Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Thomas Gainsborough, Jane Austen and Fashionable Society

The Blue Boy, 1770
The Blue Boy, 1770

Thomas Gainsborough is best known as the painter of rustic, sentimentalized scenes like The Harvest Wagon and of ultra-stylized portraits like The Blue Boy, which has achieved iconic status. A year after Gainsborough’s death, Sir Joshua Reynolds chose to celebrate Gainsborough’s “portrait-like representation of nature” and noted that Gainsborough’s excellence was “selected by himself from the great school of nature” (qtd. In Bermingham, 58). Since then, the critical consensus hasn’t much changed; it’s Gainsborough’s innovations in landscape painting that make him the proto-Romantic artist who paved the way for JMW Turner. One could look at Gainsborough’s Cottage Door with Cowper’s “The Task” or Wordsworth’s “An Evening Walk” to get a sense of the perspectives, affects and fantasies that shaped the early Romantic pastoral. This being said, I’m interested in aligning Gainsborough with the writings of the Romantic period along a different axis: it may be productive to read his portraits alongside Austen’s domestic realism. The thinking here is part of a larger project on the two artists that I’m trying to make-work. For now, what compels me about the Gainsborough-Austen connection is not their shared preference for the countryside but their ambivalent representations of fashionable people and places, often associated with the urban. Continue reading Thomas Gainsborough, Jane Austen and Fashionable Society

Austen’s Names and Romantic Espionage

I was very excited to hear about Margaret Doody’s new book, Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places (University of Chicago Press, April 2015). In this text, Doody traces the etymological contexts for the nomenclature of each of Austen’s characters, while exposing curious patterns of naming throughout her corpus. Who knew that Austen’s Marys were uniformly negative, or that, with the name “Fitzwilliam,” Mr Darcy naturally followed as the inheritor of William Collins’s suit for Elizabeth’s hand?

Margaret Doody, "Austen's Names" (2015)
Margaret Doody, “Austen’s Names” (2015)

When I peeked into the book itself, I was impressed with the etymological research, and I was inspired to think about how the names could be explained further with historical correlatives. The Romantic-era histories behind the names give the characters even more flair, while showing Austen’s awareness of some of the most fraught and intriguing  elements of English public life — including espionage.   Continue reading Austen’s Names and Romantic Espionage

Romantic Web Communities

One of the great advantages we have as scholars is the opportunity to form communities beyond our institutions — not just at annual conferences in remote locales, but also in ongoing conversations on the web. These online communities are fora for scholarly dialogue and informal queries, requests for crowdfunding special projects and historical sites, and repositories of archival material. Here’s a brief roundup of selected sites, listservs, and communities available to Romanticists (and if you know of more, please get in touch!).

Academic listservs:

(1) NASSR List — the list of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (subscription required). The list is frequented by many major scholars in the field, but also graduate students and junior faculty; this is a particularly excellent resource for answers to obscure and arcane historical questions, and for links to major awards and opportunities in the field. Continue reading Romantic Web Communities

Will the Real Mr. Darcy Please Stand Up?

Jane Austen was in the news again last week—I know this, because when I log onto Google News, it offers tailored entries based on my previous web searches and sticks them right at the top of the feed. I honestly don’t know whether to be delighted or terribly disturbed by this fact. But artificial intelligence issues aside, I found this most recent bout of Austenmania to be quite a curious one.

It’s not a rare occasion these days that Miss Jane appears in the news, especially during this decade that celebrates “200 years since…” each of her famous tomes, published during the 1810s. Austen’s popularity endures: in 2013, Britain announced it will finally commemorate her in currency (Austen will appear on the 10-pound note, beginning in 2017) and last month she even got a musical in Chicago.

The most recent news cycle that got my attention (to be fair, it was hardly a sidebar item) highlights a new book that claims to make a striking and long sought-after discovery: the “true” identity of the real-life Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy—and (sadly) it’s not Colin FirthContinue reading Will the Real Mr. Darcy Please Stand Up?

The Modernization of Elizabeth Bennet

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune… must be in want of a wife.” One of the most well-known lines in literature has been reiterated once again—except that this time, it’s plastered on a bright fuchsia T-shirt.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.47.31 PM

So begins The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-2013), an Emmy-winning web series that reworks Pride and Prejudice for the modern age, featuring an endearing but sarcastic twenty-something Lizzie Bennet played by newcomer Ashley Clements.

