Abstracts By Alumni

As the culmination of their tenure in the Master of Arts in English degree program, Brandeis students prepare a significant research paper under the supervision of two faculty readers. We invite you to explore the abstracts posted here, listed alphabetically by student. 

Ana Albinson, MA’13 : The Adapted Cinderella of the 21st Century

If fairytales are used as a warning or an analogy to teach those developing socially how to behave, then it is more than fair to look at the development of fairytales as a way to clue into how social development has changed. In this essay, I take a look at why various versions of the Cinderella tale have faded in popularity throughout history and why other versions have remained consistent in their popularity. Further, I examine the most recent versions of the tale and consider how the adjustments or changes in the retellings reflect back onto modern culture and depict how the roles of women, wealth, class and other social stations have changed throughout the twenty-first century.

Paul Boboc, MA’16 : The Edge of World and Mind: A Study in the Semiotics of Richard II

In Richard II, authentic valuation and meaning-making occur at the boundary of the self, where the mind comes into agonizing contact with an exteriority that forces it to re-evaluate itself and grow into a fuller self-awareness, a deeper capacity for internalization. In the first third of the paper, I analyze the way in which words that seem to mean one thing mean many to explain how the sophistry of ceremony in Act I foreshadows the collapse of Richard's world in the latter acts. In the second and third thirds, I analyze Gaunt and Richard (and, briefly, the queen) during moments of extreme psychological stress – moments when the threat of loss moves them into unprecedented inner worlds and novel methods of self-expression and self-understanding. Change comes to them through an extreme influx of sudden external disasters, acting upon their minds in ways that alter their self-perception, in similar modes. Disempowerment empowers them, finally reconciling them to the unavoidability of death.

Career/Educational Goals: English Teacher/Writer/Translator in Europe

James Cobb, MA’13: A Wordy Existence: The non-phenomenological functioning of intertextuality in the poetics of Samuel Beckett's Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable

Beckett's oeuvre is not the representation of nothing or language's failure, it is the understanding of language as the locus of existence in literature through the denial that language is as able to go beyond itself. In incorporating the philological philosophies of W. V. Quine and the later Ludwig Wittgenstein, the mimesis of Beckett is one of intertextuality. The novels of Beckett, specifically Watt and Three Novels, actively destroy the possibility of language to be anything more than the consideration in a particular instance of text of a background theory created through intertextuality. At each moment the relationship between a particular instance of text and the background theory is created and then destroyed as Beckett removes the possibility of universality or subjectivity from his work. The functioning of his literature requires that it function only qua language.

Anna Cooley, MA’12 : "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman": Role Manipulation in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion

Due to the limited number of female characters in his works and the minimal roles they have in the plots, many critics accuse J.R.R. Tolkien of being a chauvinist. In recent years, however, other critics have started to excuse this dearth, stating that it is either because of his Victorian upbringing or because he was a medievalist and utilized medieval conventions in formulating his plots and characters. In my paper, I address the latter. I analyze how Tolkien utilizes medieval gender conventions and archetypes in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, as well as how he manipulates them to reflect a progressive, rather than chauvinistic, view of gender roles. Specifically, I analyze the conventions of the romance heroine, the garden scene, and the peace-weaver, as reflected in the characters of Arwen, Éowyn, Galadriel, Melian, and Lúthien. I refute the accusations of chauvinism, not because he used medieval conventions in writing his novels, but because through his manipulation of these conventions he promotes active female characters, such as the ones listed above, rather than passive ones.

Zach Halpern, MA’15: "'The shimmer and the smell, the peculiar force of money': Class and Ambivalence in the Fictions of John Cheever

John Cheever's work is typically interpreted as a critique of middle-twentieth century suburban culture—a culture associated with dullness, alienation, and rigid social mores. Early on in his career, during the ’40 and ’50s, Cheever was often lambasted by left-leaning critics for not going far enough in his condemnation of suburbia. Alfred Kazin, for instance, called him a "toothless Thurber," thinking of him as a writer who complacently upheld bourgeois values instead of exposing their hypocrisy. Later critics read Cheever more charitably, recognizing a puzzling and compelling ambivalence in his social position. He seemed to be both celebrating suburban life and critiquing its shortcomings. In this paper, I try to move away from articulating Cheever's attitudes towards suburban culture, for he wrote great stories about New York City, Americans abroad, and prison. And he wrote about characters from a wider range of social classes than only the upper-middle class. Many of his characters, regardless of their class, are preoccupied with money and its adverse influence on their lives. Drawing on Blake Bailey's recent biography of Cheever and criticism by Alan Nadel and Stephen Schryer, I examine Cheever's hallmark ambivalence as having to do with his ideas about socioeconomic class in general—ideas that stem from his coming of age during the Depression and from his professional experiences during an era in which literary labor became increasingly professionalized. In addition to focusing on his most famous stories, such as "The Country Husband" and "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill," I look at classics from the late forties and earlier uncollected works.

Lauren Laperriere, MA’13: Propriety and Prejudice: Mapping the Social Sphere from Longbourne to Pemberley

In this essay, I explore the discrepancies between class and moral worth in Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. I argue that while social class should be indicative of how a person behaves in the public setting, this is simply untrue. What is proven is that the social behavior of characters in the novel reflects their true moral character rather than their social class status. Austen allows the reader to judge her characters based on their moral worth rather than their social standing to show that it is not always social rank that defines how a person acts or what their worth as a person is. I also connect this with the difficulty between choice and familial duty. Throughout the novel, there are some characters who operate under the roles in which they are obligated to while there are others who push against the norms and expectations of their culture and society. I ultimately argue that in this novel, Austen has written a critical commentary about her time by pushing against the idea of familial duty in order to promote the idea of choice for her characters despite what their families or society expects of them.

Maxwell Patchet, MA’13: The Community in the Tube: Situational Comedy and the Isolated Individual

The situational comedy is one of those genres that only really work on broadcast mediums. The style of regular, weekly programming is central to the way that the sitcom works and what it is doing for audiences. It is the pleasure that one gets out of sitcoms that is the subject of this paper, and how this is related to the medium in which it is distributed. The sitcoms that were airing within the last year share striking similarities, which strangely are not noted by other analyses of the genre. It is this lack that this paper is attempting to address. Understanding the medium in which the sitcom is distributed in relation to the similarities in the shows' structures causes one to realize why the shows have such striking similarities. These similarities point to what the sitcom is doing and how it operates. The sitcom promotes community while isolating individuals.

Maxwell Patchet intends to pursue a PhD in English literature and eventually teach English at the collegiate level.

Maria Francesca Raggi, MA’13: Between Despairing and Becoming: The Kierkegaardian Self in Woolf's To the Lighthouse

The scope of this paper is to show how self-despair is articulated in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse in a way which I argue is very similar to Søren Kierkegaard's formulation of self-despair in The Sickness unto Death. Whether Woolf read and knew Kierkegaard is a question that no critic has focused upon yet. Neither has any critic considered her in relation to the Danish philosopher. Although from her private writings there is no mention of his name, my point is that either she was directly influenced by his ideas and put them into her novel or, more interestingly, she did not know him but came to a formulation of the same concepts which much resembles his.

After tracing how Kierkegaard's concept of self-despair gets his way in To the Lighthouse, in the second part of my paper I will focus on the way out Kierkegaard and Woolf propose and here I will show again how their solution takes an almost parallel development. This is still more interesting when we consider the essential basic difference that informs their philosophical conceptions. Kierkegaard's philosophical basis is religious, Woolf's is secular, so that their roads should traditionally be antithetical from the start. Instead, I argue that this is not the case: Woolf accepts Kierkegaard's thought and makes it hers. The language she employs is reminiscent of his as well. Yet, her following pari passu Kierkegaard's philosophy and informing the novel with it, does not mean that a religious basis is given to the novel, which remains profoundly secular, as Woolf's thought was. When she feels that an adjustment is needed not to compromise her own secular thought, she does not adapt her secular view to the religious; vice versa, she is able to translate Kierkegaard's religious thought to her secular perspective.

As regards the question of the particular kind of secularism I think she embraces, there has not been significant scholarship yet either, but a couple of critics have considered her in relation to religion. Pericles Lewis has argued that Woolf is seeking in her novel "to effect a re-enchantment of the world, a new form of spirituality independent of the Christian God and appropriate for the twentieth century"(144). According to him, Woolf was seeking to preserve, against the materialism dominating her age, "an intimate, imaginative sphere, a remnant of religious life and locus of mystical experience, which she called 'the wedge-shaped core of darkness' or 'the privacy of the soul'" (146). While Lewis thinks that Woolf's work rebels against her father's agnosticism, Mark Gaipa sees her novel as coming to terms with it. Gaipa gives an interpretation of the novel which is primarily based on Woolf's relation to the religious views of her parents (who stand behind Mr Ramsay and Mrs Ramsay). According to him, Woolf had always thought of her mother as a spiritualist, and of her father as a materialist: these views for her were irreconcilable. What he argues Woolf is able to achieve in her novel is "to bring them together" (30) in embracing agnosticism. For him "agnosticism connects her father's materialism and her mother's spirituality"(18). These critics' studies show, at least, that there has not been a void around "Woolf and religion," but the question I primarily engage myself with, namely "self-despair" from a Kierkegaardian perspective, has still to be considered. I argue that what emerges from a Kierkegaardian reading of Woolf goes against the critical perspective on the question of the self in Woolf which dominates at present. Critics such as Ann Banfield and James Naremore have argued that Woolf's world is "without a self," while my point is that not only is the self present in Woolf but it is also her primary concern. Reading her novel through Kierkegaard helps to see this going on, but it also shows what is at stake in her particular secularism: if the basis of the novel remains secular in the proper sense of the word, her dealing with such an inner question as the self, and complicating it by adding despair as its inherent characteristic and the task of becoming itself as its central task necessarily compels her to acquire a spiritual dimension, both in the language she employs and in the solutions she advances. Religion is always outside her sphere, so that the secular is not in question. Yet, spirit is there.