You Are What You Read: The Politics of Literacy in the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries

By recovering the reception history of Charles Dickens and George Eliot in nineteenth-century working-class and pre-professional reading communities, my current book project traces the social bonds made and broken by literacy. Through extensive archival research, I argue that the works of these novelists had the power to counteract two increasing forces of specialization for their readers: that between crystalizing academic disciplines and that between highly-literate groups and their surrounding communities. The project unites teaching and research in the same conversation to unpack the repercussions of a perceived mutuality between literacy and character for working-class readers and to explore the potential that Victorian novels still have for students navigating the highly specialized terrain of twenty-first-century literature classrooms.