Continue reading The Modernization of Elizabeth Bennet

Thoughts on Teaching Jane Austen

I am currently teaching a class with the very long title The Modern Self in the World: Literature and Art across Modernity, from Donne and Dürer to Baldwin and Cool Hand Luke. As with my other class (on American literature), I’ve used my teaching opportunities as a graduate student to escape the burden of academic and professional decorum. My classes, in other words, might be retitled, “books I like to read, want to read, and think you should read.” They are not lectures or surveys, but rather reading groups where my students and I try and make sense of the various texts we confront. Continue reading Thoughts on Teaching Jane Austen

Jane Austen and Romantic Mortification

Perhaps surprisingly for its canonical status as a tale of romantic love, Pride and Prejudice (1813) is governed by many distinctly unromantic states of negative affect. Distress, embarrassment, depression, shame, and disbelief are all integral to Austen’s portrayals of character. But one emotional state stands out as being distinctively Austenian: mortification. Elizabeth Bennet is “most cruelly mortified” by her father; Kitty experiences “mortification” at the Forsters’ preferment of Lydia; Darcy feels “incredulity and mortification” at Elizabeth’s initial rejection, and later, “trouble and mortification” as he searches for the renegade Bennet sister in London; and even Miss Bingley “was very deeply mortified by Darcy’s marriage.” Most famously, at the scene of the Netherfield ball, Elizabeth’s “mortification” accrues with each outrageous Bennet performance, and she even enters into “dances of mortification” with Mr. Collins. The Austen reader might well ask, what is this state of mortification, and why is it such a key term for describing Austen’s characters?

As a synonym for silent humiliation, “mortification” has a particularly Romantic shade. The term had been used in Shakespeare’s plays, and by Swift in his “Drapier’s Letters,” but it appears considerably more frequently in the prose fiction of the early nineteenth century. Walter Scott’s Rob Roy (1817) features its narrator, Frank Obaldistone, claiming that he is “Not mortified, certainly not mortified”; Amelia Opie’s short story “Mrs Arlington: Or All is Not Gold that Glitters” (1818) describes one character as “humbled, offended, mortified, and self-condemned”; and other works by Maria Edgeworth, Charlotte Smith, and Clara Reeve all feature mortification as a key term for describing the emotional plights of society heroines.  But “mortification” seems to be an especially potent term for Austen. In Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, published together in 1817, the term appears at least 8 times, and Austen typically modifies it to increase its severity: Catherine Morland experiences “deep mortification” and “severe mortification” at a ball with Henry Tilney, while Anne Elliot, shocked by Captain Wentworth’s sudden appearance, “fully submitted, in silent, deep mortification” to his comment that her person is altered beyond recognition. As with Elizabeth and Darcy, both Anne and Catherine must experience mortification, and especially public mortification, as a key stage in their trajectory to marital bliss.

Where did Romantic-era mortification come from? Austen’s repeated uses of the term are fascinating, since “mortification” occurs much more often in non-literary Romantic fields.  Rather, the term could refer to a religious practice of personal deprivation in the interest of spiritual self-improvement: as Ezekiel Hopkins wrote in 1807, “THE GREAT DUTY OF MORTIFICATION” required personal penance, since “without mortification, no [after]life is to be expected.” And, as A Daily Exercise and Devotions, for the Young Ladies and Gentlemen (1816) suggested, “The constant exercise of mortification is another fruit of penance” and the young lady or gentleman in question might “draw” “vast fruit” from the spiritual exercises of personal deprivation, or even the “voluntary toleration of bodily pain or discomfort” (as the OED would have it).

More intriguing, though, was Romantic mortification’s medical sense, as the word for the necrosis of bodily tissue — that is, as gangrene. The vast majority of references to mortification during the early nineteenth century appeared indeed in this pathological sense. “Mortification” is a central heading in John Hunter’s seminal work on battlefield surgery, A Treatise on the Blood, Inflammation, and Gunshot Wounds (1794), and the term appears with great regularity in medical textbooks in the early 1800s. One particularly clear definition appears in Sir Robert Carswell’s Pathological Anatomy: Illustrations of the Elementary Forms of Disease (1838):

The term mortification is generally employed in this country to express the state which has been induced in a part of the body by the complete and permanent extinction of its vital properties. On the Continent, however, the term gangrene is employed to signify the same state, whilst in England it is more commonly used to denote the incipient stage of mortification … The extinction of the powers of life, the complete cessation of the circulation, and an entire want of sensibility, characterize the second or last stage of mortification, which is called sphacelus

