CURRENT PROJECT: SPECTACULARLY CONCEIVED
My book project, Spectacularly Conceived: Abolition and Pornography, 1800-1870, argues that transatlantic anti-slavery publications relied on a set of carefully calibrated rhetorical strategies to convince metropolitan readers of the ethical imperative to end slavery. One of these strategies was a barely disguised eroticism, noticeable whenever abolitionists hinted at the systematic sexual exploitation of enslaved women. I suggest that sexually suggestive materials in Anglophone anti-slavery texts in fact reproduced the representational economies of early nineteenth-century pornography and burlesque performances of dark-skinned women. While many abolitionist authors did their best to elide the reality of systematic rape and concubinage under British and American slavery to appeal to their predominantly evangelical and female readership, they nevertheless capitalized on that reality’s luridness to boost sales of their materials. I conclude that the representation of slave women’s non-reproductive, but obviously sexually abused, bodies was a means to assure readers that economic, sexual, and racial hierarchies would remain stable even after the abolition of slavery. My work focuses on the slave narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831), Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s political verse (1848-56), Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and activist periodicals such as The British Emancipator and The Liberty Bell.
The project is based on a dissertation that has been awarded the Midwest Victorian Studies Association Walter L. Arnstein Prize (2016) as well as the Fred and Joan Thomson Award for Outstanding Dissertation Work from UNC (2015).
ESSAY: TENDING TO OLD STORIES: DANIEL DERONDA AND HYSTERIA, REVISITED (2018)
This forthcoming essay in Victorian Literature and Culture focuses on one of Eliot’s most problematically visible female body, that of Gwendolen Harleth in Daniel Deronda, and integrates readings of this body with contemporary medical texts that Eliot owned. I propose, in opposition to scholars who consider Eliot as intellectually ahead of her time, that Eliot’s depiction of Gwendolen’s “fits of spiritual dread” relies on older formulations of hysteria that would lose their cachet with the emergence of psychiatry at the end of the nineteenth century. Recent research has yielded interesting possibilities for re-assessment of Eliot’s text and, analogous to Eve Sedgwick’s interpretation of Jane Austen’s Marianne Dashwood as “the Masturbating Girl,” I show that beneath Gwendolen’s often-noted “iridescence” and sexual frigidity lurks the specter of maidenly autoerotics, often conceptualized as simultaneously causing and exacerbating adolescent girls’ hysteria. To curtail Gwendolen’s selfish sexuality, Eliot prescribes her heroine a cure of suffering and moral re-orientation that corresponds to mid-Victorian physicians’ recommendations for their patients.
ESSAY: DANIEL DERONDA, MARITAL RAPE, AND THE END OF REPRODUCTION (2018)
In this forthcoming essay, I examine the representational politics surrounding conventionally unmentionable topics of spousal abuse, sadism, and sterility in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda. When Eliot’s prose confronts representational barriers erected by legally entrenched male sexual and class power, it avails itself of medical typification of Gwendolen’s body as hysterical and animalistic, as well as of Gothic, sensationalist imagery. These narrative techniques function as instruments in a rhetorical negotiation of married women’s claim to greater legal independence and tell stories for which medical writers, the law, and realism at large had not yet developed a language. However, such stories were so well known by the 1870s that the registers available to Eliot risked literary triteness and they barely disguise a reality of systematic elite marital violence.
JOURNAL ISSUE: WOMEN'S WRITING, "GENERATIONS" (2018)
I co-chaired the British Women Writers Conference Steering Committee for the 25th Anniversary Conference in Chapel Hill in June 2017 and am co-editing a special issue of Women's Writing on the theme of "Generations" to accompany the conference. This issue addresses the role of inter- and intra-generational collaboration and conflict in British literature and culture, scholarship, and pedagogy. We suggest that, while generational transitions are often productive and even revolutionary, they are seldom ever easy or smooth. They may be accompanied by scientific and cultural paradigm shifts, struggles to be heard, or difficulty letting go. The collection therefore theorizes the complexities that accompany generational exchange and transition in the field of women’s writing. Our introductory article on “generations” as a biological, social, and critical category takes stock of the ongoing “physiological turn” in literary studies.
My publication in The Journal of Popular Culture (2016) engages with 21st-century sexuality studies, scientific narratives of desire, and popular representations of reproductive control to argue that Western literature has never transcended the Victorian model of progressive politics that depends on spectacular stagings of female eros. This article complements my historical research in its focus on the ongoing methodological challenges feminist scholars confront when addressing scientific accounts of women’s desire. It was inspired by classroom discussions with students in my Introduction to Fiction undergraduate seminar. The article was the sole winner of the 2017 Russel B. Nye Award for Outstanding Article Published in The Journal of Popular Culture by Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association.
ESSAY: THE HIDDEN ABORTION PLOT IN GEORGE ELIOT'S MIDDLEMARCH (2014)
This invited essay, published in the Spring 2014 issue of Victorian Studies, suggests that Rosamond Vincy, George Eliot's paradigm for failed feminine education, intentionally terminates her pregnancy by deciding to go horseback riding and thus illegally assumes control of the Lydgates' family planning. By exploring the moral and political consequences of Rosamond's supremely transgressive action, this piece argues that abortion discourse in Victorian literature not only obscures its own existence to appease hyper-restrictive editorial pressures, but is uniquely suited to showcase the precariousness of middle-class social and biological reproduction. Simultaneously unmentionable and extensively narrated, Rosamond's calculated miscarriage avoids catastrophic revelation when Rosamond manages to make the event appear accidental, reenacting-and reinforcing-a family planning strategy common among middle-class Victorian women.
PEDAGOGY CHAPTER: UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH: PEERSOURCING (2014)
My dedication to undergraduate composition and the early academic professionalization of undergraduate students led me to coordinate the People, Ideas, and Things Journal (PIT) course pilot within UNC’s Writing Program. I have taught PIT seminars for six years, helping first-year students create rigorous analytical work. Students enrolled in these writing seminars select a discourse community and a topic they find exciting and then begin contributing to ongoing conversations in their chosen field. The pursuit of scholarly research with the explicit goal of publication results in a vibrant classroom experience where students are invested in producing high-quality original work. One of the most technologically innovative aspects of the PIT Journal track includes a digital peer-review process called “peersourcing” that allows students to receive and provide feedback within and across participating classes. Our teaching collective published an essay introducing "peersourcing" in 2014.