Gillian Beer

Areas of Interest


Honorary Award

Honorary Doctor of Letters, 1998


Dame Gillian Beer is an editor, writer, critic and scholar of international renown. A graduate of St Anne's College, Oxford, she lectured at London and Liverpool before becoming an Assistant Lecturer at Cambridge in 1966. She progressed to Reader in Literature and Narrative, and Professor of English Literature, then in 1994 was appointed to the King Edward VII Chair of English Literature. Her intellectual vigour is in great demand throughout the world. Dame Gillian has served as a Trustee of the British Museum, Vice President of the British Academy and Chair of the Poetry Book Society. She has been a member and Chair of the judging panel for the Booker Prize for Contemporary Fiction as well as Chair of the judging panel for the British Academy Book Prize.

Gillian is President and of the British Society for Literature and Science and is currently on the jury for the David Cohen lifetime achievement prize for literature. Her books include Darwin's Plots (1983; 2nd edition 2000, 3rd edition 2009) and Virginia Woolf: the Common Ground (1996).

In 1998 Dame Gillian Beer was made an Honorary Doctor of Letters at Anglia Ruskin University and now has a total of ten honorary doctorates.


"The Senate of Anglia Polytechnic University has great pleasure in recommending the award of an Honorary Doctorate of Letters to Professor Gillian Beer.

This award is made in recognition of Professor Beer's outstanding international reputation as a scholar and critic. Gillian Beer was a Lecturer at Bedford College, London and at Liverpool University before moving to Cambridge University as an Assistant Lecturer in 1966. She became a Lecturer in 1971, then successively Reader in Literature and Narrative and Professor of English Literature. She was appointed to the King Edward VII Chair of English Literature in 1991.

Professor Beer has written man distinguished studies of English literature and intellectual history. These include a book on The Romance, published in 1970; a book on George Eliot (1986); a book entitled Arguing With the Past: Essays in Narrative from Woolf to Sidney (1989); and a collection of Essays on Virginia Woolf (1996).

She is particularly focused on the relationship between science and literature and on an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge. Her best known work in this area includes Darwin's Plots, dealing with evolutionary narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1983), and Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter (1996). This groundbreaking work has totally transformed parts of the discipline.

Professor Beer also has extensive experience as an editor having published editions of The Notebooks of George Meredith(1983); Virginia Wolf's The Waves (1992); and Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1996).

Professor Beer's scholarship, intellectual vigour and comprehensive learning are valued around the world. She has made a major contribution to the worlds of higher education and British literature and letters, first as a fellow of Girton College and latterly, since 1994, as President of Clare Hall. She has been a Trustee of the British Museum since 1992 and a Vice President of the British Academy since 1994. She has been Chair of the Poetry Book Society since 1992 and has twice acted as a judge for the Booker Prize for Contemporary Fiction, most recently in 1997, as Chair of the Panel.

Professor Beer is particularly honoured by Anglia Polytechnic University for having fostered links between the English Faculty at Cambridge University and the English Department at APU. She has attended and encouraged joint lectures in the two departments, helped host a joint conference on 'The City' (now developed into a bi-annual conference to encourage postgraduate English students at the two universities) and given the keynote address at the recent Anglia Polytechnic University conference on "The Literature of the 1930s". She has also acted as an external examiner for an APU PhD candidate.

It is therefore with great pleasure that on behalf of the Chancellor of the University I invite Professor Gillian Beer to come forward to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Letters."