Professor Katy Mullin


I joined the University of Leeds in September 2003, after completing my doctorate in James Joyce at Oxford University. Before Leeds, I taught at the University of Chichester, at Cambridge University, and at Oxford University. Between 2001 and 2003, I held a research fellowship at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.


  • Director of Student Education

Research interests

My research explores connections between late-Victorian and Modernist fiction, and sexuality and popular culture. I have particular interests in literary history, censorship, obscenity legislation, morality crusades, and the broader relationships between literature and law. 

My first book, James Joyce, Sexuality and Social Purity (Cambridge University Press, hardback 2003; paperback 2007) investigates the relationship between Joyce's fiction and the contemporary anti-vice societies that censored his work. It offers a detailed account of Joyce’s lifelong battle against censorship, showing how he responded to Edwardian ideologies of social purity by accentuating the elements of his writing most likely to trigger outrage. The conservative ambitions of social purity thereby inspired some of Joyce’s most daring and experimental narrative strategies as, paradoxically, his art became dependent on the very forces seeking to constrain and neutralise its revolutionary force. 

Acutely conscious of the legal threats to publication, Joyce revenged himself by ridiculing purity discourse through intimate engagement with racy popular culture. Moral panics about female emigration and ‘white slavery’, crusades to close down brothels, anxieties about adolescent masturbation and dirty magazines, theosophical scandals, and backlash against Mutoscopes and early erotic films all became targets of pastiche and parody in Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake. My book argues that popular culture transcends the status of incidental detail in Joyce’s fiction to take on a political eloquence of its own. Through close attention to Joyce’s ephemeral intertexts, we might interrogate and dismantle the pervasive myth, so teasingly deployed by Joyce himself, of artistic martyrdom in the face of philistine prudery. 

My second monograph, Working Girls: Fiction, Sexuality, and Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2016), explores the literary and cultural mediations of a distinctively new sexual persona. From around 1870 onwards, young women of the lower-middle and working classes were increasingly abandoning domestic service in favour of occupations of contested propriety, inspiring both moral unease and erotic fascination. Working Girls considers representations of four glamorised yet controversial types of women worker: telegraphists and typists in newly-feminised offices, shop assistants in the new department stores, and barmaids in the new ‘gin palaces’ of major British cities.

Economically emancipated and liberated from the protection and constraints of home and family, shop-girls, barmaids, typists and telegraphists became mass media sensations. They energised a wide range of late-Victorian and Modernist fiction, including novels and short stories by Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, George Gissing, James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, George Moore, Margaret Oliphant, Bram Stoker and Anthony Trollope. Working Girls brings these late-Victorian and Modernist writers into conversation with a substantial new archive of ephemeral sources often regarded as remote from high art and its concerns: popular fiction; music hall and musical comedy; beauty pageants and fairground exhibitions; visual art and early film; careers manuals; magazine and periodical journalism; moral reform crusades, Royal Commissions, and attempts at protective legislation. 

The Working Girl prefigured, rivaled and even displaced her better-known contemporaries: the New Woman and, later, the protesting suffragette. As a cultural phenomenon, she became an emblem of a generation of young women's suspect longing for economic independence, urban leisure, and sexual autonomy. My book is concerned not simply with the formation of this persona, but also with how debates surrounding her are reconfigured in imaginative literature. Fascination with Working Girls has much to do, I argue, with the shifting and precarious status of fiction. Together, these seductive yet perilous young women help articulate anxieties about the state of literary culture in the United Kingdom. They preoccupy novelists who were themselves nervous about the impact of new technologies upon creative integrity, the shifting pressures of the literary marketplace, or the threat of censorship. Ultimately, Working Girls may be read as proto-postfeminist figures, anticipating contemporary debates about the extent to which quasi-commercial sexual practices and identities may be claimed as signs of women’s liberation and empowerment. 

My interests in late-Victorian sexual politics, working women, and the conceptualisation of literary labour led to and informed my 2016 Oxford World’s Classics edition of George Gissing's 1891 novel New Grub Street. I continue to work on James Joyce, and you can read my introduction to Ulysses in the British Library Discovering Literature series here, together with my other articles on modernism written for a general readership. My essay  'Antitreating is about the size of it: James Joyce, Drink, and the Rounds System' came out in The Review of English Studies in 2013, and was selected for open access publication by Oxford University Press as part of their celebrations of the centenary of the publication of Ulysses in 2022. My chapter on ‘Lesbian Joyce’ is included in Interrogating Lesbian Modernism: Histories, Forms, Genres ed. Elizabeth English, Jana Funke and Sarah Parker (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2023). My chapter on ‘Joyce and Sexuality’ is scheduled for publication in the new Cambridge Companion to James Joyce ed. John Nash in 2024.  

My ongoing major research project is a third monograph, Provocateurs: Censorship, Backlash, and the Invention of Modernism. It investigates the complex and strangely productive relationship between literature and censorship during the Victorian and Modernist periods, and exploits the rich new archival possibilities generated by digital resources and databases to propose a new literary history of the 1857 Obscene Publications Act, its conception, aftermath, and influence. The germ of this monograph was initially published as chapters one and two in Prudes on the Prowl: Fiction and Obscenity in England, 1850 to the Present Day, edited by David Bradshaw and Rachel Potter (Oxford University Press, 2013). An article partly derived from the third chapter appeared as 'Unmasking The Confessional Unmasked: The 1868 Hicklin Test and the Toleration of Obscenity', ELH 85:2 (Summer 2018), and aspects of chapters seven and eight appear in the ‘Lesbian Joyce’ and ‘Joyce and Sexuality’ articles above. 

Together with Dr Hannah Roche at the University of York, I am leading an AHRC Research Network. Coercive Control: From Literature into Law is the first interdisciplinary project to consider the complex relationship between British literary fiction and the crime of coercive control. The network explores the many ways in which coercive control has been imagined, enabled, and attacked by British writers from the 1840s to the present day. It brings together literary critics, legal historians, domestic abuse charities, and creative practitioners to provide the first in-depth analysis of fictional narratives of coercive control. With a focus on British writers ranging from the Brontës to Bernardine Evaristo, our network investigates how narratives of surveillance, regulation, and sustained psychological abuse have anticipated and underscored legal change.‚Äč

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>

Student education

I am currently Director of Student Education, and play a strategic and coordinating role in developing, promoting and delivering the School's learning and teaching strategy and objectives. My role involves overseeing the development and quality enhancement of the School's portfolio of programmes, supporting the School’s recruitment and educational engagement strategies, promoting an inclusive approach to student education and enhancing the student academic experience. 

I teach Victorian and Modernist literature in the School of English, and currently offer the Level 3 Specialist Research Module Modernist Sexualities

PhD Supervision

I have supervised doctoral projects on James Joyce, nineteenth century literature and photography, Jerome K. Jerome and late-Victorian comic writing, contemporary biofiction, suffragette theatre, fictions of single women, fiction of late-Victorian masculinities, George Gissing, and the theme of walking in Victorian and Modernist fiction by women. I would welcome PhD proposals exploring the relationship between 'high' and 'low' cultures, concerning constructions of the city, gender or sexuality, or exploring literature and censorship. James Joyce remains an ongoing research interest.  

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>