New Books October 2023

A belated (but no less warm) welcome to all our new and returning readers this term! We have had a huge range of new arrivals in the last month or two, from young adult fiction to a multitude of medieval offerings – and even a book about mermaids. However, in the wake of Black History Month coming to an end, we have picked out a range of books from Black authors that have arrived at the EFL in October. It should be noted that this is simply a jumping-off point for literature written by Black authors, and that you can find much more in the library at large – see our LibraryThing feed for more. We are also open to requests, which you can email to us until our request form opens up again – usually it is located here.

Claude Mckay, Romance in Marseille (2020)

Published posthumously nearly 90 years after it was initially written, we are introduced to Lafala. He is a West-African sailor who loses both of his lower-legs to frost-bite after being locked in a freezing room aboard the trans-Atlantic freighter he had been stowing away in. Set during the Jazz Age, we follow Lafala’s life post-amputation, delving into themes of disability, queerness, and the legacy of slavery. Romance in Marseille was considered too transgressive for its time which is why it took so long to be published, even after the death of McKay. I would, however, like to warn readers that there are some anti-Semitic instances in the novel and would suggest proceeding with care.

Eds. Mojisola Adebayo, Lynette Goddard, Black British Queer Plays and Practitioners: An Anthology of Afriquia Theatre (2023)

Next we have more queer literature by Black British authors in the form of a collection of seven plays. These radical plays explore a whole range of LGBTQ+ experiences in Black British queer theatre, taking the reader from the 1980s through to the present day. Sandwiched in-between are conversations between Black LGBTQ+ artists, who discuss how the plays featured have influenced their work, and consider how they may affect the future as well. Not to worry if you are a newcomer to the genre, however, as this edition begins with a thorough introduction which gives a great amount of socio-political context so you can get the most from each play.

Eds. Paul Field et al. Here to Stay, Here to Fight: A Race Today Anthology (2019)

Race Today was a monthly British periodical that ran between 1969-1988, considered to be the leading voice for Black politics in the UK at the time. In its contributions it drew together giants such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and many more. Well-read during its run, the publication gave unique insight into how socio-political factors such as class, race, and gender affected everything nationally and internationally. At the time of publication of the anthology, it was difficult to access Race Today, and so it was ground-breaking for anything to come of it. However, this year the entire archives were published here on The anthology is a great starting point, however, we highly encourage you to dip into the full publication as well!

Ed. Harvey Young The Cambridge Companion to African American Theatre 2nd Edition (2023)

Hot off the press and newly updated from its 2012 predecessor, we have the latest and most comprehensive overview of African American theatre to date. Covering from the 1800s to the present day, this new edition includes new chapters exploring how recent political movements (such as Black Lives Matter) have affected the theatre space, and how queer identity and African American theatre intersect. This would be a great accompaniment to Black British Queer Plays and Practitioners: An Anthology of Afriquia Theatre to compare how performance art by Black creators has developed and diverged across the pond versus in Britain!

Jane Rhodes, Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century (2023)

An (unfortunately) lesser known figure in North American history, Mary Ann Shadd Cary was an eminent figure in the women’s suffrage movement in America. She was the first Black North American woman to edit and publish her own newspaper (The Provincial Freeman), as well as one of the first women at Howard University to received a degree in law, and an activist, setting up a desegregated school in Canada 100 years before desegregation happened in America. If she sounds like a powerhouse, it’s because she is – and we could all do with learning a little more about her.


Service Update: Michaelmas Term 2023


Grab your Keep Cup coffees, consult your reading lists, and water your carnations – it’s term-time and the library is here to help! We’re delighted to see the bustle back in the EFL, and our fully-stocked Library team is ready at hand to assist you in all your reading needs. To get your academic year off on the right foot, we’ve compiled the library updates into a quick read for your convenience.

Bodleian Inductions

For undergraduates who are new to the library service, the Bodleian Libraries are running multiple online induction sessions to help you get to grips with accessing library resources. These sessions will cover topics such as:

  • The structure of the Bodleian Libraries
  • How to find the books you need
  • How to use library WiFi, Computers, and Printing
  • Where to get help if you need it

Multiple sessions will be offered through the day from Wednesday 4th October to Friday 6th October. New undergraduate students should already have been sent a link directly, but if you’ve not received it, feel free to contact us at

English Faculty Library Tours

In addition to the central inductions, we’re also offering in-person library tours of the English Faculty Library. Each tour will last roughly 20 minutes, and will be led by a member of EFL staff. These will be offered throughout the day from Wednesday 4th October to Friday 6th October, every 30 minutes from 10am-11:30am and from 2pm-4:30pm.

These sessions are run on a drop-in basis – no booking required!

SOLO Changes

For our returning readers, you may have noticed that our catalogue SOLO has undergone a few changes over the summer, because we’ve updated our staff-facing library management software. There are a couple of noticeable differences, like a very generous new lending allowance and the importance of reserving books!

If you’d like any help navigating these changes, some guidance has been published on navigating SOLO changes. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask any member of our library team for help.

Contact Us

If you have any questions or need help with anything, our library staff will always be available during opening hours to speak with you.

You can also contact us via:

  • Telephone: 01865 271050
  • Email:
  • Twitter: @EFLOxford

All our details can be found on the English Faculty Library webpage.

Final Words

With that, we hope you feel well equipped to face the new academic year. We wish you nothing but the best of luck, and we’ll always be around to help you along should you need us. Happy reading!

Stay up to date with developments at the English Faculty Library by following us on Twitter. Updates affecting the Bodleian Libraries as a whole will be published on the Service updates webpage. Any questions about library service updates can be addressed to

Alma Updates

By Helen Scott, English and Film Studies Subject Librarian

On 24 August 2023 the Bodleian Libraries upgraded to a new library management system. Most of the changes are ‘behind the scenes’ but we have also taken the opportunity to make changes to some aspects of SOLO, and to the Bodleian Libraries’ borrowing policy. This blog post outlines the changes and will help you navigate them smoothly.

Changes to the Bodleian Libraries’ borrowing policy

Readers now have one allowance for borrowing, across all Bodleian libraries that offer lending. (Please note that college libraries have their own separate lending policies.) The Bodleian Libraries have also standardised loan periods into 4 different loan types: same day loan (3 hours), 2 day loan, 7 day loan, long loan.

Most of the English Faculty Library’s borrowable books are now 7 day loans for all readers (as previously, there are also a minority of 2 day loans). However, loans will auto-renew for up to 112 days – unless somebody else places a hold request.
Follow the link to see further details of borrowing allowances and loan categories.

Book already on loan? Place a hold request!

If you want to borrow a loanable Bodleian Libraries book (which another reader already has on loan) we recommend you place a hold request on SOLO. If you don’t place a request, the book will continue to renew automatically for the original reader.

Below are the most noticeable changes and improvements to SOLO. For a full guide to using SOLO, please see the SOLO LibGuide.

You will now need to sign into SOLO to see borrowing options

If you are not signed into SOLO you will only see whether an item is available or not, rather than whether an item can be borrowed or for how long. It is always best to sign first as you get a better service from SOLO.

Once signed in you will now see loan periods personalised to you

The terminology for loan policies has also been improved to make it clearer how long you can borrow the book for. (e.g. 7 days; 28 days etc). Please note that you can only borrow from libraries where you are a member, for example, the Bodleian Libraries and your college library.

Check for available copies before requesting from offsite

To try to help you avoid reserving and waiting for a book out on loan when there are copies already available on library shelves for you to fetch immediately, we have added this additional message to SOLO:

Message content: Find & Request - Before requesting, check for 'item in place' copies - it will be quicker for your to fetch it from the shelf than to wait for a request

A message that appears on SOLO to help you get your books faster.

New location names

If you regularly use the collections in the Bodleian Library, Weston Library, and/or the Radcliffe Camera, please note that we have improved some location labels, which will make it easier to understand at which library (or location) a book is available.

See this blogpost from the History Faculty Library for more information.

