Grace Lavery

Grace Lavery

Assistant Professor
442 Wheeler Hall
W, 2-4

Professional Statement

My first book, Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan, is forthcoming in 2019 from Princeton University Press. Quaint, Exquisite examines the ramifications for British aesthetic theory of the increased visibility of a non-European, but palpably modern, empire, in the wake of the opening of Japan. I argue that the idea of Japan catalyzed, diffused, and finally foreclosed a new investment in art for art’s sake, among both British aesthetes and Japanese ambassadors of culture working in Victorian institutions and genres. I also argue that the distinctive aesthetic and historical formulation of the idea of Japan – as both exquisite and quaint – continues to condition aesthetic discourse as such, long after its inception in the context of late Victorian inter-imperial rivalry.

My current book project, "Getting Better: Realism, Repetition, and the Rhetoric of Technique," explores the relationship between classic literary realism, especially in the work of George Eliot, and another modern genre: texts which offered practical instructions about apparently ineffable phenomena. Where Romantics had treated literary achievement as attained only by inspiration, Victorian realists insisted that it can – and must – be acquired through methodical labor, on the part of both writers and readers. “Getting Better” traces such rhetorics of technique through a range of realist and post-realist texts, revealing hitherto unexplored connections between Eliot’s fiction and various other discourses of asymptotic self-improvement, including: recovery narrative (“Janet’s Repentance” and Alcoholics Anonymous); psychoanalytic technique (Adam Bede and Freud’s Essays on Technique); the technique of brainwashing (Eliot’s ecclesiastical writings and work by and about cults); and sex tips (Romola, Middlemarch, and Marie Stopes). In light of these questions, I also reconsider the controversial question of Eliot’s transgender identification, exploring the techniques associated with gendered literary styles, the gendered question of reference throughout Eliot’s fiction but especially in Middlemarch, and the discourse of transgender identity known, in our present moment, as “realness.” Deriving its method from narrative theory, queer theory, and the late work of Michel Foucault on “technologies of the self,” “Getting Better” offers a new account of the rhetoric of technique in Eliot’s work, and a new history of realism’s sedimentation into post-Bildung and secular narratives of growth.

I have also been collaborating with Joseph Litvak (Tufts) on a project concerning the theory and history of sex comedy. The archives of sexuality and comedy overlap to an enormous extent - in picaresque narrative, in pornographic parody, in bedroom farce, etc. One would hardly notice the fact, however, if one surveyed the past couple of decades' work in sexuality studies, which has been marked by a general insistence on the vitality and necessity of negative affects (such as depression, to take one influential example) in the periphery of sex. The discomfort queer theory seems to have with comedy replicates, I think, a discomfort powerfully felt by psychoanalytic theory: by Freud himself, in 1905, writing Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious and the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality at the same time, but keeping the manuscripts on separate desks. "Sex/Comedy" explores, in collaboration with a number of other scholars, the contamination of sex by laughter (and vice versa), both before and after the sexological and psychoanalytic attempts to legitimate sex as a serious subject for study.

She/her; they/them in a pinch.


Selected Publications and Papers Delivered


Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan, forthcoming in 2019 from Princeton University Press.

"Getting Better: Realism, Repetition, and the Rhetoric of Technique," work in progress. 


––––'On Being Criticized,' special issue on Weak Theory, ed. Paul Saint-Amour, modernism/modernity, forthcoming 2018.

––––“Minimal Criticism,” Futures of Comparative Literature, ed. Ursula K. Heise et al, (New York: Routledge, 2017).

––––“The Old Pornography Shop,” Dickens Studies Annual, solicited.

––––'The Mikado's Queer Realism: Law, Genre, Knowledge,' special issue on Worlding Realisms, ed. Lauren Goodlad, Novel, 49.2, Fall 2016.

––––'Remote Proximities: Aesthetics, Orientalism, and the Intimate Life of Japanese Things,' ELH, 83.4, Winter 2016.

––––'The Victorian Counterarchive: John Ruskin, Mikimoto Ryuzo, and Affirmative Reading,' Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 50, No. 3., 2013.

––––'Deconstruction and Petting: Untamed Animots in Kafka and Derrida,' in Demenageries: Thinking (of) Animals After Derrida, ed. Anne Berger and Marta Segarra (Amsterdam: Rodopi Press, 2011).


––––'Emergency Repairs Are Required On All Our Dams,' the boundary 2 review:

––––'Sex Without Victorians: Kate Bush and Historicism,' V21: Victorian Studies for the 21st Century:

–––– 'Minimal Criticism,' ACLA State of the Discipline Report 2015: 


––––'Ernest Fenollosa: Out of Time, Out of Place,' review of The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition, ed. Haun Saussy, Jonathan Stalling and Lucas Klein in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 34. (2011).

––––'Review of Andrew Goldstone, Fictions of Autonomy," Studies in the Novel, Vol. 46, No. 2, (2014).

