Dr Rebecca Barr is a Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, and a University Assistant Professor of Gender and Sexualities in the Faculty of English. Her research focuses on representations of gender and sexuality in eighteenth-century fiction, with a particular emphasis on masculinity. Among many other publications, she is the co-editor of Ireland and Masculinities in History (Palgrave, 2019) and Bellies, Bowels, and Entrails in the Eighteenth Century (Manchester, 2018). You can read more about her here.
Who is your favourite academic? / Who (academic or not) has shaped your critical thinking the most and why?
Let’s be frank, many academics are not ideal company. Relentless desiccated monologues are a professional hazard: joie de vivre is in short supply. My colleague Clair Wills is a brilliant critic: witty, erudite, and energetic. Two recent articles on Molly Keane (https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v43/n06/clair-wills/benign-promiscuity), and another on the asylum system in Ireland and England (https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v43/n22/clair-wills/life-pushed-aside) crystallize what I like most about her scholarship. There’s a great range of knowledge, a refusal to rest easy with commonplace opinions, and an intensity of intelligence that Wills brings to her prose that makes it both readable and bracing.
As a student, Terry Castle’s Masquerade and Civilization transformed my sense of how criticism might transform historical context: her fascination with eighteenth-century culture and sexuality more generally was life-changing. I’ve read everything she has written with immense pleasure, admiration, and a good dose of humility.
What are you reading for work and/or for leisure these days?
In the pandemic burnout of 2021 my reading ground to a halt, so I’m glad it’s begun to revive. I’ve just started Kerri Ní Dochartaigh’s Thin Places. I have Gail McConnell’s Fourteen and Vahni Capildeo’s Like a Tree, Walking, on the go at the moment. For work: I’ve just reread The Woman of Colour (1808) which manages to be both critically rich and a lot of fun, and Lisabeth During’s The Chastity Plot. I’m reading a lot of Jonathan Swift for a short essay on gender.
What is your favourite archive or library? / What is your fondest research memory?
I love the Lewis Walpole Library, which has extremely helpful librarians and archivists and an excellent digital collection of prints and images. Marsh’s Library in Dublin is a (very cold but) rich resource, a cultural capsule of eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish thinking.
What is your favourite way to de-stress? / What habits or hobbies support your research practice and/or allow you to destress?
Walking my dog, drinking wine with friends, and Netflix. Gogglebox on Channel 4 got me through lockdown loneliness.
What are your essential research tools/supplies and why?
Litres of coffee; notebooks; laptops. I need to stay awake; writing is a form of thinking; at some point I will need a secondary article/to look at Twitter.
Favourite form of procrastination?
Endless doomscrolling, or, (more masochistically) cleaning.
What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning of your career/degree?
That loquacious self-confidence often corresponds to privilege rather than being a necessary indication of brilliance. That academia is not a meritocracy, and that a mordant sense of humour is a great resource when surrounded by people taking themselves too seriously.