Spring 2018 Schedule Now Available!

Spring 2018 Schedule

Thursday, April 5: Yasmin Solomonescu, Assistant Professor in English, University of Notre Dame
“Emma and the ‘Chimera of Relativism’”
Rosenwald 405, 5-6:30 pm
Please note the unusual date and time

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, whatever Jane Austen’s degree of latitude towards the progressive political ideologies of her time, or indeed whatever her degree of antipathy toward (what, in her letters, she called) Evangelical “Regeneration & Conversion,” she was decidedly not a relativist. Or—to enact the mental mobility that my paper addresses—was she? As the opening of Pride and Prejudice swiftly downgrades the universal truth of its first sentence to a “truth … so well fixed in the minds” of a particular community, the novel issues a gentle warning against mistaking local opinions for absolutes. But if a hallmark of Austen’s corpus is that characters’ firmly held own truths often become the basis for learning a few home truths, something distinctive is at work in Emma.

Extending scholarship by critics such as Frances Ferguson on the blunder-prone knowledge so abundantly on display in Emma, this paper argues that the novel is centrally concerned with differentiating such knowledge from both an absolutist belief in the fixity and transparency of truth represented by Knightley and an anything-goes belief in the equality of perspectives voiced at points by Emma. Following Barbara Herrnstein Smith, I refer to the latter as the “chimera of relativism” to distinguish it from the unchimerical stance that the novel dares to take seriously. Though not a position that Austen explicitly endorses, relativism is what is left when the possibilities of absolute truth and objectivity have been eroded by plot developments, dialogue, and narrative technique.

Tuesday, April 17: Kevin King, PhD Student in English, University of Chicago
“Dickens’s Many Bozwells: The Case of George Gissing”
Rosenwald 405, 5-6:30 pm

In this paper I investigate why the identification of Charles Dickens’s early authorial persona, Boz, as “a kind of James Boswell” was lost almost immediately after it was first made in 1836. I find that the comparison has been avoided because it is associated with an image of the early Dickens as a journalistic writer for hire, beleaguered by the demands of the industrial-age literary industry and pandering to the mass market’s desire for commodified literature that critics wish to erase. I argue that the unwriting of Bozwell, as I call it, is part of a pervasive critical tendency to sanitize Dickens of an unsavory Grub Street smell by decontextualizing his novels from their original serialized form in order to promote the notion their literary rather than commodity value. In order to challenge this tendency, I first argue that Dickens had the association in mind himself, and then explore a few of the many performances as a kind of Bozwell that he made throughout his career. Finally, I turn to the early critical biographers who sought to “immortalize” him—Bozwells of another kind—in order to identify when and why the tendency to fetishize his novels emerged. George Gissing proves to be an exemplary case. In working through the way Gissing confronts the pressures of the late Victorian market in New Grub Street, I argue that his noted resentment towards, and erasure of certain literary labor betrays an anxiety about being remembered for what, at least in part, he was: Dickens’s Boswell.

Friday, April 27 & Saturday, April 28: The Annual Meeting of the Johnson Society of the Central Region
A Symposium of Current Work in 18th-Century Studies
Rosenwald 405, 1:30-5pm Friday, 10:30-5pm Saturday

You can find more information and the schedule here.

Tuesday, May 1: Sam Rowe, Post-doctoral Teaching Fellow in the Humanities, University of Chicago
“Three Logics of Equality in Godwin”
Rosenwald 405, 5-6:30 pm

This paper revisits William Godwin’s writings in the early 1790s as a case study in evolving conceptions of human equality during the Enlightenment. Responding to both Jonathan Israel’s Radical Enlightenment thesis and Jacques Ranciere’s early work on democracy and radical education, it argues that there were at least three available conceptions of equality extant in the aftermath of the French revolution, and that Godwin’s Political Justice (1793) and Caleb Williams (1794) are situated at their intersection. Educated as a dissenting minister, intellectually drawn to proto-liberal utilitarianism, and possessed of deep sympathies for middle- and working-class radicalism, Godwin happens to have been perfectly situated to channel three impulses: a conservative/sentimental tradition of “mutual subjection,” a liberal tradition of formal equality, and a radical tradition that I (following the Encyclopedistes) call “natural equality.” I first argue that many of the interpretive difficulties dogging Godwin’s Political Justice stem from his attempt to navigate between these tendencies. I then offer a reading of Caleb Williams as an extended fictional meditation on a central Radical Enlightenment question: in what sense can persons be said to be equal?

Wednesday, May 16: Spring Social/Planning Event
Rosenwald 405, 6-8pm

We’d like to invite everyone to a spring social/planning event for next year. Please join us for dinner and help us brainstorm ideas. We’d also like to welcome incoming coordinators, Madison Chapman and Rebeca Velasquez, into their roles.

Tuesday, May 29: Allison Turner, PhD Candidate in English, University of Chicago
“The Salvaging Disposition: Waste and Plenitude in Eighteenth-Century British Literature”
Rosenwald 405, 5-6:30 pm

Please join us for our final meeting of the school year. Allison will give a presentation on her dissertation “The Salvaging Disposition: Waste and Plenitude in Eighteenth-Century British Literature.” There will be no precirculated paper for this meeting.  Instead, Allison asks workshop attendees to read a short poem by Jonathan Swift. The poem, “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed,” can be found here. An abstract of Allison’s dissertation is posted below.

In this dissertation, I locate the emergence of a modern sense of waste in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Baconian science and European colonialism began to conceive of the New World as an untapped spring of inexhaustible resources. Alongside this ideology of infinite growth, I argue that the period of early modernity also witnessed a surge of interest in the category of byproduct waste as a site of potential value. This new conception of waste—as salvageable byproduct—is evident in one of British literature’s earliest novels, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Indeed, after his shipwreck, Crusoe sustains himself by fashioning an island habitation out of the very wreckage that made him a castaway. My project follows this salvaging impulse in works that have long been associated with the rise of the novel in this period. I focus on texts that foreground salvaging, rather than property ownership, as the constitutive feature of modern identity. In doing so, I also engage centrally with recent developments in the history of the novel.