Quote/Unquote: Early Novelists Wednesday, Jul 23 2014 

As I read Penelope Aubin‘s 1723 novel The Life of Charlotta Du Pont, an English lady; taken from her own memoirs, it’s probably good to remember this quote:

We can’t help it that we are twentieth-century readers, of course, any more than Defoe can help it that he is a figure dyed in Restoration, Puritan, and London wool, but we are better off noting our own presentist limits and admitting the historical prominence of the feature. The didacticism of Aubin, Davys, Richardson, both Fieldings, Rowe, Lennox, MacKenzie, Burney, and even Sterne poses essentially the same problem for us as does that of Defoe. Attempts to rescue writers by making them more urbane, “modern,” or “universal”–Richardson for his clinical interest in feminine consciousness, female sensibility, and the psychopathology of rape and other coercions; Sterne for his wit, humor, and bawdry–seem ultimately a dooming strategy. Their texts are still going to show where they stand, and their heavy hands on our shoulders are not going to go away. To read Sterne or Richardson without the didacticism is to read a deformed novelist, one missing crucial parts. It is easy enough to read any eighteenth-century novelist for something else and find the text palatable in spite of the unfortunate didacticism, but such selective reading is perverse and destines writers to a short life of fashion. Many early novelists traditionally left out of the canon–Jane Barker, for example, or Sarah Scott–would find their rightful place in literary history if critics could suspend their disbelief long enough to embrace the didactic rhetoric in their books and see their accomplishments both as units of discourse and as novelistic wholes. (J. Paul Hunter, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction, p. 56)

Most critics dismiss Aubin’s novels due to their didactic emphasis on morality and virtue, but Hunter reminds us that such didacticism is a cultural product that should be a central part of our study of such works. Rather than dismissing or ignoring it, we should treat it with the same level of respectful analysis that we would give to any other element of an eighteenth-century novel. I’ll try to put that advice to practice as I write about Aubin in the coming months!

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The Ask: What Money Means to Me Sunday, Jan 23 2011 

I’ve just started reading Laura Fredricks’s The Ask: How to Ask for Support for Your Nonprofit Cause, Creative Project, or Business Venture for work. Whether I like it or not, a large part of my job is fundraising, and my success or failure will largely be measured by my ability to raise money for my college.

There are a lot of obstacles to this goal. Not the least of these is the fact that I have no experience asking for money. Even so, my first year as dean was fairly successful in terms of external gifts to the college: we had an increase of 50% over the previous year. This fact is misleading, however, since the previous year’s giving was relatively small — it didn’t take much to surpass it.

I also have a bit of a cushion this year: one planned gift for which the paperwork was completed this year almost made up my entire goal of the year. But as a planned gift, my college won’t see any of it until the donor passes away, not something that we’re hoping for anytime soon.

While these first two years have therefore technically been successful, my college increasingly needs cash money. Our university’s budget, like everyone else’s, is in the crapper, and the only way I’m going to be able to continue funding some programs is if they receive external support.

My boss would like for me to attend a workshop in Florida next month about fundraising, but the simple fact is that I don’t have a travel budget that will support both going to a workshop and doing actual fundraising. So, I’ve had to choose the latter over the former — I’ve already made one short alumni/development trip since the beginning of the year. In the next few months, I will be making additional ones to Cleveland and San Francisco for sure and to Missouri, Boston, Chicago, and New York potentially.

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1st Anniversary (Of Sorts) Thursday, Jun 3 2010 

It was one year ago today that I was offered my current position as dean. I well remember receiving the call from the provost asking me to take the position and laying out the general offer. It was definitely one of the most exciting moments in my career thus far.

One day later was the first public acknowledgment of my appointment, which is where this picture was taken. It was at the college’s annual potluck. It was rather precipitously decided that I would be announced at this event because the word had gotten out on facebook that I was the new dean. (My little sister wrote something about it on my wall, and some of my students saw it before I was able to delete it.) The university didn’t officially announce it until the following Monday.

This year’s potluck is also this afternoon. So, this is a good moment to think back and assess my first year as dean. I few people have pointed out how happy I look in this picture. And I definitely was ecstatic. It felt like everything I had ever wanted had suddenly come to fruition.

The main thing that’s on my mind as I reflect today is how naive I was about the job I was getting into. I look back and realize that I knew next to nothing about being a dean. I see just how minuscule my experience really was in such areas as management, budgets, fund-raising, dealing with a couple hundred students and all of their problems, and even many of the basic aspects, policies, and programs of the college I would subsequently lead.

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April is the Cruelest Month Thursday, Apr 29 2010 

APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

~ T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

If my life as a college administrator in the past month is any indication, Eliot knew what he was talking about! April has been the most exhausting month of my deanship thus far. Every time I think that things can’t possibly get any busier, my job proves me wrong!

