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Dr Kirsty Martin

Senior Lecturer


01392 724325

CV for Dr Kirsty Martin

Kirsty Martin's research concerns literature, emotion and medicine, with a particular emphasis on twentieth-century literature, and on women's writing.  Her first book Modernism and the Rhythms of Sympathy: Vernon Lee, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013.  She is currently writing about literature and happiness.


Research interests

My research primarily concerns literature, emotion, and medicine, with a particular emphasis on women's writing, and questions relating to gender, embodiment and feeling. I’m centrally interested in how close, historicized readings of literary texts can shed light on philosophical questions about thought and feeling that matter across literary periods, and across disciplines.

My first book, Modernism and the Rhythms of Sympathy, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. This book focuses on understandings of sympathy in the works of Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and Vernon Lee (the first novelist to use the word 'empathy'). Complicating notions of modernism as hostile to messy emotion and to empathy, it argues that these writers were centrally concerned by how we feel for each other. Offering fresh research into early twentieth-century contexts for thinking about feeling and the body, the monograph also intervenes in current philosophical debate about the relationship between emotion and cognition. I wrote a blog post for OUP which offers an insight into some of the matters discussed in the book – this is available to read

I have published a number of article studies on topics connected to thinking about emotion, medicine, and gender.  My article on 'Modernism and the Medicalization of Sunlight: D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, and the Sun Cure' was published in Modernism/Modernity in 2016, a chapter on ‘Modernism and Emotion’ came out in The Bloomsbury Companion to Modernist Literature, ed. Ulrika Maude and Mark Nixon in 2018, and my article on 'D. H. Lawrence and Post-natal Depression' has just been published in Cambridge Quarterly.

My next major book project is provisionally entitled Writing Happiness: Literature and Contentment. Happiness is currently being discussed across disciplines, with recent research in politics, economics, and the new ‘positive psychology’. My book will explore some of the complexities inherent in thinking about ‘making happiness’, covering a range of nineteenth and twentieth-century works and considering the relationship between happiness and fiction.  An essay drawing on my early research findings has recently been published in Essays in Criticism.

In addition to my interest in how happiness is thought about by literary texts, I’m also interested in questions of how we articulate the well-being benefits of reading, and in how far current interest in ‘bibliotherapy’ might be connected to a historical legacy of thinking about reading for happiness. In 2015 I organised a HASS (Humanities and Social Sciences Strategy)-funded interdisciplinary workshop on ‘Reading for Happiness: Mind and Memory’ with my colleague Dr Johanna Harris.  I'm currently developing this work further as part of a broader project on literature and well-being.

I have reviewed books for Review of English Studies, Modern Language Review, the Times Literary Supplement  and Literature and History. I have reviewed book proposals for Oxford University Press, Bloomsbury Academic, Anthem Press and Routledge, and manuscripts for the D. H. Lawrence Review , MLRELH, and Comparative Literature.  


Recent and Forthcoming Talks, Public Lectures and Conference Paper

September 2021 'D.H. Lawrence, Embarrassment, and the Sincerity of Shyness', invited paper, Symposium on 'Modernism and Sincerity', University of Bristol.

July 2021, ''Getting Better: D. H. Lawrence and the Idea of Recovery in Lady Chatterley's Lover', invited paper at the D.H. Lawrence Symposium on 'Proximity and Distance'.

April 2021, 'Happiness, Literature, and Breathing', Masterclass, University of York.

November 2019 Participant in roundtable on 'Why Iris Murdoch Matters', Center for Political Thought, University of Exeter.

October 2019, ''The mind reaches out": Creating Happiness' (Keynote), Happiness: Enlightenment to the Present, University of Cambridge.

July 2019 ''So much the point': Iris Murdoch and Happiness', Iris Murdoch Centenary Conference, University of Oxford.

May 2019 ''Ones certainly happy': Virginia Woolf and the Writing of Happiness', Affective Criticism/Affective Forms, University of Birmingham.

May 2018 'Happiness, Creativity and Fiction', Symposium on Culture, Creativity and Wellbeing, University of Exeter.

March 2016 'Modernist Literature and the Medicalization of Sunlight', Medical Humanities Seminar, University of Bristol.

November 2015 "Not the sense of well-being': T. S. Eliot and Happiness', Modernist Studies Association, Boston.

April 2015 "For it was the old grief come back in her': D. H. Lawrence and Post-natal Depression, Paris Ouest University (Nanterre).

