Francesca Gardner, St Catharine's

Degree: PhD
Course: English
Supervisor: Dr Corinna Russell
Dissertation Title:

Pastoral Competition After 1700

Biographical Information

I grew up in Lincolnshire and studied for a BA in English Language & Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, followed by a MSt in English (1700-1830) supplemented by modules in early modern literature, funded by the Senior Mackinnon Scholarship. I am now a PhD student and Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholar at St Catharine's College.

I am currently writing a novel about a world in which everything is beginning all the time, and a play about a man who starts eating the dictionary; I also enjoy learning German and Latin, birdwatching, film (especially short films and stop motion animation), and making puppets.

Having previously held college and university-wide Access and Outreach positions, I enthusiastically welcome students at any educational level to drop me an email at if they would like to discuss applications, interviews, my research interests, or literature in general.

Research Interests

My PhD focuses on pastoral competition in the long eighteenth century. There is very little criticism on the singing contest trope outside of classical scholarship, particularly after the early modern period and especially compared to the volume of work on amorous and elegiac pastoral; my research hopes to begin to fill in some of these gaps. It argues that British pastoral poetry changes substantially after the influential Pope-Philips dispute, which was conceived of as metatextual amoebean verse; the idea of pastoral as a competition between texts persists. In other words, competition is not only an intratextual trope (i.e., within pastoral poems)—though an increased interest in the trope may be observed—but a broader intertextual spirit defining pastoral poetry and permeating its development. The thesis explores how competition interacts with pastoral innocence and harmony, how it lends pastoral a satirical edge, how it changes as the locus amoenus becomes a less stable concept over the course of the period, how it blends with folk traditions, and how the judgements pronounced at the end of pastoral singing contests are used as models for critical judgement.

My research interests lie mostly in the early modern period and the long eighteenth century, and, topic-wise (alongside pastoral), include:

The literary essay | Technography and machines, particularly in relation to Philip Larkin/lawnmower poems | Milton's typology | The conceptualisation and organisisation of knowledge (e.g. rhetoric, commonplacing, taxonomy) | Comedy and humour, especially early modern city comedy and Romantic parody/parodies of the Romantics | Puppets | Light

In general, I am drawn to genre, close reading, and interdisciplinarity.


From 2021-2022, I worked on Wordsworth Grasmere's Dorothy Wordsworth Transcription Project, involving the transcription of passages from her commonplace book, and took part in the Davy Notebooks Project. From October 2022—March 2023 I worked with Dr Nicole Sheriko, Rebekah King, Abraham Alsalihi, Gregory Miller, and Ilya Wray on a historical reconstruction of the talking magical bronze head from Robert Greene's Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay for a talk on the history of puppet theatre at the 2023 Cambridge Festival; I also ran the project's Twitter page and blog. Since June 2023 I have been co-convenor, with Daniel Brooks, of 'The Pleasures of Hating, 1660-1830', a conference on literary hating in the long eighteenth century to be held in November 2023 at Trinity College, Cambridge, funded by the British Association for Romantic Studies and the Jane Austen Society, also running the project's Twitter page. Since July 2023 I have been working with creative professionals under Cambridge Creative Encounters to turn 'Making light of essays | Making essays of light' (see Selected Publications) into a video essay and public engagement project. In Michaelmas 2023 I ran three postgraduate reading groups: the Form, Genre, Mode Reading Group (with Cecily Fasham), the New Arcadia Reading Group (with Daniel Brooks), and the Latin Rhetoric Reading Group (with Daniel Brooks and Samuel Webb, ongoing). From December 2023 I have been Poetry Editor of The Mays 32, and as of March 2024 I have taken up a position on the BBC Partnership PhD Shadowing Scheme for the National Short Story Award, which gives access and insight into the pleasures and practicalities of arts partnerships, opening up new ways of thinking about how to communicate research.

Selected Publications

  • 'The Pleasures of Hating' (ed. with Daniel Brooks), special issue, Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies (in preparation)
  • 'The accretive composition of MS. Don. e. 132', Oxford Research in English 16 (in preparation)
  • Review of 'Georgian Illuminations', Sir John Soane's Museum, BSECS Criticks (Feb 2023)
  • Conference report, 'The Pleasures of Hating, 1660-1830', BARS Blog (December 2023)
  • 'Making light of essays | Making essays of light', Errant 3 (in preparation), joint winner of the Chancellor's English Essay Prize (September 2022)

Media Appearances

  • Ariadne, embroidered cyanotype on paper, Cosmoscope Exhibition, Torriano Meeting House (March 2024)
  • 'Making light of essays | Making essays of light', short film for Cambridge Creative Encounters (premier at the launch of the Cambridge Festival, West Hub, 13th March 2024, exhibited to the public 14th—27th March 2024)
  • Creation of three seagull puppets for an ADC production of Chekhov's The Seagull (May 2023) - 5* review can be read here
  • '"That Vase": The secret lives of objects and machines in Larkin's poetry', Tiny In All That Air, the podcast of the Philip Larkin Society (guest appearance). Released 17th March 2023 [link]
  • Mr Control and Mr Submit (diptych of clown puppets), St Catharine's College Art Fair (February—March 2023)

Selected Presentations

  • 'Pope's Pastoral Judgments' — Eighteenth Century and Romantic Studies Seminar, University of Cambridge (1st February 2024)
  • 'Pastoral play? Alexander Pope's Singing Contests', BSECS 53rd Annual Conference, 'Work and Play', St Hugh's College, University of Oxford (5th January 2024, in preparation), recipient of BSECS' Michael Burden Award
  • '"Real or Allegoric"?: Satanic and divine typology in Paradise Regained' — Thirteenth International Milton Symposium, University of Toronto (13th July 2023)
  • 'Purney's Fabulous Pastoral' — 'How Do Stories Shape Our World?': English Faculty Graduate Symposium, University of Cambridge (5th May 2023)
  • 'Making light of essays | Making essays of light' [revised], with a new introduction on the literary essay and metaphor — Errant Symposium, University of Lancaster (29th April 2023)
  • 'Puppet magic on the early modern stage' (with Dr Nicole Sheriko, Abraham Alsalihi, and Gregory Miller) — Cambridge Festival 2023, Judith E. Wilson Studio, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge (19th March 2023)
  • '"We should be kind | While there is still time": Larkin’s mediating machines' — 'Bad Habits of Expectancy': Towards Larkin 200, University of Hull (8-9th December 2022)
  • 'Hunting after the early modern essay' — Medieval and Renaissance Symposium, University of Łódź (20th September 2022)
  • 'Pastoral competition in Oliver Goldsmith's The Deserted Village' — Oxford English Graduate Conference: 'Conversation(s)', University of Oxford (3rd June 2022)
  • 'The pastoral singing contest from Theocritus to Pope (and beyond)' — MSt in English (1700-1830) Conference: 'Connections', St Catherine's College, Oxford (24th May 2022)
  • 'Syncretic imitation: Langland and Latin in Spenser’s alliterative hexameters' (co-researched with Dr Archie Cornish) — Metre and Rhythm in Medieval and Early Modern English Poetry Conference, University of Padova (19th May 2022)