Woman and Vocation in Lille


From 4th to the 8th June I was in Lille. My dear Professor Valeria Gennaro Lerda invited me to assist her during the journey from Turin to the Univeriste’ Catholique de Lille were she was presenting her paper.


Here is a documentation of my experience.

The Call:

June 5-7, 2014, Call For Papers : International Conference “Women and vocation” at the Institut Catholique de Lille. Please send proposals of 300 to 400 words to the organisers Ineke Bockting, Suzanne Bray and Gerald Preher by January 30th 2014.

logo_afeaThe French Association of American Studies aims to bring together teachers and researchers in our area of expertise in order to promote exchanges in research, encourage teaching initiatives, and ensure the influence of French Americanists in this field.

Addressing a women’s association in 1938, Dorothy L. Sayers told those present: “The only decent reason for tackling any job is that it is your job, and you want to do it”[1]. Yet, as she acknowledged, throughout the ages women have been obliged to do work for which they were neither fitted nor inclined by societies with certain expectations of their role as a class. If the leaders of the women’s movement in the late 19th century “emphasized … the common humanity of women and men”[2] and the right of each individual to determine his or her own destiny, this was a reaction not only against those who, like Aristotle, had claimed that all women were “wholly useless”[3] in time of war, but equally against those, like Coventry Patmore who glorified them as “the Angel in the House”.

This debate about women’s vocation is hardly new. The Hebrew Scriptures accepted that Esther had individually been “called to royal position for such a time as this”[4], with the clear calling to save her people, while the late 20th Swiss thinker Paul Tournier, who considered himself a feminist, esteemed that all women, without exception, had “the same mission, the reinstatement of the primacy of persons over things”[5]. As professional and other public areas of activity for women have dramatically increased over the last 150 years, this balance between the individual women and the whole of her sex has been and is still being constantly readjusted.

Vocation, or calling, also implies that someone or something, God, Nature, Destiny or even the male sex, has created or fitted women, individually or as a class, for a particular activities or spheres of influence. Any discussion of the vocation of women must include some kind of reflexion on vocation in general, whether this is seen as mainly professional, religious, political, racial, biological or merely the call of random circumstances.

Although explicit pronouncements on these themes have been regularly heard in public debates, sermons and political speeches and read in every kind of essay or journalism, we may also look to the arts, and in particular literature, cinema, and even popular song, from Helen Reddy to Whitney Houston, for some of the most profound or entertaining explorations of what it means to be a woman and the nature of any or every woman’s mission in life.

We are looking for papers, in English or French, on all aspects of this topic. Studies on individual female pioneers and innovators are welcome, as are presentations of women’s

The Programme









Biographical paragraphs

Marie Lienard-Yeterian is Full Professor of American Literature and Cinema at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis. Her major fields of research are Southern literature , American Theatre and the American South in Film. She has published articles and books on Faulkner, O’Connor, McCarthy, Gaines and Ray, She is working on a book on the Grotesque on screen.

Christine Fletcheis an associate professor of theology at Benedictine University and an Oblate of St Procopius Abbey, Lisle, IL. At Benedictine she has designed a new Theology program which includes a certificate in Theology in Life. She holds a Masters in Politics and Philosophy from Oxford University and a PhD in Theology with subspecialties in Business ethics and literature from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England. She has worked in various fields including merchant banking and IT consulting as well as having edited a magazine on business ethics. Among her academic presentations was a paper at a conference at the Vatican sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. She is the author of The Artist and the Trinity, which discusses Dorothy L. Sayers’ theology of work. While living in England she occasionally appeared on BBC1’s Heaven and Earth discussing ethical questions.

Linda Martz is Associate Professor of English and History at the American University of Paris. Her doctorate is from Paris VII, where she worked under Françoise Basch. Her principle areas of research are women’s movements in 19th and early 20th century Britain, and religion in early 20th century Southern California. Her current book projects include a co-edited volume on the interface between religion, war and peace, and the arts in the United States and the third edition of a co-authored textbook “60 Etapes-clés de la civilisation americaine et britannique.” An article on the connections between the Protestant sisterhoods and the British suffragette movement will be published in the next issue of Women’s History Review, and another on the British nursing registration movement has been accepted by the same publiction.

Jonathan Fruoco is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Grenoble. His thesis, entitled ‘Evolution narrative et polyphonie littéraire dans l’oeuvre de Geoffrey Chaucer’, explores how medieval French poetry and Dante’s Commedia influenced Chaucer’s writing.

Dr Jacqui Miller is Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader for Media and Communication at Liverpool Hope University. She is a film historian with an interest in the representational relationship between film, history, and culture. She has published widely on a range of areas within Film Studies, including books on film and ethics, and the cultural legacy of Audrey Hepburn’s star persona. Her most recent publication is on pioneer women directors in the classical Hollywood studio system.

Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec teaches at the University of Caen and the Catholic University of Paris. She works on modernist and contemporary poetry, and co-edited La poésie de Geoffrey Hill et la modernité (2007), Selected Poems from Modernism to Now (2012), and Poetry & Religion: Figures of the Sacred (2013). She was also responsible for the first two issues of the on-line review, Arts of War and Peace (2013).

John Andreas Fuchs studies American Cultural History and American Literature with a focus on American Catholicism, the Civil War, and the American South as well as the History of Education in Germany since 1945. He read History, American Studies, Anglistics, Educational Sciences and Theology at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, the University of Aberdeen, and the Ludwig Maximilian University (Munich). Currently he is assistant professor with the Chair of School Pedagogy at CU Eichstätt as well as an adjunct with the department of Religious Education.

Constante González Groba is Professor of American literature at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). He is the author of a book on the novels of Carson McCullers, in Spanish, and has written essays and book chapters on Herman Melville, Carson McCullers, Stephen Crane, Lee Smith, Lillian Smith, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Bobbie Ann Mason, Ellen Glasgow and others. He wrote the book On Their Own Premises: Southern Women Writers and the Homeplace (Universitat de Valéncia, 2008). He edited Hijas del Viejo Sur: La mujer en la literatura del Sur de los Estados Unidos (Universitat de Valéncia, 2012), as well as Unsteadily Marching On: The US South in Motion (Universitat de Valéncia, 2013), a collection of essays by American and European southernists.

David Facci is a graduate of Faculté Libre de Sciences Humaines, at the Université Catholique de Lille. At present, he is an IT manager at Collège Marie Curie in Tourcoing, as well as a part time French Institutions teacher at Université Catholique. He is also a doctoral candidate in History at University of Arras under the direction of Dr. Jean-François Condette. His current research is about the evolution of the uses of new technologies in the higher education system during the twentieth century.

Birgitta Berglund is a Senior Lecturer at Lund University, Sweden, but she has also lived and taught at universities in Great Britain, Canada and The People’s Republic of China. Her doctoral dissertation was on 18th century women novelists, but she has since then gravitated towards the Victorian period. She also takes an interest in children’s literature and detective fiction.

Lamia Mokrane is Algerian. In 2011, she obtained a degree in Didactics and the Sciences of the English Language. Then, she studied for a Masters degree in Anglo-Saxon Civilization and Literature, spending the first year in Italy. In 2013, she obtained my Masters degree with distinction and has been given a scholarship for her PhD in Nice (France). She is working on otherness and belonging in the life and works of Nella Larsen.

Carolyn Oulton is a Reader in Victorian Literature, and Director of the International Centre for Victorian Women Writers at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK. She is the author of Literature and Religion in Mid-Victorian England, Romantic Friendship in Victorian Literature, Let the Flowers Go: A Life of Mary Cholmondeley and Below the Fairy City: A Life of Jerome K. Jerome.

Dr. René Zimmer, agrégé Senior lecturer at UNC, University of New Caledonia Research: -Flannery O’Connor, the bestiary and Christian Symbolism -Papua New Guinea Arts, esp. Contemporary Painting.

Frédérique Spill wrote her PhD on the question of idiocy in William Faulkner’s work. L’Idiotie dans l’oeuvre de William Faulkner was published by the Presses universitaires de la Sorbonne-Nouvelle in 2009. She is now an Associate Professor and teaches American literature at the University of Picardy – Jules Verne (Amiens). She currently is the Head of the English Department. She has published articles on William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss and about the cultural history of French-speaking 19th century New Orleans. Her research now mainly focuses on the works of contemporary American writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Russell Banks, Ron Rash, etc. She is the co-author of Regards sur l’Amérique published by Armand Colin in 2011.

Gisele Sigal is an Associate Professor of English in the Pau University, Bayonne Campus south west France, where she has been teaching Business English for more than twenty years. She is also Head of the Business and Marketing Department. Her research centres on Southern women writers at the turn of the twentieth century, such as Elizabeth Madox Roberts (who was the subject of her French Doctoral dissertation in 1996), Mary Noailles Murfree, Edith Summers Kelley, and Ellen Glasgow. She has written several papers and has made contributions in various French, American and Polish edited collections and journals.

