After studying an undergraduate degree in English Literature and MA in Contemporary Literature at the University of Northampton, PhD student and Students’ Union Research Student Officer, Anthony Stepniak, knew that doctoral studies were calling. Now, four years into his self-funded PhD entitled, ‘It’s time to give this wretched world the Queen it deserves: Investigating representations of the Wicked Queen in contemporary narratives’, Anthony took time out to tell us about his PhD journey.
Speaking about his decision to start doctoral studies, he said: “Everyone has their own reasons for considering a PhD, scholarly curiosity, preparation for a career in academia, or just a passion for the area you’re researching. For me it was the next step to exploring the way that academia, society and common gender norms can help us to understand the portrayal of female characters in literature.
“Growing up with a love of reading, I found that I struggled to identify with the heroes and heroines in the stories of my youth. We all grow up reading tales involving a battle of good vs evil, heroes and heroines overcoming a wicked character. It was this character, often a wicked queen or evil step-mother, who most appealed to me.
“In certain versions of these popular tales, the mature female is shown to be evil, bad, and someone who others see must be ‘conquered’ or ostracised from society. If you identify as ‘different’, this the only character you can identify with, and consequently this isn’t a positive experience and can often be damaging for your perception of yourself. This was one of the reasons I chose to focus my PhD research on the role of the wicked queen in contemporary literature. I was interested to apply academic thinking to analyse the way this female character was represented, and the way beauty, femininity and gender roles are portrayed.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” For me, it was the wicked queen’s mystique which inspired me, why does this strong, independent, woman end up at odds with the main narrative? Why is she perceived as evil, wicked, different? What went wrong for her to act in the way she does? Why does she need to ask who is the fairest of them all? It was these questions, ideas around gender identities and femininity which defined the direction of my PhD.
“Now, four years into my PhD journey, my research is coming together and I’m starting to properly draft out my thesis. This look at the queen is interesting when you set that against the context of society today and the way we’re starting to make strides in awareness and understanding of the LGBTQ+ movement, gender definitions and the ideas around power and influence.
“Modern literature, film and TV are making wonderful strides to embrace difference in a positive way, and break these archaic character stereotypes. I’m nearing the end of the research phase of my thesis, as it comes together I hope to offer a new take on these narratives giving the ‘different’ character the happily ever after that they deserve.”
Talking about he has kept motivated throughout his PhD Journey, Anthony said: “Writing a PhD is challenging, but also very rewarding, I’m a big believer in taking care of yourself along the way too. Although you’ll naturally be passionate about the subject you’ve chosen to research, you must blend research with other activities, or you can sometimes get a bit lost in the work. I have a varied schedule, which includes teaching at the University on Film and Screen studies and Media Production modules, as well as advocating for the postgraduate research community in my part time officer role at the Students’ Union.”
Expanding on his role with the Students’ Union, Anthony said: “Taking on the first Postgraduate Research (PGR) Officer role at the University was a great challenge and fantastic opportunity to be involved increasing the visibility of the PGR student cohort and ensure they were considered in the move to the new Waterside Campus. I am very pleased that in my role I have been able to formulate a new funding stream for PGR students, a form of recognition through the design of a new recognition award for PGR students and create, produce and direct a four-part video series on the PGR student experience at Northampton”.
For more information about the postgraduate research opportunities with the University click here.