Dr Jane Dowson

Job: Honorary Reader

Faculty: Arts, Design and Humanities

School/department: School of Humanities and Performing Arts

Research group(s): English, Centre for Textual Studies, Twentieth-Century Literature, Contemporary Poetry

Address: De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, UK, LE1 9BH

T: +44 (0) 116 207 8324

E: jdowson@dmu.ac.uk

W: https://www.dmu.ac.uk/humanities


Personal profile

Jane Dowson is Reader in twentieth-century literature and passionate about all periods and genres.  Her work on women’s poetry began with the 1930s then developed to the modernist period (1910-39) and from then to co-write the history of twentieth-century British and Irish women’s poetry.  Work on the early twentieth century involved finding poems and reviews in literary periodicals such the Listener, Time and Tide and The Times Literary Supplement.  For her chapter in The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Magazines, she came upon The Bermondsey Book, a fascinating periodical rooted in the working-class community that frequented the Bermondsey Bookshop, started by Ethel Gutman.  Jane Dowson has worked on the papers and poetry of Elizabeth Jennings in order to review Jennings’s place in twentieth-century literary history.  The writing associated with Jennings’s breakdown led to further investigation of the term ‘confessional’ and how it might be redefined in the twenty-first century.  It also led to Jane Dowson’s current interest in poetry about illness and links with the annual symposium, Poetry and Medicine and the Literature and Madness network. She is currently writing a monograph on Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

Jane initiated the network ‘Women and Poetry in the 21st Century’.  The inaugural meeting was held at DMU in September 2005 that led to a two-day international conference, Kicking Daffodils 3, at the University of the West of England, 6/7 September, 2006.

Jane Dowson has supervised Ph.D and MA theses on modernist and contemporary women writers, British-Asian fiction and contemporary poetry.

Before coming to De Montfort University, Leicester in 1991, Dr Jane Dowson headed the PGCE English for secondary education at the Bedford campus and co-edited, Learning to Teach in the Secondary School.  She has been awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Teaching and been regularly nominated for it. She currently leads modules in Contemporary Poetry, and Postcolonial Writing.


