Professor Emma Rees

Professor of Literature and Gender Studies


BA, PhD, PGC Learning and Teaching (HE), FHEA


I am Professor of Literature and Gender Studies.

My teaching focuses on the early modern period (my first book was about Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-73)) and on literature and film. I've published extensively in the field of gender and representation and my new book, The Vagina: a Literary and Cultural History was recently published by Bloomsbury.

I'm on the editorial boards of Gender Forum journal, of The Journal of Feminist Scholarship and of Writing from Below, the Australian interdisciplinary gender, sexuality and diversity studies journal. I'm a reviewer for English, the Journal of the English Association; for Psychology and Sexuality; for the GEA Journal (Gender and Education Association); for Women's Studies Quarterly and for Thirdspace: a Journal of Feminist Theory and Culture. I am also an occasional columnist for the Times Higher magazine. Additionally I'm an individual affiliate of the GEA, and I'm affiliated to IASSCS (the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society).


I specialise in Renaissance literature, and in representations of mental illness in literature and on film. Undergraduate and MA modules on which I teach or lecture include:

Postgraduate supervision:

My first PhD student, a university bursary holder (2004-08), graduated in 2009, having successfully completed her research into Caught Between Presence and Absence: Shakespeare's Tragic Women on Film. The first of my two current PhD students started work on her project in 2009 on Troubling Women, Troubling Genre: Shakespeare's Unruly Characters; the second started her PhD in January 2012 and is writing on The Semantics and Semiotics of the Psychosis Experience. I welcome enquiries about research projects on:

  • Gender and representation
  • Representing mental illness
  • Renaissance literature


My wider research and teaching interests include gender studies; early modern literature and culture; film theory (especially screen adaptations of literary texts), and Shakespeare studies. I enjoy teaching, researching and writing, and regularly speak at conferences throughout Europe.


Published work


The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History

  • The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History (New York: Bloomsbury,  2013).
    A revised, paperback edition of The Vagina will be published by Bloomsbury in December 2014. Emma has spoken about the book at Gladfest (08.09.13), at Blackwell’s in Oxford (25.09.13) and at the Chester Literature Festival (25.10.13). She is scheduled to speak on it at the University of Salford at Media City (29.01.14), at the University of Chester’s Diversity Festival (05.03.14) and at the University of Vienna (26.04.14). Emma was interviewed by Jenni Murray about her book on Woman's Hour and on Newstalk in Ireland. Her book has been reviewed in various publications and online. It was Times Higher Book of the Week (August 2013) and has been featured in the following: The Independent on Sunday (25.08.13); The New Statesman (29.08.13); Literary Review (October 2013); Fanny Ireland (04.11.13); Publishers' Weekly; and Library Journal. Extracts have appeared on and Emma is interviewed on both the Bloomsbury and Times Higher websites. A round-up of reviews was published on 05.10.13 on Literary Saloon (sic.). The American activist Naomi Wolf wrote of The Vagina that it is ‘The broadest survey yet […] lively, thought-provoking, and richly researched’. Judy Hayden, Professor of English and Writing and Director of the Women's Studies Programme at the University of Tampa, has written that ‘With The Vagina, Rees is aiming for something well beyond “feminism”. To get there, she uses humo[u]r, numerous examples, and careful explanation as she moves effortlessly through a variety of historical periods and a wide genre of “art” to demonstrate her point’. Lisa Downing, Professor of French Discourses of Sexuality at the University of Birmingham, has written: ‘At last! A book on the vagina that I feel privileged to endorse. This careful literary and cultural history explores the vagina primarily as a loaded cultural symbol. It critiques the numerous ways in which the female sexual organs have had deleterious meanings projected onto them by patriarchal society. A magnificent achievement, Rees's study is as insightful in its analysis as it is comprehensive in its historical coverage’. In a review in The New Statesman, Helen Lewis wrote that ‘It is my contention that you will know quite instinctively if you are the target reader for a book describing itself as a literary and cultural history of vaginas […] How does this description of Judy Chicago’s art make you feel? “Each plate, a vulvar motif at its centre, represents a woman’s yearning for autonomy and recognition away from patriarchy’s eradications and constraints.” If you found that intriguing, rather than snigger-worthy or arcanely academic, you will enjoy what’s on offer here. There is a learned digression on other words for vagina [...] and a survey of depictions of female genitalia in folk tales, film, literature, art and television [...] The examples are well chosen and engaging’. The book was described as an ‘impassioned tract’ in  Publisher's Weekly, and,  writing a review in The Independent on Sunday, Kaite Welsh claimed that ‘For readers disappointed by Naomi Wolf’s treatise on a similar topic last year, this is the book you’ve been waiting for […] This may not be the definitive text on the vagina – Rees is clear that she can’t overturn centuries of embarrassment and taboo in a single book – but it’s an excellent place to start’. Sally Munt, Professor of Cultural and Gender Studies at the University of Sussex, argued thatThis really wonderful book on the cultural history of the vagina is scholarly and accessible, entertaining and serious. It is stylish and packed with insight; it will be seized upon and devoured by the new feminists. The Vagina bejazzles. I highly recommend it’. In The Complete Review, M. A. Ortherfer wrote that ‘Rees is especially strong on the rapidly evolving (and more in-your-face) artistic (or would-be artistic) representation of the [vagina] in contemporary (Western, and even here basically American and British) culture, both fringe and more mainstream [...] Rees offers many interesting examples and the odd tidbit[s] (Courbet's L'origine du monde comes from the collection of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan!), and […] there's a lot of useful information here’. The Vagina was Book of the Week in the Times Higher, where Shahidha Bari of Queen Mary, University of London, had this to say about it: ‘Rees’ book is the kind of work we need more of if we are to challenge and reconfigure how we understand women and sexuality in contemporary discourse’.


