Portrait image of Cara Wadsworth, wearing a cap and gown and holding her degree certificate scroll

Cara Wadsworth is an MRes student at Edge Hill researching feminism and the female body in the nineteenth century.

MRes student Cara Wadsworth recently returned from London, having secured a travel grant from Edge Hill Nineteen to explore the British Library’s collection of conduct books from the nineteenth century.

Cara’s thesis explores how the female body, despite being restricted in many ways, could also be a means for Victorian mothers to resist some of the era’s more prescriptive ideals of motherhood, femininity and domesticity.

An image of an open book, the left page features a black and white illustration of two men and a lady conversing, wearing formal, Victoria era clothes. The right depicts the title page, "A Manual of Etiquette for Ladies; or, True Principles of Politeness".

A Manual of Etiquette for Ladies; or, True Principles of Politeness (1856)

For Cara, the opening line of the anonymous pocket-book A Manual of Etiquette for Ladies; or, True Principles of Politeness epitomises the pressure on Victorian women to conform to the nineteenth-century ideal.

It states that ‘etiquette is the rule of conduct which is recognised by polite society, and to which all who desire to be admitted into fashionable circles must submit’.

Cara said:

“Studying Victorian conduct books and their influence was vitally important to my work as it allowed me to understand the expectations placed on young women and therefore how feminist writers were circumventing or challenging those expectations.

As a postgraduate student, the grant was an opportunity to enhance my development as a researcher. I was able to independently analyse each text, extracting quotations to support my thesis. Some books even had hand-written annotations from women and girls who had read them over the years, and those insights would not have been available from online text editions.

I’ve learned how to plan and manage a research trip to ensure I get the most out of my time in the archives, and I’ve even navigated the Byzantine process of getting a British Library Reader Pass! Edge Hill University offered a fantastic opportunity to gain archival experience which will be a valuable addition to my CV and professional profile.”

Cara Wadsworth is currently completing her MRes in English and is working on her first scholarly article for publication.