Prof Valerie Heffernan

German Studies, School of Modern Languages, Motherhood Project, Arts and Humanities Institute

Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies
Head of School

Arts Building
(01) 708 3708


Valerie Heffernan is Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies and Head of the Maynooth University School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures. She studied at University College Dublin, the Université de Lausanne (Switzerland) and the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (Germany). She received her PhD in 2004.

Dr Heffernan's interdisciplinary research interests encompass feminist theory, cultural studies and literary studies. Her current work critically explores how motherhood is represented in contemporary literature and culture. Together with Gay Wilgus (CUNY), she recently edited a special issue of Women: A Cultural Review on “Imagining Motherhood in the Twenty-First Century”, which was republished in book form by Routledge in 2020. Other significant recent publications include Robert Walser: A Companion, co-edited with Samuel Frederick (Penn State) and published by Northwestern University Press in 2018.

Valerie Heffernan is the recipient of a number of highly prestigious grants from the European Commission, the Irish Research Council, the Royal Irish Academy and the National University of Ireland, as well as scholarships from the Mexican Government, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) and the Swiss Government Excellence programme, among others. In recent years, she has performed a number of leadership roles for the Research Executive Agency of the European Commission, assisting with the evaluation of a number of calls within the Horizon 2020 programme.

Research Interests

Valerie Heffernan’s research interests encompass 20th and 21st century literature, feminist literary theory and cultural studies. Her current research considers the representation of mothers, mothering and motherhood in contemporary European culture, with a particular focus on cultural expressions of maternal regret. She is currently Maynooth PI on MotherNet, a collaborative project with Vilnius University (Lithuania) and Uppsala University (Sweden) which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 952366. From 2014-2016, she was Principal Investigator of a research project entitled “The Cultural Transmission of Motherhood in Europe: A Case Study”, for which she was awarded a prestigious Irish Research Council Research Project Grant.

Research Projects

Title Role Description Start date End date Amount
Developing a new Network of Researchers on Contemporary European Motherhood PI The overall aim of the MotherNet project is to enhance the scientific excellence and research capacity of Vilnius University (Lithuania) and raise the profile of its research staff and their institution by linking an emerging body of researchers working on motherhood to world-class centres for research on motherhood at Uppsala University (Sweden) and the National University of Ireland Maynooth (Ireland). The work plan envisions: joint design and implementation of collaborative research projects; the creation of targeted training and mentoring programmes; the organization of three international summer schools; extensive inter-institutional mobility; cooperative training of postgraduate students and early-career researchers; coordinated promotion of research outputs; collaboration on a number of major grant applications; and an ambitious programme of dissemination and communication measures. The expected impact of this 3-year programme is the creation of an innovative, interdisciplinary research network that will endure beyond the lifetime of the grant and will make a significant contribution to improving the quality of maternal care and support services in the three countries involved; influence policies relating to work/life balance; and increase public awareness about the changes in the social construction of motherhood in contemporary European society. Most importantly, through these activities, the MotherNet project will significantly enhance the networking channels of VU researchers and increase the visibility and international impact of their research. 01/01/2021 31/12/2023 255416
The Cultural Transmission of Motherhood in Europe: A Case Study Principal Investigator Declining birth rates in the majority of European countries have put motherhood centre stage on the European agenda. With fertility rates now below replacement level in almost all EU member states, policy makers are seeking new ways of understanding demographic change. To date, policies to promote population growth have concentrated on the economic, historical, political and social factors that influence women’s reproductive decisions. What policy makers have failed to take adequate account of is the central role played by culture in the formation, development, and perpetuation of images of motherhood, images that can also profoundly influence women’s practices and refusals of motherhood. The proposed project is part of a broader European endeavour that seeks to address this gap by examining the manner in which prevalent cultural images of motherhood contribute to the transmission of motherhood in Europe. This project includes a case study of the cultural representation of motherhood in contemporary Germany. The very low birth rate in Germany has been the subject of intense discussion both in the political arena and in the popular media. New legislation aimed at promoting population growth has had little impact to date, leading many to question whether it is something less tangible that is influencing women’s decisions not to have children. Drawing on recent research which indicates that women’s reproductive decisions can be profoundly influenced by dominant discourses of mothering, and that their images of what it means to be a mother are often drawn from what they read in newspapers, magazines and novels and what they see on TV and in film, this project examines the images of mothers presented in contemporary German television, film, and popular literature and analyses the dominant messages they convey about what it means to be a mother in Germany today. 16/06/2014

