero: Don Quixote and Hudibras in book illustrations or elsewhere
• any aspect of William Hogarth or of the Littlecote House murals (on the Littlecote House murals, see

2. Race, disability and/or otherness in early modern theatre, with topics including but not limited to:
• depictions of otherness in dramatic writing and staging practices
• historical receptions of race and disability
• the significance of gender in representations of race and disability

3. Global Otherness and Dependency in the visual arts, with topics including but not limited to:
• early modern images of slavery and dependency and their interaction with drama
• Virtual global perspectives on Race, Dis/Ability and Illness
• Global Heritage, Collections and Otherness (such as: current curatorial approaches, coping with trauma, memorials)

Please submit your proposal (300 words max) and academic bio (150 words max) on or before 25 February 2024, to & All presenters who participate in the full two days of the symposium will be provided with 1 night of paid accommodation. If you wish to be considered for a travel bursary, please include a brief statement explaining what sum is required and why. Inquiries on any aspect of the symposium can be emailed to Further information on the event and registration is being posted on the GOTH website as it becomes available:

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GOTH Awayday 2023: Cambridge Exhibitions

On Thursday 20th April 2023, a group of GOTH members travelled to Cambridge for the annual GOTH awayday. This year, GOTH decided to visit a series of exhibitions at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Whipple Museum.

Outside the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Outside the Fitzwilliam Museum.

We began the day at the Fitzwilliam Museum to view the ‘Women: Makers and Muses’ temporary display, where curator Rebecca Birrell talked us through the artworks exhibited. One side of the room shows works by women artists, while the other shows representations of women by contemporary male artists to give a sense of the milieu in which the women artists were working. A highlight of this room for GOTH was Vanessa Bell’s Portrait of Mrs M. (1919), a depiction of the doctor Marie Moralt who saved Bell’s baby daughter’s life. Dr Moralt is depicted as a commanding presence in rich furs, her large hands suggesting her ability as a physician. Our attention was also drawn by Marie Louise von Motesiczky’s At the Dressmaker’s (1930), a self-portrait of the artist in a white gown, which is being worked on by another woman. Once again, Rebecca noted the oversized hands of the dressmaker, drawing attention to her skilled profession. We were particularly struck by the framing of the portrait with an alcove, curtain rod and curtain behind the subject, almost reminiscent of a funeral portrait. Across the room, we were intrigued by La zarzarrosa (The Dog-Rose) by Glyn Warren Philpot (1910-11), a group portrait of three Spanish dancers composed similarly to a traditional family portrait of the time. We discussed the ambiguous gender presentations of the three figures, ostensibly a man and two women, whose lavish clothing, playful expressions, and easy physicality were reminiscent of a sense of queer ‘found family’.

Paintings by Vanessa Bell and Louise von Motesiczky.

After lunch in the Courtyard Café, we moved onto the major exhibition ‘Islanders: The Making of the Mediterranean’. This exhibition draws together archaeological finds dating from the Bronze Age to the Roman period from Crete, Cyprus, and Sardinia to explore life on the large islands of the Mediterranean. Connected to the ‘Being an Islander: Art and Identity of the Large Mediterranean Islands’ research project, the exhibition explores religion, society, trade and other elements of life on the islands, displaying a range of objects including several never before seen in the UK. GOTH member and archaeologist Maria Relaki talked us through many aspects of the exhibition, including pottery that may have been designed to imitate more valuable metal vessels, and clay representations of humans, animals, chariots, and shrines.

Votive hands in the ‘Islanders’ exhibition.

Our final visit for the day was to the Whipple Museum of the History of Science. After perusing the permanent collection, curator Joshua Nall talked us through the ‘Craftswomen’ exhibition, which aims to uncover the hidden role of women in the history of manufacturing scientific instruments. We learned that many instrument businesses were registered in a man’s name but were taken over by that man’s wife when he died, suggesting the women in question had a good knowledge of how the business was run. These women even sometimes took on apprentices, proving that their knowledge extended to the actual making of instruments. Although these women did not sign their work with their own names, researchers have been able to uncover the crucial role that they played in the trade.

A catalogue of maps produced by John Senex; the business was run by his wife Mary.

We all had a great day in Cambridge, and were grateful to the curators for their insights!

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Programme – The 3rd GOTH Symposium: 18-19 May 2023

Location: The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

Please register for online attendance via Eventbrite.