Mary McAuliffe holds a BA and a Ph.D from the School of History and Humanities, Trinity College Dublin. She lectures history in Mater Dei Institute of Education (DCU). Her research interests include Irish women and power, female representations and identities in Irish History, oral histories, and she has published widely in these areas. Her most recent co-edited book is the Fanny Taylors (1867) Irish Homes and Irish Hearts (UCD Press, Classics series, 2013) which she has edited and introduced, Palgrave Advances in Irish History (2010) and she has published a biography on Senator Kathleen Browne 1876-1943. She was President of the Women’s History Association of Ireland ( 2011-2014)and is a member of the Irish National Archives Advisory Committee. She recently co-ordinated the national centenary commemoration of and conference on the Irish militant nationalist women’s organisation, Cumann na mBan, founded in April 1914.

Petra Birkett is currently an external PhD. student in the department of Philosophy and Religious Sciences of the Faculty of Theology at the University of South Bohemia. Her thesis is focused on the Theology of Dorothy L. Sayers, specifically her approach to tradition within her writings. She is also a member of a group of postgraduate students who research the ways Theology is expressed in various kinds of Art, under the supervision of Prof. Jaroslav Vokoun (Faculty of Theology, University of South Bohemia).

For her BA, Elise Cordonnier took a double degree program in English in Lille and Canterbury. She is now a masters student in Lille, specialising in British Civilisation, also helping with the international students coming to Lille. Her dissertation deals with national identity and the political parties in contemporary Britain.

Alison Offe is 21 years old. She has studied for 4 years at the University Catholic of Lille. In first year of English literature and civilisation. Currently working on a memoir entitled “The Six Wives of Henry VIII in Contemporary Historical Fiction”. Hence, the choice of subject for this colloquium on Katherine Parr and her vocation as Protestant scholar and role model.

Inés Casas is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Santiago de Compostela. She is working on a dissertation which explores the intersections between southern womanhood, southern identity and place in the works of Ellen Glasgow, Caroline Gordon and Elizabeth Madox Roberts. She has recently completed articles on Ellen Glasgow’s representation of her conflicted southern identity in her novel Barren Ground and on Zora Neale Hurston’s use of natural imagery and place in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Justine Folie is twenty-one years old. She has been studying at Lille Catholic University for four years. She has always been interested in education and women in the nineteenth century, that is why she decided to write her master’s thesis on the Girls’ Public Day School Company which is an organisation that created different schools for girls in England and Wales. One of Queen Victoria’s daughters, Princess Louise was involved in it and thanks to her research on the GPDSC, Justine discovered that Louise’s vocation was not to become a traditional princess.

Marie Wullens is 21 years old. She has been studying for four years at the University Catholic of Lille and she is in her first year of Master in English literature and civilisation. She is currently working on a memoir: “The Flapper Decade: The Woman in Britain during the 1920s”. Hence the choice of her subject on Marie Stopes, one of the key figures of the decade.

Dr Patrycja Kurjatto Renard is an independent scholar who was born in Poland and has lived in France for many years. Her research focuses mostly on contemporary novels by ethnic American writers, and her research interests include family, trauma, immigration, the perception of the past, myth and ritual. She has published on such writers as Sherman Alexie, Joseph Boyden, Louise Erdrich, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, Amy Tan, and James Welch, among others.

Susana Mª Jiménez Placer teaches North American literature and culture at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). She wrote her dissertation on the Mexican stories of Katherine Anne Porter, and published a book on this topic: Katherine Anne Porter y la revolución mexicana: de la fascinación al desencanto. She has written several articles and papers on different aspects of Porter’s work, and has participated in several research projects dealing with southern literature, the depiction of the domestic sphere in the work of southern women writers, and the literary manifestations of the Civil Rights Movement.

Baptise Moniez is a Canterbury Christ Church University Doctoral student. My dissertation, ‘‘[D]aring and heroic deeds’: Representing the British Missionary Woman in Biographies from 1895 to 1916’, explores life accounts of British missionary women published between 1895 and 1916. It argues biographers intended to distance their subjects from traditional depictions of women, to portray them as bold adventurers, accomplishing active and daring deeds.