Reference Work

––––"Japonisme," Blackwell's Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature (2015).

––––'Sadakichi Hartmann' and 'Yone Noguchi,' Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism (2016).


Selected Presentations

––––“The King’s Two Anuses: Free Speech, Trans Speech, and the University at War,” On the Subject of Ethnonationalism: The Transgressive Style and the Claim to Critique (Berkeley, CA: 2018).

––––“The Grammar of Attachment: Merce Cunningham,” part of Paramodernities, a curated dance production by Netta Yerushalmy, (San Francisco, CA: 2018).

––––'Requiem for Superboy-Prime: Form, Sadism, Escalation,' MLA (New York, NY: 2018).

––––'The Pre-Raphaelite Haiku," (York, UK: 2018). 

––––'Tragedy, Farce, ???, Brexit: The London Olympics,' NAVSA (Banff, AL: 2017).

––––'Some Pronouns for the Author of Middlemarch,' Dickens Universe (Santa Cruz, CA: 2017).

––––'They All Did It,' North American Victorian Studies Association (Firenze, IT: 2017).

––––'The Old Pornography Shop,' Modern Language Association (Philadelphia, PA: 2017).

––––'Meta-Utopia: One Day We Will Have Better Ideas,' Modern Language Association (Philadelphia, PA: 2017).

––––'Countertransference (Impressions of Theophrastus Such)', North American Victorian Studies Association (Phoenix, AZ: 2016).

––––'No Cuts: Hollywood, Orientalism, and the Exquisite Art of the Samurai Sword,' North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (Berkeley, CA: 2016).

––––'Exquisite/Victorian: Gilbert and Sullivan, Noguchi, Tarantino,' Faculty of English, University of Oxford, (Oxford, UK: 2016). 

––––'You're A Very Sexy Baby!,' Department of Music, University of California, Berkeley, (Berkeley, CA: 2016). 

––––'This Exquisite World,' 19th Century Colloquium University of California, Los Angeles, (Los Angeles, CA: 2016).

––––'Ugly Realism,' San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis, Scientific Meeting, (San Francisco, CA, 2016).

––––'Realism and Countertransference,' Modern Language Association, (Austin, TX: 2016).

––––'Madame Butterfly's Martial Art,' Modernist Studies Association (Cambridge, MA: 2015).

––––'The Pre-Raphaelite Haiku,' North American Victorian Studies Association, (Honolulu, HI: 2015).

––––'Japan and the Victorian Tradition,' Osaka University (Osaka, JP: 2015)

––––'The Legitimacy Project: George Orwell's Dirty Postcards,' American Comparative Literature Association, (Seattle, WA: 2015).

––––'The Exquisite Art of Castration: Kill Bill" (New Haven, CT: 2015).

––––'Girls and the Realist Unconscious,' San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis, Contemporary Dialogues in Psychoanalysis, (San Francisco, CA: 2015).  

––––'Whinging and Gushing', American Comparative Literature Association, (New York, NY: 2014).

––––'The Aesthetic Turn,' in a roundtable discussion entitled "Ideas of the Decade," ACL(x), (State College, PA: 2013).

––––'Pretty, Weak, and Light,' in a roundtable discussion entitled “Weak Theory,” Modernist Studies Association, (Brighton, UK: 2013).

––––'Slippery Skimpole: An Antisocial Question About Bleak House,' American Comparative Literature Association, (Toronto, ON: 2013).

––––'Wealth and Life: Biopolitics of the Mikimoto Ruskin Library,' Northeast Victorian Studies Association, (New York, NY: 2012).

––––'Thatcherite Atavism: Agatha Christie and the Falklands War,' ACL(x) panel “The 1980s”, American Comparative Literature Association, (Providence, RI: 2012).

––––'The Haiku as Convalescence,' Intersections of African/Asian-American Studies, (Philadelphia, PA: 2011).

––––'Brevity and Abbreviation: The Case of Sadakichi Hartmann,' Modernist Studies Association, (Buffalo, NY: 2011).

––––'Max Nordau and the Gay Science of Cultural Criticism,' American Comparative Literature Association, (Vancouver, BC: 2011).

Recent English Courses Taught

Spring, 2018
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
250/4 Research Seminar: The Rhetoric of Technique British 19th-Century
Literary Theory
Graduate Courses
Summer, 2018
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
176/1 Literature and Popular Culture: The 1990s: A Decade About Nothing Special Topics
Fall, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
122/1 The Victorian Period British 19th-Century
122/101 -- discussion section Heimlich, Timothy
122/102 -- discussion section Viragh, Atti
165/1 Special Topics: Genres of Free Speech Literary Theory
Special Topics
Spring, 2017
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
80K/1 Children's Literature Special Topics
Spring, 2016
Course & Section Course Name Course Areas
122/1 The Victorian Period British 19th-Century
165/3 Special Topics: Oscar Wilde and the Nineteenth Century British 19th-Century
Special Topics

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