ASECS: A Review Friday, Apr 6 2007 

Two weeks ago I was in Atlanta for the annual meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. I presented a paper on the first day of the conference and chaired a session that I had put together on the last day. On the whole, I think it was a very good conference, professionally much better than GEMCS in February (though GEMCS was more fun).

My paper, which was entitled “Turks and the Exclusion Crisis: Revising Representation, Partisanship, and Political Culture in Aphra Behn’s The False Count,” analyzed Behn’s depictions of “Turks” in her 1681 comedy. (They’re not actually Turks; they’re Spanish men in disguise.) I think it went pretty well. In general, the most useful part of going to a conference is just that it forces you to write the paper, to get your thoughts down. I like it well enough to spend some more time on it and see if it goes anywhere. I received some very positive response from people who heard the paper. For a day or two, I kept running into people who had been in the audience and who continued to say good things about it. So that was nice.

I thought the most interesting paper on the panel (besides mine, of course) was Chris Gabbard’s “‘The wit may be somewhat trimmed’: Mental Disability in Thomas Willis’s The Soul of Brutes.” This paper demonstrated that at least one writer, Willis, offered an alternative vision of people with mental disabilities than that posed by Locke in the late seventeenth century. It was a fascinating paper and subject.

I heard a few other good papers. (I went to about 6 or 7 panels total over the course of the conference, which I’m pretty sure is a record for me. Usually, I just go sightseeing and drink too much.) I enjoyed Patricia Chapman’s “Laureate and Whore Debate Dramatic Theory: Shadwell, Behn, and the Poet’s Purpose.” Chapman compared these two playwrights’ theories of drama to (kind of) show that Behn’s was better (at least that’s what I got out of it, though I am admittedly reducing her argument to something she didn’t really intend).

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Hottie of the Month: Burke Thursday, Mar 29 2007 

Edmund BurkeMy hottie of the month for March is Edmund Burke, the eighteenth-century politician, orator, political theorist, and philosopher. Burke is, perhaps, most famous for writing his Reflections on the Revolution in France, a work I had to read as an undergraduate history major. He is considered one of the fathers of conservatism, a political philosophy he embraced in response to the terrors of the French Revolution and its potential threat to England.

Because of his conservative leanings, I’ve never been particularly interested in him or his writings. Every now and then, I’ve tried to read a few selections from my anthology of Burke’s speeches and writings, but I’ve never been able to make it very far. So, I’m rather surprised to find myself suddenly interested in him and in late eighteenth-century English conservatism more generally.

This interest arose as I was working on my paper for GEMCS this past February. One reference led to another, which led to another, and before I knew it I was rereading parts of Reflections. While working on that paper, I picked up Frans de Bruyn’s “Anti-Semitism, Millenarianism, and Radical Dissent in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France,” published in Eighteenth-Century Studies in 2001. This excellent and interesting article looks at passages in Reflections in which Burke seems to embrace anti-Semitic rhetoric and attempts to explain the historical context for these passages and how they work rhetorically within Burke’s larger political argument. It’s a very informative essay that led me to another essay on conservatism in the period, which led me to start thinking about various other issues related to my current project.

I doubt that I’ll be teaching Burke any time soon. In fact, I’ve never been assigned him in a literature course (it was a history class that I read Reflections in). And he’s certainly not a major figure in my current project. But I am interested in using him and his writing to illustrate a couple of points about anti-Semitism at the end of the eighteenth century and about conservatism in general. In other words, he’s become quite useful to my project, even if he’s not a major figure in it.

So, I suddenly find myself interested in a political movement, conservatism, and a socio-political circle, one that includes Burke and Richard Cumberland, neither of which I ever thought I’d be writing about. For this reason, and certainly not because of his portrait above, I am celebrating Burke as March’s hottie of the month.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Aphra Behn Sunday, Mar 18 2007 

I haven’t had time to post in a week, because I’ve been working on my paper for the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, which meets in Atlanta later this next week. My paper is on Thursday morning, and I’ve been working all week to finish it. I finally finished a complete draft of it, so I can sit back and let it (and my brain) rest for a day before giving it one last once over.

