Ghislaine McDayter to speak at UTK on Feb. 13

This Monday, January 13, Ghislaine McDayter (Bucknell University) will give a talk titled “The Anatomy of Flirtation” at 3:30 pm in 1210 McClung Tower.

The following is an abstract of her talk:
The finished coquettes of the Regency period were remarkable for their tendency to berate themselves for their unseemly and immodest behavior, to curse their faulty education which ignited flirtatious desires without teaching the essential lessons of self-discipline, and to vow reformation – after this one, last erotic conquest. But while these earlier coquettes might have fretted and regretted their behavior through the voluminous pages of their stories, there was a new coquettish heroine about to take their place, and she would have no such torturous self-doubts. This was a new breed of coquette, soon to be nominated the ‘Flirt” in order to make a distinction between the angst-ridden behavior of her ancestral sisters, and a new species of woman who, far from regretting her coquettish tendencies, revels in her “natural” powers of seduction. This coquette, we are assured, is not a creature of her environment, but rather of evolution and biological necessity. By the late nineteenth-century the flirt has come into her own as the “natural” representative of feminine perfection. The wit of an eighteenth-century’s Lady Susan – a woman who charms with her brilliant conversation — has been replaced by the dimpled, blushing perfections of a Cynthia Kirkpatrick or a Rosamund Vincy. What this talk will show is how, by the Victorian period, the flirtatious “word” has become flesh.

Ghislaine McDayter is a Professor of English at Bucknell University and author of Byromania: Byron and the Birth of Celebrity Culture. She is currently finishing a book length project on 18th and 19th century flirtation and feminism entitled, Licentious Tyrants: Feminism and Flirtation in 18th and 19th Century British Literature, and serving as one of 5 editors on a new digital edition of Byron’s Manfred under the direction of Jerome McGann. She is also completing an essay for inclusion in the Cambridge University Press edition of Byron edited by Clara Tuite.


Staci Poston Conner’s Chapter on Joyce Carol Oates Recently Published

Staci Poston Conner, UTK graduate student and member of the Nineteenth Century British Research Seminar, recently published a chapter titled “‘We are Beasts and This is Our Consolation’: Fairy Tale Revision and Combination in Joyce Carol Oates’s Beasts” in the 2016 collection Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Culture: A Mosaic of Criticism.

Conner’s fascinating chapter considers how Joyce Carol Oates’ Beasts (2001) blends fairy tale tropes and mythological archetypes in order to present a gothic revision of a well-known coming-of-age/sexual awakening story. The novella begins with undertones of a Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast plot—the protagonist, Gillian, fits the role of a “chosen one” or special girl selected by the “other” (a Prince or Beast or combination of both) as a love interest and thereby enters a new, magical existence that seems to vastly improve her previous life. However, the story soon merges Cinderella/Beauty with Bluebeard, placing the protagonist in a situation of impending danger. In using certain fairy tale archetypes, Conner argues, Oates dismantles expectations in presenting a new, feminist, gothic version of a coming-of-age/sexual awakening story. She deconstructs the male-rescuer archetype in presenting a female protagonist on a trajectory from helplessness to self-reliance. In doing so, she also subverts gender expectations by presenting the prince/beast as a married male/female couple rather than a single male. Examining this, Conner claims, provides a new lens through which to view Oates’s largely unexamined novella, placing it within the canon of contemporary, revisionary fairy tales that trace young female characters’ coming-of-age narratives while offering different ways to investigate questions of identity, growth, and change.

Caroline Wilkinson’s Journal Article on George Eliot Recently Published

UTK PhD candidate Caroline Wilkinson’s “The ‘Former Sun’ in the Sidereal Clock: The Kabbalistic Heavens and Time in The Spanish Gypsy and Daniel Deronda” was recently featured in the first 2016 issue of George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies journal.

Wilkinson’s thought-provoking article considers the importance of astrology and Judaism to George Eliot’s fiction. According to Wilkinson, in both her epic poem The Spanish Gypsy and her final novel Daniel Deronda, Eliot drew upon kabbalistic concepts of the heavens through the characters of Jewish mystics. In the later novel, however, Eliot moved the mystic, Mordecai, from the narrative’s periphery to its center. This change, argues Wilkinson, symbolically equated within the novel to a shift from geocentricism to heliocentrism, affects time in Daniel Deronda both in terms of plot and historical focus. Not only does time slow as Mordecai assumes a central role, the astral imagery begins to draw upon a medieval past when Jewish thinkers explored interdisciplinary concepts of the heavens. This essay argues for the centrality of the astronomical imagery in relation to the Jewish themes of Daniel Deronda and shows through its analysis of The Spanish Gypsy how Eliot employed kabbalistic ideas of the skies in an attempt to create a new vision of star-crossed love for literature.

