UW-Parkside English and Humanities Festival Talk: Searching the Sentimental Self

The Scholar, 1979

The Scholar, 2010

  “Searching the Sentimental Self: A Scholar’s Journey through Literature and Popular Culture”

How did I grow from that eager five-year old in a graduation cap to a Ph.D. holding professor of English and Women’s Studies? My journey was one of discovery, seeming randomness, but ultimately a quest to bridge literary art and a sentimental, feminist life. Half of my classes are composition classes, so I’m increasingly attuned to the process of scholarship as much as the product of scholarship. So often we read the products, highlighting key passages, annotating the texts, and quoting them in our own work without considering the scholarly process, nor the scholar behind the words. As a creative writer and a Women’s Studies professor, I’m interested in both the creative/creation story, as well as the person behind the words. And so, I decided to share with you my scholarly journey, to highlight some of the key scholarly projects, as well as the process and person behind those projects.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, image from Wikipedia

Undergraduate Thesis

Alma College, 1995

An exploration of art and love in the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, focused on Aurora Leigh and The Sonnets from the Portuguese. I look at how the two works communicate with each other and ultimately show how Barrett Browning reconciles her seemingly conflicting desires for art and love through her own life and poetry.






MA Seminar Paper

Michigan State University, 1996

An exploration of how 19th-century American women authors like Harriet Beecher Stowe used images of domesticity, especially kitchens and cooking, to forward a sentimental, political plea for change, and critique the status quo.

engraved illustration from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, from gutenberg.org



“‘Amen the Thunderbolt [and] the Dark Void’: Spirituality and Gender in the Works of Male and Female Writers of the Beat Generation.” Director: Virginia M. Kouidis

Ph.D Dissertation

Auburn University, 2003

An uncovering and reclaiming of women Beat writers, and an exploration of how the male and female Beats were seeking spiritual meaning via sex, drugs, nature, and travel. Because the Beats wrote so confessionally and autobiographically, I had to balance the tendency to read their works as their lives even more, focusing on the aesthetics and themes in their works and not just their fascinating lives and loves.

“A Truth Universally (Un)acknowledged: Ally McBeal, Bridget Jones’s Diary and the Conflict between Romantic Love and Feminism,” published in Searching the Soul of Ally McBeal: Critical Essays, edited by Elwood Watson. McFarland, 2006.

This article is a defense of chick-lit texts, an argument for the importance of love and relationships in contemporary heterosexual women’s lives (the focus on heterosexuality comes from the focus of the texts and my experience), and a plea for a marriage between romantic love and feminism. Perhaps my favorite publication, I incorporate my own romantic longings into the essay, using a feminist style of blending the personal with the scholarly. To riff on a feminist mantra, the personal is scholarly!

“Fashionable Indebted: Conspicuous Consumption, Fashion, and Romance in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic Trilogy,” published in Chick Lit: The New Woman’s Fiction, edited by Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young. Routledge, 2006.

In my analysis of the first three Shopaholic novels by Sophie Kinsella, I argue that “the luxury lifestyle is a means of creating identity and achieving success in both personal and professional spheres” (220). The intrepid shopper and protagonist Becky Bloomwood illustrates how “conspicuous consumption provides the temporary illusion of decadently and stylishly having it all” (220). And, for readers, our consumption of these novels provides us a materialistic escape without the dangers of privation! I explore the concept of the transitional woman from psychologists Annette Lieberman and Vicki Lindner, who describe the conflicts between women’s roles and feminism playing out through how women think, feel, and spend money.

Artwork from The House of Mirth, image from wikipedia

“Fashion, Money, and Romance in The House of Mirth and Sister Carrie,” published in Styling Texts: Dress and Fashion in Literature, edited by Cynthia Kuhn and Cindy Carlson. Cambria, 2007.

I argue that “fashion in these novels communicates socio-economic identity; enacts aesthetic idealism; and blends the prevailing genres of sentimental fiction and realism” (250). I grapple with the idea of the self–arguing that the books show a sentimental, coherent self, despite the move toward more fragmented selves in later fiction and literary theory. I conclude that in Sister Carrie “some elusive quality remains untouched by (Carrie and Hurstwood’s) material condition–a recognition of the full self through romantic love, which hinges on a personal desire for connection and recognition” (263). The sentimental self always seems to seek romantic fulfillment.

Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C.

“A Marriage Made in the Kitchen: Innovative Blends of Romance and Food Memoir in Amanda Hesser, Julie Powell, and Ruth Reichl,” published in You are What You Eat: Literary Probes into the Palate, edited by Annette Magrid. Cambridge Scholars Press, 2008.

Inspired by my growing love of cooking and all things foodie, as well as my interest in popular romance, I wrote this article, which proposes a new genre of foodie romance–novels, or, in this case, memoirs, that chronicle courtship or marriage through culinary creations. This sprawling article focuses on genre distinctions and shows how books evolve from other media (journalism and blogging), a new model of publishing.

“Surfacing the Structures of Patriarchy: Teaching and Learning Threshold Concepts in Women’s Studies,” Holly Hassel, Amy Reddinger, and Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, published in the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, July 2011.

In this scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) article, my co-authors and I designed a lesson to teach a threshold concept in our Women in Popular Culture class. The article details both the lesson itself and our findings, which showed that patriarchy is a hard task to grasp but that a two-day lesson and plenty of modeling can help students understand this threshold concept as it appears in popular culture artifacts.

What’s Next?!?

A Blog of Our Own: A SoTL Investigation into Blogging in the Women’s Studies Classroom

In this ongoing project, I explore how students learn to use feminist analysis as a way of approaching texts in the women’s studies classes I teach. This project began in June 2011 and will continue…indefinitely. I will continue to gather data from my classes, using the blog as a weekly reflection on the course content. I am also exploring how certain themes–marriage, sex, pregnancy–are deeply entrenched as traditional, which makes it more difficult for students to apply a feminist lens.

Poetry Projects

I’m currently working on a series of poems about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, blending my interest in fashion, women’s rights, and social justice.

this is not my actual dress, but i don’t want my fiance to see my dress until the big day:)

Creative Non-fiction

As I’ve planned my wedding and contemplated what marriage means to me, a sentimental feminist, I’ve discovered how much of my previous work on fashion and identity is connected to the wedding, specifically the wedding dress. I’m eager to write a creative non-fiction essay that explores these ideas, conflicts, and revelations.