Symposium organizers – GOTH Committee:

  • Dr M A Katritzky – Director, GOTH & Barbara Wilkes Research Fellow in Theatre Studies
  • Dr Christine Plastow – GOTH Web and Media Manager & Lecturer in Classical Studies
  • Dr Molly Ziegler – Lecturer in Drama and Performance Studies, Department of English & Creative Writing
  • Dr Emilia Wilton-Godberfforde – Lecturer and Head of French, WELS
  • Guest Co-Organizer: Prof. Dr. Birgit Ulrike Münch, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
  • Event Support: Dr Sally Blackburn-Daniels, The Open University & University of Teeside (


Day 1  Thursday 18 May 2023

9:30-10:00       Registration & coffee

10:00-10:30     Welcome and Introduction to the 3rd GOTH Symposium: M.A. Katritzky (Director, GOTH & Barbara Wilkes Research Fellow in Theatre Studies, OU) & Birgit Münch (Professor of Art History, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn)

Panel 1: 10:30-12:00     POSTGRADUATE LIGHTNING PANEL (Chair: Christine Plastow)

10:30-10:45       Chair’s Introduction; Report of the convenors of the OU’s monthly GOTH PG Forum (Kim Pratt & Antonia Saunders) on the Forum’s activities and their doctoral research.

10.45-11.45       5-minute PGR lightning presentations:

Members of the OU GOTH PG Forum:

  • Kim Pratt, When is the Self not the Self?: When it’s the Other.
  • Antonia Saunders, Jewish Women and English Women in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda
  • Rochelle Mallet, Gender in early childhood education.
  • Lucy Morgan, Single men and manhood in early modern England
  • Sarah Bower, The Family: The Nuclear Option? Daughters in the 1780s and the 1960s
  • Gwyneth Jones, 1816, Fanny Imlay travels to Swansea

External guest speakers:

  • Deirdre Parkes, Mothers and Others: Intersecting identities and otherness in a modern performance reception of the Medea myth.
  • Johanna Johnen, Female ‘otherness’ in depictions of Illness in the 17th and 18th century

11.45-12.00       Q&A

12:00-13:00     Lunch (provided)

13:00-14:00       Committee & Board Meeting (Board, Committee & PG convenors only) Chair: M A Katritzky

Panel 2: 14:00-15:30    Performed otherness I (Chairs: Christine Plastow & Molly Ziegler)

  • Tobias Kämpf, Queer Pictures in a Straight Frame: The Ovidian Narrative of Jupiter and Calisto in Early Modern Art
  • Kathrin Wagner, (Homo)eroticism in visual translations of Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander (1593)
  • Hannah Brumby, ‘Faints Aeneas to remember Troy, in whose defence he fought so valiantly?’: Aeneas’s Diminishing Masculinity in Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage.

15:30-16:00     Tea & coffee

16:00-17:30    Performed otherness II (Chairs: Christine Plastow & Molly Ziegler)

  • Cat Stiles, Queer Creatures: The Sexual Embodiment of Monstrosity in Early Modern Literature
  • Irini Picolou, Gender and Exceptionality in Early Modern Spain: La barbuda de Peñaranda by Juan Sánchez Cotán and La mujer barbuda by Jusepe de Ribera

18:30     Conference dinner (cost & details TBC to delegates)


Day 2  Friday 19 May 2023

Panel 3: 10:00-11:15       Collectible otherness, 1500-1800, I (Chairs: M A Katritzky & Birgit Münch)

  • Charlotte Colding Smith, Giants’ Teeth, Dwarf Embroidery, and Saints’ Ribs: Collectable ‘Otherness’ in Churches and Wunderkammern between 1500 and 1800
  • Marina Vidas, Otherness, Gender, and Race: Portraits of African Children at the Danish Court, 1550-1700

11:15-11:45     Tea & coffee

11:45-13:00       Collectible otherness, 1500-1800, II (Chairs: M A Katritzky & Birgit Münch)

  • Hannah-Louisa Hochbaum, The domesticated monster: the early modern perception of (court) ’dwarfs’ in context of European exoticism
  • Michelle Moseley, Visualizing Large Primates as “Other” in Seventeenth-and Eighteenth-Century Curiosity Culture

13:00-14:30       Lunch (provided)

Panel 4: 14:30-16:00       Closing discussion: panels & publication (Chairs: M A Katritzky, Birgit Münch, Emilia Wilton-Godberfforde, Molly Ziegler)

16:00-16:15       Closing Remarks (Christine Plastow & Molly Ziegler)

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GOTH Symposium 2023: Gender and otherness in drama, literature and visual culture – Call for Papers

CFP DEADLINE: 30 November 2022
EVENT: 3rd Annual GOTH Symposium
DATE: Thursday 18 to Saturday 20 May 2023
HOST: The GOTH Research Centre, OU
LOCATION: The Open University, Milton Keynes (live, on campus event)
THEME: Gender and otherness in drama, literature and visual culture.

