Dr Katherine Mullin

Senior Lecturer in English Literature (Modern)

Summary: My research concentrates on exploring the connections between late-Victorian and Modernist fiction, sexuality and popular culture.

Location: 8.2.15

Teaching Commitments: Fictions of Fallen Women (UG Option); Victorian Literature (UG Core); The Brontës (MA Option). My office hour for Semester 2, 2018 is Wednesdays between 11-12. It would be helpful if you could email in advance as it tends to get booked up.


My first book, James Joyce, Sexuality and Social Purity (Cambridge University Press, hardback 2003; paperback 2007) investigated the relationship between Joyce's fiction and the contemporary anti-vice societies who censored his work. 

My new book, Working Girls: Fiction, Sexuality, and Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores the literary and cultural mediations of a distinctively new sexual persona. From around 1870 onwards, young women of the lower-middle and working classes were increasingly abandoning domestic service in favour of occupations of contested propriety, inspiring both moral unease and erotic fascination. Working Girls considers representations of four glamorised yet controversial types of women worker: telegraphists and typists in newly-feminised offices, shop assistants in the new department stores, and barmaids in the new ‘gin palaces’ of major British cities.

Economically emancipated and liberated from the protection and constraints of home and family, shop-girls, barmaids, typists and telegraphists became mass media sensations. They energised a wide range of late-Victorian and Modernist fiction, including novels and short stories by Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, George Gissing, James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, George Moore, Margaret Oliphant, Bram Stoker and Anthony Trollope. Working Girls brings these late-Victorian and Modernist writers into conversation with a substantial new archive of ephemeral sources often regarded as remote from high art and its concerns: popular fiction; music hall and musical comedy; beauty pageants and fairground exhibitions; visual art and early film; careers manuals; magazine and periodical journalism; moral reform crusades, Royal Commissions, and attempts at protective legislation. 

The Working Girl prefigured, rivaled and even displaced her better-known contemporaries: the New Woman and, later, the protesting suffragette. As a cultural phenomenon, she became an emblem of a generation of young women's suspect longing for economic independence, urban leisure, and sexual autonomy. My book is concerned not simply with the formation of this persona, but also with how debates surrounding her are reconfigured in imaginative literature. Fascination with Working Girls has much to do, I argue, with the shifting and precarious status of fiction. Together, these seductive yet perilous young women help articulate anxieties about the state of literary culture in the United Kingdom. They preoccupy novelists who were themselves nervous about the impact of new technologies upon creative integrity, the shifting pressures of the literary marketplace, or the threat of censorship.

Other recent publications include chapters one and two in Prudes on the Prowl: Fiction and Obscenity in England, 1850 to the Present Day, edited by David Bradshaw and Rachel Potter (Oxford University Press, 2013). My essay 'Antitreating is about the size of it: James Joyce, Drink, and the Rounds System' came out in The Review of English Studies in 2013.

My new edition of George Gissing's 1891 novel New Grub Street was published in the Oxford World's Classics series in September 2016. 

I am currently writing a book about the complex and strangely productive relationship between literature and censorship during the Victorian and Modernist periods, provisionally titled Provocateurs. An article from this new project, 'Unmasking The Confessional Unmasked', will be published in ELH.

PhD Supervision:

I have supervised doctoral projects on nineteenth century literature and photography, Jerome K. Jerome and late-Victorian comic writing, contemporary biofiction, suffragette theatre, fictions of single women, and James Joyce. I am currently supervising theses on George Gissing, and late-Victorian masculinities. 

I would welcome PhD proposals exploring the relationship between 'high' and 'low' cultures, concerning constructions of the city, gender or sexuality, or exploring literature and censorship. James Joyce remains an ongoing research interest.