Isobel Sigley

  • Research Student

Isobel graduated with a first-class BA in English from Loughborough University in 2018. She went on to study for her MA in English Literature at Keele University, where she achieved a Distinction and won the MA English Literature Dissertation Prize 2019/20. During her time at Keele, Isobel also co-organised the annual School of Humanities Postgraduate Symposium on the theme of ‘Borders’. She was also awarded a bursary from the Keele Postgraduate Association that enabled her to travel to Portsmouth to present her paper ‘A Place of Possibilities’: The temporal and spatial escapes in George Egerton’s ‘A Cross Line’ at the Breaking Bounds PGR Conference in May 2019.  

 In October 2019, Isobel began her fully-funded research studentship at Loughborough University in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities. She is supervised by Dr Sarah Parker and Dr Claire O’Callaghan. Her research considers women’s short fiction from the late nineteenth century through to the early twentieth century and explores the ways in which touch, or the haptic senses more broadly, serves the politicised agendas of the ‘New Woman’ movement. She investigates the affinity between the active and agentic sense of touch and the search for agency and emancipation for late-Victorian women in literature. Looking specifically at tactile encounters with objects, Isobel identifies three types of ‘touchpoints’ recurrently employed by women writers of this period: symbolic, prosthetic, and mediatory, that serve respectively to address key themes of first wave feminism, to extend a character’s sensorium through their environment, and to establish or negotiate relationships against societal convention. She is most interested in the following writers: George Egerton, Kate Chopin, Sarah Grand, Katherine Mansfield, Beatrice Harraden, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Vernon Lee, and Jean Rhys.

 Isobel is a member of the ‘Cultural Currents 1870 – 1930’ interdisciplinary research group at Loughborough. Her research is also part of the ‘Genders and Identities’ research theme. Since beginning her research degree in 2019, Isobel has undertaken the role of the Representative for English PGRs and sits on the PGR Committee.

 In July 2020, Isobel presented on her PhD research at the Victorian Popular Fiction Association’s annual conference, hosted online by the University of Greenwich, London. The conference theme was ‘Encounters and Environments’ and Isobel’s paper, ‘Tactile Encounters with the terra incognita: Feeling for George Egerton’s Feminism in Keynotes (1893) won the Key Popular Women Writers Prize for best PGR paper.

PhD Title: ‘Feeling Things and First Wave Feminisms: The haptic experience in women’s short fiction, 1880-1930’
PGR Supervisors: Dr Sarah Parker and Dr Claire O'Callaghan

Isobel’s research focuses on the fin de siècle, a time when the Victorian era bubbled with anxieties as it approached, and then transitioned into, the twentieth century. She traces the women’s movement in short fiction, which, with the growth of periodicals and the decline of the Three Decker novel, became a fashionable form. Isobel’s research argues that the influx of stories containing ‘New Woman’ characters paid particular homage to the sense of touch, which enabled characters to participate actively in areas of society and culture at a time when the ideal of womanhood was the passive and inconspicuous Angel-in-the-House. 

Book Reviews:

Isobel Sigley (2021): ‘Lucas Malet, Dissident Pilgrim: Critical Essays’, Women’s Writing. 


Isobel Sigley (2021) ‘Engendering New Motherhood: Tactile Exchange in George Egerton’s Keynotes (1893) and Flies in Amber (1905)’, Victorian Popular Fictions Journal, 3:1.

Isobel Sigley (2020) ‘It has touched us all: Commentary on the social implications of touch during the COVID-19 pandemic’, Social Sciences & Humanities Open, 2:1.


‘A Place of Possibilities’: The spatial and temporal escapes in George Egerton’s ‘A Cross Line’, ‘Breaking Bounds’ PGR Conference, Portsmouth University, May 2019.

‘Tactile Encounters with the Terra Incognita’: Feeling for George Egerton’s Feminism in Keynotes (1893), Victorian Popular Fiction Association Annual Conference ‘Encounters and Environments’, hosted online by the University of Greenwich, London, July 2020. This paper was awarded the Key Popular Women Writers Postgraduate Paper Prize. 


In Spring 2021, she started a project with Dr Whitney Standlee, with the view to co-edit a collection of critical essays on George Egerton following the international conference held at Loughborough in 2017.