Fiona Wilson

Undergraduate Discipline


MA, University of Glasgow. MA, PhD, New York University. Scholar and poet. Special interests in 18th- to 21st-century British and Irish literature, ecocriticism, poetry and poetics, and studies in Scottish culture. Recipient of fellowships and awards from the Institute of the Advanced Study of the Humanities, University of Edinburgh (2012), Keats-Shelley Association of America (2009), Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers (2008), Center for Book Arts, New York (2007), and Scottish Poetry Library (2006). Former chair of the Scottish Literature Discussion Group of the Modern Language Association. Author of essays published in Teaching Robert Louis Stevenson (MLA, 2013), Edinburgh Companion to James Hogg (Edinburgh University Press, 2012), Romanticism’s Debatable Lands (Palgrave, 2007), Keats-Shelley Journal (2005), and elsewhere. Poetry published in Literary Imagination, Edinburgh Review, From Glasgow to Saturn, Poetry Review, Literary Review. SLC, 2008–

Previous Courses

British Literature Since 1945

Open , Seminar—Spring

British literature is often described in terms of tradition and continuity. This course departs from that to a completely different perspective that explores a literature energized by conflict, change, and remarkable variety. Reading across genres, we examine how the alleged consensus of the immediate postwar period gave way to challenging questions about the nature of Britishness itself. We consider the social and cultural effects of decolonization and of Cold War politics. We discuss literary responses to the Women’s Movement, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Thatcherism, the European Union, the rise of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, and the emergence of the modern multicultural United Kingdom. Why were Sam Selvon’s Caribbean Londoners so lonely—and what happened to their descendants? What was Belfast confetti? What did it take to be a “top girl” in Thatcher’s Britain? These and other questions direct our conversation. Possible authors: Muriel Spark, Sam Selvon, Shelagh Delaney, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Jean Rhys, Seamus Heaney, Caryl Churchill, Hanif Kureshi, Salman Rushdie, Alan Hollinghurst, Zadie Smith, and others. This is not your mother’s Masterpiece Theatre!

British and Irish Modernisms

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course addresses the creative ferment in British and Irish literature in the opening decades of the 20th century. We begin with a thorough exploration of the Irish Literary Renaissance, examining how that remarkable cultural movement contributed to the Easter Rising of 1916 and, later, to the birth of the Irish Free State. We then examine the profound shock of the Great War and its impact on British writers. How did those events shape the mood of crisis and metamorphosis so marked in the literature of the period? How did poets, novelists, and playwrights seek to express contemporary life through literary experiment? While our conversation will be centered on Modernist masterpieces by W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot, we may also read works by J. M. Synge, Lady Gregory, Sean O’Casey, Kathleen Mansfield, Ezra Pound, H. D., Ford Madox Ford, D. H. Lawrence, Hugh Macdiarmid, and others.

Portraits of the Artists: Modernists Writing the Self

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring
“What does the human mind do/What does human nature do.” Should these lines from Gertrude Stein’s “Identity a Poem” be understood as statements or questions? Such indeterminacy reflects Stein’s own complex interest in identity. It also resonates with the larger problem of self-representation among modernist writers. This course addresses the various ways in which anglophone modernists sought to deal with the challenge of writing themselves. How did modernists react to 19th-century notions of the author? What did Eliot mean, and can we believe him when he insists that “[t]he progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality”? What are we to make of the extent to which Woolf writes herself into her fiction, even as she disparages life writing as a “bastard, an impure art”? While we focus mostly on select works by Joyce, Yeats, Woolf, and Eliot, we will also explore some American texts. Topics of discussion may include aestheticism, androgyny, advertising, automatic writing, the use of masks, contemporary theories of psychology and psychoanalysis, technologies of mass reproduction, and, of course, literary experiment.​

Literary London

Open , Seminar—Fall

In Canto XI of Don Juan, Byron’s hapless hero stands on a hill outside London, enthusiastically meditating upon the splendid freedoms of the city before him: “Here laws are all inviolate; none lay/Traps for the traveller; every highway’s clear:/Here—’, he was interrupted by a knife,/With,—‘Damn your eyes! your money or your life!’” Here, one might add, comic reversal works though the brilliant compression of real and ideal images of Britain’s capital city. This course reads London as, at once, the origin and object of its own myths. How have Londoners, from the 19th century on, seen their own city? How has the density of urban life been represented in the written word? How do London writers imagine their home now, in the age of globalization and Brexit? Among the topics we explore are: the city as fantasy, the city as nightmare; streetwalkers and street-sweepers; flash, cant, and rhyming slang; money; crowds, theatre, journalism; quiet places; anarchists; reading and public transportation; the immigrant city; the gay city; psychogeography; boom and bust; and what happens next? Possible authors: William Blake, Thomas de Quincey, John Keats, Charles Dickens, Henry Mayhew, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Gissing, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Sam Selvon, Colin MacInnes, Muriel Spark, Michael Moorcock, Monica Ali, Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, Iain Sinclair, and others.

Related Disciplines

Frankenstein Unbound

Open , Seminar—Year

Like Walter Benjamin’s image of the angel of history, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein plunges forward into the future while looking back—anxiously? longingly?—toward the past. This course takes Shelley’s 1818 novel as its core text for an investigation of writing as an activity as troubled by mythic origins as it is fired by utopian dreams. In the first semester, we focus closely on Frankenstein itself, a highly intertextual work. We trace the influence of such literary ancestors as Milton and Rousseau and Shelley’s own scandalous real-life parents, the proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and anarchist William Godwin. We join the party at Lake Geneva, with Percy “Victor” Shelley, Claire Clairmont, mad, bad Lord Byron, and Byron’s unfortunate personal doctor, John Polidori (initiator of the first vampire story in English). In the spring, we expand our reading with a wide-ranging exploration of Gothic literature and its utterly modern obsession with the past. We look at the origins of the genre and its chief characteristics from its 18th-century origins through the 20th century. Likely authors: Walpole, Radcliffe, Lewis, Austen, C. Bronte, Stevenson, Wilde, James, Rhys, and Morrison.