Margaret Cavendish: Gender, Genre, Exile

  • Margaret Cavendish: Gender, Genre, Exile (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004).



Book Chapters:  

  • ‘Narrating the Victorian Vagina: Charlotte Brontë and the Masturbating Woman’, in The Female Body in Medicine and Literature, eds Andrew Mangham and Greta Depledge (Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2011).
  • ‘The Principled Pleasure: Lisbeth’s Aristotelian Revenge’, in ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ and Philosophy, ed. Eric Bronson (New Jersey: Wiley Blackwell, 2011).
  • ‘Cordelia’s Can’t: Rhetorics of Reticence and (Dis)ease in King Lear’, in Rhetorics of Bodily Disease and Health in Medieval and Early Modern England, ed. Jennifer Vaught (London: Ashgate, 2010).
  • ‘Shakespeare and the Renaissance’, in Studying English Literature, eds Ashley Chantler and David Higgins (London: Continuum, 2010).
  • Entry on ‘Sexual Politics’ for the Encyclopaedia of Sex and Society (New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2010).
  • Richard E. Wilson and Emma L. E. Rees, ‘Sometimes a Guitar is Just a Guitar: Freudian Fetishism in the lyrics of Led Zeppelin’, in Led Zeppelin and Philosophy, ed. Scott Calef (Chicago: Open Court, 2009).
  • ‘A Well-Spun Yarn: Margaret Cavendish and Homer’s Penelope’, in A Princely Brave Woman: Essays on Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, ed. by Stephen Clucas (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003).
  • ‘Triply Bound: Genre and the Exilic Self’, in Authorial Conquests: Essays on Genre in the Writings of Margaret Cavendish, ed. by Line Cottegnies and Nancy Weitz (New Jersey: Associated University Press, 2003).
  • ‘Sheela’s Voracity and Victorian Veracity’, in Consuming Narratives: Gender and Monstrous Appetite in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance ed. by Liz Herbert McAvoy and Teresa Walters (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002).



Journal Articles:

  • Chris Ribchester, Kim Ross, and Emma L. E. Rees, ‘Examining the Impact of Pre-induction Social Networking on the Student Transition into Higher Education’, Innovations in Education & Teaching International (March 2013).
  • ‘‘Sweet honey of the Muses: Lucretian resonance in Poems, and Fancies’, In-Between: Essays in Literary Criticism, 9: 1 & 2 (2000).
  • ‘Guest Editor’s Introduction’, Women’s Writing, 4: 3 (1997).
  • Heaven’s Library and Nature’s Pictures: Platonic paradigms and trial by genre’, Women’s Writing, 4:3 (1997).



  • Book review: Transgender Identities: Towards a Social Analysis of Gender Diversity edited by Sally Hines and Tam Sanger, GEA (Gender and Education Association, 2013);
  • Review essay: ‘Who is it That Can tell Me Who I am?’ GEA (Gender and Education Association), 23.6 (October, 2011), pp. 783-88;
  • Book review: Derrida and the Writing of the Body by Jones Irwin, Psychology and Sexuality 2.3 (September, 2011), pp. 265-68;
  • Other book reviews for Psychology and Sexuality and Women’s Studies Quarterly.



  • Editor, Lost and Found: Stories from the Cheshire Prize for Literature, 2012 (Chester: University of Chester Press, 2013);
  • Editor, Still Life: Poems from the Cheshire Prize for Literature, 2010 (Chester: University of Chester Press, 2011);
  • Editor, Zoo: Stories from the Cheshire Prize for Literature, 2009 (Chester: Chester Academic Press, 2010).