LibraryScan streamlined with Scan & Deliver service

The LibraryScan service has now been streamlined with the existing Scan & Deliver service (for items in offsite storage) into a new integrated service. If scanning is an option for any type of item you will now just see the ‘Scan & Deliver’ button.

The Scan & Deliver request form has been improved, particularly the wording on how much you can have scanned (not the whole book!) including advice that you can ask for the index or table of contents in addition to your final choice of chapter.

Requesting items from other libraries, beyond Oxford

If we do not hold an item in Oxford it is now really easy to request an item from other libraries, beyond Oxford. Simply click on ‘NEED MORE?’ from the menu at the top of the SOLO page and fill in the form.

Help & support

If you need any help, please do get in touch with library staff who will be more than happy to help you. You can contact the English Faculty Library by on, or use the Live Chat service (from SOLO front page).

You can also give feedback on the changes via the ‘Feedback’ option on the banner currently at the top of the SOLO front page.

New Books Summer 2023

Even though many of our readers have now left Oxford for the vacation, the new books haven’t stopped pouring into the library. We’ve been working hard to get them all out on the library’s shelves, ready for everyone to come back for the start of Michaelmas Term!

Because we’ve had so many new books arrive at the library (nearly 150!), this month’s new book post is a little different. We’ve selected a few books which show the huge range of genres, subjects and ideas represented among the new books, from poetry and fiction to literary studies and criticism. Click here to see the new books for this month, or keep reading to see the titles featured in this month’s new book post. Alternatively, you can visit our LibraryThing page to browse all the new arrivals.

If you can’t wait until September to start reading, the library is open 9am-5pm on weekdays until Friday 11 August. The library is closed from Monday 14 to Monday 28 August, re-opening at 9am on Tuesday 29 August. Find all the details about our vacation opening hours and contact details on our website.

We hope everyone is enjoying a restful vacation, and look forward to seeing you all back in the library soon!

The Books

You may have heard that we’re making some changes to our library system this summer, and that includes some behind-the-scenes changes to SOLO. One of the consequences of this is that the permalinks to find items on SOLO will be changing.

Because of that, we’ve not provided direct links to the catalogue in this month’s new book post. Instead, keep reading to see a list of titles and whether they’re available as an e-book, which you can use to conduct your own SOLO searches. If you’re having trouble finding anything, just get in touch with the library – we’re happy to help!


Bulley, Victoria Adukwei, Quiet (2022). Also available as an e-book.

Davidson, Peter, Arctic Elegies (2023).

Dudley, Nikki, I’d Better Let You Go (2021).

Fowler, SJ, The selected scribbling and scrawling of SJ Fowler: asemic poems (2020).

Howe, Sarah, Loop of Jade (2015).

Le Guin, Ursula K., Collected Poems (2023).

Marson, Una, Una Marson: Selected Poems (2011).

Mehrotra, Arvind Krishna, Collected Poems (2022)

Oswald, Alice, Nobody (2019)

Prynne, J. H., Kernels in Vernal Silence (2020)


Literature: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century

Behn, Aphra, Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister (1987). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative (2018). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Finberg, Melinda C. (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Dramatists (2009).

Gay, John, Trivia: or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London (2016). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Middleton, Thomas, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (2007). Also available as an e-book.


Literature: Nineteenth Century

Beckson, Karl, Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890s: An Anthology of British Poetry and Prose (2005).

Bronte, Charlotte, Jane Eyre (2022). Also available as an e-book.

Collins, Wilkie, The Moonstone (2019). Also available as an e-book.

Cox, Michael, and R. A. Gilbert (eds.), The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories (2003).

Lady Dilke, The Outcast Spirit: and Other Stories (2016).

Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (2009). Also available as an e-book.

Doyle, Arthur Conan, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (2023). Also available as an e-book.

Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sherlock Holmes: Selected Stories (2014). Also available as an e-book.

Gaskell, Elizabeth, Mary Barton (2012). Also available as an e-book (different edition).

Kipling, Rudyard, The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales (2007).

Nesbit, E., Horror Stories (2016).

Scott, Walter, Ivanhoe (1997). Also available as an e-book.

Seacole, Mary, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands (2005).


Literature: Twentieth Century

Buchan, John, The Thirty-Nine Steps (2009). Also available as an e-book.

Giono, Jean, The Man Who Planted Trees (2022).

Hurston, Zora Neale, Dust Tracks on a Road: A Memoir (2010).

Isherwood, Christopher, Goodbye to Berlin (2022).

Kincaid, Jamaica, At the Bottom of the River (2022).

Kincaid, Jamaica, The Autobiography of my Mother (2022).

Lehmann, Rosamund, Weather in the Streets (2018).

Marechera, Dambudzo, The House of Hunger (2022).

Morrison, Toni, Jazz (2001).

Murdoch, Iris, The Black Prince (2013).

Naipaul, V. S., The Mimic Men (2011).

Orwell, George, Decline of the English Murder (2009).

Orwell, George, Inside the Whale (2022).

Pym, Barbara, Excellent Women (2022).

Rhys, Jean, Wide Sargasso Sea (2000).

Sackville-West, Vita, Seducers in Ecuador & The Heir (2018).

Selvon, Sam, The Lonely Londoners (2021).

Sillitoe, Alan, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (2008).

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I., In the First Circle (2009).

Wilson, Angus, Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (2011).

Wyndham, John, The Midwich Cuckoos (2008).


Literature: Twenty-first Century

Baume, Sara, Seven Steeples (2022). Also available as an e-book.

Daoud, Kamel, The Meursault Investigation (2015).

Masud, Noreen, A Flat Place (2023).

Morgan, Clare, Scar Tissue (2022).

Shamsie, Kamila, Home Fire (2018).

Spiegelman, Art, In the Shadow of No Towers (2004).


Literature: Travel- and Nature-Writing

Aldersey-Williams, Hugh, Tide (2017).

Bullough, Tom, Sarn Helen: A Journey Through Wales, Past, Present and Future (2023).

Clark, Timothy, Ecocriticism on the Edge: The anthropocene as a threshold concept (2015). Also available as an e-book.

Hoare, Philip, The Sea Inside (2014).

Mabey, Richard, Turning the Boat for Home: A Life Writing about Nature (2019).

Macfarlane, Robert, The Lost Words (2017).

Mackintosh-Smith, Tim (ed.), The Travels of Ibn Battutah (2016).

Torma, Franziska (ed.), A Cultural History of the Sea in the Global Age (2023).


Literary Studies: Old English and Medieval Studies

Jeffs, Amy, Storyland: A New Mythology of Britain (2021).

Jeffs, Amy, Wild: Tales from early medieval Britain (2022).

Karkov, Catherine E., and Nicholas Howe (eds.), Conversion and Colonization in Anglo-Saxon England (2006).

Newman, Barbara, The Permeable Self: Five Medieval Relationships (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Niles, John D., God’s Exiles and English Verse: On the Exeter Anthology of Old English Poetry (2018). Also available as an e-book.

Owens, Susan, Imagining England’s Past: Inspiration, Enchantment, Obsession (2023).

Robertson, Elizabeth, Early English Devotional Prose and the Female Audience (1990).


Literary Studies: Politics, Philosophy and Culture

Davies, Stephen, Art and Its Messages: Meaning, Morality, and Society (1997).

Federici, Silvia, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (2021).

Matthews, Steven, and Matthew Feldman (eds.), Samuel Beckett’s “Philosophy Notes” (2020).

Odell, Jenny, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019). Also available as an e-book.

Quashie, Kevin, Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Spires, Derrick R., The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Early Print Culture in the Early United States (2019). Also available as an e-book.

Tatar, Maria, The Heroine with 1,001 Faces (2021).


Literary Studies: Imperialism and Colonialism

Ulka Anjaria (ed.), A History of the Indian Novel in English (2015). Also available as an e-book.

Erica R. Edwards, The Other Side of Terror: Black Women and the Culture of US Empire (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Philip Steer, Settler Colonialism in Victorian Literature: Economics and Political Identity in the Networks of Empire (2020). Also available as an e-book.