Check out the entire article in the 2016 George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies journal, volume 68, number 1!

Robin Barrow to Present at the 2017 MLA Convention in January

Senior Lecturer Robin Barrow will be giving a presentation on Friday, January 6 at the 2017 MLA Annual Convention in Philadelphia.

Barrow’s presentation, titled “Active Victimhood in the Indian Rebellion of 1857,” will be featured in a special conference session on “Framing the Rape Victim in the Long Nineteenth Century.”
In her presentation, she will address issues of victimhood and agency in the contemporary rhetoric surrounding the Indian Rebellion of 1857. When Sepoy soldiers mutinied against their officers and roused a general rebellion in the Indian countryside in May 1857, reports in the Victorian press included horrifically detailed accounts of the rape and murder of Englishwomen. Though victims of sexual violence, these women were not necessarily passive nor without agency. Mingled within sensationalized accounts of their assaults in the Victorian press were also tales of resistance. The stories of Margaret Wheeler and the family of Alexander Skene emphasized English heroism as enacted by both men and women, and when the voices of slaughtered and defiled women were appropriated as war propaganda, England’s response was fierce. Based on a consideration of fiction, news reports, and poetry between 1857 and 1859, Barrow will offer a model of victimization that is not commensurate with passivity, and thus intersects with Mardorrossian’s project “to reconceptualize the word ‘victimization’ and to produce a more capacious notion of agency.” While this active victimhood subverted contemporary notions of agency, it reinforced traditional models of gender rather than destabilizing them.

Susan Wolfson to Speak at UTK on Nov. 3

On Thursday, November 3, invited speaker Susan Wolfson will deliver a lecture titled “Form without Formalism” at 3:30 pm in 1210 McClung Tower.

In the Romantic era, poets exercised form in ways irreducible to socio-historical context or thematic paraphrase, turning poetry into a critical, and often self-critical, practice. In this lecture, Professor Wolfson will look at modern debates over poetic form and suspicion about formalism while resisting the influential polemics against New Criticism – not to deny the value of historicism, but to advocate for the revelatory refinements of close reading.


Susan Wolfson, a professor of English at Princeton University, is one of the foremost advocates of what has been dubbed the “New Formalism” and she has published widely in the field of Romantic poetry and novels. Besides her numerous articles, she is the author of Reading John Keats(Cambridge UP, 2015); Romantic Interactions: Social Being & the Turns of Literary Action (Johns Hopkins UP, 2010); Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism (Stanford UP, 2006); Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism (Stanford UP, 1997); The Questioning Presence: Wordsworth, Keats, and the Interrogative Mode in Romantic Poetry (Cornell UP, 1986). She has also edited editions of works by Austen, Byron, Coleridge, Keats, Felicia Hemans, and Mary Shelley, among others, as well as been a leader in reviving interest in and study of women poets of the Romantic period.

In addition to her lecture, Wolfson will be joining us on Friday, November 4, from 11:45-1:30 in 1210 McClung, for a lunchtime seminar for graduate students and faculty in which a pre-circulated piece by Professor Wolfson will serve as a jumping point for discussion.

Professor Wolfson has been invited as the final distinguished scholar for the University of Tennessee-Knoxville English department’s Literature Speaker Series.

Professor Ellen Rosenman to speak at UTK

This Tuesday, October 18, invited speaker Ellen Rosenman will give a talk titled “Fictions of Belonging: Penny Novels and Radical Politics” at 11:00 am in Melrose E-102.

Ellen Rosenman is a Professor of English at the University of Kentucky. Her current book project examines the political implications of Victorian penny novels, strange and sensational tales written for and sometimes by members of the working classes.

Rosenman has published widely on Victorian popular fiction and social class, gender, and sexuality. Her publications include Unauthorized Pleasures: Accounts of Victorian Erotic Experience (2003) and Other Mothers: Beyond the Maternal Ideal (2008), co-edited with Claudia Klaver (Syracuse University).

This event is hosted by The Nineteenth-Century British Research Seminar.

2016 Dickens Universe

Recently, Professor Nancy Henry and graduate students Caroline Wilkinson and Alli Clymer attended Dickens Universe at the University of California-Santa Cruz. This year’s conference centered on Dickens’ Dombey and Son and raised cross-disciplinary questions about Dickens, Victorian studies, and the field’s role in academia more generally.


Alli Clymer, Nancy Henry, and Caroline Wilkinson exploring local beaches along the famous Pacific Coast Highway.

Nancy Henry has been taking two graduate students with her to the “Universe” since 2009, when she joined the UTK faculty. As second co-planner of this year’s event, Henry, along with James Eli Adams of Columbia University, selected such lecturers as John Bowen (University of York), Claire Jarvis (Standford University), and Ryan Fong (Kalamazoo College).

In-between the the lectures that bookended most days, Universe scholars from across the world participated in literary and professional seminars, workshops, and various other activities.

Graduate student Caroline Wilkinson attended a graduate student seminar led by Jill Galvan (OSU) and Jonathan Grossman (UCLA):

“The graduate seminar allowed me to re-envision not only Dombey and Son, but the form of the novel in general. Together, the professors and students built upon each other’s insights as we constructed a vision that remained focused on Dickens’s text. We came to see how minor characters can play major roles, how plot lines can push against tone to great effect, and how a character’s hidden desires can surface through repeated action. Our understanding would not have been possible without Jill and Jonathan who, through their own example, led a class that always remained creative in spirit. I am certain I will remember this seminar when thinking about not only Dickens’s accomplishments with Dombey but the future possibilities for the novel.”

Caroline also participated in a publication workshop led by Carolyn Williams (Rutgers):

“We examined a variety of published articles, discussing what organizations, styles, and critical approaches proved to be the most persuasive. Carolyn Williams encouraged us to express–and remain true to–our own tastes and critical perspectives; and, as a result, she gave us the resources to actively engage with published work both as readers and writers. She, furthermore, talked about the process of submission, bringing editors Jonathan Grossman and Rae Greiner (Indiana University-Bloomington) to discuss their work at academic journals. The combination of generous encouragement with practical explanation will allow me to continue learning about publication on my own.”

Graduate student Alli Clymer, on the other hand, participated in the “Active Listening” workshop led by Teresa Mangum (University of Iowa) and Helena Michie (Rice):

“This was the first year that DU offered such a workshop and it was, in my opinion, incredibly successful. We focused on listening to academic arguments, writing and speaking to be heard, and asking questions in our daily meetings as well as throughout the Universe itself. We were challenged to take notes during the lectures using different techniques and present our own conference paper to the group in order to cultivate a better understanding of how to successfully ask or field questions. As someone who has struggled with the genre of oral professional presentations, I found this workshop invaluable. I will carry the tools and methods I learned throughout the rest of my professional career.”

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Participants of the “Active Listening” Workshop

Alli also attended a graduate student seminar led by Iain Crawford (University of Delaware) and Michael Rectenwald (NYU):

“The graduate seminar offered a stimulating opportunity to digest the morning’s and previous evening’s lectures and delve deeper into the questions they raised about Dombey and the complex themes of the period. In addition to Victorian-era content and context, the daily lectures often presented challenges to various paradigms and methodologies in the field, such as Garrett Stewart‘s (University of Iowa) appeal for more deep reading and linguistic analysis in the classroom, and Peter Capuano‘s (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) call for greater cooperation between digital humanities and traditional literary research. This seminar became a productive space for graduate students to engage in discourse about such methodological positions and discuss the future of nineteenth-century studies in academia. It not only gave me a better understanding of the current questions at issue in the field, but also left me with greater confidence to engage in such important debates about the profession.”

Although most of the Dickens Universe days were filled with lectures, talks, workshops, and seminars, the UTK attendees also made time for the Universe’s festive activities, including PPPs (post-prandial potations), Victorian high teas, a Grand Party filled with extravagant cheeses and desserts, and a Victorian dance (with period dress, music, and dancing!).

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Catherine Robson (NYU), Elsie Michie (LSU) and Nancy Henry (UTK). Michie visited UT last year through the Nineteenth Century British Research Seminar to speak about Frances Trollope.

Students who attend the Universe are also fully funded for attendance at the corresponding Dickens Project Winter Conference the following year. This year’s winter conference will be held in February at the University of Kentucky.

Next year, Nancy Henry will be the lead co-organizer of Dickens Universe where, for the first time in the event’s 37-year history, a non-Dickens novel will be the focus: George Eliot’s Middlemarch!

**UT students need not be specialists in Dickens or even in Victorian literature to attend the conference, but students who have attended the Universe have also participated in the Nineteenth-Century British Research Seminar. Applications to represent UTK at the Dickens Universe are usually solicited in February by Professor Nancy Henry.**