Aphra BehnThe paper is on Aphra Behn’s 1681 comedy The False Count. My interest in the play lies in its depiction of a group of men who disguise themselves as Turks and “capture” an Englishman, his wife, and his daughter. I’m trying to figure out how this play’s representation of “Turks” reflects Behn’s participation in partisan debates on the exclusion crisis.

This is a portrait of Behn. I’ve never really worked on her before, but I have taught two classes on her. During my first year at OU I taught a senior seminar on Behn. It was a fun class, even if some of Behn’s works weren’t all that great. It always amazes me how some works are anthologized while others — better ones — aren’t. In general, the scholars who were the first to champion Behn were also most interested in her plays that feature prostitutes and women who disguise themselves as prostitutes. They analyzed these characters as early, proto-feminist figures. So, some of the plays that are available in print aren’t, in my opinion, her best ones. The False Count is a good example. It’s not anthologized, but it’s a great play. (I also taught a junior composition course on her and her work.)

The Restoration period was once taught as the ‘Age of Dryden;’ we could easily rename it the ‘Age of Behn.’ It’s been fun researching her play and rediscovering some of the historical context that informs her depiction of “Turks.” It reminds me that one of the things I really enjoy about writing is the discovery process. As you read one scholar, s/he introduces you to a new concept or quote or fact; you then follow up on that, which often leads to another new concept or quote or fact. It’s like a game or a choose-your-own-adventure book.

Being on leave for the past two quarters has been extremely helpful to my research. I haven’t completed anything yet, but I’ve gotten some really good reading and thinking done. And it’s put me in a position to finish an article or two (or maybe three) by the end of the year.

I’m looking forward to the ASECS conference. I’m excited to learn some new things and make some new discoveries. If research is a choose-your-own-adventure, I’m ready to start reading a new one!

Feminists, Conservatives, and Old Farts Sunday, Jan 21 2007 

John DrydenTo help me with an article I’m writing, I spent part of yesterday reading two articles about John Dryden’s 1681 poem, Absalom and Achitophel, a satire written during the so-called exclusion crisis, an effort to exclude Catholics from the throne of England. In this poem, Dryden (pictured here) uses Biblical history — the story of David and his rebellious son Absalom — as a metaphor for the current English situation of Charles II and his rebellious son, James Scot, duke of Monmouth. While the particulars of this research probably aren’t of much interest to anyone but me, I soon became fascinated by the gender politics of the scholars themselves and what this politics means about the state of literary criticism.

I started reading an article by Jerome Donnelly, a retired professor at the University of Central Florida. His article, entitled “‘A Greater Gust’: Generating the Body in Absalom and Achitophel,” was published in Papers on Language and Literature Vol. 40 in 2004. The article quickly turns into a diatribe against another essay written by Susan Greenfield and published in ELH in 1995 and reprinted as part of a collection of essays entitled Inventing Maternity: Politics, Science, and Literature, 1650-1865 (University Press of Kentucky, 1999). Her essay is “Aborting the ‘Mother Plot’: Politics and Generation in Absalom and Achitophel.”

After reading the first couple of paragraphs of Donnelly’s article, I had to run to the library and check out Greenfield’s essay — his dismissal of her work was so vehement that I knew I had to read her essay first and then come back to his. (My first thought, in fact, was, “This is going to be good!”) In her work, Greenfield examines Dryden’s construction of the maternal in his poem. She concludes that “the poem’s emphasis on David’s promiscuity is gradually replaced by references to a feminine sexual desire and productivity so dangerous that the king appears politically reliable by contrast” (86). In effect, Greenfield argues that Dryden attempts to absolve Charles II’s promiscuous activities, which have, in effect, led to the exclusion crisis, by associating his rebellious son with the feminine and the feminized. She supports her reading with evidence from the period’s political theory (Filmer and Locke, especially) and from a close reading of the poem.

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Eighteenth-Century Wigs Sunday, Jan 7 2007 

I just finished reading Lynn Festa’s article entitled “Personal Effects: Wigs and Possessive Individualism in the Long Eighteenth Century,” published in Eighteenth-Century Life volume 29, issue 2 in 2005. It’s an excellent essay on what wearing a wig meant in the eighteenth century.