Winter Jade Werner, Missionary Cosmopolitanism in Nineteenth-Century British Literature (2020).


Literary Studies: Shakespeare and Early Modern Theatre Studies

Bourne, Claire M. L., Shakespeare / Text: Contemporary Readings in Textual Studies, Editing and Performance (2021). Also available as an e-book.

Shakespeare, William, The First Folio of Shakespeare: The Norton Facsimile (1996).

Stern, Tiffany (ed.), Rethinking Theatrical Documents in Shakespeare’s England (2019).

Syme, Holger Schott, Theatre History, Attribution Studies, and the Question of Evidence (2023). Also available as an e-book.

Wright, Laura Jayne, Sound Effects: Hearing the Early Modern Stage (2023).


Literary Studies: History of Literature, Biography, and Other Topics

Bhanot, Kavita, and Jeremy Tiang (eds.), Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation (2022).

Bostridge, Mark (ed.), Lives for Sale: Biographers Tales (2005).

Caruth, Cathy (ed.), Trauma: Explorations in Memory (1995).

Puchner, Martin, The Written World: How Literature Shapes History (2018).

Sloan, John, Andrew Lang: Writer, Folklorist, Democratic Intellect (2023).

Sullivan, Hannah, The Work of Revision (2013).

New Books June 2023

Just because we’re into the Long Vacation doesn’t mean the new books have stopped pouring in here at the library! We’ve had a wide range of new arrivals this month, including fiction from around the world, studies foregrounding culture, gender and race, and a selection of poetry.

Keep reading to find out more about a few titles which caught our eye, or visit our LibraryThing page to browse all the new arrivals. Vacation loans are now in full swing, meaning any books borrowed don’t have to be returned until October, so if you’d like to pick up any of these intriguing titles you might want to act fast!

Cover image for 'Season of Crimson Blossoms' by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. The cover has a blue background, with an abstract image of a woman in profile wearing a red hijab with black circles in place of her face.Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Season of Crimson Blossoms (2017) 

In this debut novel, Ibrahim tells the story of an illicit affair between a 55-year-old widow, Binta, and 26-year-old ‘Reza’, a street gang leader. Set in the conservative, predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria, the novel explores both Binta and Reza’s relationship and the world around them. With a backdrop of political violence and domestic squabbles, Ibrahim takes his time to tell the story of Binta and Reza. This slow, unhurried pacing, combined with a ‘gorgeous tapestry of language’, creates a rich narrative exploring ‘love, heartbreak, hope, desire, the human condition and our collective humanity’. 


Cover image for 'Culture' by Martin Puchner. The cover has a yellow background with floral motifs on it. There is a red diamond shape in the middle, split into four smaller diamonds: at the top, a line-drawing of a bust of Nefertiti; on the left and right, geometric patterns; and at the bottom, a Chinese drawing of a person.Martin Puchner, Culture: A New World History (2023) 

In a political landscape bounded by extremes, Puchner makes the case for the necessity – and long-standing fact – of cross-cultural exchange. In 15 ‘lively case studies’, he traces the movement, interpretation and re-interpretation of objects and ideas across time and space, encompassing Egypt, Jerusalem, Ethiopia, the Ottoman Empire, Tokyo, Berlin and more. With his assertion that ‘everyone is influenced by someone’, Puchner makes a powerful case for the fact that cultural transfer is to be found ‘at the heart of the story of human expression’. 

Also by Puchner at the EFL: Stage fright: modernism, anti-theaticality, and drama (2002); Poetry of the Revolution: Marx, manifestos and the avant-gardes (2006); The Written World: How Literature Shaped History (2018).  

Cover image for 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy. The cover has a grey background, with a red flame shape in the centre. In the flame shape are blacked-out silhouettes of a man and a boy walking.Cormac McCarthy, The Road (2022). 

The Road is McCarthy’s tenth novel and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007. It is a bleak story of a father and son’s fight to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. We’re never told what disaster has happened but, ‘faced with such loss’, it’s almost irrelevant. It’s a story not only of survival, but of what makes that survival meaningful; the father repeatedly reassures his son that they are ‘the good guys’. The prose is almost as sparse as the landscape they travel through, with ‘an economy of words, even an economy of thought, that parallels [the story]’. But despite the horror, a certain beauty remains: ‘In creating an exquisite nightmare, it does not add to the cruelty and ugliness of our times; it warns us now how much we have to lose.’ 

McCarthy died earlier this month at the age of 89. 

Also available as an e-book (2009 edition).  

There are many works by McCarthy available at the EFL. You can browse them on SOLO. 

Cover image for 'The Great White Bard' by Farah Karim-Cooper. The cover is an image of a painting of a Black person, with the title in large white letters on top. Farah Karim-Cooper, The Great White Bard: Shakespeare, Race and the Future (2023) 

Karim-Cooper is Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London, and Co-Director of Education at Shakespeare’s Globe. That background in education is reflected in the book’s aim ‘to restore the swan of Avon as a playwright for all’. She is careful to understand Shakespeare within his Tudor context while emphasising that this was not an all-white England, and argues that Shakespeare’s work remains relevant to modern readers and audiences. The challenge is to consider ‘how students … or actors of colour … can get to grips with the excessively valued and quite sublime poetry that just happens to, at times, diminish their own bodies’. 

Also by Karim-Cooper at the EFL: The Hand on the Shakespearean Stage: Gesture, Touch and the Spectacle of Dismemberment (2016). She has also edited a number of volumes about Shakespeare, which you can find on SOLO. 

Cover image for 'Bread and Circus' by Airea D. Matthews. The cover has a light blue background, with a composite silhouette of a person's face in profile, made up of images includes photos of body parts, a circus tent, and the suits (club, space, heart, diamond) of a desk of cards.Airea D. Matthews, Bread and Circus (2023) 

Bread and Circus is ‘a hybrid and palimpsestic memoir-in-verse‘, ‘a bold poetic reckoning with the realities of class and race and their intergenerational effects’. As an economics student, Matthews became ‘fascinated and disturbed’ by the ideas of Adam Smith, and here she issues a ‘direct challenge’ to his theories. She demonstrates how Smith’s emphasis on self-interest as the driver of capitalism falls apart when the individual becomes a commodity. From the perspective of the different roles she has performed through her life, Matthews ‘asks what it is to have survived, indeed to have flourished’ amidst this capitalist failure – ‘and at what cost’. 

Cover image for 'The Trouble with White Women' by Kyla Schuller. The cover has a yellow background with a pink-toned image of a woman on the left hand side. The title is in large black letters across the cover.Kyla Schuller, The Trouble with White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism (2021) 

In this work, Schuller aims to ‘demonstrate the case for the end of white feminism, and its replacement by intersectional feminism’. To that end, the book is structured around comparisons between the writing of white feminists and intersectional feminists. Schuller makes clear that she sees ‘white feminism’ as a political position rather than an identity, one which upholds both the patriarchy and white supremacy. This is an incredibly rich account, full of ‘complexity, contradiction and nuance’ which succeeds in its aim to bring to the fore intersectional feminists whose work and ideas are not as celebrated as they could be. 

Pride at the EFL

To celebrate Pride this year, we’ve put together a display in the library exploring the different ways LGBTQIA+ literature and themes are represented in the library’s collections. You may have seen the display in the library, but if you haven’t had a chance to see it yet – or if you’d like to find out more about some of the ideas in the display – this is the blog post for you!

There are two parts to the Pride display. The first is based on the LGBTQIA+ acronym, highlighting books from the EFL’s collections featuring characters, themes, or ideas which link to each identity. The second part of the display focuses on queer theory from its emergence in the late twentieth century to twenty-first century scholarship. At the end of this post, you can find a list of resources which were used to put this display together, and which you might like to use as a starting point to find out more about these topics.

A capital-letter 'L' in the colours of the Lesbian Pride flag. From top to bottom, those colours are: dark orange, orange, light orange, white, light pink, pink, dark pink.Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984)

The revolutionary writings of Audre Lorde gave voice to those ‘outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women’. Uncompromising, angry and yet full of hope, this collection of her essential prose – essays, speeches, letters, interviews – explores race, sexuality, poetry, friendship, the erotic and the need for female solidarity, and includes her landmark piece ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’.”

