Crime and Passions
Society's fascination with crime stories is not a modern phenomenon, as this multifaceted literary scholar has discovered.
Smith, an academic aligned with FEDUA's Humanities Research Institute pursues the disparate research fields of Renaissance literature and true crime writing. Yet, these seemingly distinct passions do sometimes overlap.
Smith is probably best known in academic circles as a Renaissance literary scholar. After graduating with the University Medal from the University of Sydney in 1990, she won a scholarship to study at Oxford, where she completed a groundbreaking PhD on the then largely unexplored work of English early modern women writers.</ p>
Intrigued as to why women were virtually unrepresented in the catalogue of English writers in the Renaissance period, Smith trawled through the archives in search of female authors of sonnets, a popular poetic form at the time. While she uncovered some, she theorised that most women were reluctant to write in the genre because of the scandal surrounding the casket sonnets, which were alleged to have been written by Mary, Queen of Scots, for her adulterous lover.
Smith's PhD was published in 2005 as the book Sonnets and the English Woman Writer 1560-1621: The Politics of Absence.
Last year she was awarded $210,000 grant from the Australian Research Council (ARC) to conduct further research into early modern women's writing and its redactions, along with colleagues from the Early Modern Women's Research Network, a collective of like-minded academics she co-founded with researchers from Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Smith is chief investigator on the three-year Discovery Project, which is led by the University of Newcastle.
True crime - or non-fictional crime writing - is a more recent interest, but one Smith has taken to with relish. Despite its popularity, Australian contemporary true crime has barely come under the microscope as a literary genre and she sees plenty of scope for developing it as a research field.
"It is a genre that no one has really discussed in a scholarly fashion," she says. "As a reader, I really enjoy it - if I had to pick my top five texts from Australian literature from the past five years, they would all be true crime."</ p>
Smith believes people are attracted to true crime writing because they are curious about the psychology of killers and criminals, but also because the sub-texts touch on "big themes" that lurk beneath the surface of everyday life, such as adultery, family feuds and malevolent motherhood.
Drawing on both of her scholarly interests, she has launched a novel investigation into true crime writing in England during the Renaissance era, and will use a 12-month research fellowship awarded by the University to pursue both that and her ARC project.
"Because of my interest in true crime, I started to wonder if there were any examples of the genre in the early modern period and, of course, once I started digging, I found this fantastic world of true crime stories," she says.
The stories appear in many different forms - from one-page ballads that were hawked at markets for small change to more sophisticated examples of reportage that pre-date the first newspapers, but there is strong evidence that Renaissance society found tales of crime and passion as gripping as contemporary readers do today.
"It's like the Underbelly of another era," Smith says.