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Jessica Rushton

PhD Research

PhD Research in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures


My PhD thesis seeks to investigate how nineteenth-century French writers create, as well as feed into, an entire social imaginary of the rebellious maidservant through a new literary subgenre that I have chosen to label le roman de la servante. This literary genre is principally identified through its rebellious maidservant protagonist who implements different strategies of revolt in order to escape her oppressive situation, and gain a sense of power. These methods consequently allow female servant characters to reverse power dynamics between servants and their masters and mistresses as well as men and women in the bourgeois home. My project argues that while these strategies are a key trope of this literary genre, they must also be read as a marker for the way that nineteenth-century writers build and feed into a socio-cultural construct of the rebellious female servant in this period. By identifying and analysing the various methods of revolt that fictional maidservants have at their disposal, my thesis seeks to demonstrate that nineteenth-century writers were actively producing and feeding into contemporary network of discourses that were emanating from faits divers, criminology reports, household manuals and doctors’ reports. I question why the rebellious female servant became a subject of (male)bourgeois fascination, and even fear, in the nineteenth century. 

I am also interested in how the fears surrounding the nineteenth-century female servant are then transposed and renewed in twentieth- and twenty-first-century French cinema and literature via modern maidservant avatars such as the nanny, the cleaner and the concierge.

I am the current postgraduate representative for the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes (SDN).

Conference Papers
  • Rushton, Jessica, ‘The Emergence of the Nineteenth-Century Rebellious Maidservant and the Birth of le roman de la servante.’ Women in French UK/Ireland conference: Femmes dérangées, femmes dérangeantes, Online, 7 May 2021.
  • Rushton, Jessica, ‘The Nineteenth-Century Rebellious Maidservant Disguise Narrative and its Afterlives’. Society of Dix-Neuviémistes Annual Conference: Heritage/Counter-Cultures, Héritage/Contre-cultures, Online, 22 March 2021.
  • Rushton, Jessica, ‘The Nineteenth-Century Rebellious Maidservant’. The Second Annual Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies Postgraduate Conference: Agency and Emotion in the Nineteenth Century. Online, 26 November 2020.
  • Rushton, Jessica, ‘Rebellious Maidservant Narratives in the Twenty-First Century: Chanson douce (2016)’. The Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing: Class, Confinement and Criminality. Online, 22 July 2020. 
  • Rushton, Jessica, ‘Pongey Poetry: Exploring Olfaction in the Works of Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud.’ University of Oxford French Graduate Seminar, All Souls College, 2019. 
  • (2021) Co-organized and chaired Zoom Postgraduate annual study day for Society Dix-Neuviémistes (SDN): Working with Archives.
  • (2020) Co-organised and chaired Zoom Seminar Series for The Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing: Class, Confinement and Criminality
  • (2020) Co-hosted a podcast on Charles Baudelaire for first-year literature students at the University of Nottingham.

Research interests

  • Nineteenth-century French Studies
  • Twentieth-century French Studies
  • Twenty-first-century French Studies
  • Film Studies
  • Adaptation Studies
  • Gender Studies
  • Psychoanalytical Theory