But what could the horrifying condition of gangrenous mortification have to do with Mr Darcy’s embarrassment? One place to look for an answer is in the medical notes of John Keats, literature’s best representative of Romantic medicine. In his Anatomical and Physiological Note Book (published 1934), Keats discusses the connections between aneurism and mortification, and — in a cautionary tale for graduate students — mentions how “Those who have been addicted to Study from Keeping up a continued determination of Blood to the Brain have often the Vessels of that part ossified,” making the scholarly brain “subject to mortification” even among “the Young.” As Keats noted elsewhere, mortification could also take place among those who “lead a life of Intemperance.” Thus, since one of the main ambitions of Pride and Prejudice is to temper the unrestrained outbursts of the romantic leads, it makes a strange sort of sense that their intemperance of character — their respective pride and prejudice — leads to mortifying social punishment.

Although he does not use the term “mortification” in his poetry (to my knowledge!), Keats, who himself experienced “occasional ridicule, & some mortification” as a result of his “Pride and conceit […] amongst mere Medical students” (in the words of his friend Henry Stephens), is perhaps the touchstone for Romantic embarrassment. As Christopher Ricks’s 1974 book, Keats and Embarrassment, discusses, “a particular strength of Keats is the implication that the youthful, the luxuriant, the immature, can be, not just excusable errors, but vantagepoints” (12). Austen, too, uses moments of mortification to give insight and perspective, and the embarrassment her characters feel is not the result of “excusable error,” but of betrayal by their biology (their desires, or, more often, their desires thwarted by their foolish relatives). Thus, it seems no coincidence that Mary Ann O’Farrell’s discussion of “Austen’s Blush” (1994), another important work on Romantic embarrassment, touches on the biological underpinnings of socially coded desire. The blush, which Austen associates explicitly with mortification (Catherine, for instance, displays a “blush of mortification”), is for O’Farrell a marker of the body’s involuntary expression beyond the socially regulated codes of signals: “Austen necessarily invokes that about the body which is most inimical to manners, what makes manners most vulnerable to disruption” (127).  Thus, in my view, the affect of shameful mortification in Austen’s novels arises from the tension between the socially appropriate suppression of desire (analogous with religious mortification), and desire’s rebellious expression in the outer tissue of the organism (similar to medical mortification).

Austen’s union of the two external mortifications in producing her characters’ affect of humiliation established a convention that extended later into the century, and an interesting point of comparison is Anne Brontë’s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), which uses mortification as a key plot-point. Helen Huntingdon mortifies her would-be suitor, Mr Hargrave: “I cut short his appeal, and repulsed him so determinately […] that he withdrew, astonished, mortified, and discomforted, and, a few days later, I heard he had departed for London.” Helen’s power to mortify figuratively seems also to result (indirectly) in the death of her abusive husband, Arthur Huntingdon, whose alcoholism has led to actual mortification. In his last days, Arthur experiences “freedom from pain” and “deadness to all sensation where the suffering was most acute”; Helen writes, “My worst fears are realized — mortification has commenced.” In contrast to the extremely painful affect of mortification experienced by Austen’s characters, Arthur Huntingdon’s mortification passes from the first stage, gangrene, into the painless, fatal stage of sphacelus. His death releases Helen from her personal mortification at his hands, and leaves her free to marry Gilbert Markham. As in Austen’s novels, mortification is a developmental stage through which characters must pass to reach their marital goals; but unlike Austen’s mortification, Brontë literalizes the experience into its medical form, offering a much grislier model of character shaping.

But even marriage could not keep the advances of mortification entirely at bay. Elizabeth’s vigilance in “shield[ing]” Darcy from her humiliating relatives culminates in her permitting him to speak only to “those of her family with whom he might converse without mortification.” Et in Austen ego — even at the satisfying end of an Austen novel, then, is the encroachment of gangrenous necrosis.

 

Interview: Dr. Michael Chwe

Emma Woodhouse reflects upon notions of truth and strategy, stating, “Seldom, very seldom does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.” Famous for being the only one of Jane Austen’s heroines who “no one but [herself] will much like,” Emma reveals a dangerous fact that we all know instinctively: the complete truth rarely exists without some sort of agenda.

