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Matthew Holliday

Languages and Literature, University of Nottingham

Thesis title:

Woolf, Wordsworth, and the Victorians

Criticism of Virginia Woolf has often obscured her affiliation with the Victorian past. My thesis contributes to a new wave of scholarship which re-evaluates the relationship between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in terms of dialogue rather than rupture—a questioning of periodisation and definition in accord with Woolf’s own. My project pursues this connection through an examination of Virginia Woolf’s response to the poetry and posthumous legacy of William Wordsworth via the influence of her father, the literary critic and biographer, Leslie Stephen, a prominent voice in late Victorian Wordsworth studies. Through a combined methodology of historicist and biographical theory, this investigation offers the first dedicated survey of Woolf’s Wordsworthian inheritance, exploring notions of tradition and continuity in modernist literature. 

Building on Steve Ellis (2007) and Hermione Lee’s (1996) claims that Woolf was a ‘Post-Victorian’, a term used to denote Woolf’s complex response to her familial past, my research seeks to map the Wordsworthian influence beyond Woolf’s twentieth-century context, observing how her familial connection to Wordsworth reaches back through the paternal line into the early nineteenth century, linking with social and intellectual networks that formed around the poet in the 1830s and 1840s. At the same time, I reveal how Wordsworth was assimilated into the Post-Impressionist movement of 1910, leading to a broader discussion concerning the role of tradition and canonisation in early twentieth-century literary history. I will expand the current perception of Woolf’s relationship to the Victorian past using Wordsworth as a case study, tracing his influence through her novels, essays and life-writing.

Research Area

  • Languages and Literature


  • Mary Ann Caws, 'Creative Gatherings: Meeting Places of Modernism', book review in The Burlington Magazine, forthcoming.
  • 'Ben Ncholson: Writings and Ideas', ed. Lee Beard, book review in The Burlington Magazine, forthcoming.
  • 'Post-Impressionist Living: The Omega Workshops. Charleston, East Sussex', exhibiton review in The Burlington Magazine, November 2019, No. 1400, Vol. 161.
  • 'Brought to Life: Eliot Hodgkin Rediscovered', catalogue review in The Burlington Magazine, forthcoming.
  • 'Biography' and 'Select Bibliography' in Harold Gilman: Beyond Camden Town (Nottingham: Djanogly Gallery, 2018).


2017 to Present 

  • 'Virginia Woolf's Wordsworthian Inheritance', 28th Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, University of Kent (June 2018)
  • 'My only drug': Virginia Woolf, William Wordsworth and the Transmutation of Grief, Transitions: Bridging the Victorian-Modernist Divide, University of Birmingham (April 2018)

Public Engagement & Impact

2017 to Present

  • Co-organiser of British Association of Romantic Studies (BARS) Conference, 25-29th July 2019, University of Nottingham (July 2019)
  • Three-week-long funded research trip to Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections, Washington State University, WA (January 2019) 
  • Appointed Student Officer for the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain (June 2018)
  • Attended 'Virginia Woolf and Her Relations' conference, organised by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain (April 2018)
  • Modernism In Focus Residential CDF Event (March 2018)
    • 'Biography and Life-Writing' seminar lead
  • Attended Virginia Woolf Birthday Lecture, Senate House, London (Janaury 2018)
  • Panel Chair, British Association of Modernist Studies, New Work in Modernist Studies (December 2017)
  • Panel Chair, Midlands Modernist Network, Reading Group (December 2017)
  • Panel Chair, Benign Fiesta: Wyndham Lewis's Texts, Contexts, and Aesthetics (September 2017)

Other Research Interests

  • Victorian and early twentieth-century cultural, visual, and literary history
  • Natural history / nature writing 
  • The Bloomsbury Group
  • The Camden Town Group
  • Life-writing (biography, autobiography, memoir, diary, letters, autobiographical fiction)
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Katherine Mansfield