Co-operation and co-authorship: automatic writing, socialism and gender in late Victorian and Edwardian Birmingham

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This article investigates the relationships between socialism, spiritualism and gender in late Victorian and Edwardian Birmingham. It does so by focusing on the automatic writings, poetry and essays of the Holden family, who were both prominent members of Birmingham Labour Church and committed spiritualists. It considers how these texts' usages of the concept of 'co-operation', which was central to both movements, indicate contemporary ideas about women's appropriate roles in the public and private family of the socialist revolution. Furthermore, the author argues that the family's involvement in the city's industrial endeavours (in the family paint firm) and artistic pursuits (through the municipal art school, influenced by William Morris) led to re-imaginings of woman's creative powers. In the narrative of the 'messages from the unseen'-'inspired' and written by mother and daughters, framed and edited by the father-debates about the role of marriage, servants, female political activity and poetic inspiration become the subjects of a unique form of female collaborative literary production. This activity both broadens and problematizes accounts of women's status in the socialist and spiritualist movements of the period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-389
Number of pages19
JournalWomen's Writing
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2008


  • socialism
  • spiritualism
  • gender
  • Victorian Birmingham
  • Edwardian Birmingham
  • automatic writing
  • woman's creative powers
  • female political activity


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