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Dr Polly Dickson, BA, MPhil, PhD Cambridge

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures
Room number: ER254, Elvet Riverside II

Contact Dr Polly Dickson (email at

I am a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the School of Modern Languages. My research interests lie primarily in German, French and British literature and visual cultures of the nineteenth century. I am particularly interested in unofficial and marginal forms of art — sketches, squiggles, and doodles — and in their relationship to the development of literary realism across the century. 

Before coming to Durham, I held an MHRA Scholarship at the University of Cambridge and a Hanseatic Scholarship from the Alfred Töpfer Stiftung at the Humboldt University, Berlin. I completed my PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2017, where I also did my MPhil and BA. 

My first monograph, arising out of my PhD thesis, is a comparative study of mimesis and narrative lines in the works of E. T. A. Hoffmann and Honoré de Balzac. In reading Balzac as a reader of Hoffmann, my book centres on a set of lines found in their texts: lines which are written, drawn, or made as bodily gesture, and which occur in the form of arabesques, physiognomic outlines, and crosses. Following the movement of these sensuous lines, which often function as allusions to the act of writing, allows me to unfold questions concerning both writers’ attitudes to mimetic representation, and thus to trace an account of Balzac’s adoptions of and references to Hoffmann and the ‘Hoffmannesque’ as a significant encounter within the broader history of the relationship between Romanticism and Realism. 

 My new research project looks at literary doodles made by German, French, and British authors in their manuscripts across the nineteenth century, to include E. T. A. Hoffmann, Stendhal, the Brontë siblings, Gottfried Keller, and Oscar Wilde. I am interested in the dialogue that authors’ doodles strike up with literary texts — in whether doodles might illustrate, complicate, or interfere with readings of the texts they accompany — as well as in literary representations of drawings and doodles within those texts. My project is thus concerned with a kind of tit-for-tat ekphrastic play I see to be specific to the doodling writer: with how writers write about drawing whilst drawing on or ‘about’ their own writing. It is my hunch that these marginal figures might have a role to play in our understanding of nineteenth-century literary realism — a mode which is deeply invested in visual forms. 

Selected Publications

Journal Article

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Indicators of Esteem

  • 2018: MHRA Postdoctoral Research Scholarship: University of Cambridge
  • 2015: Katherine Mansfield Society Essay Prize: Competition Winner
  • 2014: Society of Dix-Neuviémistes Postgraduate Paper Prize : Competition Winner