Recent Issue

Volume 50, Number 4, Winter 2018



Sexual Selection and Female Choice in Austen's Northanger AbbeyBeth Lau

Catherine Morland, the protagonist of Northanger Abbey, is often regarded as Austen’s least appealing heroine, considered not just naïve but unintelligent. An examination of Catherine’s behavior through the lens of evolutionary theory, however, reveals her to be an astute sexual and social strategizer who ends up marrying the most eligible man in the novel. Not only is Catherine (unlike her older and supposedly more savvy friend Isabella) effective in identifying a man who is a good prospect for a husband and in convincing him that she will make a good wife. Her very obtuseness and seeming inability to read the minds of others can be regarded as assets in her goal of improving her circumstances through hypergamy (or “marrying up”). Austen’s insight into the dynamics of what Darwin would term sexual selection are clearly on display in her earliest completed novel.

“Her life is mine, to use as I see fit”: The Terror of Consent in Arthur Machen’s The Great God PanSamantha Morse

The enduring terror of The Great God Pan has been attributed to various factors: degeneration, deep time, the abhuman subject, neurological theories, and sexual mysteries. Connecting and expanding on these analyses, I investigate the terror derived from philosophical and juridical conceptions of consent implicit in contemporaneous debates and legislative changes about vivisection, age of consent, and regulation of venereal disease. While late Victorian periodical and juridical discourse assumes there is safety and justice in the individual’s right and capacity to make decisions about what happens to one’s body, The Great God Pan, I argue, dramatically disquiets these urgent expectations. By compounding an explicitly justified medical invasion with an implied sexual assault, Machen’s tale dramatizes the unsettling indeterminacy of consent at a time when its legal definition has supposedly been fixed. Ultimately, I demonstrate how consent’s hollowness is amplified to terrifying effect in the “suicidal mania” of the main narrative.

Monuments of an Artless Age: Hotels and Women’s Mobility in the Work of Henry JamesAnna Despotopoulou

This article examines James’s important critique, in The American Scene, of the hotel’s pervasive role as a new institution and landmark in the modern urban scene, focusing on the way in which women characters experience the challenges of this transitory space. Through readings of “Daisy Miller,” “The Pension Beaurepas,” The Ambassadors, and The Wings of the Dove, it explores the impact of hotel culture on James’s women, who in their travels experience hotels as insular microcosms of controlled sociability, unstable arenas of emancipation, or stages of duplicitous performance. Confronting issues of precarious national identity and rootlessness, James’s heroines demonstrate a mobile and even transnational individuality, one that is derived from the transient spaces they roam in. Although the writer sometimes presents his heroines trapped in the hotels’ generic gilded fixtures, he identifies them with the modernizing thrust of the big metropolises and the incessant international mobility that the hotels epitomized.

Absolutely Novel: The Event and Charles Chesnutt’s Paul Marchand, F.M.C.Erica Stevens

This essay examines Paul Marchand, F.M.C., Charles Chesnutt’s 1921 historical romance about New Orleans a century earlier, which features a main character, a free man of color, who discovers that he is actually white and heir to a fortune. Rather than reading this plot twist as a simple reversal of the “passing” trope, I interpret it as a meditation on the shape and quality of “Events,” a concept adapted in this essay from critical theory, especially Alain Badiou’s Being and Event. I argue that Chesnutt challenges timelines of progress and identity by crafting a sudden moment in Paul’s life that shifts the terms of change itself. The novel not only plays with doubt and delayed revelations; Chesnutt asks us to think beyond certainty yet still make decisions that account for something as unexpected as overnight change. Such temporal considerations also shed light on Chesnutt’s late-career essays on racial mixture and on appropriate subjects for African American fiction.

“I find my mind meeting yours”: Rebecca West’s Telepathic ModernismJennifer Spitzer

Rebecca West’s obscure, out-of-print novel Harriet Hume (1929) illustrates the correspondences between high modernism and the spiritual knowledges supposedly dispelled by discourses of Enlightenment modernity. West’s interest in telepathy, as a phenomenon that affirms the permeability of psychic boundaries and the entangled nature of consciousness, not only illustrates the persistence of spiritualism within the cultural imaginary of modernism but also the affinities between these spiritual knowledges and modernist literary form. By connecting West’s feminist modernist practices to turn-of-the century investigations of telepathy offered by psychical researcher F. W. H. Myers, I argue that telepathy is as close as possible to a metaphor for West’s writing, insofar as it models a receptivity to other minds that is central to the aesthetic and feminist imperatives of her fiction. Using telepathy as a lens with which to perform a feminist reading of the capabilities of the modernist novel, this essay illustrates how telepathy’s utopian vision of consciousness offers a feminist framework for imagining modes of relation that are intersubjective and non-hierarchical. 