The Annual GOTH Symposium welcomes scholars from within and outside The Open University for three days of productive interdisciplinary discussion and debate. The Program Committee invites proposals for 20-minute papers focusing on the following aspects of gender and otherness in drama, literature and visual culture:

1. Gender and/or otherness in pre-1800 images of drama and literature, with topics including but not limited to:
• images by or relating to William Hogarth, and especially to his early career and book illustrations
• the anti-hero: Don Quixote and Hudibras illustrations at Littlecote House and elsewhere
• any aspect of the Littlecote House murals
(On the Littlecote House murals, click here.)

2. Gender and/or otherness in modern performance receptions of ancient Greek drama, possibly addressing topics including (but not limited to):
• new versions of rarely staged or fragmentary texts
• innovative or non-traditional modes of performance
• productions engaging with intersecting identities

3. Race, disability and/or otherness in early modern theatre, with topics including but not limited to:
• depictions of otherness in dramatic writing and staging practices
• historical receptions of race and disability
• the significance of gender in representations of race and disability

4. “Collectible Otherness” 1500-1800, with topics including but not limited to:
• Dwarfs; conjoined twins; the abnormally hirsute
• Genre: visual culture, drama and literature
• Contextualizing agency and Intersectionality of otherness: court, theatre, fairground, curiosity cabinet (Wunderkammer)

Please submit your proposal (300 words max) and academic bio (150 words max) on or before 30 November 2022, to & All presenters will be provided with accommodation (1 night). A limited number of travel bursaries will be awarded; if you wish to be considered please include a brief statement explaining what sum is required and why.
Inquiries on any aspect of the symposium can be emailed to

Further information on the event and registration is being posted on the GOTH website as it becomes available:

On behalf of the Symposium organizers:
GOTH Committee:
• Dr M A Katritzky – Director, GOTH & Barbara Wilkes Research Fellow in Theatre Studies
• Dr Christine Plastow – GOTH Web and Media Manager & Lecturer in Classical Studies
• Dr Molly Ziegler – Lecturer in Drama and Performance Studies, Department of English & Creative Writing.
And Guest Co-Organizer:
• Prof. Dr. Birgit Ulrike Münch, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn

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Upcoming seminar series: Classical Reception Studies Network & Queer and the Classical

GOTH members may be interested in the announcement of the annual Classical Reception Seminar Series in collaboration with the Institute of Classical Studies, London. This year the Queer and the Classical collective are convening a series entitled…

‘Back To a Time Before I Had Form’: Ancient Origin Myth(s) of Queerness.

Classics as a discipline has historically positioned itself as a search for origins, drawing tenuous and often fictional connections between ancient cultures and modern ‘Western civilisation’. Origin stories of gender and sexuality have also contributed to this narrative: the classical past has played an integral part in forming categories and images of sexual difference and desire. Scholars and activists have then often turned to Graeco-Roman antiquity in order to advocate for the legal rights and social legitimation for LGBTQ+ identities. While ancient evidence of queer desire has been an important tool for combatting queerphobia, this attempt at legitimizing contemporary queerness through ‘the classical’ has also reinforced dangerous and exclusionary ideologies, facilitating strategies of pinkwashing, homonationalism, and the erasure of intersectional identities. What does it mean to look for the origin of queerness in the ancient world? Which forms of gender expressions, sexuality, and desire become excluded in doing so? What are the dangers of supporting such origin myths.

By probing at these and more questions, this seminar series will investigate the supposed utility of a straightforward search for origins, teasing out new connections from hostile sources through a fantastic line-up of speakers.

The full programme and links to registration for individual seminars can be found on the Queer and the Classical website.


