Black Women in Ivory Towers: Race, Gender, and Class in British Campus Fiction


  • Ann McClellan Plymouth State University


Race, Gender, Class, Campus Fiction, Women Academics, Britain


How twentieth-century British women authors represent women academics in their fiction has been recently studied, but one key element has been missing: race. The twentieth century saw the systematic dismantling of the British Empire, increasing Commonwealth immigration, and rising racial tensions at home, as evidenced by the 2011 riots in north London. Yet given the close relationship between cultural and literary history, there seems to be no evidence of these dramatic cultural changes within the campus novel genre. Using Crenshaw's highly critical term "intersectionality," this study focuses simultaneously on the lived experiences of Black women academics (through history, biography, and ethnographic study), as well as the literary interpretations of those lives. Focusing particularly on Judith Cutler's Dying Fall and Ahdaf Soueif's In the Eye of the Sun, this essay argues that the absence of and/or "white-washed" representations of Black Minority Ethnic (BME) women in British campus novels signifies how BME women's experiences are either rendered invisible or are subsumed under cultural norms of whiteness and middle-class identity.

Author Biography

Ann McClellan, Plymouth State University

Ann McClellan has a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Cincinnati and is currently professor of English and chair of English and Women’s Studies at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire, USA. Her work on British women's literature and the history of higher education has been shared in various venues, including both national and international academic conferences and journals, culminating in her recent book with Edwin Mellen Press, How British Women Writers Transformed the Campus Novel (2012). She is currently working on a monograph on Sherlock Holmes and transmedia storytelling.