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Songs of a Factory Girl: Ethel Carnie Holdsworth and Radical Working-Class Women’s Writing

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Dr N Wilson , Dr S Rennie , Mr Nick Hunt No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This PhD explores the radical writings and legacy of Lancashire mill-woman, Ethel Carnie Holdsworth (1886-1962), in collaboration with arts commissioning agency Mid Pennine Arts (MPA). Carnie Holdsworth was a prolific, experimental writer across a variety of genres including journalism, serial fiction, children’s literature, poetry and politics. She is one of the first working-class women in England to publish a novel (Miss Nobody, 1913) and became renowned as a radical socialist feminist. At our current time of political polarisation and increased social and economic disparities, contemporary regional audiences are becoming  aware of Carnie Holdsworth’s audacity as a writer and the challenge her works present to key paradigms of modernity. This PhD will offer the first reassessment of Carnie Holdsworth’s radical literary works, publishing history, and creative impact, contributing to urgent public demand for greater access to the dynamic, diverse history of working-class writing.

Research questions and methods

• What was the extent and impact of Carnie Holdsworth’s experimental creative output? How did her writing for periodicals (including Robert Blatchford’s The Woman Worker, the Co-operative’s Millgate Monthly, and The Cotton Factory Times) impact her longer works of fiction and writing career?

• How does Carnie Holdsworth’s writing contribute to broader understandings of popular radicalism? How was Carnie Holdsworth influenced by local interactions, rural and urban intellectual hubs, as well as East Lancashire’s literary legacy?

• What effects did Carnie Holdsworth’s lifestyle and precarity have on her writing and publishing career? What is the significance of place (rural and urban) and mobility in her work?

• What is the nature of current engagement and re-imagining of Carnie Holdsworth’s writing for new audiences? How can local and national audiences engage with more of her work? Does her radical, polemical experimentation help re-evaluate models of working-class writing for today’s audiences?

Reflecting the strengths of the supervisory team, the project adopts a mixed methodology, including archival and bibliographic research, and creative practice. Through co-supervision with MPA and their Pendle Radicals project, the student will engage in creative/critical practice to share knowledge and research on Carnie Holdsworth, including with local communities. Working as part of this pre-existing team, the student will have access to creative practitioners exploring Carnie Holdsworth’s work (i.e. comedian/playwright Ruth Cockburn, broadside ballad singer/historian Jennifer Reid, and the East Lancashire Clarion Choir) and links to local audiences already interested in Carnie Holdsworth in Great Harwood/Oswaldtwistle (Hyndburn), Blackburn, Burnley and Pendle.

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