Research group affiliations

English; Centre for Textual Studies

Publications and outputs

  • Poetry 1920-45
    dc.title: Poetry 1920-45 dc.contributor.author: Dowson, Jane dc.description.abstract: The chapter offers both an overview of women's poetry in the period and also close analysis of key literary poets, such as Sitwell and Mew, and trends. dc.description: The chapter is part of a book that is number 8 in a major series of works that record, investigate and interpret women writers as pioneers or participants in British literature.
  • Elizabeth Jennings Project
    dc.title: Elizabeth Jennings Project dc.contributor.author: Dowson, Jane dc.description.abstract: The digital archive includes examples of Jennings's manuscript writing. It holds together information from her private papers and more broadly on the World Wide Web. It is of use to scholars and general readers as a resource
  • Poetry and Personality: The Private Papers and Public Image of Elizabeth Jennings
    dc.title: Poetry and Personality: The Private Papers and Public Image of Elizabeth Jennings dc.contributor.author: Dowson, Jane dc.description.abstract: The chapter draws on extensive archival work on the papers of English poet Elizabeth Jennings and discusses them in relation to her poetry. It also describes and reflects on the process of selecting from them for a digital site that would reach a broad audience.
  • Poetry and personality: the private papers and public image of Elizabeth Jennings
    dc.title: Poetry and personality: the private papers and public image of Elizabeth Jennings dc.contributor.author: Dowson, Jane
  • Introduction, The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century British and Irish Women's Poetry
    dc.title: Introduction, The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century British and Irish Women's Poetry dc.contributor.author: Dowson, Jane dc.description.abstract: The Introduction surveys the developments in publishing and criticism then sets a vision for the book. The chapters that follow address gender without reducing women's poetry to simply a gendered artefact. Posts to be considered include Edith Sitwell, Jo Shapcott, Selima Hill, Stevie Smith, Liz Lochhead, Eavan Boland, Imtiaz Dharker and Carol Ann Duffy
  • Women and the Lyric in and beyond the Twentieth Century
    dc.title: Women and the Lyric in and beyond the Twentieth Century dc.contributor.author: Dowson, Jane dc.description.abstract: We shall consider the state of the lyric in contemporary poetry by looking back at developments through the twentieth century. Its traditionally acontextual abstractions have made the lyric seem the most innocuous of forms, especially in the hands of women; however, Culler (1975), Adorno (1974) and Maguire (2000) view it as the most potent of literatures because it validates individual empirical expression over official public discourses and conventional literary articulations or prescriptions. Standing mid-century, Stevie Smith registers a perceptible transition from women’s impersonal pronouns and strong formalism to a multivocal dramatic lyricism and artistic freedom. At the end of the century we find women preferring and excelling in the social dialogues which reorientate lyrical expression; here, poets negotiate between a postmodern scepticism towards the articulation of a fixed, universalising unitary self and the politics of identity which seeks authentic expression of underclass experience. While Shapcott, Hill and Alvi, continue to evade gender, or any, affiliation through the personae of vegetables, animals or disembodied souls, Duffy’s acclaimed Rapture (2005) is unashamedly personal. However, the rich intertextuality, maintains a self-conscious gap between the subject and the language available that negotiates between the requirements of the lyric’s ‘social antagonism’ and compensatory aesthetic function. We shall end by testing the claims of a ‘new confessionalism’ in selected poems from the ‘Next Generation’ group who were promoted in 2004 dc.description: This article stemmed from the lecture given as part of the British Council tour in 2007
  • Women Poets and the Political Voice
    dc.title: Women Poets and the Political Voice dc.contributor.author: Dowson, Jane dc.description.abstract: This chapter demonstrates how women wrote left-wing poetry, often in traditional forms. They also wrote about inequalities of class and gender.
  • Towards a New Confessionalism: Elizabeth Jennings and Sylvia Plath
    dc.title: Towards a New Confessionalism: Elizabeth Jennings and Sylvia Plath dc.contributor.author: Dowson, Jane dc.description.abstract: Due to their self-disclosing manner, both Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001) and Sylvia Plath (1932-63) have been labelled ‘confessional’ yet have markedly different life experiences and profiles in literary and popular imaginations. Jennings was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, and educated in Oxford where she lived for the rest of her life. She had a broken engagement then a relationship with a married man but never married or had children. Plath emigrated to Cambridge University from America in 1955 and later lived in Devon with her husband Ted Hughes. Following their separation in 1962, she moved to London and published one volume of poetry before her death. The posthumous Ariel (1965) was followed by three further volumes before the Collected (1981) and Selected Poems (1985). In contrast, Elizabeth Jennings published over twenty poetry collections, a book on poetics and several critical essays; she edited influential anthologies and appears in many others. She was awarded prestigious poetry prizes and in 1992 a CBE. There are two major Collected Poems (1986, 2002) and a forthcoming Collected Works. Jennings enjoyed high esteem in the decade following her graduation from St Anne’s College (1949) and was the only woman counted among the postwar ‘Movement’ poets when her admirers included Philip Larkin. Her traditional formalism was praised in the 1950s and 1960s but was later considered too cautious. Nevertheless, the sales of Collected and Selected Poems made her a bestselling poet on the Carcanet list and the 1980s was one of her most commercially successful decades. Until the recent Introduction there were merely a handful of articles and a number of interviews but no full-length critical work or biography. Jennings suffers from poor image material, with most photographs circulating her elderly otherworldly persona. At the other extreme, Plath’s publicity showcases her youthful intelligent beauty and she attracts biographies, critical works, conferences, a film and recently the unabridged journals (2000). Her victim iconography and expression of female anger have appealed to women readers, with her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar (1963) achieving the status of a feminist manifesto. Jennings’ gender-shyness and notoriously downtrodden appearance in her final years have not. However, the high and continuing sales of her books suggest a poetry that speaks for and to a broad readership.
  • Women's Poetry of the 1930s: a critical anthology
    dc.title: Women's Poetry of the 1930s: a critical anthology dc.contributor.author: Dowson, Jane dc.description.abstract: I have tried to illustrate that through their interrogations of national and international affairs, their preoccupations with cultural politics and their experiments with language and form, these women exert pressure on our understanding of poetry in the nineteen thirties and that collectively their poems strengthens the feminist project which rejects the language of centrality and dominance in preference for diversity and difference.
  • Poetry and The Listener: the myth of the ‘Middlebrow’
    dc.title: Poetry and The Listener: the myth of the ‘Middlebrow’ dc.contributor.author: Dowson, Jane dc.description.abstract: The article looks at poetry published in The Listener and re-evaluates histories of literature in the 1930s

View a full listing of Jane Dowson's publications and outputs.

