Appointed As

Public Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Northwestern University

PhD Field of Study

PhD, English, University of Notre Dame

Dissertation Abstract

“Paths of Resistance: Walking Women in Nineteenth-Century British Literature”

This dissertation recovers a nineteenth-century British literary tradition of women’s walking. The nineteenth century was a crucial transitional period in which the practices and meanings of mobility shifted dramatically. The era also provides some of our most enduring cultural images of walking, such as the flâneur and the Romantic peripatetic poet. Yet these figures, and the intellectual and literary history of walking as a whole, have remained stubbornly masculine, with women’s experience relegated to the margins. “Paths of Resistance” seeks to disrupt this androcentric tradition by revealing the walking woman as a pervasive figure and proto-feminist literary trope of the long nineteenth century (1778-1892).
Tracing varied representations of walking across novels by Frances Burney, Charlotte Smith, Anne and Charlotte Brontë, Charlotte Yonge, and Elizabeth Gaskell and across a robust collection of manuscript diaries, I argue that these diverse authors and texts share an investment in walking’s ability to assert, at least provisionally, a woman’s claim to an autonomous and cohesive sense of self. While this form of self assertion shares significant ground with male peripatetic theory and with nineteenth-century liberal thought, women writers are attuned to the embodied, situated, and uneven experiences of mobility in a way that is notably lacking in most peripatetic and liberal theory. Yet, even as women writers are typically attentive to the politics of mobility insofar as they analyze the resistance their female protagonists face in securing the right to move freely, they tend to perpetuate or naturalize the exclusion of other, less privileged individuals from those same freedoms. In this way, women writers often expose one oft critiqued aspect of liberal thought—that its endorsement of detachment neglected the situatedness and embodiedness of human experience—while perpetuating another—that liberalism disavows its own violence and exclusivity.