Authors Dorothy Sayers, Irish 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, Dr. Ann McClellan, assistant professor of English at PSU, will explore the roles women play in British institutions of higher education, both fictional and real.
To complete her research for the book, McClellan has received a $5,600 Whiting Foundation grant to spend a month in England this summer. During her trip, she will spend 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 will also travel to London to research governmental and educational documents.
In real life, as in fiction, academic women in Britain suffer discrimination and hardships based on their gender, says McClellan. The English professor 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,” says McCellan. “In my book, I trace a cultural and literary history dating from the beginning of the twentieth 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.”
During her research, McClellan has noticed several differences between the female academic characters in books by authors like Sayers, Murdoch and Drabble, and the male academic characters in campus novels by male authors. Rather than focusing purely on their academic careers, female characters tend to be immersed in the “difficulty of reconciling their personal and professional lives in ways the male characters seldom do,” says McClellan. In books written by male authors, female academics are portrayed as unmarried, sexually frustrated or back-stabbing. McClellan finds it fascinating that these negative stereotypes are also present in books written by female authors. This summer in England, she hopes to explore the historical, cultural and literary reasons why this is so.
Plymouth State University (PSU) is a regional comprehensive university offering a rich, student-focused learning environment for both undergraduate and graduate students. PSU offers 42 majors and 62 minors in programs that include education, business, humanities, arts, and natural and social sciences. The College of Graduate Studies offers coursework that promotes research, best practices and reflection in locations on- and off-campus as well as online. For non-traditional students, PSU’s Frost School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers working professionals opportunities to pursue an undergraduate degree by attending classes in the evenings, weekends and online. Located in a beautiful New England setting, Plymouth State University has been recognized as one of the “Best in the Northeast” by The Princeton Review.