Emily Foster

Undergraduate Discipline


BA, Cornell University. MA, Stanford University. MA, MPhil, Columbia University. Special interests include 19th-century literature, Victorian literature and culture, gender studies, reader-reception theory, genre studies, and intersections between the Victorian and the Early Modern periods. SLC, 2022–

Undergraduate Courses 2022-2023


Reading Serially: What Watching TV Tells Us About the Victorian Novel

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

The first season of the TV show Dickinson depicts an exchange between the two lesser-known Dickinson siblings: Emily’s sister, Lavinia, and her brother, Austin. They’re discussing Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. “Can you believe it about Lady Dedlock?” Austin asks Lavinia. “Oh my god, SPOILERS,” Lavinia yells, putting her hands over her ears. The Victorian novel was read much in the same way that we enjoy the bite-sized portions of Dickinson, WandaVision, or Killing Eve that Apple TV, Disney Plus, or Hulu feed to us. Victorian publishers often released novels in partial, successive sections or installments. This course will interrogate the experience of reading the serialized Victorian novel. Together, we’ll read four serialized Victorian novels: Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford. We will read Cranford in its original serial installments, with time gaps interposed between the “release” of each new episode to approximate the Victorian experience. We will read the other three novels in their 21st-century guise as single-volume texts. We’ll study all four novels alongside supplemental scholarly investigations of the experience of reading, re-reading, and delayed narrative gratification and explore how Victorian novelists paved the way for what may well be our most prevalent contemporary mode of storytelling: the televised serial. We’ll also consider the rise of other serialized forms, like the podcast. Because serialization in any century impacts the writer as well as the reader, we will examine how writing individual chapters or episodes on deadline and getting “early” reader feedback mid-story may have affected both Victorian novelists and today’s telescript writers. In so doing, we’ll also explore how we produce and watch TV today; for example, we might examine the possible motivations behind Disney’s recent pivot to releasing more shows one episode at a time, such as The Book of Boba Fett or Hawkeye. We’ll also watch a show that is coming out episode-by-episode during the fall 2022 semester in order to observe our own viewing of serialized content in real time. One class period will include a visit from Eduardo Pavez Goye, a telenovela-writer-turned-academic, who will talk to us about the process of crafting a show that is released daily. The intersection here—between 19th- and 21st-century cultural products—will also facilitate our exploration of different critical vantage points, including close reading, historicism, and reader-response approaches. Conference projects could include, for example, an exploration of another serialized Victorian novel, an investigation of other modern mediums that utilize the serial form (comic books, podcasts), or investigating the origins of the Victorian serial form (sketches, short stories).


Science Fiction and the Victorian Novel

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

We tend to assume that science fiction is a fairly new phenomenon—that the spaceships and sandworms of our favorite, fantastical brand of genre fiction could only be inspired by our most recent technological advances. In this class, we’ll explore the prehistory of science fiction by examining Victorian texts and 21st-century science fiction texts side-by-side. We’ll investigate science fiction’s origins in 19th-century experimental realism and study the ways in which the speculative fiction of the early 21st century stems from the fictions of the Victorian period. This class will be structured by theme; and within each theme, we’ll read a pair of novels: one Victorian, and one contemporary science fiction. We’ll begin with Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (a female precursor to Dracula) alongside China Miéville’s Embassytown in order to explore themes of racism and xenophobia. We’ll compare the terror caused by Le Fanu’s vampires to the uncanniness of Mieville’s aliens, who hear with their wings and speak through two mouths. The course will go on to explore the study of the Victorian Gothic in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and the 21st-century Gothic in Pulitzer Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. We’ll then read Gaskell’s North and South to examine the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s in juxtaposition with our own Technological Revolution: a revolution-gone-haywire, as depicted in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Last, we’ll study alternate history narratives: Before Philip K. Dick asked—“What would have happened if Germany and Japan won the Second World War?”—19th- century authors like Edmund Lawrence and Joseph Méry asked similar questions about the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars. We’ll be reading excerpts from Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, as well as the graphic novel Watchmen, to compare these more modern forms of speculative fiction with 19th-century “what if” narratives. We'll also be reminded that science fiction is a 19th-century invention by discussing the science-fiction milestones—such as  Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and H.G. Wells's The Island of Dr. Moreau—that continue today to exert their cultural and literary influence.