Jennifer Fleissner

Jennifer Fleissner


Professor, English

Affiliate Associate Professor, Gender Studies


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

About Jennifer Fleissner

I am a scholar and teacher of, primarily, nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, although I have also written essays on critical method as well as on the novel more broadly and on some British novelists such as Ian McEwan. I have a special interest in the turn into the twentieth century, the period often associated with the rise of American modernity, and, hence, with many of the phenomena, both social and intellectual, that continue to engage us today. Overall, I have a commitment as a critic to taking works of the past seriously as living resources for our own thought in the present, but which challenge us precisely because they are not simply precursors of the ways we think now. This not simply historicist relation to history, in my view, is crucial to the importance of humanistic scholarship.

My first book, Women, Compulsion, Modernity: The Moment of American Naturalism (2004) intervened into largely critical accounts of American modernization (industrialization, urbanization, the rise of consumer culture, etc.) by asking how we could understand these developments' concurrence with the rise of the “New Woman.” This entailed a rereading of a literary genre, naturalism, often associated with a pessimistically determinist account of human agency, as central to a larger and more ambivalent turn-of-the-century project of thinking futurity through the figure of the modern woman.

My second book, Maladies of the Will: The American Novel and the Modernity Problem (2022) has both a literary-critical vector and a more philosophical one. It aims to situate the nineteenth-century American novel more centrally within novel studies, a field within which it has remained surprisingly marginal. It does so by reorienting the novel's engagement with modern subjectivity around the idea of the will, a concept that links American writers from Melville, Hawthorne, and James to Elizabeth Stoddard and Charles Chesnutt to European novelists from Goethe to Balzac to Eliot. More broadly, the book argues for a new genealogy of the concept of will that runs counter to our standard association of it simply with rational agency—one that can account for its importance for Romantic philosophy and vitalism as well as for, more familiarly, liberalism. Thus reframed, I argue, the will can offer a gateway into a lost context—albeit one still relevant to the contemporary novel—in which still-pressing debates about modernity, individualism, and personhood played out across a much more heterogeneous, interdisciplinary or, better, pre-disciplinary ground.

Journal Articles and Other Publications

Maladies of the Will: The American Novel and the Modernity Problem (Chicago 2022)

Women, Compulsion, Modernity: The Moment of American Naturalism (Chicago 2004)

"'As If!' in Thunder," American Literary History 34, no. 1 (Spring 2022)

“Romancing the Real: Ian McEwan, Bruno Latour, and Post-Critical Monism,” in Rita Felski and Elizabeth Anker, eds., Rethinking Critique (Duke 2018)

“Historicism Blues,” American Literary History 25, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 1-19

“Familiar Forms, Unfamiliar Beings,” J19: The Journal of Nineteenth-Century Americanists 1, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 452-59

“The Ordering Power of Disorder: Henry Adams and the Return of the Darwinian Era,” American Literature, 84, no. 1 (March 2012): 31-60

“After the New Americanists: The Progress of Romance and the Romance of Progress in American Literary Studies,” in Caroline Levander and Robert S. Levine, eds., A Companion to American Literary Studies (Blackwell, 2011)

“Wharton, Marriage, and the New Woman,” in Leonard Cassuto, Clare Eby, and Benjamin Reiss, eds., The Cambridge History of the American Novel(Cambridge, 2011)

“Objecting to Novelty: The Objectivity of the Novelistic,” part of “The Future of the Novel,” a forum, Novel: A Forum on Fiction 44.1 (Spring 2011)

“Earth-Eating, Addiction, Nostalgia: Charles Chesnutt’s Diasporic Regionalism,” Studies in Romanticism 49, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 313-36

“Symptomatology and the Novel,” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 42.3 (Fall 2009)

“When the Symptom Becomes a Resource,” American Literary History 20, no. 3 (Summer 2008): 640-55

“Henry James’s Art of Eating,” ELH 75 (2008): 27-62

“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

“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)