This summary is taken from the publisher’s website.  

Why is Lorde an interesting writer and thinker?

The term ‘intersectionality’ was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, and it’s often associated with Third Wave (late twentieth century) feminism. Lorde’s writing definitely fits the description of intersectional work: her thought encompasses race, sexuality and gender and explores how these combine to enact oppression, especially for non-heteronormative Black women.

A capital-letter 'G' in the colours of the MLM (men loving men) Pride flag. From top to bottom, the colours are: dark green, green, light green, white, light blue, blue, dark blue.Robert Jones Jr., The Prophets (2021)

Isaiah was Samuel’s and Samuel was Isaiah’s. That was the way it was since the beginning, and the way it was to be until the end. In the barn they tended to the animals, but also to each other, transforming the hollowed-out shed into a place of human refuge, a source of intimacy and hope in a world ruled by vicious masters. But when an older man—a fellow slave—seeks to gain favour by preaching the master’s gospel on the plantation, the enslaved begin to turn on their own. Isaiah and Samuel’s love, which was once so simple, is seen as sinful and a clear danger to the plantation’s harmony.”

This summary is taken from the publisher’s website.

What’s up with gay historical fiction?

Being gay is nothing new, yet it has often been hard to recognise and find out about people in the past who might today identify with the LGBTQ+ community. Into this gap steps historical fiction, offering an experimental space to explore both the past and the present constraints of academic queer literary studies. It’s important to remember that queer historical fiction – much like any other subgenre of historical fiction – often reveals the present as much as the past. We see this in The Prophets, which examines the damaging effects of the forced, violent imposition of a western Christian worldview on other practices, cultures and beliefs.

A capital-letter 'B' in the colours of the Bisexual Pride flag. From top to bottom, those colours are: dark pink, purple, dark blue.F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1991), originally published 1925

Nick Carraway is an aspiring writer; his cousin, Daisy, is married to the fabulously wealthy Tom Buchanan. Their neighbour, Jay Gatsby, throws extravagant and extraordinary parties in the exclusive and hallowed neighbourhood of West Egg. The entanglements between these four characters form the backbone of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s greatest work.”

This summary is taken from the publisher’s website.

But Fitzgerald never says Nick is bisexual …

In 1979, Keath Fraser became the first scholar to suggest Nick Carraway was in love with Gatsby; many others have followed Fraser in arguing that Nick is either gay or bisexual (he mentions affairs and relationships with women in the novel). It’s significant that Nick’s sexuality is not explicit, but rather suggested through misdirection and elision. Considering that almost every social issue, from race to class and gender, overtly features in the narrative, the topic of sexuality is notable by its absence; indeed, ‘sexual transgression [is] the open secret of the novel’ (Froehlich, 2010).

A capital-letter 'T' in the colours of the Trans Pride flag. From top to bottom, those colours are: blue, pink, white, pink, blue.Travis Alabanza, Overflow (2020)

Cornered into a flooding toilet cubicle and determined not to be rescued again, Rosie distracts herself with memories of bathroom encounters. Drunken heart-to-hearts by dirty sinks, friendships forged in front of crowded mirrors, and hiding together from trouble. But with her panic rising and no help on its way, can she keep her head above water?”

This summary is taken from the publisher’s website.

What’s the link between Overflow and current debates?

Public toilets, and especially women’s toilets, have become a controversial focal point in debates around trans rights. Concerns about cis women’s safety in public toilets are frequently expressed, but what Alabanza shows in Overflow is that safety is just as much an issue for Trans women. The play centres around Rosie, who is hiding from would-be attackers in a public toilet, as she reflects on topics including the camaraderie that is often experienced in women’s toilets, whether cis women can extend that camaraderie to be allies of Trans women, and ultimately whether that’s something Trans women even want.

A capital-letter 'Q' in the colours of the Genderqueer Pride flag. From top to bottom, those colours are: purple, white, green.(Gender) Queer: Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (2017), originally published in 1969

“A lone human ambassador is sent to the icebound planet of Winter, a world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants’ gender is fluid. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters.”

This summary is taken from the author’s website.

A capital-letter 'Q' in the colours of the Genderqueer Pride flag. From top to bottom, those colours are: purple, white, green.(Gender) Queer: Andrea Lawlor, Paul takes the form of a mortal girl (2019), originally published 2017

It’s 1993 and Paul Polydoris tends bar at the only gay club in a university town thrumming with politics and partying. He studies queer theory, has a dyke best friend, makes zines, and is a flaneur with a rich dating life. But Paul’s also got a secret: he’s a shapeshifter. Oscillating wildly from Riot Grrrl to leather cub, Paul transforms his body and his gender at will as he crossed the country––a journey and adventure through the deep queer archives of struggle and pleasure.”

This summary is taken from the publisher’s website.

Are Le Guin and Lawlor talking about the same thing?

Both these novels reject gender norms, but Le Guin and Lawlor portray this rejection and its effects differently. In The Left Hand of Darkness, the inhabitants of Winter wholly reject binary gender systems rendering them wholly incomprehensible to Genly Ai, the human ambassador, who is equally alien to them. On Winter, gender is almost entirely unimportant and unremarkable. But for Paul in Lawlor’s novel, exploring all gender experiences is the whole point. These two novels may share a radical rejection of gender norms, but they do so in very different ways, showing the breadth and diversity that can be found in queer literature.

A capital-letter 'I' in the colours of the Intersex Pride flag. Those colours are a yellow background with a purple circle in the middleJeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2013), originally published 2002

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

“So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and her truly unique family secret, born on the slopes of Mount Olympus and passed on through three generations. Growing up in 70s Michigan, Calliope’s special inheritance will turn her into Cal, the narrator of this intersex, inter-generational epic of immigrant life in 20th century America.”

This summary is taken from the publisher’s website.

What does it mean to write an ‘intersex’ or a ‘queer’ novel?

In Middlesex, Eugenides enacts a complete rejection of the body as a fixed measure of identity. This is manifest in Calliope/Cal changing from female to male, bringing into question the importance of gender as a marker of identity. But as well as this literal rejection of the body, Eugenides does the same in the novel’s narrative structure. Cal routinely inhabits the heads, thoughts and actions of other characters – even experiencing events which took place long before Cal was born. Consequently, what we see in Middlesex is queer themes alongside queer structures, amounting to a ‘queering’ of the novelistic form.

A capital-letter 'A' in the colours of the Aromantic Pride flag. From top to bottom, those colours are: dark green, light green, white, grey, black.Jane Austen, Emma (1971), originally published 1815

“Oft-copied but never bettered, Jane Austen’s Emma is a remarkable comedy of manners. Austen follows the charming but insensitive Emma Woodhouse as she sets out on an ill-fated career of match-making in the little town of Highbury. Taking the pretty but dreary Harriet Smith as her subject, Emma creates misunderstandings and chaos as she tries to find Harriet a suitor, until she begins to realize it isn’t the lives of others she must try to transform.”

This summary is taken from the publisher’s website. 

Can you really say Emma is aromantic if Jane Austen wouldn’t know what that meant?

Austen’s novels are saturated with romantic love – but Emma Woodhouse seems to be the exception. She declares her disinclination for marriage, saying she has never been in love; she takes an exclusively rational approach to matchmaking; and she talks herself into feeling love, though she reasons herself out of love just as easily!

There are challenges when trying to apply modern terms and identities onto people (or in this case, characters) who wouldn’t recognise those terms. But aromantic readers still recognise their own experiences in the character of Emma. It’s interesting to note that these readings are generally coming from readers themselves, not from academia. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that – after all, recognising our own experiences in fiction is a huge part of what reading is about! 