Post Doctoral Fellows / Research Team

Researcher Name Project Funding Body
10919 Motherhood and Migration: Between Languages, Cultures and Identities
12195 Sexual Violence in German Memory since 1945
11148 The Non-Traditional (M)Other: The Representation of Young Motherhood and Ambivalent Motherhood in Contemporary German and Irish Films

Peer Reviewed Journal

Year Publication
2021 Heffernan V.;Stone K. (2021) '#regrettingmotherhood in Germany: Feminism, motherhood, and culture'. Signs, 46 (2):337-360. [DOI] [Full-Text]
2018 Heffernan, V (2018) 'Mending the Torn Fragments of a Relationship: An Interview with Sarah Strong'. Women: A Cultural Review, 29 :97-111. [DOI] [Full-Text]
2018 Heffernan, V;Wilgus, G (2018) 'Introduction: Imagining Motherhood in the Twenty-First Century - Images, Representations, Constructions'. Women: A Cultural Review, 29 :1-18. [DOI] [Full-Text]
2017 Heffernan, Valerie (2017) 'Dementia narratives in contemporary German women’s writing'. Journal of Romance Studies, 13 (3):361-378. [Link] [DOI] [Full-Text]
2010 Heffernan, Valerie (2010) 'Swimming against the current? Rolf Lappert's Nach Hause schwimmen'. FIGURATIONEN: GENDER-LITERATUR-KULTUR, 1 :113-127. [Full-Text]

Edited Book

Year Publication
2021 Valerie Heffernan and Gay Wilgus (Ed.). (2021) Imagining Motherhood in the Twenty-First Century. London: Routledge, [Link]
2018 Samuel Frederick and Valerie Heffernan (Ed.). (2018) Robert Walser: A Companion. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, [Link]
2013 Valerie Heffernan & Gillian Pye (Ed.). (2013) Transitions: Emerging Women Writers in German-language Literature. Amsterdam: Rodopi,
2010 Jürgen Barkhoff & Valerie Heffernan (Ed.). (2010) Schweiz schreiben. Zu Konstruktion und Dekonstruktion des Mythos Schweiz in der Gegenwartsliteratur. Tübingen: De Gruyter,

