* Reductive Reading: A Syntax of Moralizing in Victorian Fiction (Johns Hopkins UP, 2018), focuses on the intersection of critical traditions too often separated—ethics and literary style--and contributes to the urgent contemporary conversations about the value of reading literature. It demonstrates that the moral force of the period’s fiction lies not only in the examples of conduct offered by its characters or the wise words delivered by its narrators, but in the structures of judgment encoded in its syntax. It opens with a chapter on the moral judgment characteristic of the mid-nineteenth-century review. Such censorious reviews, which paid careful attention to form in order to analyze a text's moral effects, remind us that textual detail in the period was understood to be saturated with moral as well as aesthetic significance. Three case studies follow: In the George Eliot's essays and novels, clauses that modify major nouns create space for critical reflection; in the sketches and novels of Charles Dickens, speech-tags that describe a character’s manner of speaking invest even the shortest speech with dramatic irony; in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s novel-epic, present-tense digressions disrupt the developmental narrative of the plot to exercise provisional judgment in the middle of unfolding events.
* “Literature.” Victorian Literature and Culture, Keywords, 46, no. 3/4 (2018): 745–49.
* “Narrative Form and Facts, Facts, Facts: Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë,” Genre 50.1 (2017). This essay appeared in a special issue on “Narrative Against Data” edited by Adam Grener and Jesse Rosenthal . It reads Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) against Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1848) to demonstrate the challenge of interpreting historical detail in shaping the narrative of a life.
* "Other People's Data: Humanities Edition," Journal of Cultural Analytics (Dec 2016). This essay argues that that we need to make better use of the excess data produced by projects that use numbers to make sense of literature.
* “George Eliot’s Discerning Syntax,” in ELH 81.4 (2014). This article traces a pattern of relative clauses in Eliot to argue that the complex moral problems in Middlemarch are most clearly seen not in its plot, but at the level of the sentence, and not in the “wisdom” of narratorial commentary as such, but in its recurrent patterns of structure. It is drawn from a chapter of my book manuscript, Reductive Reading.
* “Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter” (Spring 2014) and “Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen” (Winter 2013). Online book reviews, New Orleans Review. Inspired by my work on Victorian critical reading strategies, these reviews of classic short story collections are experiments in the form of the nineteenth-century review: they consist of long excerpts connected by impressionistic ligaments.
* "Better Questions, Better Answers: Frontloading Concepts in Full-Text Search," on Teaching Tools: Digital Humanities and the Novel, affiliate website of Studies in the Novel (August 2015).
* "Flying without Children," in Airplane Reading (Zero Books, 2016)
With the Stanford Litlab •
Canon/Archive, n+1 books (2017). Includes three co-authored chapters:
* Pamphlet 1 (2011): Quantitative Formalism (download here or see it in n+1)
In the first "pamphlet" of the Stanford Litlab, "Quantitative Formalism" mapped nineteenth-century genres in relation to one another using multivariate analysis to re-express literary genre as set of shared stylistic features. Here, the gothic is characterized not by castles and Catholics but by a high incidence of transitive verbs relative to the "shoulds" and "musts" that characterize Jacobin, anti-Jacobin, and Evangelical fiction of the same period.
* Pamphlet 5 (2013): Style at the Scale of the Sentence (download here or see it in n+1)
This pamphlet makes the sentence the central unit for the study of style. It faces squarely a key problem in large-scale textual analysis: that the results of searching for patterns too subtle and complex to be apprehended by human readers are often impenetrable. As we redesigned our study again and again to focus on different measurable aspects of sentence style, we discovered that “our ‘definition’ of style also entailed…a method for looking for it," and that this project was thus "the beginning of a possible ‘operationalizing’ of the concept” of style (see Moretti’s subsequent discussion of operationalizing here). From my work on narrative/dialogue sentences for this study and with the support of a Loyola Undergraduate Scholarship grant, I developed a wider framework for my discussion of the ethics of dialogue in Charles Dickens.
* Pamphlet 11 (2016): Canon/Archive. Large-scale Dynamics in the Literary Field (download here). This exploratory project takes a doubled critical approach to the canon/archive dichotomy (through sociology, then form).
Works in Progress:
Novel vs. Biography: Life Writing in the Long Nineteenth Century takes cutting-edge digital research as a point of departure for careful reading in order to understand how life-narratives create a sense of truth out of an author’s “literary remains” using techniques borrowed from the novel.
Novel vs. Biography is set at the intersection of biography and the novel, in biographies written by novelists. It looks closely at four notorious books that illuminate, like sheet lightning, crucial moments in debates about gender, privacy, and authorship in the long nineteenth-century, opening with the radical William Godwin’s revealing biography of his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, Memoirs of the Author of “The Rights of Woman”; Godwin himself was also the author of Political Justice (1793) and the polemical novel Caleb Williams (1794). What follows features an ensemble cast of important and controversial figures: Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Brontë, Lady Byron and Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle appear as subjects of the biographies; the authors of the biographies are Godwin, Elizabeth Gaskell, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and J. Anthony Froude. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote novels about working-class rage and fallen women (1848, 1853) but also a life of Charlotte Brontë (1857); Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) but also a vindication of the poet Byron’s maligned wife, which is also an oblique biography of Byron himself (1870), and which inspired Henry James’s “The Aspern Papers”; J. Anthony Froude wrote a notorious novel about atheism (1849) but also a four-volume life of the Victorian sage and biographer Thomas Carlyle, and brought out editions of the private letters of both Carlyles (1882, 1884). The book concludes by theorizing a notion of fiction based, not on truth claims, but on sentence shape.