A 'plus' shape in the colours of the LGBTQ+ Progress flag. From top to bottom, the colours are: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. The colours of the triangles coming from the left hand side, pointing to the right: yellow background with purple circle, white, pink, blue, brown, black.Books with LGBTQIA+ characters and themes are just one of the ways in which LGBTQIA+ literatures are represented at the EFL. We also have a number of works of queer theory, a field which emerged in the 1970s and 80s and which continues to grow and develop. You can find a few examples below – all but one of them are available as e-books too!

Late Twentieth-Century Queer Studies

Cover images, from left to right: Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick; The Apparitional Lesbian, by Terry Castle.In the late twentieth century, works of both historical and literary scholarship emerged which looked to a queer history, a lineage of queer lives, experiences and literary artefacts. The two examples here are Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (1985), and The Apparitional Lesbian by Terry Castle (1995). 

The context of the late twentieth century and developments within the LGBTQIA+ community is an important facet of these studies. ‘We’re here, We’re queer, Get used to it was the famous chant of gay activists in New York in the 1990s, a powerful assertion of queer presence. What scholars like Castle and Sedgwick were doing was asserting the long history of that presence. 

Twenty-First Century Queer Studies

Cover images, from left to right: After Queer Studies, edited by Tyler Bradway and E. L. McCallum; Queer Disappearance in Modern and Contemporary Fiction, by Benjamin Bateman. Compared to the environment in which Castle and Sedgwick were writing, twenty-first century queer studies is more secure as a field. That security is apparent studies like Benjamin Bateman’s work, Queer Disappearance in Modern & Contemporary Fiction (2023). Whereas earlier scholarship focused on queer presence – a political as much as a scholarly aim – Bateman turns to other ways of existing (or disappearing) ‘queerly’, as do others who, for example, consider queer experiences of time and rejections of ‘chrono-normativity’. Overviews such as After Queer Studies (2019) can similarly be read as testaments to the security of the field, as they reflect on the emergence of queer studies and, crucially, look to the future. 

Want to find out more?

If you’d like to find out more about queer studies, theory and literature, the Cambridge Companions and Cambridge Histories can be a great place to start. Each volume contains essays exploring different aspects of and debates within a given field and provide starting points for further research. What’s more, they’re available online with your Oxford SSO!

The books which feature in the display are The Cambridge Companion to Queer Studies (2020) and The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature (2014), but these aren’t the only ones relevant to queer studies and theory. Visit the Cambridge Core website to search across all the Cambridge Collections and see what’s available.

The 'Collections & Series' landing page of the website.

Search the Cambridge Collections & Series on their website. Copyright Cambridge University Press 2023.

And that’s it for this brief overview of some of the LGBTQIA+ literature and resources you can find at the EFL. As promised, you can find a list of sources and resources below!

Sources and Resources

Books used in this display (in the order they appear):

Lorde, Audre, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (1984). Also available as an e-book (2019 edition).

Jones, Robert, Jr., The Prophets (2021).

Fitzgerald, F. Scott, The Great Gatsby (1991).

Alabanza, Travis, Overflow (2020). Also available as an e-book.

Le Guin, Ursula K., ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, in Hainish Novels & Stories (2017).

Lawlor, Andrea, Paul takes the form of a mortal girl (2019).

Eugenides, Jeffrey, Middlesex (2013).

Austen, Jane, Emma (1971).

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985). Also available as an e-book (2015 edition).

Castle, Terry, The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture (1993).

Bateman, Benjamin, Queer Disappearance in Modern & Contemporary Fiction (2023). Also available as an e-book.

Bradway, Tyler, and E. L. McCallum (eds.), After Queer Studies: Literature, Theory and Sexuality in 21st Century (2019). Also available as an e-book.

Somerville, Siobhan B. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Queer Studies (2020). Also available as an e-book.

McCallum, E. L., and Mikko Tuhkanen (eds.), The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature (2014). Also available as an e-book.


Other sources and resources

This list includes resources used in putting the display together. It’s not a definitive list of resources relating to the texts or themes in the display, but you could use it as a starting point to find out more.

Bradley, Cerys, Transphobic Hate Crime Report 2020 (10 June 2020).

Freccero, Carla, ‘The Queer Time of Lesbian Literature: History and Temporality’, in Jodie Medd (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Lesbian Literature (2015), 19-31.

Froehlich, Maggie Gordon, ‘Jordan Baker, Gender Dissent, and Homosexual Passing in The Great Gatsby’, in The Space Between, 6:1 (2010), 81.

Herman, Daniel, ‘The Great Gatsby’s Nick Carraway: His Narration and His Sexuality’, ANQ, 30:4 (2017), 247-50.

Jackaman, Erick, ‘Overflow Review’, (16 December 2020). Accessed 31 May 2023.

Jaffe, Sara, ‘Queer Time: The Alternative to “Adulting”’, JSTOR Daily (10 January 2018). Accessed 31 May 2023.

Khong, Caitlin, ‘There’s A Place For Us: Aromanticism and Amatonormativity in Jane Austen’s Emma’, ArtsONE, 11 (2022). Accessed 31 May 2023.

Mullan, John, ‘Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides’, The Guardian (11 November 2011). Accessed 1 June 2023.

Murphy, Naoise, ‘Queering history with Sarah Waters: Tipping the Velvet, lesbian erotic reading and the queer historical novel’, Journal of International Women’s Studies, 22:2 (2021), 7-18.

Parsons, Vic, ‘Travis Alabanza’s gripping new play teaches a powerful lesson about bathrooms, transphobia and female friendship’, PinkNews (16 December 2020). Accessed 31 May 2023.

Pearson, Wendy Gay, Veronica Hollinger, and Joan Gordon (eds.), Queer Universes: Sexualities in Science Fiction (2008) [e-book].

Russo, Stephanie, ‘“You are, like, so woke”: Dickinson and the anachronistic turn in historical drama’, Rethinking History, 25:4 (2021), 534-554.

Santovec, Mary Lou, ‘The Necessity of Intersectionality: A Profile of Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw’, Women in Higher Education, 26:3 (2017), 8-9.

Service Update: Long Vacation 2023


As the sun finally comes out to herald the end of Trinity Term, congratulations to all our readers on making it through another busy exam period! We hope you all have a fun and restful summer break. We’ve also got some information to share for finalists, as well as upcoming changes that will affect long vac library service.



If you’re completing your courses this year, please return items on loan before the end of term and prior to the expiration of your University card.

Print, Copy and Scan (PCAS)

If you’re leaving us this summer, do use up any remaining PCAS balance as it cannot be refunded. On request, credit can be transferred to another PCAS account. Please email if you need assistance.

Becoming an Alum?

As an Oxford alum you can take advantage of a number of benefits, including free access to the Bodleian Libraries and certain eresources. Learn more at the link below!

Getting started: Alumni | Bodleian Libraries

Vacation Opening Hours

The library will move to vacation opening hours from 19th June, with a closed period of 14th-28th August inclusive. Opening hours during the vacation are:

Monday to Friday: 9:00-17:00

Vacation loans

Vacation loans for normal loans start on 12th June and 15th June for short loans.
Loans issued from these dates will be due back during the first week of Michaelmas Term, starting 9th October.

Change of Library Management System

During the summer, the Bodleian Libraries are moving to a new and improved library management system called ALMA, with a go-live date of 24th August. The project is a significant undertaking and there will be a transition period of a week, 16th August to 23rd August, where data is migrated between systems. A number of library services will be affected during this period as a result. Details are captured in the Message for our Readers notices displayed in the library’s reading rooms.

Lending Books

You will be able to borrow and return books. For one week, 16th-23rd August, online circulation will be replaced with offline circulation and the data transferred to the new system when live. The real time book availability displayed on SOLO will not be updated for these offline transactions but, on request, library staff can verify availability for readers travelling to the library for particular items. Self-issue machines will not operate between 16th-23rd August. Please note access to online resources, both on campus and remote access, will be unaffected.

Requesting books from closed stacks

Automated stack requesting from SOLO will not be available between 16th-23rd August and readers are advised to place stack requests for books and archives in advance by 15th August. Libraries will extend the due date so that nothing ordered in advance will be returned to the stacks during the cutover period. A limited staff-mediated option will be available to manage requests placed between 16th-23rd August, but readers are urged to place requests in advance where possible. If you require the use of the staff mediated stack requesting service, email between 16th-23rd August.

