Personal profile


Helen Smith took her BA part-time whilst working in sports administration.  She then studied full-time, taking an MA in Studies in Fiction and a PhD at UEA.  Her doctoral thesis examined the influence of Edward Garnett, the publisher’s reader, editor and critic on early twentieth century fiction.  This focussed on Garnett's relationships with Joseph Conrad, D H Lawrence and Sean O’Faolain.  Her research interests are in Life Writing, literary Modernism and late nineteenth century fiction, author/publisher relations and nineteenth and early twentieth century Russian fiction.  An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett, (2017, Jonathan Cape and Farrar, Straus & Giroux) her biography of Edward Garnett, was the joint winner of the Biographer's Club Prize and short listed for the Simply Foxed First Biography Prize.  The book was also the subject of a RSL/Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction.

Teaching Interests

Taught modules


This module offers students the opportunity to study some of the great works of nineteenth century Russian fiction by authors such as Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky   Russian writers were convinced that their country’s literature had been too dependent on European models and they set out consciously to create a distinctly ‘Russian’ tradition.  What did this involve and why subsequently were the works of authors like Dostoevsky and Chekhov received so rapturously when they became available in English translations at the beginning of the twentieth century?  We will also examine this writing in its social, historical and political context, which raises questions regarding the significance of gender, censorship and empire.

By the end of the course you should be familiar with some of the great works of the leading Russian writers of the nineteenth century and will have gained an awareness of the social, historical and cultural circumstances of their production.

Reading List

Obviously there are numerous different translations of the works we will be reading.  For the most part, I have not specified particular editions; however I would like to use Stanley Mitchell’s translation of Eugene Onegin (Penguin: 2008).

As Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment are long novels we will be spending two weeks on each of them.

Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin (1833) (in the translation by Stanley Mitchell, Penguin, 2008)

Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of our Time (1840)

Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls (1842)

Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862)

Nikolai Leskov – Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1865)

Feodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (1866)

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1873-7)

Anton Chekhov, Short Stories (there are numerous collections of Chekhov’s stories available, you will need an edition that includes ‘The Lady with the Dog’, ‘Gooseberries’ The Student, The Bishop, Ward No. 6, About Love, Easter Eve, Gusev

Assessment: CW (Coursework 100%)

Number and type of assessed items: Two essays, one essay of 1,500 words (40%) and one essay of 2,000 words (60%).


How do writers attempt to capture ‘life’ in all its various forms?  What, if any, are the different requirements in writing the life of a famous (or not so famous) person and that of a city or landscape?  What about the ‘life’ of travel or food and how do you approach writing about the natural world?  These are just some of the questions that this module sets out to address.  We will be reading a wide variety of texts, from the ‘traditional’ biography to some of the more experimental examples of creative non-fiction.  From Samuel Johnson to essays in The New Yorker, all human (and non-human) life will be there! 

The course will be assessed by one piece of work of c. 5,000 words.

Students may choose between writing their own piece of Biography or Creative Non-Fiction as their final project or submitting a critical essay.

Reading List

(Please note:  this is provisional and subject to change)

Samuel Johnson, The Life of Richard Savage (in Johnson on Savage, ed. Richard Holmes)

Virginia Woolf, Flush

Alexander Masters, Stuart: A Life Backwards

Sebastian Faulks, The Fatal Englishman

Hunter S Thompson, Kingdom of Fear

William Fiennes, The Music Room

Max Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

Neil McCormick, Killing Bono

Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead

Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions