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The intrigue of supernatural phenomena prompted Olivia Garnett ’02, an English major and French minor from Gettysburg, Pa., to take a course in the “Victorian Supernatural” while studying abroad in Bath, England during the past spring semester. It seemed a natural progression to explore this topic further for her senior honors thesis in English.

Lafayette gives students the opportunity to explore a topic of interest in a sequence of two thesis courses. Candidates for honors must have and maintain cumulative averages of 3.00 and averages of 3.20 in the honors department and must fulfill other requirements as may be established by the department.

“We read books like Dracula, Frankenstein, and some Oscar Wilde and Dickens. It was a fascinating course that I really enjoyed,” says Garnett. “When I was considering a topic for my thesis, it occurred to me that these phenomena must be present in medieval literature as well, though they may be much easier to overlook and I thought it would be interesting and exciting to try to find and understand them.”

“I’m exploring the supernatural in medieval literature, using Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and some of Mallory’s Arthurian tales to do so,” continues Garnett. “I’m comparing the use or appearance of ghosts and the supernatural in this literature to the way in which it is employed in Victorian literature, in works such as those by Charles Dickens or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for instance. I think that while the supernatural in medieval literature is more obscure than it is in Victorian literature, it is nonetheless there, though it may serve a different function or be used in a different way.”

Carolynn Van Dyke, professor and associate head of English, is Garnett’s thesis advisor. “The supernatural is explored in any course that deals with medieval literature, but Olivia’s topic is actually more specific,” says Van Dyke. “She is exploring ghosts — the dead who return to the realm of the living — in medieval literature. Scholars don’t commonly address that topic, nor do teachers in their courses.”

“She and I are trying to understand why medieval literature deals extensively with various aspects of the supernatural but not with what seemed to the Victorians to be the most obvious supernatural phenomenon: ghosts. Her interest in this topic is a good example of the ‘cross-pollination’ of one literary period with insights from another period.”

Garnett is excited about her one-on-one interaction with Van Dyke and the satisfaction of this learning opportunity is mutual. “Olivia is unusually highly motivated and willing to overcome obstacles,” says Van Dyke. “When she encounters a reference to a poem that may be relevant to her project, she finds the poem and reads it on her own. She has a fresh approach to many concepts, and I’m learning along with her.”

Distance does not diminish the length that a thesis advisor will go to assist a student. Van Dyke began helping Garnett with her thesis while Garnett was abroad.

“She’s an excellent advisor and was wonderful about helping me out while I was overseas with the application, ideas, and so on,” says Garnett. “This summer she took the time to recommend some good sources for me to look into as I started research and made helpful suggestions about where to begin. Since I’ve gotten back to school, her guidance has been wonderful — she’s helped me solidify and direct my topic and identify the primary sources that I want to use for the thesis.”

Garnett also applauds the resources for research projects. She thought that she would have trouble finding information because the project is such an obscure topic, but that has not been the case. “Skillman Library has a very extensive collection and the reference librarians have always been very good at helping me out when I have difficulties finding or understanding something,” says Garnett.

Garnett is co-captain of the cheerleading squad and a member of the Newman Association, and works at Kirby Sports Center as a facility monitor.

Categorized in: Academic News