Author Archives: Sophia Natasha Sunseri

Some Thoughts on Countering Enclosure: Reclaiming the Knowledge Commons

In Nancy Kranich’s “Countering Enclosure: Reclaiming the Knowledge Commons”, Kranich states that, “For scholarship to flourish, researchers have always needed free and open access to ideas. In today’s digital age, this means access to knowledge and information online” (85). While the critical claims that Kranich advances are ultimately persuasive, I wonder whether there are any drawbacks to her brand of altruism. Kranich is critical, for example, of “valuable information” being “privatized or restricted from the public, who used to be able to rely on this information” (86). When reading this passage, I was reminded of the fact that some of my professors at the GC openly discourage their students from posting their theses to the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Database, because of the looming fear that such public exposure would render their work ineligible for publication (it would be considered, in effect, previously published). Is such a fear substantiated in the first place? (In applying for a grant recently, I heavily relied on ProQuest’s database in order to locate “gaps” in current scholarship…it was a resource that  I admittedly found immensely useful and was grateful that it was accessible to me). But for the sake of playing devil’s advocate I wonder –  Are there other times/other examples that might justify withholding one’s work from public consumption?

The BookTraces Project

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the BookTraces project and its founder, Andrew Stauffer. Stauffer articulates many of my own beliefs about books as embodied objects that bear social and historical traces. His description of books as “haunt[ed]” (337) seems especially apt: the term discourages us from regarding books as static objects and instead compels us to conceive of them as multi-layered artifacts that are inhabited by the impressions and experiences of previous users and the socio-historical circumstances in which they lived. Present-day readers of these texts are therefore engaged in a lively exchange with the past.

The following passage in Stauffer’s article, “The Nineteenth-Century Archive in the Digital Age” resonates with me in particular:

“The nineteenth-century book called forth many, many kinds of interaction, between texts and their readers, between books and other objects, between human bodies and other human bodies. We tend to think of the history of reading as centered in the consumption of verbal texts; but I want to encourage us to go beyond ‘texts’ as linguistic forms and to think about texts as something closer to textiles, woven creations of material and semantic content: that is, as an historical record that is already incarnated, each body bearing traces of its many social interactions and its long journey into our hands” (336).

Stauffer’s suggestion that we look “beyond ‘texts’ as linguistic forms” is especially appealing. As a panel discussant at McGill University’s Art History/Communication Studies Conference in April of 2013, I broached this notion by considering derelict items I scavenged from a former landfill site in Brooklyn as objects of neglect that capture the wordless experience of people and life unfolding outside of conventional discourses and written histories. I “read” these objects not merely as a tangible means of resuscitating memory but also as texts in their own right that possess the ability to communicate some of their meaning or to generate new kinds of meaning through the very process of material decay (though I am not advocating decay in the instance of the BookTraces project!). Thus, by expanding our definition of “textuality” to include nonverbal objects (such as the book-as-object/book-as-artifact) we can potentially veer our scholarship away from dominant discourses and explore new modes of meaning. The material aspect of books—including “marginalia, inscriptions, photos…and many other pieces of unique historical data”—captures an unmediated look at everyday, lived experience at specific points in history.

Pforzheimer Collection at the NYPL

By: Sophia Natasha Sunseri

Like Chelsea, I visited the Shelley and his Circle Archives (part of the Pforzheimer Collection) at the NYPL. My experience also bore a resemblance to Chelsea’s in that I, too, encountered a somewhat agitated archivist who informed me that she wasn’t frustrated with me, but with the assignment (which, in her opinion, is too vague). Regardless, I proceeded with my research, albeit somewhat tentatively.

I was initially interested in perusing some of Mary Wollstonecraft’s manuscripts (and was specifically hoping to come across a working draft of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman [1792]). Some preliminary research revealed, however, that only two of Wollstonecraft’s working drafts are known to have survived: the first page of her essay “On Poetry” and a book review that she wrote. Thankfully, I was able to ascertain this information beforehand, as the NYPL’s online resources were quite useful. I refered to the library’s archives portal ( as well as to their published version of the Shelley and his Circle materials (Harvard UP, 1961-, 10 vols.), accessible here: Before my visit, I emailed the aforementioned archivist and requested to see correspondence between Mary Wollstonecraft and her sister, Everina Wollstonecraft, as well as the “On Poetry” manuscript.

In Mary Wollstonecraft’s letter to Everina (dated May 11-12, 1787), she discusses an ongoing monetary dispute with her brother, her experiences as a governess, a handful of French authors (especially Rousseau), and running into— and eventually snubbing—”Neptune,” an elegant but snobbish man for whom she once had affection. It is Wollstonecraft’s draft of “On Poetry,” however, that captivates my attention most. Although only one page of the draft survives (it is speculated to have originally been 11 quarto pages long) it affords much insight into Wollstonecraft’s revision process, which I find quite fascinating. Two published works are derived from this draft: an essay in the form of a letter to the editor of The Monthly Magazine, which was released in April of 1797 ( and an essay published after Wollstonecraft’s death in September of 1797 under a new title assigned by Godwin: Posthumous Works of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman (with Godwin noting its origins in the preface). The differences between the two published versions are quite striking. The text from Posthumous Works most closely resembles the manuscript version (suggesting that it was most likely composed before The Monthly Magazine version). In this earlier version, Wollstonecraft employs simple vernacular: compare the phrase “the dream is over” (Posthumous Works) with the phrase “the reverie is over” (The Monthly Magazine). The text in the Monthly Magazine is ostensibly more baroque. Juxtaposing both works with what remains of the original manuscript reveals Wollstonecraft’s penchant to elaborate in her rewriting (it should be noted that Godwin did not heavily edit Wollstonecraft’s writing; he mostly made minor changes to punctuation). By assessing these primary source materials, I was able to draw conclusions that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.

While I did not find what I originally set out to find (a manuscript of one of Wollstonecraft’s better known works, like The Vindication of the Rights of Woman) it was interesting to observe that many of the ideas expressed in Wollstonecraft’s correspondences and in her essay draft were foregrounded in earlier works with which I am familiar (for example: her conflicted relationship to Rousseau; her rejection of highly stylized writing in favour of writing that communicates direct personal experience).

In the end, I was grateful that I came across materials that were previously unknown to me. It is this serendipitous aspect of archival research that I find most appealing—the accidental stumbling upon and the unexpected turns that one’s research may take as a direct result (which is one of the reasons why the archivist’s insistence upon a research project with such rigidly defined parameters irked me). I am looking forward to conducting more research at other archives in the city (and hopefully elsewhere).

Annotated Bibliography: Representations of Violence in the Eighteenth-Century Epistolary Novel

By: Sophia Natasha Sunseri

My research explores the eighteenth-century epistolary novel, focusing on the slippage that occurs between writing and the body and the role that violence plays within this paradigm.

Dickie, Simon. Cruelty and Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental Eighteenth Century. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Simon Dickie discusses a comprehensive—but neglected—body of eighteenth-century comic texts. In examining how these texts represent suffering, Dickie counters prevailing scholarly assumptions about the ways in which eighteenth-century culture literature and culture have been recently characterized: as a transition to modernity and as being inextricably linked to politeness, sentimentalism, and other “middle-class” values. Dickie’s writing on the portrayal of violence in eighteenth-century literature has defined the theoretical approach I take in much of research, which strives to offer an alternative version of cultural history by problematizing notions of enlightenment.

Eagleton, Terry. The Rape of Clarissa. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1982.

Terry Eagleton assesses Richardson’s text through a variety of lenses: Marxist, psychoanalytic, feminist, and post-structuralist. He demonstrates how issues of power, class, and sex—all of which are raised in Richardson’s novels—continue to have critical and political significance. Of particular interest to me and my research are the portions of his book that delve into the symbolic importance of the letter. Eagleton writes that, “The letter is part of the body which is detachable: torn from the very depths of the subject, it can equally be torn from her physical possession … the letter comes to signify nothing quite so much as sexuality itself, that folded secret place which is always open to violent intrusion.” My scholarship aims to build upon Eagleton’s claims by exploring the body as a site upon which values are inscribed and where control can be exerted, displayed, or resisted. I hope to further this stance by tracing shifts that have occurred in feminism since the publication of Eagleton’s work in the early ‘80s.

Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

The Introduction to Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain explores the inexpressibility of physical pain, the political consequences of pain’s inexpressibility, and the nature of material and verbal expressibility. Scarry’s work would be of use to my own scholarship because it articulates an embodied stance (a stance I am considering taking in my research). Considering Scarry’s work within the context of my own raises interesting questions about how representations of pain correspond to representations of subjecthood in the eighteenth-century novel.

Nelson, Maggie. The Art of Cruelty. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty offers a cultural critique of the aesthetics of cruelty and violence in twentieth-century art. Nelson’s various subjects—which range from Sylvia Plath’s poetry to Francis Bacon’s paintings to the Saw franchise to Yoko Ono’s performance art—are contextualized against the backdrop of the century’s many atrocities (“…unthinkable wars, premeditated and spontaneous genocides, rapacious exploitations of resources, environmental catastrophes, and systematic injustices of all kinds…”). I see a distinct correlation between Nelson’s aim to reframe the history of the avant-garde in terms of cruelty and my aim to reframe the eighteenth century in terms of violence.

Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.

Susan Sontag examines a wide array of images depicting suffering—from Goya’s The Disasters of War to photographic documentation of 9/11—and explores the ways in which they impact viewers. She questions whether viewers are incited to commit acts of violence after encountering images of cruelty, whether their perception of reality is eroded by daily barrages of such images, and she articulates what it means to care about the suffering of others who are at a geographic remove. Sontag’s work acts as a visual supplement to my own work, allowing me to situate my research within a historical continuum.

Castle, Terry. The Female Thermometer: 18th-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

“The Culture of Travesty: Sexuality and Masquerade in Eighteenth-Century England,” the sixth chapter of Castle’s book, explores numerous examples of characters manipulating their appearances in public and private arenas. Castle’s work is of interest to me because of its emphasis on the female body. Assessing the female body within the context of the masquerade (where bodies can violate class and gender boundaries through dress) presents compelling ways to think about the body as a vehicle of hierarchal transgression.

Moglen, Helen. The Trauma of Gender: A Feminist Theory of the English Novel. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 2001.

In “Clarissa and the Pornographic Imagination” (Chapter 2) Moglen argues that gender are power dynamics are eroticized in Richardson’s text, which renders the male perspective dominant. The ideas outlined in Moglen’s essay would be useful to consider in any feminist reading of eighteenth-century literature.

Tobin, Beth Fowkes. (Ed). History, Gender & Eighteenth-Century Literature. Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1994.

Susan Staves’ essay, “Fielding and the Comedy of Attempted Rape” discusses violence against women as it is represented in some of Fielding’s comedic works, including his parody Shamela. Staves’ essay is applicable to my own work, as I too am interested in the intersection of violence and comedy (and whether the prevalence of comedic violence compromises our characterization of the eighteenth century as enlightened).

 Malogne-Fer, Gwendolyn. “Le rôle des femmes dans l’évangélisation protestante de Tahiti et des îles adjacentes”. French Historical Studies 34.1 (2011): 57-86. JSTOR.

Malogne-Fer’s article traces the accounts of eighteenth-century explorers, who fabricated the Tahitian myth of the immense sexual freedom enjoyed by Polynesians. It contrasts the explorers’ praise of such freedoms with the staunch disapproval expressed by British Protestant missionaries from the London Missionary Society (1797-1863). In examining missionary literature of the period, the author elucidates the role played by both Western and Polynesian women in the evangelization of Tahiti and its “adjacent islands,” underscoring the anxiety this caused Western male missionaries, who sought to maintain traditional hierarchies of race and gender. Malogne-Fer’s essay is useful to consider in terms of broadening the scope of my project, both in terms of expanding its geographical parameters and in considering representations of suffering incited by colonialist incentives.

Brouard-Arends, Isabelle. “Espaces du féminin dans le roman français du dix-huitième siècle”.   Revue d’Histoire littéraire de la France 107.1 (2007): 247-248. JSTOR.

This article discusses feminine spaces in French literature of the eighteenth century. Appropriating the discussion of feminine spaces for the purpose of my own research on the eighteenth-century British novel could have fruitful implications. I am thinking specifically of the lady’s dressing room. Though initially satirized by writers like Swift, the lady’s dressing room is eventually utilized by writers like Richardson, Burney, and Edgeworth and comes to be regarded as a space associated with the production of feminine virtue. I would be interested in examining instances in eighteenth-century literature where feminine spaces like the dressing room are violated.

State of the Field: Eighteenth-Century British Literature

By: Sophia Natasha Sunseri

3-5 journals:

3 books published in past two years:

  • Cruelty and Laughter: Forgotten Comic Literature and the Unsentimental Eighteenth Century by Simon Dickie (paperback –  2014)
  • Atlantic Worlds in the Long Eighteenth Century: Seduction and Sentiment Edited by Toni Bowers and Tita Chica (2012)
  • How Eighteenth-Century Women Fended-off Sexual Violence by Writing and Talking: A Study of Four British Novels by Delarivier Manley, Jane Barker, Eliza Haywood, and Samuel Richardson by Jan Stahl (2014)

3-5 annual conferences:

3 university press series:

  • Cornell University Press Series (
  • The Lewis Warpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History (
  • Eighteenth-Century Studies (
  • Eighteenth-Century Studies from Bucknell (

3 speaker series:

3 scholarly blogs:

3-5 twitter accounts maintained by scholars in the field:

3-5 twitter accounts maintained by institutions in the field:

3 graduate course descriptions: