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Maria-Silvia Cohut

Studies and Research Interests

I am currently conducting my PhD research on a full-time basis in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies (full Chancellor's Scholarship). I have previously completed a MA in Pan-Romanticisms (2011-2012: Distinction, Award for Best Performance) and a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing (2008-2011: First Class Honours), both at the University of Warwick. My main research interests are: eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature; the Gothic; doubles and tropes of reflection in literature; themes/ motifs of mourning, death and decay in literature and visual arts; semiotics and feminist theory.

My research interests stem from academic and non-academic preoccupations alike, mostly my long-time engagement with obscure, overlooked and misunderstood aesthetic forms, often finding their expression in the grotesque, the uncanny, the distorted and the decaying. These concerns can be traced in my Personal Writing Project for the completion of my BA degree, titled Feast of the Dead (2011, supervisor: Prof. Maureen Freely), a work in progress of 'modern Gothic' fiction, and in my MA dissertation, Illusive Bodies as Likenesses of Real Bodies: the Compulsion and Repulsion of Simulacra in Romantic Literature (2012, supervisors: Dr. Fabio Camilletti and Prof. Jacqueline Labbe), a comparative literature enquiry into the importance of anthropomorphic simulacra as instances of reflection in Romantic texts.


PhD Research

Before and Beyond the Glass: Women, 'Mirrored' in 1700s and 1800s Literature and Visual Art (provisional title)

My doctoral research explores the interplay between mirror imagery (mirrors and other reflective surfaces, such as portraits, miniatures etc.) and female figures in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature and visual art. It posits this exchange as a key constituent in understanding the social, political and, as a result, aesthetic means of constructing and, alternately, deconstructing the female self in this period. It argues that there is a specific ‘woman at the mirror’ emblem that develops from late eighteenth-century art and literature (e.g. Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, Sophia Lee’s The Recess) into the nineteenth-century (e.g. Alfred Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’, Pre-Raphaelite and Neo-Pre-Raphaelite depictions of ‘woman with/at the mirror’). The thesis argues, on the one hand, that the use of portraits, rather than mirrors, in texts of the Romantic period imply that, at that stage, women do not and cannot know themselves except through an external representation of themselves as rendered by someone else, permanently subjected to and defined by ‘the male gaze’, thereby constructing their identity into prescribed roles and lineages. On the other hand, it shows that in the 1800s, by contrast, the mirror appears as a symbol of knowing and developing ‘true’ feminine identity, but also goes beyond that, acting as a revelatory and/or subversive space of the mind (e.g. ‘The Lady of Shalott’ and its visual representations). In doing so, it documents the shift from an eighteenth-century ‘feminine identity’, visibly shaped by social norms and ideals through static, artificial ‘reflections’ (‘likenesses’), to a nineteenth-century ‘female self’, deconstructed through the mirror in order to be reimagined outside of it and thus fusing an internal, personal self to an external, public feminine identity. Mapping this shift enables a new basis for constructing and negotiating the female self in post-Enlightenment society. While the project makes a historical argument, it does so by analysing a conversion from ‘representation’ to ‘reflection’ of the woman by engaging mainly with post-structuralist and feminist discourses alongside histories of portraiture and mirrors, as well as relevant eighteenth- and nineteenth-century theoretical, aesthetic and historical works on related topics. One key theoretical concept that will be used is, first of all, Michel Foucault’s ‘heterotopia’ (‘Different Spaces’), according to which the mirror can be conceptualised as an object-space with both a physical and a virtual dimension, raising the issue that the mirror allows, simultaneously, a discovery and a questioning of identity, since the reflection that permits identification is projected into the unreal space of the tain, beyond the actual surface of the mirror. The reading of Foucault will be further nuanced by reference to Victor Stoichita’s analysis of the ‘shadow as other’/ ‘reflection as self’ dichotomy (A Short History of the Shadow), and his distinction between portraits as ‘a sign’ and mirror reflections as ‘a natural sign’ (The Self-Aware Image). Finally, the problematic of ‘looking’ and ‘seeing’ will be addressed with the help of Laura Mulvey’s concept of ‘male gaze’ (Visual and Other Pleasures), and, among others, Kamilla Elliott’s discussion of the symbolic social importance of portraiture in framing and defining female identities (Portraiture and British Gothic Fiction).


My research started under the supervision of Prof. Jacqueline Labbe (2012/13) and subsequently passed under the supervision of Dr. Emma Mason.


Teaching


In 2013/14, I am teaching on the Romantic and Victorian Poetry module (EN227) and facilitating academic writing sessions (Languages sub-faculty) within the Writing Centre (Autumn Term 2013).

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Maria-Silvia Cohut

M-S dot Cohut at warwick dot ac dot uk

Office Hour: 4.00-5.00 p.m., H507


The book was speaking to me, just as dreams can speak, only more clearly and much more distinctly. It was like a question that touched me to the heart.
Words streamed out from an invisible mouth, took on life and came towards me. They twisted and turned before me, changing their shapes like slave-girls in their dresses of many colours, then they sank into the ground or turned into an iridiscent haze in the air and vanished, making room for the next.

Gustav Meyrink, The Golem (translated from German by Mike Mitchell)