By Suk-Lin Zhou ‘14
During her year abroad at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, Isabelle Louis ‘13 fell in love with Romantic literature. In particular, she was profoundly intrigued by the philosophical treatises of the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Prior to taking the course Romantic Writing and Women with St Andrews Professor Susan Manly, Louis didn’t know that Wollstonecraft had published works of fiction; she was even more surprised to discover the influence of Wollstonecraft in the work of Mary Shelley.
“With each lecture and discussion, I became more intrigued by the similarities between Romantic writing, which is saturated with Burkian notions of the sublime and the beautiful, and Gothic literature, which often portrays swooning heroines. I wanted to, through textual research, unearth how Burke’s theoretical notions of the characteristics that ‘proper’ men and women should express in society affected the portrayal of sex in Romantic and Gothic literature.”
Inspired, Louis applied for and received funding from Mount Holyoke’s Universal Application Funding Program; she then spent an additional two months at St Andrews and in Glasgow, conducting an independent study. Louis received help from Professor Manly, who advised her which libraries she should visit in the United Kingdom; together, they compiled a lengthy bibliography of required and suggested texts that would further her research.
“Conducting research independently and living on my own, away from the comfort and security of a community like Mount Holyoke, was a bit disconcerting,” said Louis.
However, in time, Louis made a new community of friends. The people she came to know and love made her trips to the University of Glasgow’s library, St Andrews, and London, as well as simple tasks such as grocery shopping and doctors appointments, much easier to accomplish.
For other students who wish to engage in independent research, Louis has a few words of advice.
“If you have an inquiry… it (will) most likely be quite interesting and saturated with endless possibilities for further research,” she said. “I cannot stress enough the importance of visiting professors during office hours. Even if you’re studying abroad, do so! In my experience, professors want to engage with students outside of the classroom and speak to their students about material they find interesting or even complicated to understand. If I didn’t visit Dr. Manly during her office hours, I would not have come up with the basis of my research.”
Louis is certain that her Mount Holyoke education prepared her well for her independent research. She would like to thank gender studies professor Chaia Heller for introducing her to the works of Mary Wollstonecraft in her first-year Introduction to Gender Studies course at Mount Holyoke. Louis also thanks her advisor, William Quillian, Professor of English on the Emma B. Kennedy Foundation.
“Professor Quillian helped me become a more confident and vocal presence in the classroom. I cannot imagine my Mount Holyoke experience without his presence,” she said.
Overall, Louis’s study abroad experience was life changing.
“I undoubtedly gained a wealth of knowledge through my research; however, what I also learned is that formal educational experience can and does undeniably take you far,” she said. “Yet, the cultural knowledge I gained from fully immersing myself in the communities (in which) I lived and traveled helped change and mold the way I perceive life, as well as literature.”