18 April 2019

Thursday, 4:30pm
Run Run Shaw Tower, 7.45


John Scott Daly
School of English, The University of Hong Kong
Below the line: The construction of a 'permanent underclass' in YouTube comments


Using a critical discourse studies approach, here I analyse YouTube comments attached to an episode of Benefits Street, a Channel 4 documentary series about welfare recipients. Having qualitatively analysed over 3,000 comments, I argue that commenters use vari-directional double-voicing and enregistered emblems to co-construct a stereotypical, embodied, and othered ‘underclass’ figure. This character is cast as permanently unemployed. Conceptions of a ‘permanent underclass’ are harmful, because they can lead British voters to back policies of austerity, which are not in most people’s interests (Hills, 2017). They are also inaccurate, as unpredictable stints of precarious work are more common than long-term unemployment, which is comparatively rare in the UK – around half the EU average. Despite this, British people are twice as likely as other Europeans to agree that benefits make people ‘lazy.’ Jensen & Tyler (2015, p. 1) call for more research which examines everyday ‘mechanisms of consent’ that help form anti-welfare attitudes. By analysing social class discourses found in YouTube comments, this paper takes a modest step in that direction.


Natalie Mo
School of English, The University of Hong Kong
Martyring the Female Double in Jane Eyre and Emma


The doppelganger is a recurring character across literary history. Within nineteenth-century British literature, it is most commonly associated with gothic fiction in which it functions as an externalization of the protagonist’s transgressive desires. This paper argues that this character type is common not only in gothic fiction but in realist fiction as well, reflecting overarching Victorian ideologies surrounding women and the domestic sphere.

Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic argues the dark double is as much a projection of the Victorian female author’s rage and anxiety towards her position, as an antagonist or foil to the heroine. My paper differs slightly in that I focus particularly on the female doppelganger’s lack of selfhood and interiority. She is an extension of the heroine and must ultimately be sacrificed, either by death or other misfortune, to symbolically fulfill her bildungsroman. This occurs in both gothic and non-gothic works. For instance, in Charlotte Brontë’s gothic novel, Jane Eyre, Rochester’s first wife, Bertha Mason leaps to her death at Thornfield Hall. In Jane Austen’s realist novel, Emma, Mrs. Augusta Elton is sidelined in Highbury by the end. The doppelganger is valued for her utility to the plot over anything else. I contend that this structural denial of personhood echoes the ideological contradiction regarding women’s place in Victorian society. Just as they were required to be domestic, self-sacrificing moral guardians, the doppelganger’s selfhood is suppressed in favor of the heroine, despite possessing the potential to be a protagonist and rounded character.


Anneliese Ng
School of English, The University of Hong Kong
Replotting the Harlot’s Progress: Motherhood and Moral Agency in Gaskell’s Ruth


This talk examines how Elizabeth Gaskell offers an alternative plot for the fallen woman in her 1853 novel Ruth. Gaskell reworks the dominant plot of the fallen woman genre by revoking what Amanda Anderson calls “the downward-path principle.” It dictates that once a woman has sex outside the sanctified confines of marriage, she will continue her moral decay and sink into prostitution, disease and death. In Ruth, however, Gaskell departs from this convention. This talk argues that Gaskell reconfigures the fallen woman as an autonomous being capable of moral action, instead of being locked in moral regress. Through examining the role of motherhood in Ruth’s moral agency, this talk elucidates the maternal underpinnings of Ruth’s moral existence. Motherhood fortifies Ruth against succumbing to individual desire; it strengthens her capacity to act according to her moral beliefs.



Last updated: 16 April 2019