From 1990 until 1998, most of my research and publications focused on intersections between historical and fictional writing in 19th-century Britain, especially on the ways different genres reflect or question gendered assumptions about plots, narratives, history, and agency. The major result of this work was my book, Gender, Genre, and Victorian Historical Writing (Garland, 1998).
After my book’s publication I began work on a new project drawing together contemporary theorizing about fiction and ethics and Victorian theorizing about the novel. My literary-historical goal was to enrich our understanding of just how Victorian critics actually talk about the ethics of the novel; my larger interest was in seeing how listening to them might change, perhaps even improve, our own critical conversation about the moral role and effects of different kinds of fiction. My essays “The Soul of Art: Victorian Ethical Criticism,” published in English Studies in Canada, and “The Moral Life of Middlemarch: Martha Nussbaum and George Eliot’s Philosophical Fiction,” published in Philosophy and Literature, address some of the more theoretical issues I considereded while working on this project. My anthology The Victorian Art of Fiction: 19th-Century Essays on the Novel (available from Broadview April 30 2009) made available some of the important primary materials relevant to this project.
An extension of my thinking about ethical criticism is my interest in bridging the divide between academic criticism and the broader sphere of reading and critical inquiry. I have been pursuing questions about the differences between academic and public criticism (in aim as well as method) in the conventional academic way, through research, but also, in a more hands-on way, through blogging, and, as a form of experiential learning, as an editor, reviewer, and essayist, primarily for Open Letters Monthly.
Some of my most recent academic research and writing picked up specific aspects of my work on the ethics of George Eliot’s fiction in a new context: the novels of the Anglo-Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif. Often referred to as the “Egyptian George Eliot,” Soueif alludes often to Eliot’s novels in her own work. I have written about Soueif’s fiction in an essay for Open Letters Monthly, “A Novelist in Tahrir Square.”
Updated April 19, 2017