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Lovers and Wrestlers, from ancient Greece to Francis Bacon

By Christine Plastow

Francis Bacon, Two Figures, 1953

In 1953 and 1954, the painter Francis Bacon created two paintings of a pair of men closely entwined. Two Figures (1953) shows one nude man apparently pinning down another on   the messy white sheets of a bed, in a dark space broken by white framing lines. In Two Figures in the Grass (1954), the men embrace and tangle their legs together on the grassy floor, surrounded by dark walls and more vertical lines. The spaces in both paintings feel oppressive and enclosed, with Bacon’s characteristic frames offering depth and perspective. To the modern eye—and indeed, to the eyes of Bacon’s contemporaries—both pairs are clearly lovers, locked in the throes of (perhaps violent) passion. Bacon was an out gay man in the fifties, over a decade before the 1967 Sexual Offences Act would decriminalise private homosexual sex acts in England—this being only a first step on the long road to ending the UK’s laws against gay sex (the last law against sodomy in Scotland was only repealed in 2009, with the repeal not coming into effect until 2013). Two Figures was painted at the house of Peter Lacy, Bacon’s partner of 10 years with whom he had a sadomasochistic, deeply loving, though at times tempestuous and violent relationship.

Bacon was known for drawing shapes and compositions for his paintings from a variety of reference material, mostly photographs and magazine clippings. Thousands of such images covered the floor of his studio in a mixture he called ‘compost’. The Two Figures paintings were no different, with the poses of the men taken from a series of photographs of wrestlers taken by Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), the pioneering photographer of animals and people in motion. These photographs show nude or nearly-nude men in various stages of combat; one series shows a pair of fighters collapsing to the floor in a series of poses closely reminiscent of Bacon’s figures.

Photographs of wrestlers by Eadweard Muybridge, c.1887

Bacon’s use of the wrestlers as reference material for his paintings of male lovers may have simply been an extension of his usual practice, or it may have been intended as a (albeit rather flimsy) defence against the potentially controversial subject matter of the paintings. In either case, in doing so Bacon became another entry in a history of artists using wrestling imagery to explore homoerotic themes that stretches back to Greek antiquity. The Greek term symplegma, meaning ‘entanglement’ and now most commonly used for artistic renderings of sexual intercourse, seems to have originally been used to describe sculptures of wrestlers. It is used in this way several times by Pliny the Elder during his lengthy discussion of marble sculpture in his Natural History, including one instance explicitly with the Latin term for wrestling:

…Pana et Olympum luctantes eodem loco Heliodorus, quod est alterum in terris symplegma nobile… [Pliny Natural History 36.4]

…in the same place the Pan and Olympus Wrestling, which is the second most famous grappling group in the world, was the work of Heliodorus… [tr. D. E. Eichholz]

The Wrestlers

The most famous surviving ancient sculpture of this type is usually known simply as The Wrestlers, a Roman marble based on a 3rd century BCE Greek original, possibly in bronze. It was discovered in 1583 and is now in the Uffizi in Florence. The sculpture depicts two nude men engaged in the sport of pankration, which combined elements of boxing and wrestling; one wrestler leans over the back of the other, holding his opponent’s arm behind him and wrapping his left leg around that of the lower wrestler. The sculpture depicts actual wrestling technique, but also offers an opportunity to display the two men’s athletic bodies in their prime, with muscles showing under the skin. This admiration of athletic nudity was a feature of both the sculpture and the sport: as Nick Fisher writes, ‘men believed that nakedness… should reveal the perfection of the trained body and that an erotic response to muscular, bronzed bodies gleaming with olive oil, like statues, was a natural part of the admiration elicited by divinely gifted beauty and skills’ (Fisher, 2014, p.250, my emphasis). Fisher’s comparison of the bodies of athletes to statues is apt here: both offered an opportunity to gaze at and celebrate beautiful male bodies in a socially acceptable, indeed appropriate, way.

Francis Bacon, Two Figures in the Grass, 1954

For Francis Bacon in 1950s England, any culture of admiration of athletic eroticised male bodies was necessarily hidden from public view, so Muybridge’s photographs both provided a crucial compositional reference and allowed Bacon to make his images of lovers visible, couched in more socially acceptable terms where necessitated by the criticisms of conservative viewers. Both Peter Lacy and Bacon’s other great love, George Dyer, would appear regularly in his paintings throughout his career, putting his sexuality at the heart of his artistic output. And while some of the original viewers of Two Figures and Two Figures in the Grass may have been scandalised when the paintings were first displayed, we may imagine that other appreciated them much as The Wrestlers and other symplegmata were appreciated in ancient Greece and Rome.

