Marietta HS graduate turns love of author into Investigative Study

Rapunzel,” “Snow White,” and “Sleeping Beauty” are all familiar names to anyone who’s a fan of fairy tales. Imagine finding revised versions of these famous tales in a modern day prize-winning novel.

Marietta College senior Jessica Phillips incorporated her love of author A.S. Byatt and came up with a detailed study of how Byatt took ancient fairy tales, updated and revised them and integrated them into her novel “Possession.”

Over the summer Phillips, a graduate of Marietta High School, took part in the Investigative Studies program at Marietta College that gave her the chance to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor and learn more about her field of study and her love of literature.

Phillips first became intrigued by this project when she read “Possession” for a class.

“Possession” is a wonderfully complex and multidimensional novel about two 20th-century academics, who research and analyze the literary works of a pair of Victorian authors,” said Phillips, the daughter of Leonard and Judy Phillips of Marietta. “There are mysteries and hidden meanings in the works they study and eventually the situation escalates the academic battles surrounding the intellectual world.”

Dr. Carolyn Hares-Stryker, who faculty advisor on the project, then encouraged her to look at Byatt’s use of fairy tales in her novel. From this idea, Phillips was able to begin the process of researching and planning for her project.

Phillips found the project to be challenging but very rewarding.

“The hardest part about this project was coming up with a workable thesis. The greatest enjoyment that I got from this project was having the finished product in hand. It’s a great feeling,” Phillips said.

Her research revolved around how the fairy tales were situated in the novel and why Byatt might have chosen to use these tales in a novel about academia. In preparation for her final presentation, Phillips wrote a letter to Byatt to ask about her sources of material for the fairy tales she used in her fiction.

Phillips received a rather personal letter from Byatt explaining some of the original sources she used in rewriting her fairy tales. Byatt indicated she sometimes had the Brothers Grimm or “The 1001 Arabian Nights” in mind when writing her tales. After this response Jessica read as many versions of the fairy tales, such as “Rapunzel,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “The Glass Coffin,” starting with Basile’s 17th-century texts and traced trends of change as the tales evolved into their current forms.

Hares-Stryker was in charge of guiding Phillips and pushing her to come up with an end result that is thoroughly unique and intellectually convincing.

“As always, Jessica is a marvel. She has this stubborn refusal to give up on anything and so keeps working until the project yields something rich and complex,” Hares-Stryker said. “She’s responsible and thoughtful. I am so grateful, indeed, that she has decided to go into the library sciences, because she is born for this kind of path.”

Phillips is involved in other activities here on campus including Sigma Tau Delta (The International English Honorary), Marietta Swing Dance Society, and the Marietta College Honors Program. She works two on-campus jobs as a tutor in the campus Writing Center and in the library as a Special Collections’ student assistant.

The Investigative Studies program, launched in 1997, provides students with an opportunity to pursue research and creative interest in a manner not found in a typical classroom setting. The program promotes intellectual curiosity and stimulates creativity in students. Each student who participates must study in their own academic discipline and in doing so they gain a sense of learning, sharing and commitment with a community of scholars.

“The opportunity to work on research or creative projects independently or with faculty mentors yields a number of benefits. Most importantly, I believe that Marietta College’s Investigative Studies Program helps enhance students’ self confidence and prepares them well for the expectations of the world of work and graduate school,” said Professor Grace Johnson, director or the program.