Research Spotlight: Jill Galvan

February 3, 2020

Research Spotlight: Jill Galvan

Black, white and red illustration

Each month, the Communications Team reaches out to members of the Department of English faculty and asks them to elaborate on a current research or creative project they are working on or have recently completed. For this month, we asked Associate Professor Jill Galvan to discuss her book project about fictional realism and its aesthetics in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century portrayals of marriage. 

Photo of Prof. Galvan

In your own words, as the expert that you are, can you provide an overview of your project?

My book, After Romance: Alienated Marriage and Modern Character Realism, examines fictional realism in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century representations of marriage, in particular troubled marriage. I see this plot terrain as an especially great one for understanding realism’s aesthetics, which can otherwise look quite minimal or self-evident. This aesthetics is focused on character interiority—in a literal, formalist sense: characters’ inner psychologies manifest to themselves and others as having boundaries, dimension, and shape (weird as that may sound). This makes social contact and being in the world a matter of sense perception and affect. I think a lot about how realist scenes generate feeling, both between characters and between the text and the reader. My method combines formalism and phenomenology.

Now, could you shorten this description into one sentence that uses accessible language?

I study depictions of people in troubled marriages to figure out what makes realistic fiction artful and complex in structure.

In what ways is your research significant? 

My field of Victorian studies is known as the high point of the realist novel, which is often seen as prioritizing social morality far more than form or artfulness. I find that estimation limited and would like to change this account in order to change impressions of realism overall. At a very basic level, I’m fascinated by this contradiction: some of our most acclaimed art today (in books, films and television) is realist, and yet realism is often historicized as resistant to modern aesthetics. I’m also fascinated that the only feeling response to realism regularly talked about is sympathy, empathy or identification. There’s a lot more to be said about how realism works and how it works on us. I’m also starting to think more about the common disciplinary equation of realism with an outdated “humanism” that privileges some categories of the human (white, male, Western) over others. What happens if we look at realism’s form more closely? What other possibilities for representing the human does it involve? How can those explain its longevity (even, for instance, in today’s posthuman fictions)?

Are you working with any colleagues or collaborators?

No. My last book, an essay collection (Replotting Marriage in Nineteenth-Century British Literature) was co-edited with another scholar, Elsie Michie (Louisana State University), which was a lot of fun, but After Romance is a single-authored monograph. 

Is the project being funded or supported by any individuals or organizations that you would like us to acknowledge?

Not as of now, but I’m hoping to apply for grants for some research trips.

Where do you see this project going in the future?

There are tons of representations of marriage being produced all the time! I’m excited by that, and I can see myself doing side projects—articles beyond the book. 

What's next for you? What would you like to work on once this project is completed?

Too soon to tell, honestly. I’m buried in this one right now. But I’m keeping my eye out for new questions to capture my interest.

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