Q&A: Siobhan Carroll
Siobhan Carroll, an associate professor at the University of Delaware, is particularly interested in British literature from 1750 and 1850, modern science fiction, and fantasy. She is working on the novel, 'Khartoum.'
Siobhan Carroll's first book, “An Empire of Air and Water:
Uncolonizable Space in the British Imagination, 1750-1850”
describes the complicated relationship between literature, science,
and exploration during the growth of the British Empire. Greenville
& Hockessin Life caught up with Carroll to discuss her
teaching interests as a professor at the University of Delaware, her
work on a novel, “Khartoum,” what inspired her to become a
writer, and her favorite place in Greenville. Predictably, it's a
place where she can get a lot of writing accomplished.
Q: You've been working on your novel, “Khartoum.” How is that progressing, and what can you tell us about the book?
A: I’m still in the drafting stages of this novel, which takes place in an alternate version of nineteenth-century Sudan. It’s an opportunity for me to think about imperialism and how it continues to shape our world. The narrative will include some of the real historical figures associated with Sudan in this period – people like Winston Churchill and the “Mahdi” who led what is sometimes called the Victorian Jihad – but also people like Joseph Conrad, who were not.
You started writing at an early age. What stories or authors inspired you?
Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” remains a terrifically surprising and unsettling fantasy novel. Like the Harry Potter books, it features an 11-year-old boy who learns he is a wizard on his birthday, but the secret magical world he encounters is much darker and stranger than Harry’s. Cooper wrote her novels based on a nightmare she had and the magic sequences unfold with a kind of dream logic that remains incredibly powerful. If you know a (mature!) kid who likes reading, I recommend giving them this book.
How did you come to live and write in Delaware, and to teach at the University of Delaware?
UD’s English Department was kind enough to hire me to teach 19th Century British Literature and Science Fiction. My experience here has been great. Our students at UD are immensely talented and a pleasure to work with. I feel I learn something new from them every semester.
Your teaching interests focus on 18th century and 19th century British literature from 1750 to 1850. What is it about literature from that period that resonates with you?
Revolution and change. This period encompasses both the American and French Revolutions, and the dawn of Victorian social reforms. As Charles Dickens says, it really was the best of times and the worst of times. People tried to reimagine society from the ground up. In many ways, they succeeded in making the world a better place: you and I can now vote, and attend free public schools, and walk down streets not covered in sewage. But the process of reimagining the world is not easy. Many times, it can be devastatingly cruel. And in this process, you can literally see the role that literature was playing in shaping people’s lives – the ideals they fought and died for, the world they saw, and even their ability to think through problems. Literature was tremendously active social and political force in the 1700s and 1800s. It’s fascinating to study.
What development or current trend in literature most pleases you?
In the 1990s, it was almost impossible to have an SF novel published with a dark-skinned “hero” on the cover. Even if you the author argued that the character was black and should therefore be shown as black, the publisher would often “whitewash” their race. Thanks to the rise of the internet and a lot of fan and writer agitation, this has largely changed.
What is your favorite spot in Greenville or Hockessin?
The Greenville Brew-ha-ha. I get a lot of writing done there.
If you could invite any three guests, living or dead, to a dinner party, who would it be?
Dr. Who, Ernest Shackleton, and Mary Wollstonecraft. That’d be entertaining.
What food is always in your refrigerator?