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Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership - Student Profiles



I read English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, graduating with a double First Class Honours in 2014. I then returned to Emmanuel to study the MPhil in Modern and Contemporary Literature, from which I graduated with Distinction in 2015. My MPhil thesis was entitled 'The end of you': purpose, work, and gift in Peter Riley, Denise Riley and Andrea Brady's poetry of parenthood’.

My doctoral research takes this focus on parenthood and ethics and applies it to the nineteenth-century, focussing primarily on the transactions of maternal sacrifice that underpin the narrative structures of George Eliot’s fiction. I hope to define the relationship between these thematic renunciations and the female body: when physical motherhood is not elided completely, it is often both subordinated to spiritual guardianship and made grotesque. When examined in relation to motherhood, Eliot’s conception of her fictional practice as ‘incarnation’ is undermined by the sacrificial logic she employs. This research will depend upon both the contextualisation of Eliot’s logic of maternal transference within sacrifice studies more broadly and the theoretical situation of Eliot’s subjugation of physical experience to symbolic self-abnegation as a sacrificial transaction in itself.

Other academic interests

I am particularly interested in literary representations of maternal bodies, especially in relation to notions of purpose and product. As well as nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century British and American literature more broadly, my research interests include public health in the nineteenth-century; nineteenth-century sacrifice; working motherhood; Lyric; mourning and work; dedication and prepositions in 20th and 21st century poetry; gift, especially in relation to Tragedy, and the poetics of sacrifice and renunciation.

I have previously lectured on dedication in Frank O’Hara and given papers on Denise Riley’s language of conception and containment.

Department: English
Supervisor: Dr Jan-Melissa Schramm
College: Trinity Hall
AHRC Subject Area: Literature
Title of Thesis: 'Transactions of maternal sacrifice in George Eliot's fiction'
 Helen  Charman