Murder, SJWs, and Literacy

image shows handwritten notes from the author's reading. clearest notation is the quote "solitary reading is rebellious."
my handwritten notes this week.

Reading for Exams Week 1

In the summer before I started college, I made myself a reading list of “great” works. I still have that list, a relic of my past filled with Greek tragedies, classic works of American literature (mostly by men), and a smattering of 1960s counterculture novels. I read almost nothing on it that year, but it hung in my dorm room, a gentle reminder of the kind of intellectual work I had hoped to do on my own time.

Now, as a PhD student, I am preparing for comprehensive exams, wherein I draft reading lists and spend the next academic year preparing for written and oral defenses of my proposed course of study. The eighteen year old me would have found this process exhilarating; the nearly thirty year old me finds it overwhelming.

I drafted a tentative reading list this summer, one that attempts to balance the interdisciplinary work I value in literature and rhetoric. It wasn’t easy, and a few health setbacks mean I’m about two months behind where I wanted to be. But part of this process is learning how to cope and sustain a massive research project, and I guess accepting any starting place, whenever it happens to fall, is a good first lesson.

The second lesson: love your advisors so even when they force you to make difficult decisions it’s okay. My first major road block led to my asking both my advisors: Which work should I read first? After all, to my mind, what I read first is both likely to guide my process and also perhaps be the piece I will remember the least! Neither would budge—it was my duty to pick my own starting point. So, I did what made sense and abdicated the responsibility entirely, asking B to pick for me. He did so (graciously), and I began this overwhelming endeavor with Jacqueline Pearson’s Women’s Reading in Britain, 1750-1835. It was, dear reader, a good starting point, for her work tangentially relates to my own interests in women’s literacy yet is removed enough from my time period (the long 19c) to not induce imposter syndrome. I list below a few noteworthy points:

  • Literacy is a fluid state, where reading aloud and reading privately develop literacy practices among women of all classes. (163)
  • Popular books of the circulating library were often “ruined” by women’s insertion of themselves (through dog-eared pages, the lingering smell of sprits and snuff, etc) into the texts, aka a literal insertion of the female body into the text. (165)
  • “Mrs. Taylor’s Practical Hints to the Young Females in the Duties of a Wife, a Mother, and a Mistress to a Family suggests that in ‘every kitchen there should be a library’ of books adopted to the comprehensive of ‘kitchen readers.'” (187)

From there I turned my attention to the Victorian novel Marcella by Mary Augusta Ward, which, to my horror, I’ve been mispronouncing for the last week (MARCH-ella is not correct, FYI). I knew little of Ward’s work before reading, which I found to be a good thing as it allowed me to grapple honestly with the feminist tensions represented in Marcella’s struggle. While she is an independent and headstrong woman of aristocratic birth who turns to nursing as a balm for her broken spirit after the hanging of a laborer friend, it ultimately ends with a questionable message for women, namely that a woman’s loftiest position is in subjugation to others. However, Marcella’s growth into her own intellectual capability, represented through her rejection of the various public figures that influence her in the beginning of the novel, implies Ward’s feminist stance, at least when it comes to the education (and literacy!) of women. I find myself drawn to works where the characters contradict themselves. It adds to the novel’s complexity (and page tally, with the Broadview edition of Marchella clocking in just over 500 pages). It also captures the messy realities of a socially-conscious life, and, if nothing else, is a good reminder that social justice has a long and fraught history beyond the #SJW world we live in now.

Finally, I ended this weekend with Marie Belloc Lowndes’s short novel The Lodger, which purportedly is the first to represent Jack the Ripper in fiction. The main character, Mrs. Bunting, struggles with the knowledge that her lodger (weirdly named Mr. Sleuth) might just be a Ripper knockoff self-named “The Avenger.” Lowndes’s work does do a nice job of illustrating class tensions (Bunting doesn’t want to give up her income from the lodger) but also how knowledge of criminal activity circulates in middle-class London and what that means as a form of entertainment/excitement for those readers. I’ll end with this curiously contradictory quote from Mrs. B, who seems not to recognize her own complicity as an accessory…

No, Mrs. Bunting had always been told it was very wrong to read in bed, and she was not in a mood just now to begin doing anything that she had been told was wrong. . . .

“Composing at the Kitchen Table” published in the Graduate Journal of Food Studies!

Hi all,

Just a quick note that my article, “Composing at the Kitchen Table” was published TODAY in the Graduate Journal of Food Studies (vol 6. #1). Check it out here. Thanks to all the folks at the GAFS conference for their questions and insight when I presented a version of this article, as well as to the editors and reviewers who strengthened the piece. Too often I forget that writing really is a collaborative process, but working with GAFS reminded me of that. Without the thoughts and reactions of readers, this would still be a ill-formed note on my computer.

I also have a review of Gitanjali G. Shahani’s book Food and Literature in this issue. You can read my thoughts on that collection here.

Finally, while I want you to read my work (of course), please enjoy all the wonderful articles and pieces in one of my favourite journals. Cheers!

DIY Feminist Archive: Writing in the Cookbook’s Endpapers #FemRhet2019

I was recently invited to present at the upcoming Feminisms and Rhetorics conference (November 2019), so I figured I would share with you my proposal (unedited, although I received some fantastic feedback for improvement from the anonymous reviewers). I am excited, both for the conference which I’ve been told is outstanding and because this odd little project is one very close to my heart. I’ve lately been exploring an obsession with paratextual material, inspired long ago during a Renaissance drama class (shoutout #700R!). While this particular presentation looks at marginalia as its own form of paratext, it is absolutely an extension of the early work, and just goes to show how often seemingly disparate areas of study weave themselves into contemporary projects.


This presentation examines the marginalia and ephemera of cookbooks, published between 1870-1920, housed in the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University. By attending to the minutiae of these voices, I suggest the marginalia writers are feminist archivists themselves, using the cookbook’s endpapers to write their own herstories. By rejecting the pre-formatted spaces for writing within the cookbooks and in conjunction with the lessons about economy and household management included by the cookbook’s authors, these writers were creating spaces for their own intellectual practice, and in doing so were also working, consciously or not, to protect and archive their intellectual property.


While paging through the 400-plus cookbooks housed in the Browne Popular Culture Library, I heard voices. Every time I opened a new volume, I found a different voice, a different set of handwritten notes and ephemera. I found a different history, one that was often at odds with the published advice of the cookbook’s author. While the printed recipes were rarely different from each other, the marginalia turned each book into a record of a life, and a record of the activities of women who were responsible for taking care of other lives. This presentation will bring those voices to light by close attention to their marginalia and ephemera, in effect seeing the cookbook as feminist archive. Women wrote—and wrote a lot—sometimes filling the endpapers with so much writing that they were squeezing their words along the edges of the page. Instead of filling out the many blank spaces intentionally included in the middle of the books to collect recipes, these women authors make use of the endpapers, often extensively and exhaustively, to write. I theorize that this writing stems from a desire to claim their authorship by rejecting the preformatted places in favor of their own blank page. These writers have hacked their cookbook, turning it into a repository for their own creative endeavors, and in doing so have created their own feminist archives.