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Research

My current research interests focus on Victorian psychology, emotions and ethics. I am writing a book called Forming Empathy: Psychology, Aesthetics, Ethics, 1870-1920 which is about the emergence and early uses of the term ‘empathy’ at the beginning of the twentieth century, and why the term more familiar to the Victorians themselves, ‘sympathy’, had come under strain by that time. The project explores cultural forms of feeling in the context of social change, scientific professionalization, and secularization.

Through this project, I have developed interests in aestheticism and decadence and, especially, in the work of Vernon Lee, one of the two women at the centre of my book (the other is George Eliot). The importance of psychology in this research stems from my long-term fascination with the nineteenth-century mind and the relations between conscious and unconscious experience. The latter relates to earlier interests in occult ideas and the supernatural, represented in a co-edited book on The Victorian Supernatural (2004).

I continue to have strong research and teaching interests in the literature, culture and politics of the period 1880-1920. These interests developed originally in the context of my research on the South African-born feminist and novelist, Olive Schreiner (1855-1920). Schreiner made me think about feminism, the New Woman, socialism, anti-imperialism, religion, post-Darwinian evolutionary thought, and ideas of progress. I am currently editing her Woman and Labour (1911) for the first scholarly edition of her major works, to be published by Edinburgh University Press.