But I should say up front that much of the headache involved in my job is the direct result of the fact that I love it so much. If I didn’t really care, then it wouldn’t be as much work and worry as it is. I definitely want to do right by my students and staff (and the university). I also want to succeed for my own sake. And being dean of the honors college combines all of the things that I most enjoy doing. So, a huge part of my exhaustion comes from my commitment to do excel as dean (or try as hard as I can to excel).

Now feels as good a time as any to think a little bit about how things are going. I’m exhausted all the time, but I love it! Some part of my job are going extremely well; other parts are more challenging. I think we’re headed in a good direction, but only time will tell if we can end up where we want to be.

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Two Months as Dean Monday, Sep 21 2009 

Now that I’ve been dean for a couple of months, I thought that I would check in and write a little about what it’s been like so far. In sum, I love it!  I’m pretty sure I have the best job on campus. Our students are great, as one would expect of honors students. So it’s not difficult to love that aspect of my job. But I’m also enjoying all of the other aspects too. 

That said, being a dean is even more unlike being a faculty member than I had thought. It was only 6 months ago that I sent in my application for this position; I look back at what I thought then and can’t help but think how naive and unprepared I was to assume this role. The past two months have already taught me more about being an administrator and about myself than I could ever have imagined possible in so short a time. 

The months of July and August were fairly quiet. All but a few of our students were out of town, so I had plenty of time to read files that were left by my predecessors. It was a great time to learn about the history of our college and to find out how the previous dean had dealt with (or tried to deal with) various issues. Many of her efforts were unsuccessful, and it was probably important to learn up front just how difficult it can be to change the way things are. 

Then the fall quarter hit.

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A Career Change Is Gonna Come Monday, Jun 8 2009 

My university announced today that I have been appointed to serve as dean of our Honors College. It’s a huge step up and, needless to say, a great departure from what I’ve been doing as a faculty member for the past ten years. I’m deeply honored by this promotion and sobered by the responsibility with which I’ve been charged.

First, let me describe my new job, which starts next month. I will be moving from the Department of English to the Honors College, which resides in an old, converted house next to our president’s residence. This is a picture of my “new” building. My new office will be the one above the front porch. As a candidate for the position, I joked with the students during a forum to answer their questions that one of my goals to promote community within the college was to take up pipe smoking and sit out on the front porch and regale them with stories from great works of literature. In real life, I do fantasize about sitting on the front porch in the early morning with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. I hope I have time to do that from time to time!

The first announcement of my appointment was an informal introduction at the college’s potluck this past Friday, which is the day I formally accepted the job. I got the call from the provost on Thursday, which was about two weeks after I interviewed for the post. I had thought my interview went well. I think I made a few mistakes here and there, but nothing major. In fact, I really enjoyed the interview process. I had meetings with the college staff, the university president, the provost, and directors of some of the programs of study within the college. I also had dinner with some of the deans. I gave to short talks, one during an open forum for anyone who wanted to attend and one during a forum just for the college’s students. This is the first set of interviews I’ve had since getting my current job 10 years ago. I had forgotten how fun they are when everything seems to be going right.

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2009: The Year of “Here, Now, and Me” Saturday, Jan 3 2009 

The last couple of weeks of 2008 found me in a rather reflective mood. The cold weather, holiday travel, filling out a report on my work activities for the past year, and few other things left me thinking a lot about my goals, life, and desires for the coming year.

I realized right around New Year’s Day that I hadn’t ever established any goals for 2008. In January 2007, I sat down and decided on very clear goals for the year, mostly because I seemed to be fucking everything up, so I thought I needed to get my priorities straight. I never had that moment for 2008. As a result, I feel like I’ve just coasted along.

That’s not to say that I didn’t accomplish a lot in 2008. I did. The difference is that I felt like I had a clear aim in life during 2007. In retrospect, 2008 feels like a year where I just drifted along doing a lot of stuff but not really getting anywhere. It’s like being in a row boat on a lake. I rowed a lot, but I’m not sure I went anywhere but in a circle. That feeling has left me feeling unsatisfied. I feel like 2009 needs some clear goals, that I need to sit down and decide where I want to go this year. Where do I want to be a year from now? What do I want to be doing?

The initial trouble with this is that I don’t seem to have an immediate answer to those questions. I don’t know what I want to do or where I want to be. Part of me is thinking that I don’t want to be where I am now; I want to break out of the circle and row someplace in particular. I just need to figure out where that is.

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Academic Homophobia? Friday, May 2 2008 

I should be cleaning up the house in anticipation of PJ’s arrival back home tomorrow, but I just came from a department meeting that’s left me really depressed. While writing about it on my blog is probably not the best idea, I need an outlet for what I’m feeling and thinking; otherwise, I’m just going to sit here and stew until I make myself a martini.