Scan & Deliver, Print & Deliver and Inter-library Loans

These services will be unavailable from 16th-23rd August inclusive. Readers are advised to place requests by 15th August or wait until 24th August.


Saved searches and records in MySOLO will not migrate to the new system. Favourites can be exported until the 15th August. To export: log in to MySOLO, select ‘export’ and choose your mode of exporting (Excel, email, print, RefWorks, EndNote and Zotero). There is no way to export saved searches. Readers who use those will need to set them up again once the new system goes live – apologies for any inconvenience caused. For more information see our reference management guide.

Stay up to date with developments at the English Faculty Library by following us on Twitter. Updates affecting the Bodleian Libraries as a whole will be published on the Service updates webpage. Any questions about library services updates can be addressed to

New Books May 2023

The end of Trinity Term is slowly approaching – but the new books haven’t been slowing down at all! As ever, we had lots of new books at the library in May. Find out more about a few which caught our eye this month below, or head over to LibraryThing to browse all the latest arrivals.

Cover image: The Norse Myths that Shape the Way We Think by Carolyne Larrington. The background image is a drawing of orange flames, with a man in a red cloak and winged helmet on the right hand side, standing over the body of a long-haired woman with a winged helmet. The title and author's name are in a white box in the middle of the coverCarolyne Larrington, The Norse Myths that Shape the Way We Think (2023)

This is the third entry in a series exploring ‘Myths that Shape the Way We Think’ – the first two looked at Celtic and Greek myths respectively (both can be requested from the offsite store). In this book, Larrington explores the contemporary resonances and popular reimaginings of Norse mythology. It’s a fascinating study, full of examples drawn from the myths themselves, historical and archaeological findings, and popular culture, including Marvel, Tolkien, video games and even death metal.

There are many works by Larrington available at the EFL. You can find them on SOLO.

Cover image: Liberation Day by George Saunders. The cover has a cream background, with black silhouettes of birds in flight. The author's name is in black text at the top, and the title is in black text in the middleGeorge Saunders, Liberation Day (2022)

Liberation Day brings together nine short stories by Saunders – four are new for this collection, the other five having previously appeared in the New Yorker. The stories feature characters who are trapped, imprisoned, and suspended, often by ‘their own foolishness’. Themes of ‘brainwashing, thought control and mindless violence’ underpin the collection, reflecting the state of modern American politics. Though revelling in un-reality, these stories are nothing less than political; Saunders suggests it is impossible to be otherwise.

Also by Saunders at the EFL: Tenth of December (2014); Lincoln in the Bardo (2017).

Cover image: Searching for Juliet by Sophie Duncan. The image is of Juliet about to take her life. She is wearing a red dress, and her face has been painted over with red paintSophie Duncan, Searching for Juliet: The Lives and Deaths of Shakespeare’s first tragic heroine (2023)

This engaging study explores the cultural imaginings and re-imaginings of Juliet in Western culture since the sixteenth century, from Shakespeare’s original sources to Taylor Swift and beyond. Duncan’s in-depth knowledge of, and passion for, this ‘tragic heroine’ shines through; she even spent time as one of Juliet’s Secretaries in Verona, answering letters seeking love advice from the city’s Juliet Club. The result is a compelling cultural history ‘as vital and provocative as the character herself’.

Also by Duncan at the EFL: Shakespeare’s Women and the Fin de Siècle (2016).

Cover image: I Used to Live Here Once by Miranda Seymour. The background is yellow, with a cut-out black and white photo of Jean Rhys on the left. The title and author's name are on the right.Miranda Seymour, I Used to Live Here Once: The Haunted Life of Jean Rhys (2022)

Like much of the recent scholarship on Rhys, this biography considers Rhys’s upbringing in and exile from the Caribbean as key to her writing without making the ‘mistake’ of using fiction to fill in biographical gaps. While Seymour does not shy away from any detail of Rhys’s life, she does not present Rhys as a victim. Instead, she writes with ‘an acute empathy’, drawing a ‘highly readable, sympathetic portrait’ of a complex woman.

Also by Seymour at the EFL: A Ring of Conspirators: Henry James and his literary circle, 1895-1915 (1988); Robert Graves: Life on the edge (1995); Mary Shelley (2000).

Many of Rhys’s works are available at the EFL. You can browse them on SOLO.

Cover image: Courting India by Nandini Das. The cover image is of a Mughal king and his court, with a smaller figure in Jacobean dress at the bottom left corner. Nandini Das, Courting India: England, Mughal India and the Origins of Empire (2023)

Courting India follows Sir Thomas Roe, seventeenth-century ambassador to India, investigating his impressions of the Mughal court through a wealth of literary sources. Roe is often interpreted as the herald of empire, yet he achieved very little; Das is more interested in Roe’s embassy as an ‘unpropitious moment of intercultural contact’. It is the cultural legacy of Roe’s time in India, of the images and truisms which bled into British understandings of India and empire, which remains Das’s focus.

There are many works by Das available at the EFL. You can find them on SOLO.

Cover image: The Bees by Laline Paull. The background is yellow with a copper honeycomb pattern on top. The title is in the upper middle with the author's name below. The honeycomb section beneath the title is filled in black, with an image of a bee in the centre.Laline Paull, The Bees (2015)

The Bees is Paull’s debut novel, nominated for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. The story follows Flora 717, a sanitation bee who must contend with the orthodoxy of the hive and its injunction to ‘accept, obey, serve’. The novel combines a bee’s fairytale biography, an examination of dystopian totalitarianism, and an exploration of the importance of bees in human lives, with an undercurrent of race and difference – all through the lens of ‘our appealing insect heroine’. 

Mental Health and Wellbeing in Literature

With exams and deadlines looming, this can be a busy time of year. Across the Bodleian Libraries, we’ve been thinking a lot about wellbeing and how we can offer support, from alpacas (and a llama!) and therapy dogs to walks and coffee mornings. Here at the EFL, we’ve done what we do best – we’ve turned to literature!

You might have noticed a new display in the library, exploring how mental health and wellbeing has been represented in literature since the nineteenth century. If you’ve not caught the display yet, read on to find out more about it. Or if you have seen the display and want to discover more about some of the topics for yourself, read to the end for a handy list detailing the resources used in putting the display together.

Madness in nineteenth-century literature

Madness was a common and popular theme in nineteenth-century literature. The field of psychology and understandings of mental health as we know them today were starting to emerge in this period, and novelists and poets could play just as important a role as scientists and philosophers in the formation of this emerging discipline.

Although it’s now an outdated term, for Victorian authors and readers ‘madness’ encompassed a whole range of different conditions which are today recognised as mental disorders and illnesses. Those suffering from madness – who were often (though not always) women – might withdraw from the world, waste away, or even be hidden and locked away. Whether they were locked up for their own good, for the safety of those around them, or because their condition and behaviours were shameful, is not always clear.

Not all nineteenth-century literatures of madness approached their theme in the same way. Here, we have two different examples: Romantic madness and Gothic madness.

Cover image: Selected Poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson. A slightly blurry black-and-white photo of a girl in a Victorian dress, looking at leaves and flowers on a treeThe Romantic view

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poems often feature a Romantic version of madness, with women who are isolated and trapped becoming dream-like and ethereal as a result of grief and suffering. Think of Mariana waiting in her ‘lonely, moated grange’ for someone who will never return, or the Lady of Shalott who can only watch reflections of the world from her isolated tower.

Cover image: The Clarendon Edition of the Novels of the Brontes. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre. Dark blue text on a plain light blue coverThe Gothic view

Charlotte Brontë takes a much more Gothic view of madness than Tennyson did. In Jane Eyre, Bertha – Mr Rochester’s first wife, who is kept under lock and key in the attic – embodies a far more menacing type of madness than Tennyson’s other-worldly women. She is a source of danger and horror, presenting a threat which can only be resolved through her death.

