Professor Fiona Brideoake has been a part of the American University Literature department for many years, teaching courses for both undergraduates and graduates that focus around British Literature, a subject she is very passionate about. Other subjects she is passionate about are The Ladies of Llangollen, Sarah Ponsoby and Eleanor Butler. Over the past twelve years, she has taken her love of the Ladies of Llangollen and put it into a book called "The Ladies of Llangollen: Desire, Interdetermacy, and the Legacies of Criticism." With the help and support of her colleagues in the Literature department, Professor Brideoake feels ready to take a topic she cares very deeply about and put it into a book.
Her Campus American University: How did you get interested in the topic of your book?
Fiona Brideoake: As an undergraduate, I took a really fascinating course that was an interdisciplinary course taught across an English department and the History department by a professor who was a historian and a lit person, that was called “Duchesses and Drudges.” It was a cultural history of women from 1750 to 1850, I think. It had all sorts of topics from working class women to aristocratic women, who participated in elections, like Duchess of Devonshire, and it also had a section looking at looking at histories of sexuality, and in that course I first came across the figures of the Ladies of Llangollen. I wrote a paper that touched upon them and I’ve kind of never stopped writing and thinking about them.
HCAU: What inspired you to take your love of the topic and put it into a book?
FB: I realized as I continued to work on the ladies that they were ubiquitous in terms of the fact that they popped up absolutely everywhere in terms of criticism, in terms of various literary works that they were in; people often talked about them as if we understood everything about them, as if we knew what they signified. And yet, what was really intriguing is that when people would cite them that they would do so to strikingly different ends. It was like they were always going to be someone’s example, but no one could decide what exactly they were an example of. So I became really interested in thinking through that popular representation, like how these strikingly different after lives develop. And I also realized that people were, scholars and historians, were really relying on just a handful of very outdated biographical texts, despite the fact that the ladies had this extraordinary large and rich archive of manuscripts, so that there was an opportunity for someone to go and work with those manuscripts and create a different kind of project.
HCAU: How long has the writing process taken? Was it one that was really stressful or have you enjoyed it?
FB: As I said, I’ve been working on this topic now in various forms for more than twelve years, which sounds like a very long time, but I’ve been doing many other things along the way; lots of teaching and different research positions and different research projects also. It started out as work that I was undertaking in graduate school as part of my PhD, and so the book is a revised and expanded and rewritten and in some ways unrecognizable version of that first project that I started as a graduate student in Australia. Any project of this kind and this length has its stressful moments and also has its moments of realizing you’re sitting alone in a library or at a desk for very long periods of time. But, as I think I said when we talked earlier I also feel really fortunate that remarkably after all this time I’m still find Butler and Ponsonby to be interesting individuals, and while I’m excited to be moving on to new topics I feel pretty lucky that I have remained as interested as I have been in them, as much as it’ll be lovely to have it out and get on to something else.
HCAU: What is the most important thing you feel you have learned/gained from this whole writing process?
FB: That’s a good question. I’ve developed a career certainly as an eighteenth century enthusiast that is certainly something to be very grateful for. I’ve gotten to work with some very fascinating texts, and I feel very privileged to have worked with and been able discuss my work and come into contact with a pretty extraordinary range of colleagues, and to participate in a series of larger debates and conversations. So, I think I am most grateful for what this project as I said like so much humanities work so much of the nitty-gritty of the work can involve sitting alone at a desk with a computer, and it can be kind of a solitary pastime. So, particularly given that one of the things I am interested in is sociability in works of individuals, I feel really grateful that the book has also allowed me to form a whole range of really rich and valuable lit works.
HCAU: Do any of your colleagues in the Literature department know that you are writing a book? If so, have any of them given you support/inspiration throughout the writing process? If so, who?
FB: I feel really fortunate that I have a wonderfully supportive and collegial group of fellow faculty here at AU. Many of them have given me great help and support, particularly Professor Kakoudaki, Professor Noble, Professor Green-Simms, and Professor Berry. Professor Sha has been a wonderful support. I’m sure I’m forgetting people. Essentially, people have read my work; Professor Pike has read my work and has commented, and Professor Loesberg has been really encouraging when he was here. I feel really fortunate to be working with this great group of really smart but also really collegial people.
HCAU: Does your book have an official release date yet? If so, when?
FB: It’s going to be coming out next spring, so hopefully March or April depending on the production timeline. So there are a few things out of my hands in terms of the press, but the press director said that he hopes that it’ll be out by mid to late March.
HCAU: What advice do you have for students or even colleagues who might be interested in a particular topic but aren’t really sure where they want to go with it?
FB: I think that it’s really important to, if you’re setting out to engage in a long-term topic or a large topic, whether it’s a book project or a senior thesis or the draft of a piece of creative writing, to find something that you are really invested in and that you know that you can willingly put in that time and focus that you are going to need to do so. And also to, particularly in terms of critical work, really think about where your questions and where your interests are located in a larger, critical conversation, and to think about not only your topic narrowly defined, but as part of a larger scholarly collective; as part of a conversation where it is responding to others but also there’s your own interjection and contribution to that discussion or debate.
Photo Credit: Alexis Doyle