Zoe Jennings, Newnham

Degree: PhD
Course: English
Supervisor: Dr Fred Parker
Dissertation Title:

Grace and Nature: The Dynamics of Literary and Cosmic Creation in the work of Alexander Pope

Biographical Information

I read for an MA in English at Newnham College and for an MPhil in 18th Century and Romantic Literature at Robinson. I trained as a barrister and worked as an editor in International Arbitration and Private International Law at OUP for a couple of years, before returning to more literary interests, first in teaching English in a secondary school, and now in addressing the unanswered questions of my MPhil dissertation, which had pursued me to the point of distraction in the intervening years.

My current research is funded by The Principal’s Studentship at Newnham and my MPhil was funded by the AHRC. My Bar Course was funded by the Queen Mother Scholarship at Middle Temple.

Research Interests

My dissertation examines the relationship between the apparently methodless, negligent graces of art, celebrated from Plini and Quintilian through to the eighteenth century, and more threatening ideas of spontaneous cosmic form. It looks at the assumptions made about nature in Alexander Pope’s handling of aesthetic grace, as well as in the way he disposes the reader to receive it. I’m interested in the way notions of grace and the je-ne-sais-quoi intersect with materialism more broadly in the eighteenth century, and particularly in the way this responds to Newton. I’ve also thought about the political undercurrents at work in the use of aesthetic grace and about how grace works in relation to satire and scepticism in this respect. Shaftesbury, Addison and Swift have been major figures in the study.

Otherwise, my interests tend to be in contemporary literature— in the way contemporary ecological critics have grappled with the Kantian sublime as a means to understanding our response to a post-natural world; in the possibility of a reassessment of our response to sublime formlessness in light of our eternal subjectivity—Forrest Gander, Brenda Hillman; in the kind of tragic anagnorisis proceeding from the Anthropocene and whether it is unique—Juliana Spahr, Elisabeth Bletsoe.