Sarah Bernstein

Early Career Teaching and Research Fellow

  • English Literature
  • School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures

Contact details


  • Students & supervisees: Please contact me via email to set up a meeting.


I joined Edinburgh as Early Career Research and Teaching Fellow (British literature) in 2019. Previously, I taught modern and contemporary literature and theory at the Universities of Sheffield and Edinburgh. In 2018, I held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. My publications include articles in Modern Fiction Studies, Contemporary Women's Writing and Studia Neophilologica; book chapters; and, as co-editor (with Sarah Brazil), Rise Up and Repeal: Poetry of the 8th (Sad Press, 2019). I have also published fiction, poetry and essays in journals in the UK and North America, and my book of poetry, Now Comes the Lightning, came out with Pedlar Press in 2015. My first novel, The Coming Bad Days, will be published by Daunt Books in 2021.

Undergraduate teaching

  • English Literature 1
  • Fiction and the Gothic, 1840-1940
  • Literature, Reading and Mental Health
  • George Orwell and the Politics of Literature
  • The Politics of Difficulty in Twentieth-Century Literature
  • Creative Writing Part II: Prose (3rd year)

Postgraduate teaching

  • The Politics of Difficulty in Twentieth-Century Literature

Research summary

My research focuses on mid-century modern literature, with an emphasis on writing by women, literary experimentation and the commons. I am particularly interested in strategies of formal and affective 'difficulty' for imagining new forms of care and community. My first monograph, The Social Scientific Imagination: Mid-Century Women's Writing and the Welfare State (under review), concentrates on postwar women writers' indirect and mediated representations of the welfare state in the form of a 'social-scientific imagination', manifested in both cultural ideology and literary form.

My current book project, 'Difficult Women and the Common Good: Towards a Literature in Commons', explores the relationship between aesthetic and affective difficulty primarily within the modernist period, and I argue that the 'difficult woman' offers an innovative way of conceiving new forms of political collectivity.  I draw on contemporary commons discourse, particularly theorisations of 'commoning' (or the practice of doing and being in common), in order to describe a literature that creates and reinvents shared spaces, ways of living and forms of social cooperation: a literature in commons.

The study's primary aim is to posit a literature in commons as a potential theoretical model of reading and writing in which difficulty is key to creating space for new ways of making meaning and new kinds of narratives, literary as well as social. Looking at the work of five modernist women writers, the project works to define precisely what kinds of literary experiments might be productive in challenging the logic of capitalist enclosure, in making and sustaining new collective social spaces. It asks how a literary text might actually enact a practice of 'commoning'. I suggest that, in working out these problems, modernist writers engage with the question of the failed politics of empathy in the twentieth century and attempt to carve out an alternative to the intimate public sphere that has proven ineffective in producing political change or even genuine intimacy or compassion. I suggest that for these 'difficult' writers, a literature in commons counterintuitively deploys what Anne Boyer has called 'formal strategies of refusal', strategies of detachment that also effect, that depend upon and are committed to, an attachment of a different kind.