In touch with… Gillian Dooley

This year has been a publishing bonanza for Dr Gillian Dooley, including The First Wave and a new book on Matthew Flinders’ celebrated feline.

What is the key area of your work and research?

That’s a hard one! I’m basically a literary scholar but I’m also a musician, and my career was librarianship. All three aspects contribute to my research interests. The main three ‘areas’ I’m spending time on at present are Jane Austen’s musical world as found both in her novels and in her surviving music books; Iris Murdoch, also with a focus on music in her works; and (as always) Matthew Flinders’ life and writings.

I have also published monographs on the novelists V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee and will certainly come back to them in the future.

What inspired you to work in this area?

With Jane Austen and Iris Murdoch (and the other authors I’ve studied), it was because I enjoyed reading their novels and wanted to find out more about how they worked. I noticed the music in Jane Austen on my first reading of Pride and Prejudice at high school, and once I discovered that her music collection survives, I started curating and performing programs drawn from her music manuscripts – her own favourite songs and piano pieces. The first one was in the Flinders ‘Fridays at the Library’ series in 2007, and since then there have been seven or eight different concert programs in Australia and overseas. I’m planning a new one for the SA History Festival next year. But I’m also now drawn to comparing the music with the novels which can come up with interesting results.

Iris Murdoch and music is a natural next step. I’ve presented a few conference papers on music in her novels, and at the Iris Murdoch Centenary Conference in Oxford this year I curated and performed in a concert of music mentioned in the novels – I’m planning to do it again in the Adelaide Fringe next year.

As for Matthew Flinders, that came about because I was the Special Collections Librarian at Flinders. I got intrigued when indexing the Flinders Collection – I discovered that he was actually a quite wonderful writer, as you can see from his ‘Biographical Tribute to the Memory of Trim’ – and by the way, a new edition is about to be published, which I’ve co-edited with Philippa Sandall – Trim: the Cartographer’s Cat. (See also Celebrating Success this week.)

Can you describe a challenging time and how you overcame this hurdle?

Life is full of challenging times! I think, looking back, perhaps the most difficult period for me was when I was waiting for my PhD results to come in 2000-2001. It took 55 weeks between submission and approval. You never really get over the thought that maybe that grumpy second examiner was right and you shouldn’t have got the degree, even though the first and third were quite complimentary.

I faced a lot of challenges during my 10 years as founding editor of the journal Transnational Literature (2008-2018). I was basically learning on the job and in the early days I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was an immensely enriching time but editing an international journal absorbs a huge amount of time and energy.

It’s no accident that during those 10 years I didn’t produce so much sustained work of my own – my last monograph was published in 2010. I’m still committed to several editing projects but I’m looking forward to getting beyond that stage and writing more.

What has been one of the proudest moments of your career?

I was immensely flattered to be asked to present the Royal Society Matthew Flinders Memorial Lecture in Melbourne in 2014. But this year has been particularly amazing.

Maybe it would be the combination of the Iris Murdoch concert, ‘Words and Music for Iris’, on Sunday 14 July at St Anne’s College, Oxford, then presenting a conference keynote lecture on singing in Murdoch’s novels at 9 o’clock the next morning. There were other incredible things during my recent trip to the UK and Europe but that was hard to beat.

What does a usual day look like for you?

There’s no such thing, especially since I retired from my library job. Trying to cram everything in – writing, editing, rehearsing, performing – without missing too much of the feast of music and talks which are always on offer in and around Adelaide, and keeping in touch with friends.

I try to make some progress on my long-term projects each day. At the moment that’s researching and indexing each piece of music in Jane Austen’s collection for Southampton University Library’s public access catalogue, and ignoring the housework for as long as possible.

Would you like to share a passion outside of work?

My life doesn’t really sort itself into those categories. I suppose I could say that music is my hobby and that writing, editing and research is my work, but there’s far too much overlap for that to be true.

I’m a firm believer in a good night’s sleep, and I listen to music most of the time, if I’m not making it myself. And it goes without saying that I love reading and don’t find nearly enough time to get through ‘The Book Pile.’

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