Dr Eleanor Lybeck

I work across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and have two main areas of interest: theatre & performance history and Irish literature & culture.

I come at performance from an unusual angle. I’m especially interested in popular entertainment: the circus, music hall, comic opera, puppetry... And I’m fascinated by moments in literature when writers – Dickens, Thackeray, Joyce and Woolf, for example – attempt to recreate live performance or frame their works with references to popular entertainment.

My first monograph, All on Show: The Circus in Irish Literature and Culture, will be published by Cork University Press in March 2019. In the book, I trace how writers and artists since the late eighteenth century have used the image of the circus to explore complex relationships between individuals and the Irish nation. There are chapters on Joyce and Synge, the Yeats brothers, Beckett and Friel, and contemporary Irish writers including John Banville, Neil Jordan, Paul Muldoon and Seamus Heaney. Throughout, the book presents lots of under-examined archival material from collections in the UK, Ireland and the US. It also features original interviews with Banville, Jordan and Muldoon. I’ve published articles on this topic in the Irish Studies Review and in the journal of the Nordic Irish Studies Network.

My next research project focuses on English comic opera and the history of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company on tour. Entitled D’Oyly Carte’s Empires, this project looks in detail at how the Savoy Operas of Gilbert and Sullivan became colonial exports in the late nineteenth century. More broadly, it asks what the steady decline of regional and touring theatre might tell us more broadly about culture and society in our present moment.

I’ve taught nineteenth-century, twentieth-century and contemporary literature in English at Oxford since 2015.

At Corpus, I teach undergraduate Prelims Papers 1b (Approaches to Literature), 3 (Literature in English, 1830-1910) and 4 (Literature in English, 1910-present) and FHS Paper 5 (Literature in English, 1760-1830). I’ve also taught the FHS Paper 6 special option on ‘The Avant-Garde’ and given the lecture series ‘Joyce’s Elements’, ‘Educating Ida: Staging Women’s Education Since 1880’ and ‘Political Rhetoric and Popular Culture’.

My graduate teaching includes a seminar on theatre and performance for the post-1900 MSt A Course and the MSt C Course option ‘Popular Performance and the Literary Imagination’.

I’m always looking for ways to share my research with new audiences.

In 2017, I was named an AHRC/BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker. Since then, I’ve written and presented programmes that reflect my diverse research interests. You can listen to my Radio 3 Essay on the cultural contexts of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Princess Ida (1884) here and my Sunday Feature on the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company principal, Albert James here.

I’ve written for various magazines, newspapers and blogs, including Vogue, the Irish Times and HuffPostUK.

At Oxford, I was a research assistant on the Knowledge Exchange Project Unsilencing the Library and worked to give a new sense of purpose to an old women’s reading room in the country house-turned-art gallery, Compton Verney. Along with project lead, Dr Sophie Ratcliffe, and fellow research assistant, Dr Ceri Hunter, I designed an exhibition which shows how reading can be empowering. We were delighted to feature contributions from readers as different as the actress Emma Watson, the gardener and broadcaster Alys Fowler, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Margo Jefferson, pupils at a local high school and inmate members of the UK-wide charity Prison Reading Groups in the final exhibition, which opened in June 2017.


  • All on Show: The Circus in Irish Literature and Culture

  • 'The Friction of the Animal and the Divine': Sex and the Circus in Neil Jordan's The Miracle (1991)

  • The irreparable and the imprevidible: fathers and failures at Joyce's family circus

  • More
List of site pages