English book

Mary L. Mullen, PhD and her new book.

Assistant professor of English Mary L. Mullen, PhD’s book Novel Institutions: Anachronism, Irish Novels and Nineteenth Century Realism (Edinburgh University Press, 2019) was recently awarded the 2019 Robert Rhodes Prize for Books on Literature from the American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS). The Conference has called it “a fascinating study that reassesses both literary histories and current scholarship about the realist novel.”

According to Dr. Mullen, mid-19th century Irish novels have often been overlooked in the study of English literature, so in Novel Institutions, she highlights the importance of these Irish novels in understanding British realism. The book asserts that novels by Irish writers, like William Carleton, Maria Edgeworth, George Moore and Charles Joseph Kickham, guide readers in reinterpreting novels by English writers like Charles Dickens and George Eliot.

Further, Dr. Mullen, in her first book, explores anachronisms in realist writing to redefine British realism as well as underscore a contemporary connection. She claims that today, institutions can constrain social relationships and also later limit our sense of political possibilities in the future.

Novel Institutions considers the ways in which institutions configure, regulate and foreclose time in that powerful 19th century form we call realism,” scholar Elaine Freedgood, PhD, a professor of English at New York University, said. “Mullen’s readings of a largely unstudied cache of Irish novels suggest that we are not obligated to inhabit the futures the dominant novel imagines for us, and that reading time out of joint can offer very realistic hope for changing the institutions that we inhabit.”

Dr. Mullen serves as a faculty member of the University’s Center for Irish Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in addition to teaching English. Her teaching and research focus on the relationship between history, literature and politics, with an emphasis on 19th century Irish and English writing. 

She has written articles that are published in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, New Hibernia Review, Victorian Studies and Victorian Poetry and Cultural Studies. She holds a Bachelor of the Arts from the University of Notre Dame, as well as a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It was such an incredible honor to learn that I won this award,” Dr. Mullen said. “The ACIS was the very first academic conference that I attended as a masters student, so it was especially meaningful to receive recognition from an organization that has been so formative for me.”

Dr. Mullen noted those that made this book possible.

“Because writing is an inherently social act, I think of this award as recognizing the power of collective thinking,” she said. “The scholars and friends who read early drafts of the manuscript, the literary critics who have theorized the genre of realism and studied the Irish novel and the Villanova students who had such smart thoughts about institutions in my Institutional Fictions seminars are just a few of the many people who made this book possible.”

She is also involved in the early stages of a project that investigates 19th century constructions of public interest, tentatively titled “The Politics of Public Interest.”