But, sometimes, an interpretation of Austen’s agenda is inspired by complete coincidence. Dr. Michael Chwe explains that finding the children’s book Flossie and the Fox at a garage sale was the beginning of his project, titled Jane Austen, Game Theorist.  Much has been said about our Austen in the past several years—we’ve asked questions about her sexuality, questions regarding her censored letters, and questions about her publication history, but we’ve never considered her a game theorist until now.

Chwe’s book Jane Austen, Game Theorist supports Emma’s assertion, and argues that “Jane Austen systematically explored the core ideas of game theory in her six novels, roughly two hundred years ago” (1). Chwe looks at how Austen’s characters negotiate the main principles of game theory: choice (a character does something because they want to do that action), strategic thinking (a character does something based upon how they think others will perceive and respond to it), and preferences (a character does something because they prefer it over another option). The result is an interesting, interdisciplinary analysis of Jane Austen and her work.

INTERVIEWER

You mention in the preface of your book that this project started when you found Flossie and the Fox at a garage sale for your children. You used this experience and paired it with all the years you spent teaching and reading folktales and Austen to create Jane Austen, Game Theorist. Can you tell us more about how you came up with your idea and how it changed over time?

CHWE

The original title of the book was called Folk Game Theory, which revolved around the idea of people who use game theory who are not traditional game theorists. The examples were folk tales, and I actually had a whole chapter on Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, the musical. But, most of it was Austen.  Seventy, eighty percent was Austen. So, one of the [manuscript] reviewers said, “You should just say that this is about Austen.” It was a good choice. The original idea was to say that this book is many instances of people who are developing game theory, not necessarily in a theoretical way, but through narratives […] In my teaching, I use examples from movies and other things to show students, so I’m always on the lookout for more examples […] I got interested in Austen after I saw the movie Clueless. Then, I started watching Austen movies. And then, I started reading her books. That’s how the whole Austen thing came about.

INTERVIEWER

That’s incredible. So, Clueless was your gateway into Austen.

CHWE

It was indeed. Yeah, I never read Austen in college or in high school […] In college, I never took a literature class, so I didn’t read Austen until I was like forty. I’m glad because if I had read Austen in my twenties, I wouldn’t have understood a lot of it, to be honest.

 INTERVIEWER

Was Emma the first of Austen’s novels that you read?

 CHWE

I originally thought the book [Jane Austen, Game Theorist] would talk about Emma as just one case because it is so clear that Emma is about manipulation and meddling […] I thought I’d focus this book on Emma, but then I wanted to read the other books and see what I could say about them […] I think that if Austen had written twenty or thirty books, I wouldn’t have been able to read all of her books, but because she only had six, I thought I’d just go ahead and do it.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a favorite Austen novel?

CHWE

No, I really like them all.  Pride and Prejudice is a little shallow to me in the sense that most of her characters are fully formed at the start. To me, Mansfield Park is better because it’s about the development of a human being. People change more. Persuasion, I also like a lot. So, those are my favorites, but, of course, I like them all.

INTERVIEWER

In terms of your book, what was the publication process like?

CHWE

I was lucky in that I had already published a book with Princeton […] back in 2001.  So when the time came around to think about writing a book again, I sent it to Princeton. I also sent it to Oxford University Press. Neither place had problems with the idea being a little bit non-standard, but it was hard to find reviewers on the literature side […] Everyone talks about how important it is to do interdisciplinary work, but it is harder in a sense because people have a harder time judging it.

 INTERVIEWER

What do you make of EverJane, the online role-playing game based upon Jane Austen novels? Have you played it? What might it say in terms of your argument?

CHWE

I haven’t played it, but I think that it’s a great idea and that it has potential. I saw the Kickstarter page. I think, potentially, it is a great way for people to get into Austen and I think Austen’s world view is very much about the decisions you make to get ahead and how important a single decision can be. I think that Austen’s literary worlds are worlds where […] you think about yourself in terms of decisions. Other people’s worlds might think in terms of visuals or characters or history, but when you think about Austen’s worlds, it’s about […] what would you do? What would you think about? What connections would you make?

INTERVIEWER

What I’m wondering right now is do you see EverJane as a physical representation of your argument? Or, I guess, a virtual representation?

CHWE

I haven’t worked with the game, but maybe. I’m not sure how they structured the game […] I think because Austen emphasizes decision making so much, maybe her novels are most suited for this kind of thing…For example, if I made a game out of Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, I’m not sure what that game would look like.  So, some novels don’t necessarily lend themselves, but I think Austen’s do.

