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Villanova English Professor’s Book Honored by American Conference for Irish Studies

A photo of Dr. Mary Mullen in a green shirt next to the cover of her new book "Novel Institutions"

VILLANOVA, Pa. – In the study of English literature, mid-19th century Irish novels have often been overlooked, according to Mary L. Mullen, PhD, assistant professor of English at Villanova University. In Novel Institutions: Anachronism, Irish Novels and Nineteenth Century Realism (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), she shows the importance of these Irish novels to understanding British realism. The book claims that novels by Irish writers like Maria Edgeworth, William Carleton, Charles Joseph Kickham, and George Moore help us reinterpret novels by English writers like George Eliot and Charles Dickens.

In Novel Institutions, Dr. Mullen examines anachronisms in realist writing to redefine British realism and demonstrate how institutions constrain social relationships in the present—and limit our sense of political possibilities in the future.

Novel Institutions considers the ways in which institutions configure, regulate and foreclose time in that powerful 19th century form we call realism,” notes scholar Elaine Freedgood, PhD, a professor of English at New York University. “Mullen’s readings of a largely unstudied cache of Irish novels suggest that we are not obligated to inhabit the futures the dominant novel imagines for us, and that reading time out of joint can offer very realistic hope for changing the institutions that we inhabit.”

The book was recently awarded the 2019 Robert Rhodes Prize for Books on Literature from the American Conference for Irish Studies, which called it “a fascinating study that reassesses both literary histories and current scholarship about the realist novel.”

Established in 1960, the American Conference for Irish Studies encourages research and writing in Irish studies by establishing communication among scholars in Irish history, literature, folklore, language, social studies, and fine and applied arts. 

In addition to teaching English, Dr. Mullen serves as a faculty member of Villanova University’s Center for Irish Studies in Villanova’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Her research and teaching focus on the relationship between literature, history and politics with an emphasis on nineteenth-century English and Irish writing. Her articles have been published in Victorian Studies, Victorian PoetryEighteenth-Century FictionNew Hibernia Review and Cultural Studies. This is her first book. Dr. Mullen holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.