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English and Creative Writing

Photo of Dr Kirsty Martin

Dr Kirsty Martin

Senior Lecturer


01392 724325


Kirsty Martin's research concerns literature, emotion, and medicine, with a particular emphasis on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature. 

Her first book Modernism and the Rhythms of Sympathy: Vernon Lee, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013.  She is now completing a book entitled Writing Happiness (contracted to Oxford University Press).

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My research primarily concerns literature, emotion, and medicine. I’m centrally interested in how close, historicized readings of literary texts can shed light on philosophical questions about thought and feeling that matter across literary periods, and across disciplines.

My first book, Modernism and the Rhythms of Sympathy, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. This book focuses on understandings of sympathy in the works of Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence and Vernon Lee (the first novelist to use the word 'empathy'). Complicating notions of modernism as hostile to messy emotion and to empathy, it argues that these writers were centrally concerned by how we feel for each other. Offering fresh research into early twentieth-century contexts for thinking about feeling and the body, the monograph also intervenes in current philosophical debate about the relationship between emotion and cognition. I wrote a blog post for OUP which offers an insight into some of the matters discussed in the book – this is available to read

I have since published a number of article studies on topics connected to thinking about emotion and medicine.  My article on 'Modernism and the Medicalization of Sunlight: D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, and the Sun Cure' was published in Modernism/Modernity in 2016, a chapter on ‘Modernism and Emotion’ came out in The Bloomsbury Companion to Modernist Literature, ed. Ulrika Maude and Mark Nixon in 2018, and my article on 'D. H. Lawrence and Post-natal Depression' was published in Cambridge Quarterly.  I am currently completing article on Lawrence and shyness, and writing a further article on ideas of recovery in Lady Chatterley's Lover.

My current major focus, though, is a work provisionally entitled Writing Happiness (contracted to Oxford University Press). Happiness is currently being discussed across disciplines, with recent research in politics, economics, and the new ‘positive psychology’. My book will explore some of the complexities inherent in thinking about ‘making happiness’, covering a range of nineteenth and twentieth-century works and considering the relationship between happiness and fiction.  An essay drawing on my early research findings was published in Essays in Criticism.

I regularly write book reviews, including for the Times Literary SupplementLiterature and HistoryReview of English StudiesMLR and Emotions: History, Culture, Society.

Recent and Forthcoming Talks, Public Lectures and Conference Papers

March 2024 ''Immune, she repeated': Virginia Woolf, Happiness, and the Politics of Immunity, ACLA, Montreal.

May 2022: 'Happily Ever After? Happiness in Literature from The Snail and the Whale to Virginia Woolf' -- a public lecture for U3A, Exeter.

September 2021 'D.H. Lawrence, Embarrassment, and the Sincerity of Shyness', invited paper, Symposium on 'Modernism and Sincerity', University of Bristol.

July 2021, ''Getting Better: D. H. Lawrence and the Idea of Recovery in Lady Chatterley's Lover', invited paper at the D.H. Lawrence Symposium on 'Proximity and Distance'.

April 2021, 'Happiness, Literature, and Breathing', Masterclass, University of York.

November 2019 Participant in roundtable on 'Why Iris Murdoch Matters', Center for Political Thought, University of Exeter.

October 2019, ''The mind reaches out": Creating Happiness' (Keynote), Happiness: Enlightenment to the Present, University of Cambridge.

July 2019 ''So much the point': Iris Murdoch and Happiness', Iris Murdoch Centenary Conference, University of Oxford.

May 2019 ''Ones certainly happy': Virginia Woolf and the Writing of Happiness', Affective Criticism/Affective Forms, University of Birmingham.

May 2018 'Happiness, Creativity and Fiction', Symposium on Culture, Creativity and Wellbeing, University of Exeter.

March 2016 'Modernist Literature and the Medicalization of Sunlight', Medical Humanities Seminar, University of Bristol.

November 2015 "Not the sense of well-being': T. S. Eliot and Happiness', Modernist Studies Association, Boston.

April 2015 "For it was the old grief come back in her': D. H. Lawrence and Post-natal Depression, Paris Ouest University (Nanterre).

April 2015 "Time had ceased': Modernism and Happiness', Modernism's Chronic Conditions: Temporality, Medicine, and Disorders of the Self (An interdisciplinary workshop), Exeter.

March 2015 'Writing Happiness: Literature and Contentment', Literature and Emotion Tea-Time Talks, Hull.

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I very much enjoy supervising research students, and in 2016 received the Students' Guild Award for 'Best Research Supervisor'. 

I would be interested in supervising research students in the following areas:

  • Modernism
  • My key author interests, including Vernon Lee, Elizabeth von Arnim, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, T. S. Eliot,  Iris Murdoch, George Eliot, Zadie Smith, Ali Smith
  • Literature and emotion
  • Literaure and medicine

Please do feel free to email me with enquiries.

Research students

Completed Research Students

Lorna Wilkinson, '"A Blur of Potentialities": The Figure of the Trickster in the Works of Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark' (Lead supervisor, with Professor Philip Schwyzer).

