Dr Hannah Sullivan

My research falls into two main areas: British and American modernism; and the history of the book, the text, and textual thought. My first book, The Work of Revision(forthcoming with Harvard in 2013), asks how and why writers have revised their work over the last hundred or so years, and what aesthetic effects different patterns of rewriting or excising produce. Modernist writers, who worked in the early period of the typewriter, were inveterate revisers or, as Henry James puts it, passionate correctors. I study the changes they made on manuscripts, typescripts, proofs, and printed books, both before and after publication, and focus especially on Henry James, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and Ezra Pound, with shorter readings of more recent writers. Over time, a compositional practice that seemed initially perverse or wasteful has become identified with literary value and seriousness. How does this history affect the way that contemporary writers continue to produce and describe their work? How did the shift from manuscript to typescript to word processor and personal computer affect the process of rewriting?

Other interests include English poetry and the history of prosody; practices of editing and translation; genetic criticism; digital texts and tools; and biography and life writing. My undergraduate degree was in Classics, from Trinity College, Cambridge, and I would welcome graduate students with interests in the Classical tradition in English.

I am now starting a new project, The Pattern Behind the Arras, on formal conservatism and prosodic innovation in English poetry from Wordsworth to the present. I will be asking whether the idea that poetic forms have ideological meaning and affects -- an idea as old as Plato -- is robust. If it is, how would we would discover and describe this meaning, and how stable would it be over literary history? If not, why do poets and critics tend to invest abstract blueprints with affective properties? In the most formally innovative and diverse period in English poetry, what is at stake in the careful recycling of an older form, like the sonnet? How long does it take for a new form -- the lyrical ballad, the "In Memoriam" stanza, vers libre, syllabics, or the very long line -- to be attributed an independent meaning by new poets and by critics? How do poets select from the forms available to them? I am particularly interested in the difference between poets who seem to begin with a formal shape which they fill in and those, like Yeats, who revise shapeless material into form; this part of the project will make use of some of the genetic methods developed in The Work of Revision. One intervention I hope to make is into an old debate about the tension (or not) between avant-garde, progressive poetic forms and rebarbatively conservative political ideas in the period of high modernism. The books will also look at the issue of technical virtuosity and its renunciation, at the deliberate slackness of "late style" in some modern poets (Auden, Eliot) and, more generally, at the dialectic between formal tightness and looseness in modern poetry.

Victorian and Modern literature; American literature; book history and textual scholarship; poetry.

I received my first degree in Classics from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 2000 and then spent a year as a Kennedy Scholar in the Comparative Literature Department at Harvard. After studying for a M.Res. in Cultural Studies at the London Consortium, I went back to Harvard in 2003 to begin a Ph.D. in English and American Literature. From 2008-2011, I was as an Assistant Professor of English at Stanford University in California, where I taught undergraduate courses on T. S. Eliot, the 1910s, British Modernism, and Book History, and graduate seminars on 20c Authorship, Textual Criticism, and Literary Periodization.

We are proud to announce that Hannah received the prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2013 for her outstanding contribution to English Literature. In addition, in 2014, Hannah won the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize from the British Academy for The Work of Revision (Harvard University Press, 2013).


  • Three Poems

  • Why Do Authors Produce Textual Variation on
    Purpose? Or, Why Publish a Text That Is Still

  • The Lyric Turn and Free Verse: Experiments in Poetic Form

  • His Poetry

  • "Still Doing It By Hand": Auden and the Typewriter

  • More
List of site pages