Materializing the Improbable: Bodily Intimacies and the Agentic Materiality of Opium in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy​Katherine E. Hummel

Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy reconstructs the nineteenth-century Opium Wars to foreground opium’s agentic materiality as both a significant historical actor and a new subject for the contemporary postcolonial novel. Following material ecocriticism’s assertion that the body functions as a porous intersection enmeshed in the material world, Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy features a series of “bodily intimacies” in which certain characters’ embodied experiences with opium directly affect their ontological, epistemological, and ethical orientations. I argue that these bodily intimacies recast opium’s historical role from one of criminalized vice to one of emergent possibility because these intimacies enable the characters to access what Ghosh has termed the “improbable,” or the possibilities beyond mere realism that the modern novel materializes. The Ibis trilogy’s engagement with the improbable thus centralizes opium’s non-human agency to demonstrate how the contemporary postcolonial novel importantly represents the inextricable entanglements between the human and more-than-human world.



BOOKER, KRISTINA. Menials: Domestic Service and the Cultural Transformation of British SocietyReviewed by GEORGE BOULUKOS.

DINNEN, ZARA. The Digital Banal: New Media and American Literature and CultureReviewed by JAMES J. HODGE.

EMRE, MERVE. Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America.  Reviewed by MICHAEL BENVENISTE.

FISK, GLORIA. Orhan Pamuk and the Good of World LiteratureReviewed by JESSE BORDWIN.

GANDAL, KEITH. War Isn’t the Only Hell: A New Reading of World War I American Literature.  Reviewed by AARON SHAHEEN.

KWON, TECKYOUNG. Nabokov’s Mimicry of Freud: Art as Science.  Reviewed by UDITH DEMATAGODA.

SHAPIRO, JOE. The Illiberal Imagination: Class and the Rise of the U.S. Novel. Reviewed by MATTHEW PETHERS.

STOUT, DANIEL E. Corporate Romanticism: Liberalism, Justice, and the Novel. Reviewed by PETER DENNEY​.




Anna Despotopoulou is Associate Professor in English Literature and Culture at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. She is the author of Women and the Railway, 1850-1915 (Edinburgh UP, 2015), and co-editor of Henry James and the Supernatural (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011) and Transforming Henry James (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013). She has published articles on Henry James, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Christina Rossetti, Rhoda Broughton, Joseph Conrad, and Peter Shaffer.

Katherine E. Hummel is a PhD student in English language and literature at the University of Michigan. Her research interests include contemporary postcolonial literature, ecocriticism, new materialism, and visual culture. Her work on ecofeminism, ethics of place, and “strange kinship” in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy is forthcoming in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment.

Beth Lau is Professor of English Emerita at California State University, Long Beach.  Her most recent book is the edited collection Jane Austen and Sciences of the Mind (2018). Other books include Keats’s Reading of the Romantic Poets (1991), Keats’s Paradise Lost (1998), and Fellow Romantics: Male and Female British Writers, 1790-1835 (2009).

Samantha Morse is a PhD candidate in English at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is currently working on her dissertation analyzing the aesthetics of dread in conjunction with conceptions of the will in British Gothic fiction from 1790 to 1900.

Jennifer Spitzer is Assistant Professor of English at Ithaca College. Her articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Modernism/modernityJournal of Modern Literature, and Oscholars: Oscar Wilde and his Worlds. She is completing a book entitled Secret Sharers: Modernism and the Debate with Psychoanalysis, which argues for the centrally formative impact of psychoanalysis on some of modernism’s key aesthetic innovations. 

Erica Stevens received her PhD in English from Pennsylvania State University. She is currently a full-time instructor of composition and literature at Houston Community College. Her essay on John Rollin Ridge’s The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta appears in the journal ESQ. At present, she is working on a book-length study of nineteenth-century New Orleans and representations of the city’s social life.