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Dr Helen O'Connell

Associate Professor in the Department of English Studies
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 42564
Fax: +44 (0) 191 33 42501

Contact Dr Helen O'Connell (email at helen.o'

I work on Irish literature and culture from the late eighteenth century through to the Irish Revival. My research has explored ‘improvement’ in nineteenth-century Ireland, tracing connections between the development of a modern Irish literature and instruction in domesticity, agriculture and horticulture. Instruction was frequently embedded in fictional tracts that sought to portray improvement as a means of both achieving social stability and counteracting the perceived precariousness of traditional Irish culture. In the context of such significant developments in the history of Irish writing as the national tale and national novel, improvement shared thematic common ground with the more mainstream literature of the period (Maria Edgeworth and William Carleton, for example). This research was published in my book, Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement (OUP).

I am currently completing a second book on the literary contexts of dietary consumption in the period from c.1780 through to the Revival, looking at such writers as Arthur Young, Thomas Malthus, Lady Morgan, Mary Leadbeater, Thomas Moore and James Clarence Mangan. This project explores the ways in which discourses surrounding diet can enact but also block broader processes of democratisation. I am interested in the history of taste in modern Ireland, drawing connections between, for example, political discrimination and the seemingly mundane desire for particular kinds of food and drink (especially tea). This project has been funded by the AHRC.

Some of my recent publications have focused on such topics as animals and ‘nature’ in the early nineteenth century. Forthcoming work addresses the significance of the chef and hotelier, Auguste Escoffier, for developments in twentieth-century literature and culture. That work builds upon current research on the literary and cultural histories of inns, coffee-houses, tea-houses, hotels and restaurants.

 I would be happy to hear from prospective PhD applicants in the fields of Irish literature and culture, from the eighteenth century to the present, and in food / taste studies.

Research Groups

Department of English Studies

Selected Publications

Authored book

  • (2006). Ireland and the Fiction of Improvement. Oxford University Press.

Chapter in book

Journal Article

Show all publications


Selected Grants

  • 2012: AHRC Fellowship
  • 2012: Tea in Ireland: Consumption and sociability (£57887.00 from Arts and Humanities Research Council)