Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action IF - INTRARIB


The Marie Skłodowska-Curie project “Intracorporeal Narratives: Reading Internal Biology in Women’s Literature, 1880s-1930s” (INTRARIB) examines British and American women’s fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for its depictions of internal anatomy: organs and systems, circulatory, nervous, reproductive, and digestive. This study will make a distinctive contribution to the field of medical humanities: the development of an analytical process of body-centred reading, and new analysis of how women’s writing communicates bodily experiences and depicts the ‘intracorporeal’, narrative journeys through concealed and invisible organs. The project questions: how do visualisations of the body's insides and internal workings change through time? Does literature reflect medical developments and discoveries, for example echoing the shift from the nervous to the hormonal body? How are metaphors employed to aid us in visualising these systems and parts: the nervous system as a network of vibrating strings, hormones as postal packages or chemical messages, the sperm and egg as static and kinetic, the biological clock? The project surveys the persistent desire to find a physiological rationale, to map pain internally, even when that pain has an emotional or psychological source. It also explores how changing conceptualisations of the body interact with gendered notions of pathology and disorder. Comparing fictional texts to medical writing and advertising of the same era, it will track the development of and interaction between the medical understanding of the internal body, communication in the public realm, and exploration in literature.mariannevanremoortel.jpg

The project is coordinated by Professors Marysa Demoor and Marianne Van Remoortel (Ghent University, Belgium), and will run for 24 months from September 2021 until August 2023.

Project description

The project will focus on British and American women's fiction of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries which explicitly incorporates medicine and discusses gender, beginning with analysis of Sarah Grand and Lucas Malet’s ‘New Woman’ fiction, then tracking the transitions of hormone theory and psychoanalysis in the later work of Radclyffe Hall and Emily Holmes Coleman. Explorations of the intracorporeal are particularly effective in the medium of imaginative fiction. Not restricted by realism like autobiographical illness narratives, the body’s insides and their role in shaping self and identity can be detailed in thought-provoking ways. Five months will be spent on each of the four authors. This will include planning and running a series of workshops: two for fellow academics, and two for members of the public and patients. The project’s research will be presented at international conferences, and the results published in academic journals as it progresses.



The aim of this project is to demonstrate how an imaginative, descriptive approach to the internal body is used by women writers to communicate experiential illness, disorder, and pain, and to claim ownership of corporeal experience. Within this, the project has the following five objectives:

  • To investigate the relationships, divergences, and shared languages between literary and medical depictions over the period 1880s – 1930s.
  • To investigate the nature and degree of assertions of ownership over the body through women’s depictions of the body’s internal anatomy and how this challenges critical narratives that see mentions of internal anatomy as exclusively metaphorical.
  • To examine the link between internal processes and mental health: the persistence of an organ-based understanding of psychological disorder, and how systems such as hormones and the microbiome are thought to impact the mind.
  • To further refine and apply an analytical process that centralises the body as a method of reading literary texts, to ask new questions about the body’s interior.
  • To further develop skills in understanding, studying, and analysing medical descriptions, to learn more about the body and its workings, and to investigate how this plays into wider social narratives about gender

Role of Ghent University

The English section of the Literary Studies department has an established reputation in the field of Victorian literature and the focus on gender within that (see publications of Demoor, Van Remoortel and the PhDs defended the last two decades under their supervision).  Demoor is the director of the UGent Centre for gender studies and has successfully applied for many funded research projects on 19C literature (BOF, FWO, EWI). Van Remoortel has obtained an ERC grant on women editors in Europe in the nineteenth century.  Together they guarantee that Dr Benson James will be supported throughout this project both because of their expertise in the matter and their familiarity with research on the subject analysed in the project. At Ghent University Dr James will also have access to relevant databases which Demoor and Van Remoortel have recently acquired such as the feminist Gerritsen collection and she will have access to Proquest Literature One.



to be announced



Prof Marysa Demoor

Department of Literary Studies

Phone (mobile): +32497813996