Illness in twentieth-century literature

In the twentieth century, attitudes toward mental illness in literature began to change. Gone was the madwoman in the attic and the Romantic woman sighing over lost loves – twentieth-century authors (and society) understood ‘madness’ very differently.

Part of the change was in the medium of writing about mental illness. Instead of poems or novels, there was a shift toward authors drawing on their own experiences of mental illness to inform their writing. That could sometimes be in the form of essays or memoirs, but it could also include autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical) fiction.

This shift meant twentieth-century literature about mental illness brought with it a more sympathetic approach to mental ill-health in literature. There was a recognition of the experience of the sufferer rather than just the reactions of those around them, and the causes of mental ill-health began to be explored.

Cover image: Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Dark blue broad paint brush strokes form the background, with the title and author name in a cream box on the upper left hand sideShellshock

Virginia Woolf struggled with mental illness, and her personal experiences of ill-health informed her writing. In Mrs Dalloway, this is reflected in Septimus, a veteran of WWI suffering from what would now be recognised as PTSD. Unlike many of her contemporaries (including medical professionals) who considered ‘shellshock’ to be weakness or cowardice, Woolf portrays Septimus sympathetically, revealing the callousness of a society and medical profession which failed him.

Cover image: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. In the centre is a drawing of a young woman with blonde hair; the background is dark blue; the author's name is in red text at the top, and the title in yellow text at the bottomSociety and expectations

Like Woolf, Sylvia Plath’s struggles with mental illness fed into her writing. Many readers see echoes of Plath’s own depressive episodes and hospitalisation in The Bell Jar. Other critics have suggested The Bell Jar speaks to more than Plath’s personal experiences, revealing the pressures resulting from the toxic culture of a society with contradictory and conflicting expectations of women.

Mental health in twenty-first century literature

Today, we are far more open about mental health than in years gone by. We’re still a long way from dismantling all taboos and stigma around mental health, but society as a whole is far more ready to acknowledge mental health issues – including in literature.

Cover image: Summer by Ali Smith. The top half of the cover has a yellow background, with the author's name in light yellow text and the title in black text. The bottom half of the cover is a drawing of a path running through green fields with trees either sideThis openness took on new importance during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. The first ‘pandemic novels’ are only just starting to appear – Ali Smith’s Summer, published in 2020, was one of the first out of the gate. Summer is the last instalment of Smith’s rapidly-written Seasonal Quartet, a series which aimed to respond to events in as close to real-time as possible. In Summer, she explores how the pandemic increased the pre-existing fragmentation in her characters’ relationships with one another.

Cover image: Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers by Emma Smith. The cover has a dark blue background. There is a drawing of an open book surrounded by flames in the bottom centre. The author's name is centre top in orange text, the main title (Portable magic) underneath in white text, and the subheading in dark orange text beneath thatBooks are immensely powerful, as Emma Smith has revealed in Portable Magic: A History of Books and Their Readers. Perhaps that’s why many consider books and literature to be uniquely placed to support people’s mental health. As the examples below show, both readers and authors can reap the benefits of literature …

Mental health in literature

In modern literature, we can see the development of the twentieth-century trend of writing about – and from – one’s own experiences. In Transcendent Kingdom, Ghana-born and Alabama-raised Yaa Gyasi explores the consequences of immigration for an entire family: from the brother who succumbs to addiction and the mother struggling with depression, to the father who cannot cope and returns home, all viewed through the eyes of Gifty, a high achieving yet repressed first-generation American.

Two cover images. On left: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. A green-and-pink background, with a white-and-pink allium motif. The author's name and title are in the centre. On the right: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. The cover background is orange, with a photo of a woman with her arms over her face cut out into the shape of a house (a square with a triangle on top) in the middle. The title is at the top and the author's name at the bottom, both in black text

Carmen Maria Machado similarly writes from her own experiences. In the Dream House is Machado’s response to the abuse she herself suffered, an attempt to help others suffering abuse in same-sex relationships know that they are not alone. Through her innovative and experimental form and style, Machado catapults the reader into the fragmented and disorienting mental state that she experienced.

Mental health through literature

As well as representing mental health issues, literature can also be a way of supporting mental health, through what has been termed ‘bibliotherapy’. While studies can be inconclusive in terms of the concrete psychological benefits of bibliotherapy (have a look at the list below for some examples), the two writers here show through their memoirs how literature unequivocally helped them to deal with illness.

Yiyun Li writes about her struggles with depression and mental health, reflecting in Dear Friend on the importance of literature in the wake of her hospitalisation following suicide attempts. She describes reading as her means of survival, offering both recovery and discovery. Similarly, in Metamorphosis Robert Douglas-Fairhurst has written about how turning to literature helped him after he was diagnosed with MS. In literature, he found characters who shared his suffering, through whom he could understand and make sense of his illness.

Two cover images. On the left: Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li. A yellow-toned cover, with a drawing of a woman sitting on a bench reading a book in the bottom right corner. The title is in yellow text (top left) and the author's name in black text underneath. On the right: Metamorphosis by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst. The cover has a plain white background. The title is at the top, mostly in black text with the first 'M' and the last 'S' highlighted in red. There is a picture of a bug on its back at the bottom centre, with the author's name in black text underneath

Hopefully you’ve found this whistle-stop tour of mental health in literature interesting. As promised, to end this post, here are some of the sources and resources used in creating this display, which you may like to use as a starting point to find out more about some of the topics covered  

Sources and Resources

Featured in the display (in order of appearance)

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Selected Poems (London, 2007).

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (Oxford, 1969). First published 1847.

Peter Melville Logan, Nerves & Narratives: A Cultural History of Hysteria in 19th-Century British Prose (Berkeley, 1997). Also available as an open access e-book.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (London, 2011). First published 1925.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (London, 1966). First published 1963.

Elizabeth J. Donaldson (ed.), Literatures of Madness: Disability Studies and Mental Health (London, 2018).

Ali Smith, Summer (2020).

Emma Smith, Portable Magic: A History of Books and their Readers (2022).

Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom (2020).

Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House (2020).

Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life (2018).

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Metamorphosis (2023).

Nineteenth Century

General Background

Chaney, Sarah, “A Hideous Torture on Himself”: Madness and Self-Mutilation in Victorian Literature’, in The Journal of Medical Humanities, 32:4 (2011), pp.279-289.

Pedlar, Valerie, The Most Dreadful Visitation: Male Madness in Victorian Fiction (Liverpool, 2006). Also available as an e-book.

Rylance, Rick, Victorian Psychology and British Culture 1850-1880 (Oxford, 2000).

Shemilt, Jane, ‘Tracing the portrayal of mental disorders in literature over time, through five books’, on CrimeReads (3 May 2022). Accessed 11 May 2023.

Romantic madness

Demoor, Marysa, ‘“His way is thro’ chaos and the bottomless and pathless”: The gender of madness in Alfred Tennyson’s poetry’, in Neophilologus, 86:2 (2002), pp.325-335.

Whitehead, James, Madness and the Romantic Poet: A Critical History (Oxford, 2017).

Gothic madness

Horner, Avril and Sue Zlosnik (eds.), Women and the Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion (Edinburgh, 2016). Also available as an e-book.

Sinha, Sunanda, ‘Gendering Madness and Doubling Disability in Jane Eyre’, in The Grove, 28 (2021), pp.111-126.

Twentieth Century

General background

Taylor, Steven J. and Alice Brumby (eds.), Healthy Minds in the Twentieth Century: In and Beyond the Asylum (Cham, 2020). [Open access]

Viusenco, Anca-Luisa, ‘The madness narrative, between the literary, the therapeutic and the political’, in Romanian Journal of English Studies, 10:1 (2013), pp.309-323.

Virginia Woolf

Gordon, Lyndall, ‘Woolf [née Stephen], (Adeline) Virginia’, in ODNB (23 September 2004). Accessed 12 May 2023.

Lohnes, Kate, ‘Mrs. Dalloway: novel by Woolf’, in Encyclopedia Britannica (27 July 2018). Accessed 12 May 2023.