William Wycherley I read the essay in part because I’m looking for an article to begin my eighteenth-century class with next quarter. My course is going to focus on “The Making of the Modern Self: Writing Identity in the Long Eighteenth century,” so I want to begin with an article about identity that is kind of fun too. What could be more fun than wigs? Maybe I can help bring back wigs as a male fashion necessity! Here’s a portrait of William Wycherley — wouldn’t I look great in big, curly wig like his?!

Eighteenth-Century Life has become one of my favorite journals. I like that it publishes high quality articles about a wide range of interesting subjects. The most recent issue, for example, has articles on the significance of Venice for Scots in the Age of the Grand Tour; Violence, Virtue, and Politics in the Visual Culture of the French Revolution; displaying curiosities; and entomology. This article by Festa is typical in its ability to construct a complex argument that is of interest to general eighteenth-century scholars.

In this essay, Festa “addresses the shifting relation between personal possessions and personal identity, the objects one owns and the characteristics individuals are deemed to possess” (49). She’s interested in how wigs marked, but also obscured, individuality at various points in the long eighteenth century. It’s a fascinating study.

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Reading Samuel Pepys Friday, Dec 15 2006 

I’ve long enjoyed reading around in the Diary of Samuel Pepys, a late seventeenth-century English bureaucrat who worked in the Naval Office. The level of minute detail that Pepys included in his diary — on just about every imaginable facet of life: entertainment, his sex life, his relationship with his wife, his duties in the Naval Office, his thoughts about the monarch, government, and administration, what he ate, what he drank, how he traveled from one place to another, the coronation of Charles II, the Great Fire of 1666, and much, much more — make it an important source of information for historians and literary scholars alike.

Samuel PepysIn the past, I’ve looked up specific entries in the diary, Pepys’s thoughts on the libertines I write about: Sir Charles Sedley, George Villiers, the duke of Buckingham, and John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, for example. I haven’t ever just started at the beginning and simply read the diary. Until now (sort of).

I’ve decided to teach the Diary in my eighteenth-century class this spring. Since it’s actually a 9 volume set (in print, plus a companion volume and an index), I obviously can’t teach the whole thing. Instead, I’ll order an edition of selections from the Diary, probably the Modern Library edition, which presents the selections in order rather than topically, like the California edition, A Pepys Anthology.

Since I’ve never taught more than one or two entries from the Diary, I thought that I should read through the edition I’m going to order and begin to think about what kinds of directions I want to give my students to guide them in their reading. So, I started reading in January 1660 and am working my way through to the end, 1669. I can’t predict what my students will make of it, but I think it’s a fascinating read. I’m already learning so much. For instance, I didn’t know that Pepys actually sailed over to the Netherlands as part of the official party that brought the royal family back to England in 1660. I’ve also become increasingly impressed with just how much Pepys bustles around London. (If I didn’t have anything else to do, I would love to join the ranks of scholars working on “London Studies,” but since I am busy elsewhere, maybe I can just teach a class sometime on London.)

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Inaugural Post: Being Evaluated Wednesday, Oct 25 2006 

I’m starting this blog while I’m on sabbatical, which means that I’m not teaching and doing very little service; instead, I’m researching and writing my new project. This quarter has also been a time to reflect on my professional goals and future teaching practices and rejuvenate myself so that I can reconnect with my passion for writing and teaching. I hope this blog gives me a space in which to think through some of this reflection and reconnection.

As a professor, I am frequently evaluated. My students evaluate me at the end of each quarter, and a committee of my colleagues evaluates my scholarship, teaching, and service annually. While my evaluations tend to be good in both categories, these processes can’t help but be fraught with a range of emotions. Student evaluations are anonymous and withheld from me until I’ve turned in final grades. This anonymity makes the one or two less positive evaluations (and there are almost always one or two students who hate a class or who were bored by the readings or hold you responsible for another student’s body odor or whatever) stand out all the more. As my colleagues and I often discuss, these one or two negative comments can overwhelm 30 positive reviews. We can’t help but agonize over which one hates “us” (since we are the class) or how we could have made the readings come alive more or which one smells.

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