Professor Ruth Robbins on relationships between women’s fiction (by women, about women) and fashion from the 1860s onwards.
In the first of an annual event, Professor Ruth Robbins (Leeds Beckett University and Library Trustee) gives the inaugural Barbara Taylor Bradford lecture on the subject of ‘Fashions in Women’s Fiction’.
Barbara Taylor Bradford OBE was born and raised in Leeds, selling her first short story to a magazine when she was ten. Leaving school at fifteen, she got a job in the typing pool at the Yorkshire Evening Post, quickly becoming a reporter and the YEP’s first woman’s page editor. Her first novel, A Woman of Substance, was published in 1979 and went from bestseller to superseller within a year and stayed on the New York Times’ list for 43 weeks. Since then, Barbara has published 39 books, all worldwide bestsellers. Ten of her books have been produced as TV films or drama series, and she holds five Honorary Doctorate of Letters. In 2021, she was became a Patron of the Leeds Library in recognition of her remarkable achievements and ongoing contribution to literature. Her latest book The Wonder of it All is due out in the UK in November.
Barbara says: “As patron of The Leeds Library I am honoured that the first annual Barbara Taylor Bradford lecture will take place next month and I send my best wishes to Professor Ruth Robbins.
“I am particularly delighted that this inaugural lecture will be on two subjects close to my heart – fiction and fashion. After all, they are very interconnected. Fashion can communicate a multitude of meanings in fiction, is an important part of decoding characters, and can even be part of the main story like I used it in A Woman of Substance when Emma Harte opened up her first department store.
“I really hope people are able to attend the lecture in the most wonderful of libraries in Leeds.”
Barbara Taylor Bradford OBE
When H.G. Wells’ hero Kipps is considering his future after he has lost an inherited fortune, he considers setting up a bookshop instead. In his view it will be easier to manage than a drapery or any kind of ladies’ fashion shop:
I noticed when we used to go to that Lib’ry at Folkestone, ladies wasn’t anything like what they was in a draper’s – if you ‘aven’t got just what they want, its ‘Oh no!’ and out they go. But in a bookshop it’s different. One book’s very like another – after all, what is it? Something to read and done with. It’s not a thing that matters like print dresses or serviettes… They take what you give ‘em in books and lib’ries, and glad to be told what to.
For Kipps, printed dresses and printed matter are very similar commodities, and the advantage of books is that their consumers are less demanding and opinionated.
In this lecture, Ruth Robbins discusses the various potential relationships between women’s fiction (by women, about women) and fashion from the 1860s onwards.