Francis Bacon: Man and Beast is showing at the Royal Academy of Arts until 17 April 2022.


Nick Fisher, 2014, ‘Athletics and Sexuality’ in Thomas K. Hubbard (ed.) A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities. Oxford: Blackwell. 248-268.

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Laura Knight: A Panoramic View

Clare Taylor on the exhibition of Laura Knight‘s work at MK Gallery, showing until 20th February 2022.

Circus, 1935 – ceramic dinner service

This show at the MK Gallery injects bold colours and equally bold subjects into the urban landscape of Milton Keynes. It brings together an astonishing range of Laura Knight’s work in oils, watercolour, charcoal and pencil as well as her designs for ceramics, costume and the poster to explore what the exhibition catalogue calls ‘the gaze that she cast over her surroundings and the assorted characters that entered her orbit’. Visitors might recognise her subjects drawn from the circus, but the wartime subjects and her portraits of the disenfranchised are much less well known. The show also illustrates her long and varied career, from early drawings made when she was still studying at Nottingham Art School in the 1890s, to her election as Royal Academician and author of two autobiographies, the second published to coincide with her retrospective exhibition at the R.A. in 1965. The fact that this is the first major show since makes this re-examination long overdue, also charting the fall from favour of Knight’s form of modernism to the present-day revival of interest in twentieth-century British portraiture and its subjects.

Lamorna Birch and His Daughters, 1916-1934

The show also reveals wider issues around the place of women (and a few men) in twentieth-century Britain. Knight overcame restrictions on women students painting from the nude when she was still in her teens by hiring her own model, and her ethereal portrait of the model Lily Poyser (‘The Yellow Lady’) hangs in the opening room. This is counterpointed by images of women at work, a theme she was to return to throughout her career and one where Knight often inverts viewpoints. An oil of the fishing fleet leaving Staithes in Northumberland focuses not on the ships themselves, or the men who sailed them, but on the single figure of a woman walking towards the viewer, away from the sea and the group watching the ships’ departure. The same room contains a very different kind of portrait, heroic in scale. Here, however, the focus is not on classical imagery or the female nude but rather on domestic life, taking as its subject her fellow artist Lamorna Birch and his two daughters who are depicted in a brilliantly impressionistic setting of dappled shade. Significantly, motherhood is often absent from these canvases: the next room includes more plein-air Cornish works where Knight reclaims the right of women artists to paint the female nude, posing bodies against turquoise-blue waters, while modern women with bobbed hair and loose clothing in saturated colours poised on cliff tops. Here, the panoramic viewpoints into water are often unsettling and the models’ faces again turned away from the viewer.

The Rehearsal, 1948

The central room displays Knight’s love of spectacle to great effect, rooted in both populist and more established art forms. Straightforward portraits of performers, particularly women, are less frequent than glimpses of moments of transformation. Dancers tie shoes, circus performers are seen just off stage and actors wait around in rehearsal, their identities in turn hidden and revealed by costume and make-up. This interest in performance continued throughout Knight’s career. The show also includes examples of her post-war works painted at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and in London theatres. Here, she not only portrayed the actors, such as Paul Scofield, but also members of the wardrobe and dressers. A portrait of Gwen Ffangcon-Davies preparing for the role of Juliet contrasts the actor’s auburn wig and gold gown against a white wardrobe and the black and white uniform of the dresser handing her hair pins.

Depictions of female members of historically marginalised groups also throw up a disjunct between Knight’s portrayals and the privileges of the successful artist. Portraits of women from Traveller and Roma communities with titles such as ‘Gypsies at Epsom’ are one example of this. Knight’s studio was in a converted Rolls Royce, the payments she made to sitters an alternative to prosecution for practicing their main source of work at the races, telling fortunes. These works concentrate on colour, pattern and line, often pairing women of different generations in double portraits out of doors- there is little hint of hardship here, rather clothing and setting contribute to what Sophie Hatchwell (in her thought-provoking catalogue essay) identifies as stereotypes of Roma and Traveller appearance and culture. The same room is hung with a series of portraits of African-American communities painted on segregated wards in Baltimore, a commission obtained through her husband and fellow painter Harold Harvey. Here, further contradictions are clear; Knight might avoid caricatures in her portraits but the words she used to describe her sitters (‘fine types’) were deeply racist.