Here’s the thing: I actually don’t think my colleagues are homophobic in any sort of intentional or active way, but I think they might very well be intellectually homophobic, by which I mean prejudiced against queer work and teaching.

English departments are supposed to be so progressive and liberal. At least that’s what we’re told all the time. Right? We’re a bunch of lefties. In my experience here this is only true in the sense that my department and university doesn’t actively discriminate against GLBT people. But they don’t acknowledge our importance or value our presence either. Too often “liberal” just means ignoring difference, whether it be sexual, gender, racial, religious, etc. And ignoring difference causes problems.

First off, this meeting convinces me that my colleagues are simply blind to the relatively large number of GLBT students we have in our undergraduate major and graduate programs. It really makes me wonder how our students experience our classes. No wonder they’re so hungry for my Lesbian & Gay Lit course — it might very well be the only time they have a class that acknowledges sexual difference in any meaningful way. I often hear that it’s definitely one of the very few classes that actually values sexual difference (which is why I feel so guilty about taking a break from teaching it next year).

Second, while my department at least pays real lip service to racial difference, we’re terrible when it comes to GLBT issues. For example, as we discussed hiring priorities today, it seemed perfectly acceptable to everyone that we could combine a position in 20th-Century British Literature with Post-Colonial Theory, since, and I’m almost quoting here, almost anyone working the 20thC could be assumed to also work in Post-Colonial Theory and Literatures. My colleagues can’t image a good candidate in 20thC British Lit who didn’t also work, to some degree, in P-C Theory.

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Back from ASECS Tuesday, Apr 1 2008 

Hilton PortlandI got back from the meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in Portland, OR, on Sunday. This is a picture of the hotel from the ASECS website. I arrived on Thursday afternoon and starving for something to eat. It was a great conference. I enjoyed all of the panels I attended, and the little sightseeing that I did while there was also a lot of fun.

Let’s start with the important part: the panel I organized on “Representations of Jews in the Eighteenth Century.” I had received a large number of proposals for the session but could only accommodate four papers. Ultimately, I chose to include scholars from four different fields: one from an English department, one from history, one from religious studies, and one from a modern languages department. All four papers were excellent, and I was really proud to have brought them all together.

The only problem with the session was that it was scheduled for the final time on Saturday evening, 5:30 to 7 pm. Since this was the last session of the conference and since people were either leaving to go home or going out to dinner, etc., we had a relatively small number of people in our audience: only about 8. Despite the low turnout, it was a really good session, and I hope we can put another one together for next year.

Maria EdgeworthMost of the other panels I attended ended up being about late eighteenth-century women novelists. On Friday morning, I went to the 8 am session on “Locating Maria Edgeworth.” I’m extremely pleased with myself for going to an 8 a.m. panel! The session was really good. I especially liked Emily Hodgson Anderson’s paper, “Maria Edgeworth’s Helen and the Limits of the Eighteenth-Century Novel.” (I think she might have changed the title of her paper, but I forgot to write down the new title if she did. This is the title in the program.) Her paper was a brilliant neo-formalist reading of Edgeworth’s last novel. Really smart stuff. (The picture to the right is a portrait of Edgeworth from Wikipedia)

On the flight out to Portland, I started reading Marilyn Butler’s biography of Maria Edgeworth. It’s been a fascinating read. (I haven’t finished it yet, though I also read it on the flight home.) Reading the biography made the panel even more interesting. I’m also working on an article on Edgeworth right now, so it was really stimulating to hear such good work on this novelist. I feel inspired to get my article done so I can join the ranks of Edgeworth scholars!

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Gone to Portland Thursday, Mar 27 2008 

Today I’m flying to Portland, Oregon for the meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. I’m chairing a session I put together on Jews in the Eighteenth Century. It’s going to be a great panel, even though we’re literally the last session of the conference — on Saturday evening no less. But the papers are going to be interesting, so I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve been to his conference every year for the past 9 years. I guess I’m at a point where I want to figure out my relationship to this conference. Am I trying to be a networker and connect with people to further my career? Am I just interested in carving our more space for eighteenth-century Jewish Studies and networking with people in this field? Or am I moving into a different kind of career and therefore not really interested in ASECS? Maybe this year’s conference will help me to start figuring this out.

I’ve never been to Portland before, so I’m also looking forward to seeing it for the first time. I’ve heard from friends that it’s a great place for vegetarian cuisine. I plan on going to the Portland Art Museum and Powell’s Books. I’m taking my camera, so maybe I’ll get some good pics for the blog too.

Unfortunately, PJ’s not coming with me this year. Maybe I’m getting too reliant on him to be with me all the time, but I decreasingly like to go anywhere without him. He’ll be gone for the month of April doing research in Massachusetts, so maybe it’s good that I’ll be away for a few days and then we’ll be together for a week before he leaves for his trip.

Regardless, I intend to have a great time in Portland and will write all about it when I get back.

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