Yu, Eileen Xiaoxi, ‘Indifference over Sympathy: Transcendental Communication in Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill and Mrs Dalloway’, in Virginia Woolf Miscellany, 89/90 (2016), pp.57-59.

Sylvia Plath

Churchwell, Sarah, ‘An introduction to The Bell Jar’, from British Library Discovering Literature: 20th & 21st Century (25 May 2016). Accessed 2 May 2023.

Hunt, Daniel and Ronald Carter, ‘Seeing through The Bell Jar: Investigating linguistic patterns of psychological disorder’, in Journal of Medical Humanities, 33 (2012), pp.27-39.

Marcarian, Hannah and Paul O. Wilkinson, ‘Sylvia Plath’s bell jar of depression: Descent and recovery’, in The British Journal of Psychiatry, 210:1 (2017), p.15.

Twenty-first century

The Books

Arbuthnot, Leaf, “It felt like a piece of bad news I should pass on to someone else” – Robert Douglas-Fairhurst on his MS diagnosis’, in The Spectator (25 February 2023). Accessed 16 May 2023.

Conrad, Peter, ‘Portable Magic: A History of Books and Their Readers review – a spine-tingling adventure’, in The Observer (15 May 2022). Accessed 15 May 2023.

Lea, Richard, ‘Calloused, not callous: Healing the scars of displacement’, in TLS (21 March 2021). Accessed 15 May 2023.

Mbue, Imbolo, ‘Yiyun Li’s brave look at depression and the consoling power of literature’, from The Washington Post (16 February 2017). Accessed 3 May 2023.

Morrison, Blake, ‘Metamorphosis by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst review – books as therapy’, in The Guardian (17 February 2023). Accessed 16 May 2023.

Sagers, Flora, ‘Time on our hands in Ali Smith’s Summer’, in Moveable Type, 13 (2021), pp.102-105. [Open access]

Thomas-Corr, Johanna, ‘In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado – review’, in The Observer (5 January 2020). Accessed 15 May 2023.

Books as Bibliotherapy

Carney, J. et al., ‘Five studies evaluating the impact on mental health and mood of recalling, reading, and discussing fiction’, in PLoS ONE, 17:4(2022)

Feigel, Lara, ‘Inside story: the first pandemic novels have arrived, but are we ready for them?’, in The Guardian (27 November 2021). Accessed 15 May 2023.

Troscianko, Emily T., ‘Fiction-reading for good or ill: eating disorders, interpretation and the case for creative bibliotherapy research’, in Medical Humanities, 44:3 (2018), pp.201-211.

Wigand, Moritz E. et al., ‘Migration, Identity, and Threatened Mental Health: Examples from Contemporary Fiction’, in Transcultural Psychiatry, 56:5 (2019), pp.1076-1093.

New Books April 2023

We’ve got lots of lovely new books (and DVDs!) at the EFL, ready to welcome everyone back for Trinity Term. If you’re worried you might have missed out on some of the new arrivals while away from Oxford for the vacation, don’t worry – catch up on all of them over on LibraryThing, or keep reading to see a few selections that caught our eye in April …

Cover image for The Wife of Willesden by Zadie SmithZadie Smith, The Wife of Willesden (2021)

Chaucer’s Alison, the Wife of Bath, has a long history of being interpreted and reinterpreted – she is Chaucer’s ‘most enduring and appealing character‘. In Smith’s retelling, Alison is reimagined as Alvita, ‘an unashamedly sex-positive woman in her mid-50s’. Over the course of a lock-in at the local pub, Alvita tells her story of living life her way, refusing to be told what she can and cannot do by husbands, society, religion – or anyone else for that matter.

The Wife of Willesden is Smith’s debut play, written to tie in with the Borough of Brent’s year as London Borough of Culture. As much as it celebrates Alvita, it is also a love-letter to Willesden and its vibrant community – a common thread in much of Smith’s work.

There are lots of works by Smith at the EFL. Browse them on SOLO.

Cover image for Queer Disappearance in Modern and Contemporary Fiction by Benjamin BatemanBenjamin Bateman, Queer Disappearance in Modern and Contemporary Fiction (2023)

In this study, Bateman works to find an alternative to what might be termed ‘queer progressive narratives’ in contemporary fiction. By placing modernist classics by authors including E. M. Forster and Willa Cather in conversation with contemporary queer and environmental fiction, Bateman ‘refuses the common wisdom that queerness becomes louder and prouder over time, delineating instead a minimalist and daydreaming subjectivity wherein queerness finds escape, respite, and varied opportunities for imaginative reverie’.

Ultimately, Bateman brings together literary studies, queer theory, and the environmental humanities to offer critical alternatives to ‘coming out’ narratives, to revise theories of gender and sexual performativity, and to explore a world in which ‘queer disappearance’ might be just as important as queer presence.

This title is also available as an e-book.

Also by Bateman: The Modernist Art of Queer Survival (2017, e-book).

Cover image for Black Female Playwrights: An anthology of plays before 1950, edited by Kathy A. PerkinsKathy A. Perkins (ed.), Black Female Playwrights: An Anthology of Plays before 1950 (1990)

This anthology brings together nineteen plays from seven African American women, written between roughly 1910 and 1940. While this selection cannot be comprehensive, it is nonetheless representative of the works African American women were producing in the early twentieth century and the importance of these playwrights in the development of African American drama more generally. Perkins presents the plays alongside biographies of the seven playwrights which outline ‘each writer’s education, dramatic interests, and achievements‘, in addition to an Introduction to the collection which outlines the historical background of these playwrights’ work. The result is an anthology which forms a valuable starting point for explorations of ‘a neglected segment of black theatre‘.

Also by Perkins: Contemporary Plays by Women of Color: An Anthology (1996).

Cover image for The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.Robert Jones Jr., The Prophets (2021)

The Prophets, Jones’s debut novel, explores queer love between two enslaved men in the antebellum south. With lyricism and a ‘rich, distinctive‘ style lending itself to comparisons with Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, Jones delivers ‘an outstanding novel […] but also a great sweep of history‘, all while compensating for that history’s elision of the human. The nucleus of the story is the love between Isaiah and Samuel, but their world is also populated by a plethora of characters, each ‘richly evoked, rendering the complexity of their desires and depravations‘.

This is far from an easy read. But what Jones has created, amid the horror and cruelty, is a testimony to the fact ‘that humans do still love, even when the most terrifying threats hang over them’.

Cover image for Changing Satire: Transformations and Continuities in Europe, 1660-1830, edited by Cecilia Rosengren, Per Sivefors, and Rikard WingardCecilia Rosengren, Per Sivefors, and Rikard Wingard (eds.), Changing Satire: Transformations and Continuities in Europe, 1660-1830 (2022)

This collection of essays brings together literary scholars and art historians to trace developments in satire from the seventeenth through to the early nineteenth centuries. Over this period, satire became less genre-driven and increasingly visual, flourishing in various formats. The contributions to this collection consider works of satire by well-known figures like Swift and Milton, as well as lesser-known manuscript sources and prints from the period. While there is a general focus on England, the collected essays also consider satire across Europe, in France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The result is a fascinating study which maps the development of satire, revealing it ultimately to be a key vehicle for the transgression of boundaries.

This title is also available as an e-book

Cover image for The Farwell, directed by Lulu WangThe Farewell, dir. Lulu Wang (2020)

The Farewell is a ‘beautifully bittersweet‘ comedy starring Awkwafina as Billi. Born in China but raised in the USA, these two aspects of Billi’s identity start to clash when she and her extended family return to China to say goodbye to their matriarch, Nai Nai – but no-one has told Nai Nai that she is terminally ill. The result is a witty, funny, and ultimately endearing exploration of identity, culture and family.

Many DVDs arrived at the library this month – you can browse the latest arrivals on LibraryThing. Portable DVD players can be borrowed from the enquiry desk. Alternatively, you can view films in the computer room; just ask at the desk if you’d like help getting set up.