INTERVIEWER

I understand your argument as an interpretation of Austen, herself, as a game theorist, as well as the notion that she portrays her female characters as game theorists—that is, Austen extends her own strategic thinking to her characters, which is demonstrated through their culminated marriages. How might readers navigate your argument if we don’t view Austen’s novels as strictly heteronormative? How might Austen’s game theory change?

CHWE

I don’t see Austen’s novels as all that heteronormative. There’s a whole thing with Henry Tilney […] [and] gender roles. There’s the discussion with Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, where he says that women have so much talent that they don’t need to use more than half…I think its representative of the questions: Are women better at strategic thinking than men? What are the social determinants of that?

When Henry Tilney buys the muslin for his sister, that’s like him being in drag or being gay or bisexual…But back to marriage—I’d say that you can think of [game theory] more in terms of social advancement. I think that Austen is trying to be general and is saying: this is how you can understand human behavior […] Marriage is just one of those possible objectives, so [game theory] doesn’t hinge on the idea that marriage is the final goal. For example, in Northanger Abbey, if you think of Henry Tilney as not as stereotypically masculine as other characters, maybe he could have been in touch with his feminine side. He’s one of the better strategic actors in the novels. He doesn’t make huge mistakes like Mr. Darcy does. I think Henry Tilney, more than any other male character, explicitly says things about strategic thinking. He talks to Catherine Morland and says,  “When you think about other people’s motivations, you think about them in terms of what you yourself would do, as opposed to what a person of their age or their status would do.” That’s a very clear explication of the problem of strategic thinking. We always tend to think of people in terms of ourselves. We’re not necessarily good at putting ourselves in the mindset of others. Henry Tilney says that. He has a definite feminine side. He’s not as stereotypically masculine as some of the other male heroes […] I don’t think [Austen] takes heterosexuality as necessarily as a given.

INTERVIEWER

So, the game theory wouldn’t necessarily change at all, even if marriage wasn’t the end goal.

CHWE

No, not at all.   Austen thinks getting married is important to their world, but she doesn’t necessarily see [marriage] as a sacred life goal. Her interest is more about the process. She’s not interested in what happens to people once they’re married […] She’s interested in how people get to that goal.

INTERVIEWER

You argue that Austen, herself, was a game theorist. How might considering Austen’s own strategic thinking complicate traditional ways of viewing her work as domestic narratives?

CHWE

I’ve never myself been concerned with the critique that just because she talks about five or six people […] that somehow her work is not significant. All game theorists and a lot of social scientists realize that you can explore interactions amongst a handful of people. Those can have applications to a very large group of events. When I teach game theory, the most interesting parables are those between two people and then you generalize them. A parable or story about people deciding whether to cooperate or fight each other over painting a fence […] can be a parable for international relations or war. The very fact that Austen doesn’t talk about historical things or a huge world event has nothing to do with whether her ideas are applicable or generalizable. Any social scientist would say that.  There’s no reason to think that just because it’s a domestic narrative that the insights there may not apply to lots of other things. I think that we shouldn’t think necessarily of a narrative or novel in terms of its subject matter but in terms of its vision for how people interact with each other. Those insights can apply to many different cases.

It’s like slave folktales. Slave folk tales are tales about animals, but they’re not about animal behavior. They’re used to talk about uprisings or strategic techniques that slaves can use against their masters […] They tell narratives about rabbits and foxes—it’s obvious that these slave folk tales are about, in terms of their subject matter, animals. But what’s relevant about these specific strategies is that they express techniques that these animals use against each other.

INTERVIEWER

Interesting! How does game theory apply to scholars in Romanticism? How might game theory be used to enhance literary criticism, appreciation, or cultural study?

CHWE

I think that the obvious thing is to use game theory to illustrate aspects of novels. Game theory might come from a situation like a prisoner’s dilemma—these are situations where people can gain if they all cooperate, but no individual person wants to cooperate–so [scholars in romanticism] might say, “In this novel, I’ve found an example of a prisoner’s dilemma and this is how they solved it.” You could do that. With Austen, I did something a little bit different, which is to say that we’re not using game theory to understand her work, but rather, we’re trying to understand her as a game theorist herself. This won’t be the case for every single author. Some authors may be more interested in emotions or social context or irrationality or self-perception or delusion […] If you’re aware of how people in the social sciences try to make explanations for things, you can maybe use them to understand how certain authors seem to be expressing theories of human behavior. It might be another way of analyzing their work.