Key research outputs

The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth Century British and Irish Women’s Poetry, ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

A History of Twentieth-Century British Women’s Poetry, co-authored with Alice Entwistle, Cambridge University Press, 2005. 

Women, Modernism and British Poetry 1910-39: Resisting Femininity. Ashgate, 2002.

Women’s Poetry of the 1930s: a critical anthology. Routledge, 1996.

Time and Tide (1920-76) and The Bermondsey Book (1923-30): Interventions in the public sphere’, chapter in The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, Vol 1: Britain and Ireland 1880-1945, ed. Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker, Oxford University Press, 2010.

Research interests/expertise

Women's poetry, contemporary poetry, postcolonialism, women’s writing, modernism and the 1930s.

Areas of teaching

  • C20/21 Literature
  • Contemporary Poetry
  • Postcolonial Writing


BA, MA, PhD (University of Leicester), PGCE (University of Oxford) 

Courses taught

BA, MA, PhD supervision

Membership of external committees

I was on the inaugural steering group of the Contemporary Women’s Writing Association (formerly network) 2006-11. http://www.the-cwwa.org/ 

I am currently on the Editorial Board of the journal Contemporary Women’s Writing (Oxford University Press). http://cww.oxfordjournals.org/

Membership of professional associations and societies

  • The Postcolonial Studies Association
  • Contemporary Women’s Writing Association
  • The Poetry Book Society
  • The British Association of South Asian Studies.
  • Literature and Madness Network

Conference attendance

1. Presentation: ‘My main job is to translate / pain into tales they can tolerate // in another language.’ Poetry and Medicine Symposium, Wellcome Trust, London, Saturday 12th May, 2012.

2. “‘Women’s Poetry’ is simply awful”: Edith Sitwell and the female affiliation complex’, invited presentation at ‘Sitwelliana’, a colloquium at the University of Birmingham 29/30 September, 2011.

3. ‘From fragmentation to fixity: written to electronic archives. Elizabeth Jennings-a case study.’ Conference paper at, Reclamation and representation: the boundaries of the literary archive, University of Exeter, 2-3rd October 2010.

4. Convened a panel Panel: In and Out of Gender, and gave a paper, ‘“Every disease is a work of art”: Towards a New Confessionalism’ at: Contemporary British and Irish Contemporary Poetry Conference, Queen’s University Belfast 15-17 September 2010.

5. Convened a panel and gave a paper on: ‘new approaches in women's poetry’ at New Texts, Approaches, and Technologies, The Third Biennial International Conference of the Contemporary Women’s Writing Network. In Collaboration with San Diego State University 7-9 July 2010.

6. Invited to speak as part of a panel of experts on ‘Using archives and sources for research’ at Middlebrow Cultures, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow 14th –15th July 2009.

7. ‘Reading the “confessional” in lyric poetry’, Poetry and Belief, University of Central Lancashire, 23-5 April, 2009.

8. ‘Time and Tide (1920-76) and The Bermondsey Book (1923-30): Interventions in the public sphere’ at  Modernist Magazines and Politics, 1900-1939.’ Université du Maine (Le Mans, France), 6-8 June 2008.

Other forms of public presentation

  • Invited give a lecture to a series of staff student research seminars, University of Hull, 24 October, 2011: Reading Women’s So-Called Confessional Poetry ’.
  • Invited to lead a day seminar on Contemporary Women’s Poetry for the Book Group Eastbourne, 28 May, 2011.
  • In conversation with Meera Syal, De Montfort University, 4 March, 2011.
  • Invited to speak at a staff research seminar: ‘“Every disease is a work of art”: Towards a New Confessionalism’, Northampton University, 3 February 2011.
  • Gave invited lecture to postgraduates in the English Department, University of Kolkata, 7 September, 2010. ‘The cracks / that grow between borders’: reading gender in literature in the 21st Century.
  • 1 September, 2010, Poetry Library, Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, London: convened an event on Women’s Poetry ‘ What Every Woman Should Carry’ at which I gave a lecture on women’s poetry over the last 100 years. 
  • March, 2010: Interviewed Jean Binta Breeze at the Y Theatre Leicester for a DVD that is included in Third World Girl: Selected Poems by Jean 'Binta' Breeze, Bloodaxe Books, 2011.

