School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Burying your face in a book – Meet Jenny Sullivan

PhD candidate, Department of English  

by Phil Gaudreau, August 2020

Amy Cleaver

Faces tell stories. Every scar, every laugh line, and every subtle or not-so-subtle expression can convey so much meaning that a simple text message or phone call cannot. Yet our addiction to these forms of communication depersonalize our interactions and mute those meanings, despite all our knowledge about the impact of non-verbal communication.

Jenny Sullivan is a second-year PhD student in the Doctor of Philosophy in English program, and her thesis focuses on the power of the face and face-to-face encounter in literature.

“Faces cultivate compassion and empathy because you see a person’s likeness and dignity, but it also exposes a gap as you can never fully know the other person,” she notes. “It creates a distance, which can result in fear or stereotypes.”

She’s on a mission to ‘rescue the face’ and highlight what we lose in highly impersonal digital communication. As inspiration, Jenny cites philosophers like Emmanuel Levinas, who described faces as an entry point into the complexity of the other person, and Romantic writers like William Wordsworth and Thomas De Quincey who described faces in great detail in their writing.

“Romantic writers talked about the power of the face as a sublime source,” she notes. “This topic is very relevant today as the image of the face is still used in the media and in advertising to elicit a response.”

Jenny enjoys many different forms of writing and writes novels and poetry; some of her work is displayed on her website She has even used her time at Queen’s to branch out in her writing interests, becoming an editor for The Lamp Literary Journal at Queen’s.

That curiosity with expression has also led Jenny to branch out and explore the interaction between many different art forms, looking at philosophy, classical music, and art history.

“I don’t want to become overly specialized, so I step outside my genre, my department, and my discipline to broaden my horizons,” she says.

When she’s not buried in a good book, Jenny can be found running, singing in a choir, enjoying Kingston’s waterfront, or practicing on her ukulele or piano.

To learn more about the Department of English program, visit the School of Graduate Studies’ website.