I am a Mellon Postdoctoral Associate in the English Department, specializing in 19th-century literature and culture, the history and theory of the novel, and cognitive and aesthetic approaches to the arts. I received my PhD in English from Harvard University in 2011. My book manuscript, “Missing Fiction: The Feeling of Realism,” reveals how 19th-century novels prompt readers to feel as if vibrant, expansive fictional worlds exist beyond the printed page. Realist writers from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy rely on, and self-consciously dramatize, the power of partial cues to suggest persons and scenes that are absent and implied. Yet the more that readers succumb to suggestion, the more they come into conflict with the fact that nothing in the novel exists at all. This cognitive dissonance, I argue, is a major source of realism’s aesthetic complexity. My second major project, “Freeing the Self: Peak Experience and the Victorian Mind,” recuperates Victorian accounts of spontaneous self-forgetfulness in response to nature, music, and representational art. These accounts, by artists, critics, and scientists from George Eliot to Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Ruskin to Walter Pater, and James Sully to John Tyndall, unsettle Victorian debates about the sensory, social, and spiritual effects of aesthetic experience.
Rachel Feder received her Ph.D. (2012) in nineteenth-century British literature from the University of Michigan, where she focused on the intersections between literary and mathematical history and the connections between poetic and mathematical forms. Her book manuscript, Counting Effects, argues that Romantic aesthetics and poetics participate in mathematical and philosophical debates about the nature and reality of infinity. Counting Effects explores how understanding these connections not only facilitates new readings of Romantic poems but also complicates our understanding of the Romantic inheritance in later modern poetry. Rachel’s current research focuses on nineteenth-century commonplace books, book history, and experimental poetics. She is a Mellon Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of English, where she teaches courses on Romantic and Victorian literature.
I am a specialist in eighteenth-century British literature and an assistant professor at Baruch College, City University of New York. I received my PhD in English from Johns Hopkins University, where I also served as associate editor of ELH. Prior to my time at Hopkins, I received a BA in English from the College of William and Mary, and an MA in Modern Literature and Culture from the University of York, UK, before studying at Universiteit Leiden in the Netherlands on a Fulbright Fellowship. My current book project, "The Novel and the Novice: Eighteenth-Century Narratives of Inexperience," theorizes the place of inexperience in the early novel, especially with regard to characters who can be understood as refusing or resisting development. The authors I consider—Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Sarah Fielding, and Ann Radcliffe— insist that certain characters don’t require shaping, and indeed suggest the possibility of innate moral intelligence, a capacity for goodness that does not come from knowledge of the world and that may, in fact, be threatened by it. Rather than understanding this effort as merely consolidating a series of moral exempla, which is how we tend to understand the early novel’s didacticism, I see these characters as figuring most urgently the early novel’s reflection on its own procedures, its understanding of how the genre itself encounters the world. I am interested in formalisms new and old, histories of reading, and theories of character. In addition to work on my book manuscript, I am currently writing essays on the relationship between Russian Formalism and Neo-Formalism(s) and on the narrative trajectory of Oliver Cromwell's head.
Jessica Merrill holds a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation and current book project focus on the role of folklore study in the rise of Russian formalist and Czech structuralist literary theory. These movements are understood to have initiated the study of literature as a self-sufficient discipline by applying linguistic concepts to the analysis of literary texts. Her work argues that folklore study served pioneering theorists (Viktor Shklovsky, Roman Jakobson and Jan Mukařovský) as a mediating field between language and “high” literature. Folkloristics, which traditionally approached its subject matter via linguistic theory, understood verbal art to behave like language—as an impersonal repertoire of poetic forms which adhere to regular laws governing their usage and evolution. This body of scholarly work provided early literary theorists with a model for theorizing literature or art as a law-abiding, “scientific” object of study akin to language. In addition to providing an intellectual history of Russian formalism and Czech structuralism, the book project critically engages with the utility as well as the limitations of appealing to linguistic and folkloristic models in the study of literary form and structure.