Spotlight on Student Scholars - Elizabeth Neary

Elizabeth Neary '14 conducted original research at Muhlenberg College and Princeton University to learn more about one of the most important women writers of the 1890's.

Thu, 23 Jan 2014 11:25:00 EST

Elizabeth Neary ’14 is an English and Spanish double major. While researching topics for her junior year thesis, she consulted with Dr. Grant Scott, professor of English and chair of Muhlenberg’s English department. He suggested that she revisit an author who had piqued her curiosity in “Decadence: The Literature of the 1890s,” a course she had completed during her sophomore year with Scott.

Elizabeth received a Muhlenberg College Dean’s grant to complete summer research on George Egerton, the pseudonym for Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright. Today, Egerton is seen as a New Woman and feminist writer, though she herself often disputed those terms. Her work featured assertive female protagonists whose lifestyles argued for the agency of women in an era of Victorian ideals insistent upon women serving primary functions as wives and mothers.

“My most interesting conclusion about her writing was how Egerton’s personal life informed radical, intellectual and complex female protagonists,” says Elizabeth. “I think the bravery she shows not only in writing these imagined roles of women but also living the life of travel, having affairs with famous male authors, marrying three times; she does it unapologetically, but she received harsh criticism for her own lifestyle and the lifestyle depicted in her stories.”

Elizabeth conducted her research by examining both published works and criticisms by Egerton as well as reading the personal letters and original manuscripts housed in the Rare Books Collection of Princeton University’s Firestone Library.

“It was fascinating when the process changed from reading short stories to directly reading primary sources and letters that had been written in 1893 and 1894,” says Elizabeth. “Reading that correspondence really deepened my understanding of her as an individual and as a writer; it showed a motive to her stories and informed how her life related to them.”

The Student Scholar Spotlight video series profiles the work of Muhlenberg students that have been engaged in independent research or scholarship for several semesters.