Dr Sinead Garrigan Mattar


Research Themes

All my research is driven by an interest in how nineteenth-century ‘scientific’ ideas about the roots of human cultural development impact upon fiction, poetry, and drama and, in turn, are permeated by the influence of literary texts and literary criticism.

My first book (OUP, 2004) explored the primitivism of the Irish Revival in this context. It examined how W.B. Yeats, J.M Synge and Augusta Gregory in particular were influenced by academic, scientific, and pseudo-scientific ideas of ‘primitive’ culture when they set about creating their literary visions of the Irish peasantry and of ancient Irish mythology.

My current project focuses on a single idea, central to anthropological and sociological redactions of ‘the story of primitive man’ in the nineteenth century: animism. My interest lies in the ways Edward Tylor utilised this concept in his influential study, Primitive Culture (1871) and in how the writers of the following century re-inflected, reacted against, adopted, and adapted Tylor’s acceptation of the concept to create a literature that might be responsive to the (imagined, projected, or assumed to be real) spirits of the world. I have written articles on Thomas Hardy and W.B. Yeats and am currently writing on Virginia Woolf.


I teach Girtonians and students from other colleges for literature from 1830-present (Paper 4 of Part I of the English Tripos), for Practical Criticism, and for Literary Theory. I supervise third-year students in the special period paper 1847-72 and/or for ‘Modernism and the Short Story’ and I have led the Faculty’s seminars for both these papers. I also supervise a wide range of subjects for dissertations in the modern period. My teaching tends to focus on literature before 1970, although there are some contemporary authors whose work I am happy to teach!

I have acted as DoS for all three year-groups, but in the academic year 2012-13 I will only be DoS for the first years.


When I came to Girton in 2004 I established a Poetry Group which is still thriving. The group is run by students and I simply make sure it ticks over each year. It provides a great opportunity for students, fellows, and staff to get together three times a term, write, read aloud, and discuss poems (anonymously) and to socialise. With my colleague, Edward Holberton, I help to run the annual Jane Martin Poetry Prize – a national competition centred at Girton.

College Role

Official Fellow

Degrees, Awards and Prizes

BA, DPhil (Oxon)