Helen Williams

Department of English Literature
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD title: Victorian medicine and middle-class health: representations of nineteenth-century medicine in the writings of Wilkie Collins
Supervisors: Dr Rex Ferguson and Dr Daniel Moore
PhD English Literature


My thesis explores the ways in which the novels of Wilkie Collins can be read to provide a fresh perspective on nineteenth-century healthcare, offering new insights into aspects of Victorian medicine and examining how novelists such as Collins utilised topical medical issues in their writing. By reading Collins’s texts alongside contemporary layperson letters and diaries, as well as sources ranging from newspaper articles and physicians’ notebooks to recipe books and advice manuals, the research will identify the ways in which Collins’s narratives interact with – and illuminate – feelings and opinions about medicine at this time. Through taking an interdisciplinary approach, I intend to demonstrate that Collins’s texts provide an interesting account of layperson experiences of Victorian healthcare, offering a more patient-centric perspective of medicine at this time.

My research is funded by an AHRC scholarship and is due to be completed in 2014. Prior to joining the department at Birmingham I gained an MRes in Victorian Studies from Keele University, a PGCE in English (Secondary) from the University of Birmingham and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Leeds.

Other activities

In addition to my PhD research, I teach on the first year modules ‘Literary Aesthetics after 1800’ and ‘Critical Practice’. I am a Postgraduate Ambassador for the University and am involved in delivering outreach sessions for local schools, intended to encourage children to continue into higher education. I am also currently a Postgraduate Representative for the Midlands Interdisciplinary Victorian Studies Seminar series.