April 2015 "Time had ceased': Modernism and Happiness', Modernism's Chronic Conditions: Temporality, Medicine, and Disorders of the Self (An interdisciplinary workshop), Exeter.

March 2015 'Writing Happiness: Literature and Contentment', Literature and Emotion Tea-Time Talks, Hull.


Research supervision

I very much enjoy supervising research students, and in 2016 received the Students' Guild Award for 'Best Research Supervisor'. 

I would be interested in supervising research students in the following areas:

  • Modernist women's writing
  • My key author interests: Vernon Lee, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Iris Murdoch, George Eliot.
  • Literature and emotion
  • Literaure and medicine

Please do feel free to email me with enquiries.

Research students

Completed Research Students

Lorna Wilkinson, '"A Blur of Potentialities": The Figure of the Trickster in the Works of Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark' (Lead supervisor, with Professor Philip Schwyzer).

Stephanie Boland, 'Modernism and Non-fiction' (Second supervisor, with Professor Regenia Gagnier).

Rachel Murray, 'The Modernist Exoskeleton: Lewis, Lawrence, H.D., Beckett' (Second supervisor, with Professor Ralph Pite).

Imola Nagy-Seres, 'The Tremors of Sympathy: Affect Sharing in the Modern and Contemporary Novel' (Co-supervisor, with Professor Laura Salisbury).

Current Research Students

Laurie Huggett, 'Disrupted Memory and Restoration of the Normal: Daphne du Maurier and the Cold War, 1949-60' (lead supervisor, with Professor Vike Plock).

Anetta Pangaia, 'Extensions of Being: The Metaphysics of Human Connection in the Work of Virginia Woolf' (co-supervisor, with Professor Laura Salisbury).

External impact and engagement

I very much enjoy talking to a range of audiences about my work, and I'm always delighted to hear from academics and non-academics alike with questions, ideas and comments on my research.

In March 2015 I delivered a public lecture on 'Writing Happiness: Literature and Contentment' as part of the Literature and Emotion Tea-Time Talks, a University of Hull OpenCampus Programme led by Dr Richard Meek.  Details of the series can be found here:

In 2016 I wrote the introduction for the exhibition booklet of Deborah Robinson's film 'Like a signal falling', which was based around Stephen Tomlin's bust of Virginia Woolf at Monk's House, and inaugurated at the Glenside Psychiatric Hospital Museum in Bristol.  Details of the film can be found here:

In Autumn 2016 I guest-chaired some happiness-themed reading sessions at Exeter's Recovery Learning Community Library, focussing on poems and extracts of prose works exploring ideas of happiness and resilience.  I hope hold further such sessions in the future (dependent on funding applications currently in progress).  To find out more about the Recovery Library see here:

In Summer 2019 I gave a Q&A session on Virginia Woolf following a screening of Chanya Button's Vita and Virginia at the Barn Cinema, Dartington Hall.  Discussion touched on questions of voice and print, public and private selves, gender and authorship, as well as exploring cinematic representations of Woolf's happiness (or lack thereof).  Details here:

Contribution to discipline

In 2015 I organised an interdisciplinary workshop on 'Reading for Happiness: Mind and Memory' with my colleague Dr Johanna Harris.  The workshop brought together academics from across English, psychology, theology, medicine and neuroscience to discuss the phenomenon of 'therapeutic reading'.  Details of the workshop can be found here:


I have taught across the Exeter degree course, from the first-year survey courses on The Novel and Beginnings, to the second-year module Modernism and Modernity, and my own special option on Virginia Woolf.  I also originally co-designed, and now contribute to, the MA module 'Modernism and Material Culture'.

In addition to teaching, I am also centrally interested in and committed to practices of student support and academic personal tutoring provision.  I was Senior Tutor for the department from 2018-2019, and, as part of the training for that role, became accredited as a Mental Health First Aider in 2019.  

Modules taught


I studied as an undergraduate and a postgraduate at the University of Oxford, gaining my first degree from Pembroke College before going on to complete my M St and D Phil at Linacre College.  In 2009 I was elected to a (non-stipendiary)Junior Research Fellowship at Linacre College.  From 2007 onwards I taught for a range of Oxford colleges and visiting student schemes, and in 2011-2012 I held a teaching lectureship at Christ Church, Oxford.  I joined Exeter as a Lecturer in September 2012, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2018.