More than Shrews and Spinsters: True Tales of British Female Academics

October, 2006
Ann McClellan, assistant professor of English

Ann McClellan, assistant professor of English

Authors Dorothy Sayers, Iris Murdoch, Margaret Drabble, A.S. Byatt and Jeanette Winterson have all explored the worlds of female professors, researchers and academics in Britain through novels and other literary works. In an upcoming book about 20th century literary representations of academic women, Ann McClellan, assistant professor of English at PSU, explores the roles women play in British institutions of higher education, both fictional and real.

To complete research for the book, McClellan received a $5,600 Whiting Foundation grant to spend a month in England during the summer of 2006. During her trip, she spent time at the women’s college libraries at Oxford and Cambridge universities, searching for memoirs, images, alumni documents and other publications related to women in academic life. She also traveled to London to research governmental and educational documents.

According to McClellan, in real life, as in fiction, academic women in Britain suffer discrimination and hardships based on their gender. She hopes to contrast the stories of real academic women with their fictional portrayals in novels and other works. Through the use of primary documents, memoirs and other records, McClellan will chronicle women’s roles in the university over the past century.

“There has been a lot of scholarship in the last 20 years on the campus novel or academic fiction—literature about universities and academics—but this has been dominated by male characters and writers,” said McCellan. “In my book, I trace a cultural and literary history dating from the beginning of the 20th century and the rise of women in institutions of higher education through our present time. Because of my research, I am more aware of the kinds of ideologies, especially within the academy, that influence and shape women’s careers and lives.”—Kristin Proulx Jarvis


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