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Indiana University Bloomington

Jennifer Fleissner

Jennifer Fleissner


Associate Professor

Ph.D., Brown University 1998
M.A., Brown University 1993
B.A., Yale University 1989

I am a scholar and teacher of, primarily, nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, although I have also written essays on critical method as well as on the novel more broadly and on some British novelists such as Ian McEwan. I have a special interest in the turn into the twentieth century, the period often associated with the rise of American modernity, and, hence, with many of the phenomena, both social and intellectual, that continue to engage us today. Overall, I have a commitment as a critic to taking works of the past seriously as living resources for our own thought in the present, but which challenge us precisely because they are not simply precursors of the ways we think now. This not simply historicist relation to history, in my view, is crucial to the importance of humanistic scholarship.

My first book, Women, Compulsion, Modernity: The Moment of American Naturalism (2004) intervened into largely critical accounts of American modernization (industrialization, urbanization, the rise of consumer culture, etc.) by asking how we could understand these developments' concurrence with the rise of the “New Woman”. This entailed a rereading of a literary genre, naturalism, often associated with a pessimistically determinist account of human agency, as central to a larger and more ambivalent turn-of-the-century project of thinking futurity through the figure of the modern woman.

At present, I am completing a more capacious project, Maladies of the Will: The American Novel and the Symptomatology of Modernity. This book has both a literary-critical aim and a theoretical one. It aims to situate the nineteenth and early twentieth-century American novel more centrally within novel studies, a field within which it has remained surprisingly marginal. It does so by reorienting the novel's engagement with modern subjectivity around the idea of the will, a concept that links American writers from Melville, Hawthorne, and James to Elizabeth Stoddard and Richard Wright to European novelists from Defoe to Balzac to Proust. More broadly, the book argues for a new genealogy of the concept of will that runs counter to our standard association of it simply with rational agency—one that can account for its importance for Romantic philosophy and vitalism as well as for, more familiarly, liberalism. Thus reframed, I argue, the will can offer a gateway into a lost context—albeit one still relevant to the contemporary novel—in which still-pressing debates about mind, body, and intentionality, as well as about modernity and progress, played out across a much more heterogeneous, interdisciplinary or, better, pre-disciplinary ground.

Recent Courses

English L764: Vitalism/Mechanism: Modernism, Science, Theory;
English L764: The Everyday: Literary and Theoretical Configurations;
English L653: American Literary Studies After Feminist Theory;
English L653: Individualism and Its Discontents;
English L780: American Modernity and Antimodernity;
English L470: Minds, Brains, and Contemporary Fiction;
English L352: American Literature 1865-1912;
English L352: Evolutionary Fictions;
English L355: American Fiction to 1900: Fiction and Reform;
English L355: Novel Appetites: Eating and Meaning in Nineteenth-Century America;
English L378: Women and Literature: The Female Bildungsroman, 1795-1955

Selected Publications

Women, Compulsion, Modernity: The Moment of American Naturalism (Chicago)

“Romancing the Real: Ian McEwan, Bruno Latour, and Post-Critical Monism,” in Rita Felski and Elizabeth Anker, eds., Rethinking Critique (forthcoming, Duke UP, 2016)

“Historicism Blues,” American Literary History 25, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 1-19

“Familiar Forms, Unfamiliar Beings,” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 1, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 452-59

“The Ordering Power of Disorder: Henry Adams and the Return of the Darwinian Era,” American Literature, 84, no. 1 (March 2012): 31-60

“After the New Americanists: The Progress of Romance and the Romance of Progress in American Literary Studies,” in Caroline Levander and Robert S. Levine, eds., A Companion to American Literary Studies (Blackwell, 2011)

“Wharton, Marriage, and the New Woman,” in Leonard Cassuto, Clare Eby, and Benjamin Reiss, eds., The Cambridge History of the American Novel (Cambridge, 2011)

“Objecting to Novelty: The Objectivity of the Novelistic,” part of “The Future of the Novel,” a forum, Novel: A Forum on Fiction 44.1 (Spring 2011)

“Earth-Eating, Addiction, Nostalgia: Charles Chesnutt’s Diasporic Regionalism,” Studies in Romanticism 49, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 313-36

“Symptomatology and the Novel,” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 42.3 (Fall 2009)

“When the Symptom Becomes a Resource,” American Literary History 20, no. 3 (Summer 2008): 640-55

“Henry James’s Art of Eating,” ELH 75 (2008): 27-62

“Obsessional Modernity: The ‘Institutionalization of Doubt,’” Critical Inquiry 34, no. 1 (Fall 2007): 106-34

“The Biological Clock: Edith Wharton, Naturalism, and the Temporality of Womanhood,” American Literature 78, no. 3 (September 2006): 519-48

“Is Feminism a Historicism?” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 21, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 45-66

“Dictation Anxiety: The Stenographer’s Stake in Dracula,” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 22, no. 3 (Fall 2000)