Consultancy work

  • External Examiner for MA in English Studies, Oxford Brookes University, 2007-10.
  • Reviewer/Reader for Women: a cultural review,Journal of Gender Studies, Tulsa Studies Journal, Criticism, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Ashgate, Palgrave, Routledge, Edinburgh University Press.

Current research students

1st supervisor: 
Harleen Hyer - Ph.D F/T; Topic: ‘Trauma and healing in C20 literature’; Laura-Jane Devenny: contemporary women’s fiction.

Laura-Jane Devanny Ph.D C21 speculative fiction by women writers.

2nd supervisor: 
Reem Al’juma Ph.D P/T ‘Geomeodernist writing’; Susan Petty (M.Phil) Women’s working-class autobiography.

Externally funded research grants information

  • British Academy Small Grant £752 towards permission fees for Women, Modernism and British Poetry 1910-39: Resisting Femininity.
  • AHRB Grant for £13,153 for research leave Oct 03-Jan 04.
  • British Academy Small Grant £4,020 to work on A History of Twentieth-Century British Women’s Poetry, co-authored with Alice Entwistle. Commissioned by Cambridge University Press. 2004.
  • British Academy Small Grant for £4272 to work on the Elizabeth Jennings archives, 2006-8.
  • British Academy Overseas Conference Grant £500: Contemporary Women’s Writing Conference in San Diego, USA, July 2010.
  • Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship for Damir Arsenijevic, 2012.

Professional esteem indicators

Editorial Board of Contemporary Women’s Writing Journal, Oxford University Press. Inaugural edition Dec 2007.

Responses to my publications include:

‘Jane Dowson is a considerable critic, exceptional in the clarity, range and originality of her work.  Women, Modernism and British Poetry, 1910-1939: Resisting Femininity (2002), Women's Writing 1945-1960: After the Deluge (2003) and the Cambridge University Press A History of Twentieth-Century British Women's Poetry (with Alice Entwistle, 2005) are volumes which scrupulously trace and develop contexts and re-evaluate the work of a range of key writers, providing a coherent and continuous account of the many threads in a rapidly developing tradition.  In terms of her methodologies Jane Dowson is at once consistent and original, and her collaborative work, too, is exemplary.  The writing stands out in part for its resolving clarity, in part for its readability.  I take Dr Dowson to be among the more significant writers on modern and contemporary poetry, and certainly one of the most comprehensively informed.’ Professor Michael Schmidt, April, 2006.

A History of Twentieth-Century British Women’s Poetry

‘This is the most comprehensive history of British women's poetry of the 20th century yet to appear.  It is a work of energetic and scrupulous criticism, charting the courses of women's poetry through lucid categories - modernist, post-war and postmodern - that illuminate without limiting, considering the different feminist poetics and histories at work in texts.  Its generous pluralism works with difference rather than sameness, and embraces Welsh, Scottish and Irish poets, American settlers, black, and British Asian writers.  Moving easily between history and criticism, the book is also a scholarly resource, with an impressive checklist of works by individual poets and a catalogue of anthologies of women's poetry compiled in the twentieth century.  It is an altogether exciting and distinguished achievement, a book where the reader constantly makes new discoveries.' (Professor Isobel Armstrong).

‘This book is an outstanding achievement.  Its strengths are comprehensiveness and a matching of chronological progression with critical alertness.  It is a reference book but also a book of ideas.’  (Professor Marion Shaw, Loughborough University, publisher’s reader (reproduced on back cover).

Women’s Writing 1945-60: After The Deluge.

‘Although compact, Dowson’s book offers a comprehensive look at a wide range of texts by women. … Dowson’s fine introduction grounds the literature in the historical context. … Too often, scholarly works on women’s writing settle for discussions of femininity, domesticity, and relationships between women and men.  The great value of Dowson’s work lies in its ability to analyse gender thoroughly, while also offering a broad picture of British culture, history and politics’. Carolyn Perry, Westminster College, Literature and History, 15.1. (Spring 2006): 89-91.

Women, Modernism and British Poetry 1910-39: Resisting Femininity.

