In the opening of the chapter titled 'Manila – Macao – Hongkong' in her travelogue-memoir The Little World (1925), British writer Stella Benson (1892–1933) writes that there are 'three ways of occupying an alien place – first, to absorb; second, to be absorbed; third, neither to absorb nor to be absorbed' (42). This observation undoubtedly relates to her own journeys and experiences in various parts of the world including America, China, Japan, the West Indies, and Hong Kong (first as a young lady wanting to explore the world, then as the wife of a colonial official who resided in Asia). In this talk, I will explore Benson's poetics of mobility.
Benson has long been marginalized in the literary history of a period that has until recently been dominated and defined by a few high-profile modernist writers, including Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), whom Benson met and corresponded with. Focusing on Benson’s novels, I will discuss how she appropriates, and at times parodies, the rhetoric of cosmopolitanism that has gained much currency since the mid-nineteenth century so as to draw attention to its limits, and to pinpoint the deep sense of isolation felt by individuals in a seemingly connected yet detached world. By drawing reference to her unpublished diaries that were written in Hong Kong, where she completed her last novel, Tobit Transplanted (1931), I will also show how her life story reflects the efforts and struggles of a female writer who strived to preserve her writerly identity and sensibility in various volatile environments.
Klaudia Lee is an Associate Professor at the Department of English, City University of Hong Kong. Her research interests are nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and culture, spatiality, translation and literature, comparative and world literature. She published articles in international journals, such as Journal of Victorian Culture, Comparative Literature Studies, English Studies and Victorian Periodicals Review. She is the author of Charles Dickens and China: Cross-Cultural Encounters, 1895-1915 (Routledge, 2017). She is currently working on a book project that explores the literary and journalistic connection between Hong Kong, Britain, and China from the late nineteenth to the first half of the twentieth century.
Meeting ID: 921 2343 7344
Live broadcast will be available in Room CRT-7.45, 7/F, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU.