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Indiana University Bloomington

Jennifer Fleissner

Jennifer Fleissner


Associate Professor

Ph.D., Brown University 1998
M.A., Brown University 1993
B.A., Yale University 1989

I work and teach primarily in the fields of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, with an emphasis on the turn of the century, the era of realism, naturalism, and early modernism. Most broadly, I am interested in a set of problems generated by Weber’s and Foucault’s distinct yet related accounts of modernity as the rise of various strategies—some institutional, others personal—for "rationalizing" or "disciplining" human bodily life. These accounts have led to a powerful but also at times problematic critical narrative of increasing unfreedom, as well as a sense that we face a denuded set of options for understanding the habits that make up personhood (e.g., as Eve Sedgwick argues in "Epidemics of the Will," what were once seen as mere behaviors are recast as pathologies).

My work takes these critiques seriously and sometimes extends them, while also asking after their limitations. I’m particularly interested in the "modern woman" as a figure who troubles the standard view of an emergent rationalized culture, and also in individuals’ ways of creatively inhabiting and transforming what can look like forms of self-restriction. In my first book, this meant reading naturalist fiction, usually famed for its "pessimistic determinist" take on modern human lives, through female figures characterized more by modes of "compulsion" in which the ongoing management of one’s own bodily existence is reconceived as an open-ended, passionately strange task. Currently, I’m at work on two projects: one on turn-of-the-century literature and eating (examining such authors as Abraham Cahan, Charles Chesnutt, and others in relation to notions like savoring, craving, and avidity); and another that asks (via attention to writers from Poe and Melville to contemporary novelists) whether the nineteenth century’s characterization of various psychological disorders as "maladies of the will" might help us think through their relation to modernity’s account of human beings as both unprecedently willing and unprecedently determined at the same time.

Click here for further information regarding Professor Fleissner's work in 20th Century Literature and culture. >>

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Recent Courses

L779 Literature, Psychology, and American Modernity
L653 American Literary Studies After Feminist Theory
L653 Realism’s Others, History’s Edges: Rethinking Turn-of-the-Century American Literature
L378 The American Female Bildungsroman
L371 Critical Practices: Reading Minds
L355 American Fiction to 1900: American Gothic
L352 American Literature 1865-1912
L202 Literary Interpretation: Bad Girls

Selected Publications (click images for more information)


The Crucible: An Autobiography of 'Colonel Yay'. Women, Compulsion, Modernity: The Moment of American Naturalism (University of Chicago Press, 2004).


“Wharton, Marriage, and the New Woman,” in Leonard Cassuto, Clare Eby, and Benjamin Reiss, eds., The Cambridge History of the American Novel (forthcoming 2009).

“Women and Modernity,” in Peter Stoneley and Cindy Weinstein, eds., The Blackwell Concise Companion to American Fiction, 1900-1950 (Blackwell, forthcoming 2008).

“Henry James’s Art of Eating,” ELH 75 (2008): 29-64.

“Obsessional Modernity: The ‘Institutionalization of Doubt,’” Critical Inquiry 34, no. 1 (fall 2007): 106-34.

“The Biological Clock: Edith Wharton, Naturalism, and the Temporality of Womanhood,” American Literature 78, no. 3 (September 2006): 519-48.

“Poe’s Imp, Melville’s Formula,” Fictions IV (2005): 13-27.

“The Future of Scholarly Publishing,” Profession 2002 (co-authored with fellow members of the MLA Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Scholarly Publishing): 172-86.

“Is Feminism a Historicism?” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 21, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 45-66.

“Dictation Anxiety: The Stenographer’s Stake in Dracula,” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 22, no. 3 (Fall 2000). Reprinted in Leah Price and Pamela Thurschwell, eds., Literary Secretaries/Secretarial Culture (Ashgate, 2004).

Recent Talks:

“Feminism and Rationalization: Rethinking the Gender of Modernity.” The Lora Romero Memorial Lecture, Stanford University, 2004

“Animals Feed, Individuals Taste: Surviving on Scraps in James’s ‘Cage,’” Cooking Cultures Conference, Institute of English Studies, London, 2004

Session organizer and chair, “Obsession and the Narratives of Modernity,” Modern Language Association, San Diego, 2003

“The Epidemic of Doubting,” Modern Language Association, San Diego, 2003

Respondent and chair, “Narratives of Affect in Fin-de-Siècle America,” Narrative: An International Conference, Berkeley, 2003

“’A Nature of the Tropics’: Regionalism, Psychology, and Race in Turn-of-the-Century Writing,” Southern American Studies Association, Tallahassee, 2003