Dr Isobel Hurst

Staff details


Lecturer in English


English and Creative Writing


i.hurst (@gold.ac.uk)

Isobel’s research explores the reception of Greece and Rome in the 19th century and in contemporary women’s writing.

My research examines the reception of Greek and Latin literature in English, looking at the connection between classical education and authorship and women writers’ creative engagement with the classical tradition.

I am the author of Victorian Women Writers and the Classics: The Feminine of Homer and am currently completing a book, Muse and Minerva: Transatlantic Women Writers and the Classical Tradition.

My main area of research is the long nineteenth century, and my interest in the rich and fascinating connections between Romantic and Victorian literature informed the development of the MA pathway in Romantic & Victorian Literature & Culture.

I have contributed to several volumes in Oxford University Press’s Classical Presences series, including Homer’s Daughters: Women's Responses to Homer in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. The undergraduate module Classical Epic and Contemporary Literature reflects this aspect of my research.

Academic qualifications

  • D.Phil., University of Oxford 2003
  • M.Phil. in English Studies, 1830-1900, University of Oxford 2000
  • BA (Hons) Classics and English, University of Oxford 1995

Teaching and supervision

PhD supervision: a comparative study of weaving women as symbols of the woman writer; Anne Carson, women's writing and the reception of ancient Greek literature.

Critical projects for Creative Writing PhDs: Anne Carson; poetic translations of epic; wonder in Romantic and contemporary poetry.

I welcome proposals on the reception of classical literature and on Victorian poetry and fiction.

Research interests

I work in an interdisciplinary area of research known as Classical Reception Studies, which examines how the literary and material cultures of ancient Greece and Rome have been adapted and rewritten at later times and other places. While classical literature is a potent influence on writers in many literary periods, there has been an upsurge in creative interpretations and reworkings of classical epic from the 1990s to the present, so I study contemporary women’s writing as well as nineteenth-century literature.

My main focus is the Victorian period, a time when allusions to Greece and Rome are pervasive in literary texts, material artefacts, popular spectacles and political discourses. It is often assumed that classical education was a male prerogative, yet some women writers studied the classical languages and engaged with ancient authors in their own texts. A sense of kinship with Greek women, both mythical heroines such as Antigone and historical figures like Xantippe, informs the work of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Amy Levy and many others. They reworked figures from classical mythology and literature to challenge notions of gender and sexuality, and to intervene in debates about slavery, education, work and marriage. They used ancient characters and archetypes to articulate their frustration and anger at the thwarting of women’s potential in societies which defined feminine respectability in terms of domesticity and seclusion and regarded intellectual achievement as a masculine prerogative. The extraordinary learning and sibylline personas of Barrett Browning and Eliot inspired women of later generations who had greater access to formal education in the classics. Looking for a context for their achievements, I examine developments in women’s education as well as personal biographies, finding that authorship and classical education were very closely connected for women with literary ambitions.

Publications and research outputs


Hurst, Isobel. 2006. Victorian Women Writers and the Classics: The Feminine of Homer. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199283516

Book Section

Hurst, Isobel. 2021. The Reception of Ancient Greece and Rome in the Victorian Period. In: Paula Rabinowitz, ed. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190201098

Hurst, Isobel. 2020. ‘What’s the Roman Republic to me, or I to the Roman Republic?’: Victorian Classicism and the Italian Risorgimento. In: Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson, eds. Classicising Crisis: The Modern Age of Revolutions and the Greco-Roman Repertoire. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 109-127. ISBN 9780815361770

Hurst, Isobel. 2019. Monologue and Dialogue: The Odyssey in Contemporary Women’s Poetry. In: Fiona Cox and Elena Theodorakopoulos, eds. Homer's Daughters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 177-192. ISBN 9780198802587


Hurst, Isobel. 2022. An autumnal underworld: Louise Glück’s Averno. Letteratura e Letterature, 16, pp. 75-85. ISSN 1971-906X

Hurst, Isobel. 2022. Epic and Performance. The Classical Review, 72(1), pp. 314-317. ISSN 0009-840X

Hurst, Isobel. 2021. The Epic Tradition. Oxford Bibliographies in Victorian Literature,

Conferences and talks

2023: George Eliot and Classical Education
Cambridge Classical Reception Seminar, Classics Faculty, University of Cambridge

2023: George Eliot and Greek Tragedy
The Victorians and the Ancient World conference, CUSVE, 'G. d'Annunzio' University of Chieti-Pescara

2023: 'I hide a grin': Humour and pathos in poetic receptions of Homer
Institute of Classical Studies Classical Reception seminar

2021: ‘All the allurements of beauty and eloquence’: Aspasia of Miletus and the Intellectual Woman in the Nineteenth Century
Inaugural conference for the Women Writers and Classics Network, “Women Creating Classics”

2019: ‘The Mask of a Very Definite Purpose’: Edith Wharton and the Classics
Annual Classics and English lecture, University of Oxford - available as a podcast

2019: Lucan’s Pharsalia and the fragmentation of history
Aesthetic Time, Decadent Archives conference, British Association of Decadence Studies and Goldsmiths

Research-led Teaching

Much of my teaching is concerned with the literature of the long 19th century. At undergraduate level, I have regularly taught Literature of the Victorian Period, Sensibility and Romanticism and Literary London, 1800-1900. I am currently developing a new module, Literature and Power in the Victorian Period, which will be taken by all BA English students.

My experience of teaching 19th-century literature informed the development of the Romantic & Victorian pathway of the MA Literary Studies. I teach the core module Nineteenth-Century Literature: Romanticisms, which explores the current debate in nineteenth-century studies about the persistence of a Romantic tradition throughout the century. Each week students compare texts which are closely connected yet often taught as the products of two distinct periods; they examine the development of genres and themes, and the ways in which individual texts relate to, derive from, or influence other texts.

Having taught and convened a first-year module, Explorations in Literature, in which students encounter two of the great ancient epics in their first few weeks at Goldsmiths, I wanted to give students a chance to revisit those texts in the context of the epic tradition, and to appreciate contemporary authors’ responses to the epics of Homer, Virgil and Ovid. Not only have the students who took my second-year module Classical Epic and Contemporary Literature produced some excellent and innovative essays, some have deployed their learning for this module in original creative work and in dissertations.