Berkeley English Graduate Students

Emma C. Eisenberg

Emma C. Eisenberg

PhD candidate

by appointment

Professional Statement

My dissertation, “The Group: Victorian Novels of Milieu,” defines and defends the mid-sized group as a form that challenges the way much novel studies thinks about social organization. Our usual models tend to operate at scalar extremes of the individual and the state or the one versus the many, reproducing an antithetical relation that may date from the Victorian period but does not fully represent how its cultural forms continue to shape us today. What if group thinking were not a simply a statistical abstraction or an ideological mirage? Then we might be able explain why queer communities, by definition anti-normative, nevertheless produce norms; or why the tourism industry excuses its attachment to colonial architecture by evoking milieu, an antiquated and thus evasive racial formation. Unlike recent affect-based or biopolitical scholarship, my project resolves questions like these by identifying a significant middle scale: the group, or a site-specific assemblage that is improvised, temporary, and productive of surprising identities and new modes of distributed agency and intention. In contrast to other accounts of the novel’s social form, “The Group” historicizes how Victorian fiction quantifies the social, drawing on strategies in emerging disciplines like sociology, art history, and philosophy of language as well as feminist and queer life practices that are more rationalizable than you might think. 

Selected Publications and Papers Delivered


"The Novel of Milieu." North American Victorian Studies Association. The Ohio State University. 17 October 2019.

“Modelling Milieu in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.” Conference paper. International Conference on Narrative. University of Navarra. 1 June 2019.

"Character." Roundtable. Form Across Literature and the Sciences in Victorian Britain. UC Berkeley. 4 May 2018.

"Mere repetition: critical conversation and the stylistic tic." Conference paper. The Idea of Prose Style. University of Sydney. December 2017.

English Department Classes