Curious Subjects

April 25, 2013 (Thursday) / 6:00 pm

Rosenbach Museum & Library, 2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia

Curious Subjects

A Conversation with Hilary Schor

Hilary M. Schor

Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Law
University of Southern California    

Why is the novel so interested in women? While nineteenth-century literary scholars have long been interested in women's agency in the context of their legal status as objects, Curious Subjects: Women and the Trials of Realism makes the striking and original argument that what we find at the intersection between women subjects (who choose and enter into contracts) and women objects (owned and defined by fathers, husbands, and the law) is curiosity. Women protagonists in the novel are always curious in two senses of the word, both strange objects worthy of our interest and actors who are themselves actively curious--relentless askers of questions, even (and perhaps especially) when they are commanded to be content and passive.

What kinds of curiosity are possible and desirable, and what different kinds of knowledge do they yield? What sort of subject asks questions, seeks, chooses? Can a curious woman turn her curiosity on herself? Curious Subjects takes seriously the persuasive force of the novel as a form that intervenes in our sense of what women want to know and how they can and should choose to act on that knowledge, and it lays out for its readers a wide and various range of answers to these questions in the British novel, which far from simply punishing women for their curiosity, theorized it, shaped it, and reworked it to give us characters as different as Alice in Wonderland and Dorothea Brooke, Clarissa Harlowe and Louisa Gradgrind. This is a book written for people who love fiction, people who care about how the modern world came into existence, and people who take law seriously as a way both of understanding and re-shaping the society around us.

Hilary M. Schor is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Law at the University of Southern California, where she co-directs the USC Center for Law, History and Culture. She is the author of Dickens and the Daughter of the House (Cambridge University Press, 1999) and Scheherezade in the Marketplace: Elizabeth Gaskell and the Victorian Novel (OUP, 1992). She has published articles on contemporary fiction, film, ghosts and bastards and failed pyromaniacs, but she has yet to write anything about dinosaurs. She is at work on a study of Jews, women and other Victorian legal fictions and is currently a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University.