Dr Nicky Hallett



email : n.a.hallett@shef.ac.uk

Dr Nicky Hallett

My research interests are inherently inter-disciplinary, focusing especially on self-writing, medieval and early modern literature, and contemporary women’s auto/biography.

These fascinations were shaped during postgraduate study at the University of York where I completed a DPhil on social ostentation in fifteenth-century literature at the Centre for Medieval Studies. I became intrigued by the apparent self-promotion that infused even the most devotional of material, including visual and funerary art as well as literature. Since then I have published work in several related (and apparently diverse) fields: on Chaucer´s women, on Virginia Woolf´s historiography, on nuns´ writing and convents, and on auto/biography of the twentieth century - rather a leap in periods, but following an on-going interest in gender and self-representation.

I joined the School of English in 2007. Before that, from 1997 I worked in the School of English at the University of Kent where I was member of the Centre for Medieval and Tudor Studies and co-founder of the Centre for Gender, Sexuality and Writing.


One of my main research interests in recent years has been a study of nuns, particularly writing by English women living in exile in northern Europe during the period 1600-1800. They produced an amazing array of work, exciting in its diversity and offering new perspectives on a turbulent period of political and religious change. During 2013/14 I was joined by Jaime Goodrich, a US Fulbright Scholar from Wayne State University, Michigan, to explore our shared interests in this field. We ran a number of workshops, including our ‘Bring-Along-A-Nun’ day at Sheffield Showroom: www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/nunday

I have produced four books on the subject three of them critical editions of previously unknown manuscripts from enclosed convent archives, including an account of witchcraft and exorcism affecting two nuns. I have also published a monograph on the role of the senses in early modern contemplative life. The richness of the nuns’ writing allows interdisciplinary study in several parallel areas: cultural and gender ideologies; medical humanities; philosophy; religious history and literature; spiritual self-writing.

The Senses in Religious Communities Reviews: ‘a stunningly original contribution’; ‘Hallett’s book is provocative throughout, evoking localized atmospheres that extend current understandings of the senses in the early modern period’; ‘This book will undoubtedly have a huge impact in shaping the contours of the fast-evolving field of sensory history, particularly in its analysis of gender and religion.’

English Convents in Exile, 1600–1800   Reviews: ‘one of the most important collections of primary sources relating to English Catholicism to have been published during the last century’; ‘a tremendous work of scholarship and archive retrieval’.

 Lives of Spirit: An Edition of English Carmelite Auto/biographies of the Early Modern Period (Early Reviews: ‘a rich resource and starting point for further scholarship … It is also an absorbing read‘: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9780754606758

  Witchcraft, Exorcism and the Politics of Possession in a Seventeenth-Century Convent  Reviews: ‘Hallett treats texts that could be read as representing sensational events with academic rigour, balance and sensitivity’

My other interests relate to gender, sexuality and writing. I have published essays and a monograph on this subject too: 

Lesbian Lives: Identity and Auto/biography in the Twentieth Century 

This book had the honour of being vandalised, then reshaped as art-work by CJ Grossman in the Reversing Vandalism exhibition, San Francisco Public Library, 2003:

Currently I am working on the topic of ‘phantom limbs’ in literature.

Membership of Professional Groups:

Academic Advisory Panel for a major AHRC-funded project ‘Who Were The Nuns?’ at Queen Mary, University of London:

‘Who Were The Nuns?

Historians of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland Network:

Historians of Women Religious of Britain and Ireland Network

Sheffield Death Group

Convenor of the Sheffield Death Group & member of national Association for the Study of Death and Society: http://www.deathandsociety.org/index.php

I have an on-going interest in the cultural representation of death, and convene the Sheffield Death Group, a cross-disciplinary forum with around 75 members comprising academics and practitioners from across the region. We meet regularly to discuss work in progress, and welcome suggestions for related activities in this field. During 2013/15 I am a co-organiser with Julie Ellis in Sociological Studies of an AHRC-funded network project (with colleagues at the universities of Hull and Leicester): ‘Crossing Over: New Narratives of Death in the Twenty-first Century’. We are collaborating with Rotherham Hospice to explore the creative capacities of staff testimony.


Sheffield Medical Humanities Centre Strategy Group: http://mhs.group.shef.ac.uk/
Sheffield Centre for Early Modern Studies: http://www.scems.group.shef.ac.uk/


I very much enjoy teaching and find seminars are settings for the production as well as sharing of knowledge, where questions are as significant as answers. Certainly for me teaching and research run hand-in-hand, as the former often leads to new directions in the latter – and vice versa. Most modules I teach lead us in interdisciplinary directions. These typically include:

LIT3055: Women's Auto/biography; self-writing and fictivity (medieval to contemporary).

