This summer, Dr. Ashley Mulligan, assistant professor of English at Lee University, earned her doctor in philosophy in English at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), her specialty research area being 19th Century British Literature.
Dr. Mulligan began pursuing her master of arts in English at Penn State following her graduation from Lee University in 2015. By the time she accepted the role as a Late British Literature professor at Lee in 2019, Dr. Mulligan was less than halfway through writing her dissertation.
“It was difficult to stay intellectually invested in my scholarship during the semesters when my passion was to teach and build relationships with my students,” said Dr.
Mulligan. “But I often found that their enthusiasm and insights in the classroom—especially when I was teaching them Wordsworth’s or other Romantics’ poetry—reinvigorated me and gave me the inspiration I needed to finish it.”
The dissertation, titled “Wordworth’s Sacrificial Poetics: Rhetoric and Self-Formation, 1791-1801,” suggests that the Romantic’s tradition of poetry, influenced by freedom of creation, was largely unaware of the pain and doubt William Wordsworth experienced in his calling as a poet. Dr. Mulligan suggested that Wordsworth's wrestle with failure and fragility in his earlier works was an act of sacrifice for the betterment of his readers.
“Wordsworth’s rhetorical adjustments from the beginning to the end of the 1790s were subtle and delicate, but my dissertation demonstrates how when focalized, they illuminate a new aspect of his poetics—that his theory involved his rhetorical posturing as a kind of stoic sage who consented to the inevitable pain of composition for the sake of his readers’ souls,” said Dr. Mulligan.
Dr. Mulligan ties her dissertation specifically to one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems, “Tintern Abbey,” which tells of the tranquility of nature and how it influenced his deeds of kindness. Dr. Mulligan argued that Wordsworth used his own experience of pain in his poetry to convince his readers to perform “social acts of care.”
“I am so proud to have completed this degree and know it wouldn’t have happened but through the grace of God and pivotal moments of encouragement from family, mentors and students,” said Dr. Mulligan.