Take Off, 1943

Knight was, however, ahead of her time in securing not only full election to the R.A, but also a retrospective in her own lifetime, the first woman to do so. She was also active in promoting both herself and her profession. Interestingly, it was her wartime works that she singled out as her greatest achievement and, for me, these were the most powerful. The deeply-lined faces of the all-male crew of the Stirling bomber convey concentration and tiredness are captured in ‘Take off’, hung next to another wartime portrait, of an all-female team raising a barrage balloon. This told its own story of female empowerment: although it was thought double the number of women would be needed to replace a male team, in fact it was less than half.

Frequently criticised by contemporaries for her ‘strong, masculine style’, the exhibition might have gained from showing just how her work stands up to that of her male (and female) contemporaries as portraitists. However, it brings to the fore an artist who fought for equality in pay as well as status and engaged with curating her own reputation decades before the term became fashionable. It also allows the visitor to engage with a very British version of social realism, and with how artists such as Knight sought to capture men and women at work in both urban and rural settings across the early twentieth-century.

Ruby Loftus Screwing a Breech Ring, 1943

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Upcoming symposium: Trans/Queer Gender and Narrative Form

GOTH is pleased to share details of an upcoming online conference that may be of interest to members. More information, including abstracts for all papers, can be found at the conference website.

15TH, 22ND AND 29TH APRIL 2021


Since the first interventions in feminist narratology in the 1980s, the importance of gender as a contextual aspect of cultural productions has been firmly established in the study of narrative form. The interpretation of formal features such as narrative voice, poetic structure, temporality, genre and medium is inevitably influenced by the gender of those who produce, experience or are represented by texts. At the same time, queer and trans studies have established methodologies for approaching embodiment, ethics, social structures and cultural politics. This symposium brings together scholars working at the intersection of form and queer/trans gender in order to foster new approaches to the relationship between embodied identities and texts.

@fqtnarratives |
Conference Organiser: Chiara Pellegrini
@chiarapg4 |


Thursday, 15th April 2021, 3pm-5pm BST (GMT+1)

Writing/Reading/Playing Narratives of Trans Embodiment
Cody Mejeur, University at Buffalo

Tristessa de St Ange: A Character Study in TERF Light
Nemo Gorecki, Université de Lille SHS

Mad about the “Boys”? Passing and (Mis)recognition in Varro’s Eumenides
Chris Mowat, Sheffield University/Newcastle University

‘The Monopoliser of Her Own Sex’: Queering Methodism in The Female Husband
Grainne O’Hare, Newcastle University

Narrating Trans Genres: Ordinary Time Travel and Autobiographical Science Fictions
Trish Salah, Queen’s University (CA)

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 3pm-5pm BST (GMT+1)

Trans Touches Across Time and Text: Confessions of the Fox
Gil Mozer, Mesa Community College

Trans Forms: Gender-variant Subjectivity and First-person Narration
Chiara Pellegrini, Newcastle University

From Male Impersonator to Drag King Performer: A Palimpsestuous Reading of Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet
Elsa Adán Hernández, University of Zaragoza

Asking Queer Questions about Narrative Coherence and Identity: How to Read ‘What She Knew’?
Joonas Säntti, University of Jyväskylä

Trans-forming Narratology
Susan Lanser, Brandeis University

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 3pm-5pm BST (GMT+1)

Narrating Queer Subjectivity in 1830s Russia: Nadezhda Durova’s A Year in St Petersburg (1838)
Margarita Vaysman, University of St Andrews

Duchess Achilles: Trans Narratives in James Thornhill’s Achilles on Scyros
Aimee Hinds, University of Roehampton

When Literary Studies meet Trans/Gender Studies: Working with German Autobiographies Written by Trans People using Queer Theory and Narratology
Sandy Kathy Artuso, LEQGF – Laboratoire d’Études Queer, sur le Genre et les Féminismes

Untimely Subjectivities: Queer/Diasporic Temporality in Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other
Carolina Sánchez-Palencia, University of Seville (Spain)

‘My Male Skin’: (Self-)Narratives of Transmasculinities in Fanfiction
Jonathan A. Rose, University of Passau

Conclusion of Symposium:
Breakout Rooms Discussion

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