Dissertation Corner with Charlotte Stevenson: Representing 1950s New York

In this week’s Dissertation Corner we speak to Charlotte Stevenson about her project on representations of 1950s New York!

1)   Tell us about your dissertation, what is it about?

I’m writing about New York in the 1950s as a site of transformation and epiphany. Observing how space is captured fictionally, how characters interact with or are influenced by different sites is fascinating to me but also something that’s fairly common amongst researchers. It’s because of this that I took a less conventional route with my writing and the topic I’m covering is one I feel hasn’t been covered in necessary depth by scholars to date.

2)   How did you choose the texts for your dissertation?

I chose the texts I’m writing on through a combination of appreciation for their authors, one or two of them being favourites, and also because I thought that they would challenge me in a new way. My chosen texts are all set in the 1950s but weren’t necessarily written in that decade, one being Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn which was published in the 2000s and is quite recent. As for my other texts, Franny and Zooey (J. D. Salinger) and The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath) I selected these texts because they have similar moments of realisation to the Toibin and an interesting range of New York locations.

3)   Has your project changed much since the proposal stage?

Massively! Before I drafted my dissertation proposal, I was set on writing about the work of Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Angela Carter. However, fond as I was of this idea, it contained far too much and wasn’t niche enough for a singular dissertation. American literature is my most loved branch of study so I was wary about choosing it for my final undergraduate piece. But I’ve found that selecting it, especially after returning from a trip to New York this summer with fresh inspiration, has actually proven to be massively useful. Feeling so excited and knowing a lot to begin with on this subject area has ended up proving far more a help than it has a hindrance. I’m finding it immensely enjoyable to be working on this project and am glad I changed my mind so many times initially to reach this stage where everything fits together more efficiently.

4)   Why are you interested in this topic?

I’m interested in this topic for many reasons though, that said, I’m not quite sure where it is my interest emerged from initially. Perhaps it is simply because titles that fall into this category are the ones I’ve read the most or because I never studied them in school. But most of all I think it’s because writers such as Salinger and Plath are so ahead of their time in what they have to say. Reading them feels fresh as an experience and not stale in the slightest. The same goes for Toibin who I snuck gladly into my dissertation despite his work being primarily about the Irish experience of the 1950s (a key part of my thesis also). Essentially, I’m interested in my topic because it unites a lot of things I’m fascinated by in connecting them in a new way.

5)   What have you enjoyed most about the project?

So far I’ve most enjoyed the research. When I began my research over the summer, I put together lots of old photos I found online and in archives from the decade and used it as a kind of mood board. My laptop wallpaper is actually a snap shot of the New York sky line with some people walking by it from the other side of the river. From there I’ve come across all sorts of interesting theories and journal articles, including one about how we perform our individual selves to the wider world which has become an integral part of my argument. Plus, of course, getting to re-read all the books I’m studying is a perfect excuse to indulge in my favourite authors!

6)   What has it been like working closely with an academic supervisor?

My supervisor is Dr. Anne-Marie Evans and she is always so helpful with my work. Discussing everything has been a massive help in narrowing down my thesis, planning where to go next and beginning the actual writing process. It makes me much more confident to go forward with the dissertation knowing that if I feel something isn’t working I have someone I can talk it through with. Additionally it’s a reminder that all academic work is a form of contribution to what is a myriad of eclectic scholarly ongoing conversations across the globe. Working under supervision makes me not only aware of that but eager to participate in a conversation with many such other individuals.