Tracing the sculptural legacy of Constance Naden: Memorialisation, gender, and the portrait bust

2018-06-19T12:32:49Z (GMT) by Sarah Parker C. Stainthorp
This article traces the history of the Constance Naden memorial bust, commissioned in 1890 and now held in the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham. We describe the commissioning, funding and creation process, and analyse its purpose in terms of memorialisation, its negotiation of gender, and how it portrays Naden as a poet, philosopher and scientist. The enduring legacies of, and reactions to the bust, are considered in the context of Birmingham’s Mason Science College, where Naden studied between 1881 and 1887. We argue that Naden’s bust is symptomatic of the University of Birmingham establishing its identity and that the subsequent changes in its location within the institution signify the shifting role of Naden within that legacy. Our reading of this sculptural artefact leads to several broader observations regarding poetic identity, gender, genius and female education, the establishment of universities and consolidating of civic identities via sculpture, and the memorialisation of the poet. While a surface reading of the bust obscures the multifaceted nature of Naden’s intellectual career, by attending to it more closely, turning the object on its plinth and locating it in its physical contexts over time, a far richer and more accurate view of the object, the person, and her place in history becomes apparent.