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Department of English and Modern Languages
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
+44 (0)1865 484315
I have supervised PhD students working on Sara and Hartley Coleridge to completion. I would be keen to supervise doctoral students with an interest in working- / labouring-class writing and culture, the representation of rural life and the rural community, the representation of the relationship between space / landscape and individual / community identity, witchcraft and magic in literature, or representations of the relationships between humans and other animals.
My research interests span eighteeth- and nineteenth-century literature. My particular interests include working- / labouring-class writing and culture, the representation of rural life and the rural community, the representation of the relationship between space / landscape and individual / community identity, the representation of witchcraft and magic, and the representation of relationships between humans and other animals.
I had an AHRC Early Career Fellowship, the object of which was to complete my bookRomanticism and the Rural Community. This focuses on the polemical writings of John Thelwall, Hannah More, Arthur Young and Thomas Spence, the poetry of Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, George Crabbe, Robert Bloomfield, John Clare, Susanna Blamire and Ebenezer Elliot, and the fiction of Jane Austen.
I also led a collaborative British Academy funded project which is exploring the relationship between reported incidents of witchcraft and fictional narratives, and the manner in which the representation of witchcraft and magic contributes to the construction of county / regional identity in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century fiction.
My Oxford Poets and Exiled Writers project was funded by an Arts Council Grant.
My Mapping Magic project facilitates the sharing of glimpses of the past in a forum “where everyone has the chance to see it, add to it, learn from it, debate it and use it to build up a more complete understanding of the world.” Anyone can go online and ‘pin’ a snippet of text, historical photo, video, audio recording or personal recollection to an interactive map.
Regional launch events are planned for Mapping Magic in Selkirk, Scotland, in partnership with Selkirk Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme; in Haworth, West Yorkshire in partnership with the Bronte Parsonage Museum; and in Shrewsbury, in partnership with Discovering Shropshire’s History.
Rural Community: The Past Shaping the Present Shaping the Future
With Oxfordshire Rural Community Council, I jointly organised a workshop programme (for humanities academics, local policy-makers and representatives of the charity sector) in 2013 entitled Rural Community: The Past Shaping the Present Shaping the Future. The aim of the workshops was to investigate ways in which the history and representation of rural community could shape local policy-development and implementation.
Oxford Poets and Exiled Writers
Finally, my Oxford Poets and Exiled Writers outreach project (2008-9), run jointly with a former colleague (Dr Rachel Buxton) and Asylum Welcome in Oxford, brought together established poets and exiled writers to produce new work on the theme of emigration and exile, and now forms a major part of one of the REF 2014 impact case studies for English at OBU.
This focuses on the polemical writings of John Thelwall, Hannah More, Arthur Young and Thomas Spence, the poetry of Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, George Crabbe, Robert Bloomfield, John Clare, Susanna Blamire and Ebenezer Elliot, and the fiction of Jane Austen.
Robert Bloomfield, whom John Clare described as 'the most original poet of the age,' was a widely read and critically acclaimed poet throughout the first decade of the nineteenth century, and remained popular until the beginning of the twentieth century. Yet until now, no modern critic has undertaken a full-length study of his poetry and its contexts. Simon J. White considers the relationship between Bloomfield's poetry and that of other Romantic poets. For example, her argues that Wordsworth's poetics of rural life was in some respects a response to Bloomfield's The Farmer's Boy. White considers Bloomfield's emphasis on the importance of local tradition and community in the lives of labouring people. In challenging the idea that the formal and rhetorical innovation of Wordsworth and Coleridge was principally responsible for the emergence of a new kind of poetry at the turn of the eighteenth century, he also shows that it is impossible to understand how the lyric and the literary ballad evolved during the Romantic period without considering Bloomfield's poetry. White's authoritative study demonstrates that, on the contrary, Bloomfield's poetry was pivotal in the development of Romanticism.
John Lucas has remarked that, "We cannot hope to understand that historical period which is habitually called Romanticism if we do not pay attention to the works of Robert Bloomfield." This collection includes essays that consider how Bloomfield's poetry contributes to an understanding of the predominant issues, forms, and themes of literary Romanticism. Incorporating essays written by established scholars as well as emerging voices in the field, individual chapters provide readings of Bloomfield in the several contexts within which he wrote: political, aesthetic, religious, social, and scientific. In addition, several essays discuss Bloomfield's important contributions to the era's predominant genres: pastoral, georgic, topographical, and narrative, among others. The collection opens with a major overview of Bloomfield's critical history, and includes an extensive bibliographic appendix detailing works by and about the poet. It offers a major critique of a neglected poet, a figure John Clare described as "the most original poet of the age."
This essay argues that Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem challenges what Mark Shucksmith terms the “visioning of rural areas by hegemonic middle-class culture” (163), which still dominates the way many British people see the countryside and is rooted in nostalgia for a neat and pretty rural idyll, cleansed of untidy (bio)diversity. The second major line of argument is that the shadow of William Blake hangs heavily over the play, and that Rooster both embodies and employs the Blakean imagination in ways that challenge dominant “hegemonic” ideas about the rural. The untidy and disruptive Rooster, and the wood that bears his name, represent a very different kind of mindscape and a very different kind of (living) landscape. Simply by his presence in the wood he symbolizes an alternative way of being in the land. It is true that Rooster’s is an imperfect echo of the mythopoetic Blakean world-view, but it is nevertheless unmistakeably Blakean, so the prologue to Jerusalem, part of the preface to Blake’s Milton: A Poem in Two Books (1808), is central to a proper understanding of the play. Rooster’s verbal combativeness and mythopoetic visions penetrate the hypocrisy behind the veneer of respectability in Flintock, and the justifications for prevailing human relationships with the land.
In Precious Bane (1924), Mary Webb explores the potential of traditional ways of seeing to enable the renaturing of landscapes depleted and increasingly denatured by normalized exploitative capitalist farming practices. Webb does not unquestioningly celebrate tradition, as is apparent from the ambivalent representation of Beguildy, or the cruelty of Huglet and Grimble. Nevertheless, the novel challenges the post-Enlightenment hierarchical opposition between a supposedly rational modernity, and the allegedly ignorant superstition of those whose lives are still structured around traditional ways of understanding the world. This distinction has often been central to the promotion of what Karl Bell calls the "mythification of the modern." Bell has in mind the uncritical assumption that all things modern are a source of progress, especially when, as is often the case, the modern is understood to mean a world dominated and structured by instrumentalism and laissez-faire capitalism. In Precious Bane, the provisional and "mythopoeic" qualities of both traditional beliefs and practices and different versions of rural modernity are explored through the fraught relationships between Prue Sarn, the first-person narrator; her atheist brother Gideon (who rejects tradition, and fully embraces modern laissez-faire capitalism); and the cunning-man Beguildy (who exemplifies tradition).
The work of Walter Raymond (1852-1931) is now largely forgotten. Yet his Somerset novels, complemented by his ethnographic writings, contain depictions of local witchcraft belief that are worthy of study in literary and historical contexts. They raise issues regarding the fictional depiction of rural life and tradition, and the value of fiction as a folkloric and historical source.
I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.