The Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowships offer funded independent research in the humanities. We're highlighting the research of this year's fellows in a series of online profiles.
Xenya Currie '24
Major: Literatures in English
"Paradigms of Repression in Middlemarch"
Abstract: My project examines George Eliot’s 1871–2 novel Middlemarch with an attention to repression in the text. I propose that Middlemarch can be read as depicting protagonist Dorothea Brooke’s trajectory from one paradigm of repression to another. Specifically, I argue that she begins the novel in a paradigm of willed and voluntarily enacted repression, drawing from Victorian scholar John Kucich’s articulation of repression as self-denial and Friedrich Nietzsche’s notions of the will to power and the figure of the ascetic priest. After her uncanny encounter with Roman Catholicism on her honeymoon, however, she moves towards a more Freudian paradigm of repression, in which the return of the repressed is inevitable. This new paradigm offers her increased psychological health, greater somatic incorporation, and makes room for the possibility of genuine noncompetitive sympathy. In this way, I suggest that Middlemarch can be understood as prefiguring the Freudian understanding of repression, the uncanny, and the inevitability of the return of the repressed before Sigmund Freud himself, who published “The Uncanny” in 1919, thereby situating George Eliot in the intellectual prehistory of Freud.
Was there anything surprising about the work you did?
The way that my argument evolved over the course of the summer! I went into my project with an initially clear sense of how I thought my argument would unfold, but the text surprised me—and I gained a new understanding of it—as I worked on it over the summer. The support of my faculty advisor, Professor Chloe Flower, was absolutely indispensable during this evolution and throughout the summer for enabling me to make the intervention that my paper ultimately did.
How will you use your research in future studies?
I’m currently building on my Hanna Holborn research for my senior thesis in the English department. There were many considerations I’d hoped to include in my Hanna Holborn Gray paper but ultimately had to exclude due to length, so I’m excited to have the opportunity to expand my discussion further. Specifically, I plan to add to my discussion of Eliot’s prefiguration of Freud and propose a reading of Middlemarch as a repressed form of transubstantiation for Dorothea. My experience with this independent research has also invigorated and empowered me in terms of articulating my academic interests as pertaining to the intersection of religion and literature, an area I hope to pursue further with graduate study.
How did you choose your topic?
While my academic interests generally revolve around the intersection between religion and literature, when I first read George Eliot's 1872 novel Middlemarch—on the recommendation of my wonderful faculty advisor Professor Chloe Flower—I felt like I was looking into a mirror. My fascination with Middlemarch and its depiction of religiosity and repression led me to write all of my assignments in ENGL 250: Methods of Literary Study with Professor Flower on Middlemarch, including a potential thesis proposal which eventually became my HHG proposal.
The Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowships offer funded independent research in the humanities. Each summer, Bryn Mawr College awards up to 15 students a summer fellowship of $4,500 to undertake an independent research project in the humanities or humanistic social sciences. The research may either be the beginning of the senior thesis or a project that stands alone, but is relevant to their intellectual interests and must be supported by a faculty advisor.