Valeria Gennaro Lerda . Professor of North American History (University of Genoa-Italy) 1976-2007; Director of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (University of Genoa) 1997-2007; Co-founder of the Southern Studies Forum of the EAAS, (Berlin, 1998), and currently member of the Advisory Board; she has been member of the Board of the Italian Association of American Studies, of the Italian Association of Canadian Studies, of the Editorial Board of Southern Cultures(1993-1995); member of the International Committee of the Southern Historical Association.She has authored or co-authored 15 books on United States History and Canadian History, with focus on agrarian and cooperative movements, and women’s history. On the American South specifically, besides many essays, she has published: “Il suono delle nostre voci”( “The Sound of Our Voices”. Southern Women and Social Reforms,1877-1920), 1992; Dall’Arcadia alle Riforme. Studi sul Sud degli Stati Uniti (1992) (From Arcady to Reform: Studies on the United States South); The United States South. Regionalism and Identity,ed.with Tjebbe Westendorp, 1991; Rewriting the South. History and Fiction, ed. With Lothar Hoennighausen,1993.On the Canadian North West she has published La Frontiera del grano.(1896-1918). L’Ovest nella storia canadese (1992), and s everal essays on Irene Marryat Parlby, a reformer in Alberta. in the early 1900s..She has edited,in the series of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, for Greenwood Press/Praeger in 2002 Which “Global Village?” Societies, Cultures, and Political-Economic Systems in a Euro-Atlantic Perpsective, and co-edited, Canadian and American Women. Moving from Private to Public Experiences in the Atlantic World (2002), and Beyond the Atlantic: Women’s Roles in Canadian and American Societies (2004).During the Southern Studies Forum held in Paris (2009) she presented a paper entitled “ Smells, Flavours, and Songs in Southern Women’s Diaries” .During the Southern Studies Forum held in Santiago ( September 2011) she presented a paper entitled “African Americans Moving from the South to the Non-South (1915-1918).”( Now published in Constante Gonzales Groba, Ed., Unsteadily Marching ON. The South in Motion, Universitad de València, 2013.During the Southern Studies Forum held in Czcsecin, Poland, (2013 September) she presented a paper entitled “Southern Ladies “ Performers on a Pedestal” or Actors in the Public Stage”?:

Some Comments

These are just few of the many scholars who populated the conference presenting their papers. Many are missing from this list like Hanana Boutebat. One of my favourite, Hanana was the only one – in the english speaking section- that confronted in a more  philosophical manner the issue of race and class also courageously tackling the burden of dualism.

Another one of my favourite papers was written by  Mary Wullens, a young doctorate that discussed women’s sex education quoting some beautiful passages on the sea.

Susan Donaldson looked at other themes I am very interest in such as language. Language both as agency and as violence, Voice and voicelessness.

Jaqui Miller talked of progressive cinema and transgressing women: Hollywood directors that like Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner broke the rules of social critique and therefore of Hollywood standards or viceversa.

Suzanne Bray’s was a breathtaking stunning reading of her paper on perseverance ambition and vision in the religious realm.

Linda Martz opened the conference with very interesting theme on vocation vs professionalisation of nurses.

Many nurses, nuns and missionaries inhabited the  topics of this conference. A deep analysis of the role of religion and catholicism although a critique on colonialism, militarization and institutionalization was sadly left out.

Brigitta Berglund paper on Women and vocation in the Bronte Novels was a refreshing reading as well as a delicious and skillful performance, very poignantantly ironical  indeed.

Sadly I missed the beginning of Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec’s paper on modernism in the feminine voice but enjoyed the last part referencing Gertrud Stein’s always refreshing use of words in her feminine prose of protest against  male language realm.

I very much regret to have missed Patrycja Kurjatto-Renard paper on the role of women’s as ‘angels of the house’. I hope she will be so kind to share it with me another time. I very much admire Patricja’s stand as an independent scholar, a very brave position, I thought, in the academic regime! I missed her reading because I thought I might try to attend the french speaking scholars presenting on themes of the role of african women. That a far too ambitious task. My french is definitely not good enough. Very frustrating to sit and not be able to fully understand themes very closed to my heart.

I also very much enjoyed Marion Jolin critique on the role of Disney/pixar animated movies in ‘disneyfing’ (and I would like to add: westernizing)  the world and the roles of gender and women in  society.

My dear professor Valeria Gennaro Lerda historical research, stroke me for highlighting so well the  connections between Arcadia,  gardening and colonization.  I loved  the interplay between gardening, women, agriculture, and policy reform. Maybe one side to emphasize even more ? For me it ‘s been interesting to rediscover the story of how we build a society: exactly like a garden!  Her research lays bare the process of colonization attitude. But of course that is my very own biased take on it all!

What I liked most about the conference, a part from the fact that I came away learning a lot and with many thoughts, was that it gave way to many young scholars who were fresh enthusiast and active participants.

What I thought the conference was poor on, was the cross disciplinary aspect. Also themes like race and class were not discussed enough, if not at all, maybe because mostly white, middle class, straight, people partook and voiced their own views on history, literature and the world.

Overall it was an ambitious full on event and the organizer: Suzanne Bray and Gerald  Preher did an amazing job to get everybody together in a such welcoming manner in the charming town of Lille.

As much as I have enjoyed – being white and european and privileged – my time in Lille and at the conference, I came away with one main thought: so much is to be done to change the views attitudes and believes in our so called globalized society!

Personal notes taken during the conference: