Notes for a Captive Audience: Wendy Graham

If you have gone to the washroom in Main Library lately, you will have noticed the Library Research Services’ monthly newsletter. For poetry month, our research intern, Molly James, interviewed Professor of English Wendy Graham about her research on author Henry James.

What is your current research focusing on? How did you decide on it?

When I finished Henry James’s Thwarted Love, I realized I did not want to become a cottage industry in Gay studies approaches to James, in other words, typecast. I’ve spent the last 14 years working on a manuscript about the British Pre-Raphaelites. This work focuses on artist collectives, homoeroticism, and fame. The Pre-Raphaelites relied on their friends, and paradoxically their enemies, to drum up interest in their poetry and painting in the Victorian media. I’ve relied on the library’s databases for access to hundreds of periodical and newspaper reviews, published between 1848-1945, to substantiate my argument that scandal was a vehicle for a serious reputation in Victorian cultural circles.

How did you become interested in Henry James? Why did you write a book on him?

Henry James is the greatest American writer from a stylistic point of view. Whenever I pick up a book to read recreationally, whether Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart or Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, I invariably find references to Henry James’s craftsmanship. This is less surprising in Virginia Woolf or even Bowen, who’s writing in the 1930s, but Aubyn is writing this minute. Speaking both of the protagonist and, I very much fear, the author, that a drug addled upper class British twit, who was sexually abused by his father, finds James’s prose transfixing is good enough for me.

I’m looking forward to teaching Henry James in my six-week course in the fall.

Which resources do you use for your research and how do you access them? Do you use any of the resources that the Vassar Library offers?

I use databases that provide access to primary sources as well as current scholarly articles. The library used to have more hard copies of 19th-century periodicals, both American and British. I find it useful to browse in actual copies of newspapers and magazines, because advertising and marginalia, the layout of the magazine, and other details provide context that is hard to access in a digital format.

Does your research interests intersect with the courses you teach? If yes, how so?

There is a tricky balance between riding a hobby-horse in class, which can make students feel that their expectations or interests have been sidelined, and showing enthusiasm for research interests that intersect with courses. If I spend time on art in my Victorian literature class or English 170, it is partly because the visual evidence is such a compact and succinct way of delivering a message. For example, when I am trying to explain the Freudian concept “displacement,” I show students René Magritte’s 2 paintings titled Rape, which superimpose a torso on a human face.

April is National Poetry Month. What is a poem that you enjoy, and why?

I am teaching Swinburne this coming week, so I’ll pick one of his poems: “Laus Veneris,” which was inspired by a drawing on the Tannhäuser legend, and then inspired a painting by Edward Burne-Jones. I like the theme of the ‘sister arts’.

October Break at the Libraries

Library fallIt’s October break already?! A week off from regularly schedule classes is a great opportunity to focus on doing some research for term papers and other end of semester assignments, and your Research Librarians are available to help!

The library will be open regular hours over break (see the HOURS link on the library home page). The after-hours study space will be open as well. Research librarians will be on call weekdays 8:30-5:00 as well as 6-9 Sunday 10/19. We’re also available via email, phone, chat and text – see the Ask a Librarian page for how to get in touch with us.

If you’re going away for break but need to use the library’s electronic resources, you’ll need to log into the campus network via the Off-Campus Access link on the lower right side of the library’s home page. [Note: the link will only work if you’re actually off campus!]

The only exception is Refworks – if you want to use it from off-campus, you’ll need to put in the Group Code RWVassar, then your username and password.

If you’re looking for some light reading over break, consider checking out one of the library’s circulating kindles which are loaded with almost 100 best-selling and prize winning books.

Have a great October break!

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: Sources and Context

Frame from Alison Bechdel's Fun Home

A frame from Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home,         © Alison Bechdel

Each summer, Vassar College sends members of the incoming class a book, with the purpose of introducing new students to significant ideas or issues, and welcoming them to engage in academic discussion of the work. This year’s “common reading” is Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a provocative and beautiful graphic novel that is likely to elicit a sense of connection with the work itself as well as with its writer. In anticipation of Bechdel’s William Starr Lecture on Tuesday (October 7th), we offer a video blog as well as a list of sources that was created earlier this year by Research Librarian Gretchen Lieb. The blog puts Bechdel’s work in context and suggests a number of possibilities for further reading.

Gretchen Lieb Video Blog

For further reading
(Links may not work for non-Vassar users):

Ann Cvetkovich’s “Drawing the Archive in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home”  in Women’s Studies Quarterly, 36(1/2):111-128

Judith Thurman’s profile of Alison Bechdel in the New Yorker, 23 Apr 2012

Special issue of Critical Inquiry, Spring 2014

Helen Hokison cartoon

Helen E. Hokinson cartoon from the New Yorker, ca. 1930-1939


P.S. If you’re unsure about how to say Alison Bechdel’s name, the author has provided an assist.