Book Chapter

Year Publication
2021 Valerie Heffernan & Katherine Stone (2021) 'International Responses to Regretting Motherhood' In: Women’s Lived Experiences of the Gender Gap. Singapore : Springer. [Link]
2018 Heffernan, Valerie and Samuel Frederick (2018) 'Introduction. Robert Walser: Modernist at the Margins' In: Robert Walser: A Companion. Evanston, IL : Northwestern University Press. [Link]
2018 Heffernan, Valerie (2018) 'Parodies of Power: Robert Walser's Dramatic Scenes' In: Robert Walser: A Companion. Evanston, IL : Northwestern University Press. [Link]
2015 Heffernan, Valerie (2015) 'Matrilineal Narrative and the Feminist Family Romance' In: German Women’s Writing in the Twenty-First Century. Rochester, NY : Camden House. [Link] [Full-Text]
2015 Heffernan, Valerie (2015) 'Versstücke, Szenen und Dialoge der Berner Zeit' In: Gisi, Lucas Marco(Eds.). Robert Walser Handbuch. Stuttgart : Metzler.
2014 Heffernan, Valerie (2014) 'Mediating the Mommy Wars in Contemporary Germany' In: Stay-at-Home Mothers: Dialogues and Debates. Bradford, ON : Demeter Press. [Link] [Full-Text]
2013 Valerie Heffernan (2013) 'Perspectives on the Borderline: Julia Franck's lagerfeuer' In: Transitions: Emerging Women Writers in German-language Literature. Amsterdam : Rodopi. [Full-Text]
2013 Valerie Heffernan and Gillian Pye (2013) 'Trends and Transitions in Contemporary German-language Writing by Women' In: Transitions: Emerging Women Writers in German-language Literature. Amsterdam : Rodopi. [Full-Text]
2011 Heffernan, Valerie (2011) 'Julia Franck, Die Mittagsfrau: Historia Matria and Matrilineal Narrative' In: Lyn Marven & Stuart Taberner(Eds.). Emerging German-Language Novelists of the Twenty-First Century. Rochester, NY : Camden House. [Full-Text]
2010 Heffernan, Valerie & Jürgen Barkhoff (2010) 'Einleitung: ›Mythos Schweiz‹. Zu Konstruktion und Dekonstruktion des Schweizerischen in der Literatur' In: Heffernan, Valerie & Jürgen Barkhoff(Eds.). Schweiz schreiben. Zu Konstruktion und Dekonstruktion des Mythos Schweiz in der Gegenwartsliteratur. Tübingen : De Gruyter. [Full-Text]
2010 Heffernan, Valerie (2010) 'Unschweizerische Schweizerliteratur? Ruth Schweikert, Peter Stamm, Zoë Jenny' In: Heffernan, Valerie & Jürgen Barkhoff(Eds.). Schweiz schreiben. Zu Konstruktion und Dekonstruktion des Mythos Schweiz in der Gegenwartsliteratur. Tübingen : De Gruyter. [Full-Text]
2008 Heffernan, Valerie (2008) 'Robert Walser: Lange wohnte sie nun schon im Turm der Geduld' In: Florian Krobb & Jeff Morrison(Eds.). Prose Project: Irish Germanists interpret German Short and Very Short Narrative Texts. Konstanz : Hartung-Gorre Verlag. [Full-Text]
2008 Heffernan, Valerie (2008) 'Nicht wahr, es klingt so schoen. Zur Musik des Walser-Textes' In: Anna Fattori & Margit Gigerl(Eds.). Bildersprache Klangfiguren. Spielformen der Intermedialitaet bei Robert Walser. Munich : Wilhelm Fink. [Full-Text]
2007 Heffernan, Valerie (2007) 'Walter M. Diggelmanns Die Hinterlassenschaft and the landscape of Swiss Vergangenheitsbewältigung' In: Patrick Studer and Sabine Egger(Eds.). From the Margins to the Centre: Irish Germanists on Swiss Culture and Literature. Bern : Peter Lang. [Full-Text]
2007 Heffernan, Valerie (2007) 'Walsers hybride Subjekt. Zur dramatischen Szene Die Chinesin/Der Chinese' In: Wolfram Groddeck, Reto Sorg, Peter Utz and Karl Wagner(Eds.). Robert Walsers Ferne Nähe. Neue Beiträge zur Forschung. Munich : Fink.


Year Publication
2007 Heffernan, Valerie (2007) Provocation from the Periphery. Robert Walser Re-examined. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. [Link]
Certain data included herein are derived from the © Web of Science (2023) of Clarivate. All rights reserved.

Honors and Awards

Date Title Awarding Body
01/01/2011 Mexican Government Scholarship for Foreigners
01/04/2022 University of Jyväskylä Visiting Fellowship University of Jyväskylä
01/01/2002 University College Dublin Faculty of Arts Fellowship
01/01/2000 IRCHSS Government of Ireland Scholarship
01/01/2000 University College Dublin Open Postgraduate Scholarship
01/01/1997 Swiss Government Scholarship
01/01/1998 Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) Scholarship


Committee Function From / To
Faculty Research Committee Chair 09/09/2013 - 13/10/2016


Start date Institution Qualification Subject
University College Dublin Ph.D
University College Dublin M.A.
University College Dublin B.A. (Hons)

Teaching Interests

Professor Heffernan convenes the "Language and Culture" programme in First Year.