Part-Time Detective: Siena Professor Researches Abroad

By Christine Mundy

Instead of teaching Elizabethan Literature and battling through the slush in between classes here at Siena this spring, Dr. Margaret Hannay will be exploring the archives of Washington D.C. and London in search of a woman who was a pioneer for both her craft and her gender: Lady Mary Wroth. Two different grants fund her research to write Mary Wroth’s biography. One of which is a $36,000 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the other is a short-term Fellowship from the Folger Shakespeare Library in D.C. where she will spend two weeks researching. Afterwards, she will spend six weeks working in London at such historic landmarks as the British Library researching for the book.
Dr. Hannay has held an interest in Lady Mary Wroth and her works for many years and has even taught some pieces here at Siena. A friend of Dr. Hannay, Josephine Roberts, republished Wroth’s works making it possible for students to read them more clearly. Before Robert’s (an English professor at Louisiana State University) republication, students and teachers alike had to read photocopies from the 1621 edition. Tragically, in 1996,
Josephine Roberts was killed in a car accident and never had the opportunity to start Wroth’s biography. Hannay comments, “In many ways I feel that I am carrying on her work.”
Dr. Hannay will be executing this biography “like detective work, adding one bit of evidence at a time.” She has already discovered several new facts about Wroth, one example of which being that Wroth’s illegitimate son (with cousin, William Herbert) “may have been a pirate of the Caribbean.” She was also one of the first people to experience Sir Walter Raleigh’s (her uncle) tales of the New World.
Dr. Hannay is drawn to Mary Wroth in part because she “wrote the first English prose romance by a woman; she was also the first woman to write a sonnet sequence, and the first to write an original drama.” She will maintain the pattern in which she wrote the biography of Lady Mary Wroth’s aunt, Mary Sidney (Phillip’s Pheonix, Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, Oxford University Press, 1990).
Hannay completed her undergraduate work at Wheaton College in Ilinois and attained her Master’s Degree in English from The College of Saint Rose.
She got her Doctorate from Suny Albany where she wrote her doctoral dissertation on the “Renaissance Scholarship of C.S. Lewis”. The National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship offered her the opportunity to take a year for her research. Hannay decided she could not stay away from Siena that long! While on sabbatical, Dr. Hannay says she “will miss teaching, as well as talking with the students and faculty”. From all of us back home at Siena, we wish you the best of luck, Dr. Hannay! Happy Hunting!


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