When in 1872 Amy Dillwyn began to refer to her friend, Olive Talbot, as her 'wife' in her private diaries, the term 'lesbian' (or the idea of a 'lesbian identity') was not available. In later life Dillwyn would come to relish what she called her 'difference' which she accentuated by her unconventional dress, her habit of smoking a cigar in public and her outspoken independence.
A pioneering female British industrialist, she transformed a bankrupt spelter works into a profitable concern saving 300 jobs. She was also renowned for her work for social justice, supporting striking seamstresses and campaigning for the vote.
As a novelist, she explored class tensions, adopting the working class male voice of a rioter in one novel (which was quickly translated into Russian and published by the leading revolutionary journal on the basis of its social radicalism). Her fiction is important as an early example of feminist (New Woman) writing and it is an outstanding example of Victorian 'lesbian fiction', innovative and ardent in its coded expression of love for another woman.
In an historical context, Dillwyn's writing is both 'pre-sexology' (prior to the major publications on inversion) and contemporary with the development of these paradigms.
The research project, led by Dr Kirsti Bohata, will culminate in a book which presents an in-depth study of an important lesbian figure and uses personal papers to revise the suppressed biography of Amy Dillwyn. These papers, alongside contemporary literary theories, will inform a reading of her fiction as an example of 'lesbian' literature. In addition to a focus on sexuality, the book will discuss Dillwyn's 'feminism' and her 'nationalism'. It will reflect on her sometimes troubled sense of belonging to a minority ethnic group and, at the same time, to an oppressive exploitative class of landowners and politicians.