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17th November 2020 Rosa Chalfen (2019, English)

Exeter English academics to publish books on women’s writing and language

Rosa Chalfen (2019, English) spoke to Dr Jenni Nuttall and Dr Natasha Simonova to find out about the books they have recently had commissioned.

Jenni Nuttall and Natasha Simonova

Dr Jenni Nuttall and Dr Natasha Simonova

Two of Exeter’s English academics, Dr Jenni Nuttall (Stipendiary Lecturer in English) and Dr Natasha Simonova (Gwyneth Emily Rankin Official Fellow and Lecturer in English), have recently announced plans to publish books on women’s writing and language in the next few years.

Dr Nuttall’s book Mother Tongue: A Surprising History of Women’s Words will be published in 2023 by Virago in the UK and Viking in the US. Dr Simonova’s book, The Grey Ladies’ Reading Society, is expected to be published in 2022 by Chatto and Windus.

According to Dr Nuttall’s book announcement, Mother Tongue will ‘cover the first thousand years of English words,’ describing issues such as menstruation, childbirth and female sexuality. On the inspiration behind the book, Dr Nuttall cites the ‘Me Too’ movement, as well as recent campaigns to normalise the discussion of menstruation and miscarriage. ‘As a medievalist, I started thinking about the words we use and the longer history of those words, about people writing texts in the past and then writing about those experiences today.’

‘What I’m interested in in the book is how we once did have quite a bold set of terms for these things, which gradually got covered over by euphemism.’

Dr Simonova’s book follows the life of 18th-century peeress Jemima Marchioness Grey, as well as those of her daughters and friends. The book is based on a collection of letters held in the Bedfordshire County Record Office, and acts as a ‘double biography’ of Jemima and her daughter.

Dr Simonova says: ‘I think it’s nice to look outside what is published to get a fuller view of what people actually wrote and the wider variety of things that were written. A lot of people didn’t publish their work in print for various reasons, not necessarily because they were being oppressed, just because they didn’t want to. It’s interesting to go beyond print to see what a broader selection of people would have been reading and writing, particularly for women’.

Elsewhere in the English department, Professor Nandini Das, Tutorial Fellow in English at Exeter College, recently featured on BBC Radio 3 with Oxford Professor of History Rana Mitter, discussing the books that inspired Shakespeare.

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