‘The publication of Jane Dowson’s brilliant and ground-breaking book is a major literary event, marking the twenty-first century’s rethinking of the literary and cultural work of twentieth-century women poets.  Dazzling in its scholarship … The new map of poetic modernism drawn by Jane Dowson gives readers a whole new world of modernist masterpieces. It is a triumph!’  Professor Jane Marcus, New York.  (Full version on back cover.)

‘Marketed as an important literary history, Jane Dowson’s most recent book certainly fulfils that characterization. … Ultimately, Dowson’s book is an important contribution to the discussion about defining modernism in a more pluralistic manner.’  Molly Youngkin, California State University, English Literature in Transition 47.4. (2004): 463-6.

‘Jane Dowson’s work traverses boundaries … Dowson successfully argues for a pluralised modernism or modernisms … Such a study has long been needed … Dowson [is] to be praised for the ambition of her undertaking and for the complexity with which [she] retells long oversimplified histories. … required reading that will no doubt inspire future scholarship’.  Laura Severin, North Carolina State University, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 21.2. (Fall 2002): 399-402.

‘This book impressively surveys a wide range of poetry by British and American women writers in the context of their resistance to conventional notions of femininity. … Dowson is a knowledgeable guide throughout the work of early twentieth-century women poets. … an invaluable reference.’ Kathleen M Helal, Virginia Woolf Bulletin (12 Jan 2003): 57-60.

‘A detailed, indeed impressive, as well as useful, chronology of women’s poetic enterprises, 1910-1939, precedes Jane Dowson’s rigorous study.’  Marilyn Hoder-Salmon, NWSA Journal, Bloomington, 15.3. (Fall 2003): 1-3. Reproduced LION.

Women’s Poetry of the 1930s

‘Jane Dowson’s work will mean that we shall have to redraw the maps of English literature between the wars.’  Professor John Lucas, publisher’s reader (Back cover blurb).

‘I find this anthology wonderfully illuminating, a major contribution to our knowledge of the concerns of those practising poetry in this decade, and a welcome record of voices which should never have been consigned to silence.’  Elizabeth Maslen, Critical Survey, 8.3: 338-9.

‘Jane Dowson’s immaculate research has undoubtedly discovered 20 brave and unconventional individuals’.  Kate Clanchy, Independent (3 Feb. 96).

‘The best news: Jane Dowson’s anthology of Thirties poets is an important and welcome book, which definitively corrects the long-standing fallacy that only men wrote poetry in the 1930s.’, Jan Montefiore, PN Review  113: 69-70. 

‘Students and scholars alike should find it a useful resource’, Robert Nye, Times (25 Jan. 1996).

‘This lively anthology attempts to salvage and reassess the women poets who worked in the long shadow of the Auden Generation’, Independent on Sunday (3 Dec. 1995): Mag 42.

‘How I wish I had come across it earlier. … I’m finding it really helpful in the book I’m now starting [Modern British Poetry 1900-39].’  Professor Jim Persoon, Grand Valley State University, Michigan, Letter (5 June, 2000).

See also William Fiennes, TLS (1 March 96); Carol Rumens, Poetry Review, 85.4. (95/6): .23-4.

Selected Poems of Frances Cornford

‘I must congratulate you on a very neat job. … It is a shame that there seems to be a paucity of comment on Frances Cornford.’ Professor Philip Hobsbaum, email, (17 Apr. 2006). 

‘Anthologies of Women’s Poetry: Canon-breakers, Canon-makers’. British Poetry from the 1950s to the 1990s: Politics and Art

‘Two of the book’s most successful and interesting essays are by Jane Dowson and Lyn Pykett.  Taking an inductive—rather than the typical deductive—approach to women’s poetry…’. Gregory LeStage, Times Higher (13 March 98).

Case studies

Elizabeth Jennings website: http://vm2.ctsdh.luc.edu/projects/jennings/index.php : so far, I have been contacted from people in USA, UK, Iran and Italy.  It is enabling a network of interested parties that span academic and popular interests.  The archive librarians in USA and UK are delighted at the project due to the wealth of archival material that they hold.  One USA-based scholar is considering a biography; in Italy, there will be cultural events that include Jennings; the student in Iran is doing some translating and setting poetry to music; in Lincolnshire, Jennings is included in a project about local writers.  (I have correspondence with these contacts).


Jane Dowson

Women's Poetry of the 1930's A Critical Anthology

A History of Twentieth-Century British Women's Poetry - Jane Dowson and Alice Entwistle

After the Deluge