PhD, University of California, Berkeley
Interests and Expertise
I teach Victorian Literature, with a general emphasis on the novel and Women's Literature (I also teach in the Women's Studies Program). I regularly teach graduate courses in Victorian Studies: one concentrating on the development of the novel and the other on non-fiction prose and poetry. I try to teach both courses as explorations of Victorian culture.
I have always believed that culturally and politically, we have taken on — usually quite unconsciously in twentieth century America — the values of Victorian culture. I want students to examine the roots of our own imperialism and consumerism (as well as our frequent preoccupation with spiritual renewal and recovery) as they come to us in the literature of nineteenth-century England.
At the graduate level, I formulate the study of Victorian culture in terms of the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, a twentieth-century Russian philosopher and theorist of the novel, who is the focus of my own research. Bakhtin believes that language is dialogic: how various discourses (professional, religious, educational, political, etc.) interact and shape one another is what creates our sense of the world as well as what creates the aesthetic object. Thus, we study the different voices in novels, in poems, in a variety of cultural discourses that emerge in the Victorian period and explore the ways in which they shape each other. Bakhtin is a particularly accessible theorist of discourse, who always valorizes the particular instance over the abstract concept, and therefore studying his work usually makes theory in general much more comfortable and fun for students.
Perhaps because Bakhtin is the primary focus of my research, and he talks about the intersection of multiple cultural discourses, my work has covered a wide range of topics from mother/child bonding as the basis of sympathy in my dissertation, to epic in George Eliot's Middlemarch , to Stephen Spielberg's undermining of Alice Walker's feminism in his filming of The Color Purple.
If I had to characterize my research, I would say my primary interest is probably in the ways that language both structures experience, creating boundaries and keeping things "separate" and "official," and at the same time allows categories to merge and connect, to defy the official "word."
Girls & Women in Conversation
Women in Literature
Victorian and Edwardian Non-fiction and Poetry
Introduction to Reading Fiction
Introduction to Reading Poetry
Recent Publications and Presentations
Getting the Story Told: George Eliot's Dialogic Imagination (forthcoming)
"'To keep from shaking to pieces'" Addiction and Bearing Reality in 'Sonny's Blues'"
"The Imperialism of Theory: A Response to J. Russell Perkin"
"The Ex-Collector of Boggley-Wollah: Colonialism in the Empire of Vanity Fair"