For example, since I was working with game theory, I was really monomaniacally thinking in terms of choices and in terms of purposeful action […] so I was really sensitive to those issues. […] People who are interested in psychology or how we constitute the self can also take that to literature. Some people have taken that to Austen.

It can’t hurt to be aware of certain [social science] ideas and where they come from […] If you’re sensitive to these things, then you might find another avenue for reading other people’s work and understanding their objectives […] In Austen’s time, there wasn’t anything called social science or a systematic discipline for understanding human behavior. If you were interested in human behavior and wanted to analyze it, probably, you ended up going to the novel. That’s what you did back then. If we think of understanding human behavior, we shouldn’t think of this as a specialized thing—it’s something that we all do. It’s not surprising that if you’re a novelist or a writer and thus you have to think about human behavior, part of you develops some sort of theory about it.

Memoirs and Confessions of a Second-Year Ph.D. Student

Here are the facts as I know them: 1. There are never enough hours in a day; 2. I have students who still think I don’t know that changing their font from Times to Courier adds at least a page to their essays; 3. The long 19th century is such a joy to study.

I didn’t always know these facts. When I was an undergraduate English major, using Courier in every paper I wrote about books that I only partially read, I was aimless. I took classes in order to get my degree, I earned A’s, and I didn’t minor in anything. You could say that I wasn’t the most pragmatic person on the planet. At the time, I wasn’t fully focused on school or my future; my older brother had left for Israel instead of attending law school as he had originally planned, and I struggled, trying to understand his decision. Later, as I pondered what I might do after my B.A., I was torn between graduate school and law school. A Romanticism seminar in the fall of my senior year tipped the scales.

One of the first books that we read was Frankenstein, the first assigned book of my undergraduate career that I read cover to cover. What sold me on Mary Shelley’s work wasn’t the fact that she wrote in response to a ghost story competition—instead, it was an anecdote shared by my professor. He told us how he had inscribed the creature’s words: “I will be with you on your wedding night” in a card at his friend’s wedding. How clever, I thought. I, too, wanted to be that witty, literary friend at weddings, but I realized that I should not and could not quote a book that I had not read. It was the first time that I fell in love with a canonical work.

We read a lot of other interesting works in class, and– in case you’re wondering–I did actually read them in their entirety. However, it was the last assigned work of the semester that changed my life. But Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice didn’t grab my attention right away. So, to make it more animated, I began reading it aloud to my cats with different voices. Soon, I was invested in the characters. And then I brought my interpretation of the novel to class: I said there was an erotic attachment between Darcy and Bingley. My classmates reacted with violent disagreement. They took it personally—that is, they were uncomfortable with any reading of a famously heteronormative text that involved queer desire. In all honesty, their disagreement delighted me. It motivated me. It led me to attend office hours and read literary theory for the first time. I read Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Freud, Lauren Berlant, and Michael Warner. I wrote multiple drafts of my end-of-semester paper. And I realized that—just as my brother had done something unconventional that he loved—I loved writing about literature that I had actually read and thought about in unconventional ways; I needed to read for intellectual engagement, not just for pleasure or for finishing an assignment.

I didn’t know it then, but I had stumbled upon the subject I am most passionate about, the deconstruction of heterosexist interpretations of texts. You could say that Pride and Prejudice was my patient zero. As a MA student, I continued working with Austen; the next text that I plunged into was Persuasion, and then it was Emma. In my M.A. thesis, I argued that the heteronormative relationships depicted in Austen’s three novels are built and premised upon queer desire.

As a Ph.D. student who will enter into her final semester of coursework in January, I am actively compiling my exam lists and just as actively kicking myself for not actually reading for my first three years of college. The list of works that I’ve read, while growing, is woefully underdeveloped, and I see my exam lists as an opportunity to atone for my undergraduate sins.  Even though I’ve been exposed to theory and a variety of tropes and texts, I remain interested in looking at texts—especially famous heteronormative love stories—and analyzing the ways in which desire functions. My dissertation will be a transatlantic study of desire and will further the ideas that I’ve been so passionate about since that seminar on Romanticism in my senior year of college.

PS. In case you’re curious–I have read Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and therefore feel okay about using parts of Hogg’s title.