LIT218: Chaucer’s Comic Tales.

LIT234: Renaissance Literature.

LIT2000: Genre.

LIT113: Foundations in Literary Study: Biblical and Classical Sources for English Literature.

I also contribute to team-taught MA pathways in Early Modern Literature, including modules on ‘Early Modern Texts and Transmission’; ‘Theory and the Pre-modern Text’ and ‘The Country House in English Literary Imagination’.

In 2010 I was voted Faculty of Arts Personal Tutor of the Year in the Student Union Awards.


I welcome applicants with an interest in interdisciplinary work in women's writing, especially (though not exclusively, as you'll see from my research interests) of the early modern period, and in the fields of death studies, auto/biography of all periods, including creative and auto-critical self-writing.



  • The Senses in Religious Communities, 1600-1800: Early Modern ‘Convents of Pleasure’ (Ashgate series on Women and Gender in the Early Modern World, Farnham & Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2013)
  • English Convents in Exile, 1600-1800: Life Writing I (London & Brookfield VT: Pickering & Chatto, 2012)
  • Lives of Spirit: English Carmelite Self-Writing of the Early Modern Period (Aldershot & Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2007)
  • Witchcraft, Exorcism and the Politics of Possession in a Seventeenth Century Convent: ‘How Sister Ursula was once bewiched and Sister Margaret twice’ (Aldershot & Burlington VT: Ashgate, 2007)
  • Lesbian Lives: Identity and Auto/biography in the Twentieth Century (London & Sterling VA: Pluto Press, 1999)

Special Journal Editions

  • with Jan Montefiore: The Epistolary Self: Lives & Letters: double-issue of Journal of European Studies: Literature and Ideas from the Renaissance to the Present (June/September 2002)

Chapters in Books

  • Shakespeare’s Sisters: Anon and the Authors in Early Modern Convents’, in Communities, Culture and Identity: The English Convents in Exile, 1600-1800, ed. Caroline Bowden and James Kelly (Ashgate, 2013), 139-55
  • ‘“Anxiously Yours”: the Epistolary Self and the Culture of Concern’, Journal of European Studies: Literature and Ideas from the Renaissance to the Present, xxxii (2002), 107-18, rep. in SAGE Biographical Research, ed. John Goodwin (Sage Publications, 2012)
  • ‘Paradise Postponed: the Nationhood of Nuns in the 1670s’ in Religion, Culture and the National Community in the 1670s, ed. Tony Claydon and Tom Corns (University of Wales Press, 2011), 10-34
  • ‘Anne Clifford as Orlando: Virginia Woolf’s feminist historiology and women’s biography’; rep. from Women’s History Review, 4:4, 1995, 505–24; ed. Mihoko Suzuki, Ashgate Critical Essays on Women Writers in England, 1500-1700 (2009), 3-22
  • ‘“fayre wordes brake neuer bone”: Chaucer’s Women’, in A Companion to Chaucer, ed. Peter Brown (Blackwell, 2000, rep. 2001), 480-94

Journal Articles

  • ‘Philip Sidney in the Cloister: the Reading Habits of English Nuns in Seventeenth-Century Antwerp’, Journal of Early Modern Cultural Studies, 12:3 (July 2012), 87-115
  • ‘“So short a space of time”: Early Modern Convent Chronology and Carmelite Spirituality’, Journal for Medieval & Early Modern Studies, 42:2, (Fall 2012), 539-66
  • Beyond Belief: Teaching Religious Literature in a Secular Age’, parallel publication in Discourse: Learning and Teaching in Philosophical and Religious Studies, 11.2 (June 2012) and Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds (2012)
  • ‘Did Mrs Danvers Warm Rebecca’s Pearls? Significant Exchanges and the Extension of Lesbian Space and Time in Literature’, Feminist Review, 74 (August 2003), 35-49: discussing work by Daphne Du Maurier and Carol Ann Duffy
  • Reading and Writing Auto/biography: the Displacement of Lesbian Subtexts’, Women: A Cultural Review, 9, 2, Summer 1998, 158–164
  • ‘Anne Clifford as Orlando: Virginia Woolf’s feminist historiology and women’s biography’, Women’s History Review, 4:4, 1995, 505–24: identifying an unacknowledged early modern source for the character of Orlando

On-line Resources

Conference Papers

I have presented work at national and international conferences, including in the Azores, Chicago, Miami, New York, Paris and Venice. 

Other Activities

I also  publish poetry and short fiction. In November 2010 took part in the Sheffield Off-the-Shelf Literary Festival, in conversation with Sarah Dunant, best-selling author of Sacred Hearts, a novel set in an Italian Renaissance convent.