Stephanie Boland, 'Modernism and Non-fiction' (Second supervisor, with Professor Regenia Gagnier).

Rachel Murray, 'The Modernist Exoskeleton: Lewis, Lawrence, H.D., Beckett' (Second supervisor, with Professor Ralph Pite).

Imola Nagy-Seres, 'The Tremors of Sympathy: Affect Sharing in the Modern and Contemporary Novel' (Co-supervisor, with Professor Laura Salisbury).

Current Research Students

Laurie Huggett, 'History, Memory, Guilt: Daphne du Maurier's Writing of the 1950s' (lead supervisor, with Professor Vike Plock).

Anetta Pangaia, 'Extensions of Being: The Metaphysics of Human Connection in the Work of Virginia Woolf' (co-supervisor, with Professor Laura Salisbury).

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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2024 | 2018 | 2014 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 |


  • Martin K. (2024) D. H. Lawrence and Shyness, Journal of Modern Literature.


  • Martin K. (2018) D. H. Lawrence and Post-Natal Depression, The Cambridge Quarterly.


  • Martin K. (2014) Review of Susan Jones, Literature, Modernism, and Dance, Literature and History, volume 23, no. 2.
  • Martin K. (2014) Virginia Woolf's Happiness, Essays in Criticism: a quarterly journal of literary criticism, volume 64, no. 4, pages 394-414, DOI:10.1093/escrit/cgu020.


  • Martin K. (2012) Review of Carolyn Betensky, Feeling for the Poor, The Review of English Studies: the leading journal of English literature and language, volume 63, no. 260, pages 511-513.


  • Martin K. (2011) Virginia Woolf, Sympathy and Feeling for the Human, Towards a New Literary Humanism, Palgrave Macmillan, 44-58.


  • Martin K. (2010) D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield and Happiness, Katherine Mansfield Studies, volume 2, pages 87-99.

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External impact and engagement

I very much enjoy talking to a range of audiences about my work.  I would be glad to hear from academics and non-academics alike with questions, ideas and comments on my research.  

Some examples of my engagement activity:

In March 2015 I delivered a public lecture on 'Writing Happiness: Literature and Contentment' as part of the Literature and Emotion Tea-Time Talks, a University of Hull OpenCampus Programme led by Dr Richard Meek.  Details of the series can be found here:

In 2016 I wrote the introduction for the exhibition booklet of Deborah Robinson's film 'Like a signal falling', which was based around Stephen Tomlin's bust of Virginia Woolf at Monk's House, and inaugurated at the Glenside Psychiatric Hospital Museum in Bristol.  Details of the film can be found here:

In Summer 2019 I gave a Q&A session on Virginia Woolf following a screening of Chanya Button's Vita and Virginia at the Barn Cinema, Dartington Hall.  Discussion touched on questions of voice and print, public and private selves, gender and authorship, as well as exploring cinematic representations of Woolf's happiness (or lack thereof).  Details here:

In May 2022 I delivered a public lecture entitled 'Happily Ever After? Happiness in Literature from The Snail and the Whale to Virginia Woolf' to members of the Exeter branch of U3A (the talk is reviewed here: Exeter U3A: Exeter University Liaison (

In May-June 2022 I delivered a short course on happiness in literature as part of the Recovery Learning programme offered by the Devon Recovery Library: Literature and Happiness ( This course builds on some reading group sessions I chaired in 2016.

Contribution to discipline

In 2015 I organised an interdisciplinary workshop on 'Reading for Happiness: Mind and Memory' with my colleague Dr Johanna Harris.  The workshop brought together academics from across English, psychology, theology, medicine and neuroscience to discuss the phenomenon of 'therapeutic reading'.  Details of the workshop can be found here:

I have reviewed articles for journals including Cusp, Literature and HistoryComparative LiteratureThe D H Lawrence Review, English Literary History and the Review of English Studies.  I have reviewed book manuscripts and proposals for publishers including Bloomsbury, Oxford University Press, and Routledge.

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I have taught across the Exeter degree course, from the first-year survey courses on The Novel and Beginnings, to the second-year module Modernism and Modernity, and my own special option on Virginia Woolf.  I also originally co-designed, and continue to contribute to, the MA module 'Modernism and Material Culture'.

In addition to teaching, I am also centrally interested in and committed to practices of student support and academic personal tutoring provision.  I was Senior Tutor for the department from 2018-2019, and, as part of the training for that role, became accredited as a Mental Health First Aider in 2019.  

Modules taught

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I grew up in Northampton, and went to Northampton High School For Girls.  I then studied as an undergraduate and a postgraduate at the University of Oxford, gaining my first degree from Pembroke College before going on to complete my M St and D Phil at Linacre College.  In 2009 I was elected to a (non-stipendiary)Junior Research Fellowship at Linacre College.  From 2007 onwards I taught for a range of Oxford colleges and visiting student schemes, and in 2011-2012 I held a teaching lectureship at Christ Church, Oxford.  I joined Exeter  in September 2012.

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