At this point in July every year I (by which I mean all academics) start to panic that summer is nearly over. I have approximately six weeks before course prep/teaching recommences. I have been enjoying a lot of time poolside. I’m trying to talk myself into reading something serious rather than all the mystery fluff I seem to favor on teaching breaks. And maybe I’ll clean up my sewing room and sew some things.
I have also been plugging away at book chapters. I was excited to see Joanna Turner’s timely essay in Victorian Popular Fiction, giving us new information about Marie Corelli’s background. I’ll definitely be citing this in my chapter on The Murder of Delicia.
For one of my chapters on Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s work, I read Swarnakumari Debi’s Kahake (which she translated into English in 1913). This story was so compelling (and I don’t appreciate romance, usually)–it raises the question why is her work, popular in its time, so overshadowed today by that of her younger brother? (I’m talking about Nobel-winning Rabindranath Tagore here… echoes of Woolf’s speculations about Shakespeare’s sister… ) I wish all Swarnakumari’s novels were translated, or (once again) that I could read Bengali. She was formidable: she started writing novels in her teens (already a mother of four) and also edited the literary magazine Bharati for thirty years. Folks wishing to broaden our conception of Victorian Studies should look into this author!
Here I am in the middle of summer 2022, looking back on another challenging year of teaching during a global pandemic while enjoying a period of intellectual energy and physical/mental restoration. The image shows some of the research I’ve embarked on for the summer, part of a larger project that explores the ways that a distinctly transimperial feminism developed through aesthetic and cultural exchange between England and colonial India.
In May I attended the British Women Writers Conference in Waco, TX. It was so lovely to meet in person, to dust off my social networking skills and engage more deeply with folks’ during and after their presentations. This fall, I look forward to teaching Children’s Literature and a general education seminar on English detective fiction. As usual, I’m reading for pleasure this summer, as well, and enjoying every minute I can with my family, friends, and neighbors. I recently heard a rabbi deliver the sermon at an Episcopal church, and he quoted Dr. Prinz’s speech from the March on Washington: “Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept.” As the war on women’s bodies endures, as the invasion of Ukraine continues, as the glaciers keep melting, this seems more and more important to recall.
It’s been a long year, and it’s only August. Among other bright career spots, I managed to complete two projects that have meant a lot to me, despite the way my sabbatical was disrupted by the squall of viral and racial pandemics, homeschooling, and a childcare crisis. My essay “‘Most men are human’: Race and Grant Allen’s The Type-Writer Girl” is included in the forthcoming collection Critical Insights: Feminism (August 2020). In that essay, I argue that Allen’s feminist narrator instrumentalizes racial discourses in her pursuit of liberal selfhood and gendered emancipation. Using postcolonial and anti-racist feminist theory, I argue that The Type-Writer Girl, much like Jane Eyre, shows how the consolidation of liberal feminist selves depends on domesticated “Others.” More broadly, I suggest that Victorianist feminist literary criticism needs to actively seek to become more intersectional. (This is not a new idea, and I especially love Jill Ehnnen’s essay on the subject, but it’s an idea that bears repeating.)
I’m very excited to announce that the special issue of Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies on “Victorian Literature in the Age of #MeToo,” co-edited with my good friend Lana Dalley, is now live. This features nine substantial, excellent essays on research and teaching Victorian Studies in the wake of a globally powerful social movement against sexual violence, plus an introduction by Lana and myself, and a compelling concluding essay by Marlene Tromp–whose book on marital violence, The Private Rod, has been quite impactful on my life and my work.
I’ve also immersed myself in several of the summer’s online opportunities to discuss virtual teaching and learning with feminist and Victorianist colleagues. These included Ms. Magazine’s “Teaching WGSS Online: Preparing for Fall Classes in the Time of COVID”; as well as a “Teaching WGSS Online Working Group” instigated and led by Sheena Miller, a faculty development professional. In the interest of diversifying my Victorian literature offerings, I attended the sessions on Dickens and Frances Harper at the Virtual Dickens Universe. To stimulate and improve my remote course offerings, I participated in some of the workshops offered by COVE.
It is with some trepidation that I consider the start of a new school year, given that teaching and learning will look so distinctly different. But I join my colleagues in the Humanities at Washington State U in St. Louis in reiterating the value of humanistic inquiry during times like these to prompt critical thinking and to stimulate hope.
I am happily plugging away at a couple big projects, one of which involves the Norfolk Chat, an illustrated society weekly published in Norfolk, VA from 1890-1893. This weekly is heavily composed of local gossip, advertisements, and boiler plate (questionably) humorous bits like this one:
WOOL: When your wife goes home to her mother, how do you induce her to come back?
VAN PELT: That’s too easy; insert an ad for a typewriter!
I will be presenting my analysis of the Courtship and Marriage content in the periodical at the Popular Culture Association conference in Philadelphia in April.
There was a lot at stake for the Victorians. Economic expansion, both domestic and imperial, was a high-stakes venture. Emigrants staked their lives on the gamble of settler colonies. The stakes of the marriage market both at home and abroad were high. Prospectors staked claims to natural resources from Kimberley to the Klondike, while inventors staked claims to patents. Explorers, scientists, and speculators gambled with outcomes. The emerging life insurance industry responded to risk-taking with caution and calculation. The moral stakes were high as well: social risk-takers, such as those who were designated New Women or queer subjects, prompted more regulation of bodies, lifestyles, and behaviors.
The Victorians witnessed changes to voting rights, labor laws, women’s property rights, bankruptcy laws, access to education and divorce. What did they stand to win or lose from the rapid political, economic, and social changes during Queen Victoria’s reign? As scholars of the Victorian era, we, too, are stakeholders, invested in the conviction that this period’s history and culture matter still. What are the stakes of teaching the Victorians today?
I can often be found grading papers on my couch, sipping a cup of hot caffeine, while an episode of “Arthur” drones on in the background and a baby squawks at me from her exer-saucer (we call it “the Turret”). I fantasize about sleeping through the night and then going off to a cafe alone to work on any of my current projects, including an essay on infant sale in Victorian literature, a VISAWUS conference paper proposal on racism in Grant Allen’s The Type-writer Girl, and a book on an illustrated humor newspaper from 1890s Norfolk, VA. All that is to say, please consider this website a work in progress.