Kent State English Professor Reflects on Authoring New Book
For scholarly authors, the journey of publishing a book is more than just the actual writing.
For Jennifer MacLure, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Kent State University’s English Department since 2017, writing a book is more like an ongoing conversation.
Of course, the process involves a lot of reading and analysis of others’ work, comparing theories and examining Victorian history to gain context. It’s also deciding your fundamental argument and which supporting content to include. It’s waiting for the helpful, yet stressful peer reviews. It’s revisions upon revisions. It can take years, even over a decade! And then, it’s working with the publishers. Even deciding on the look and feel of a book cover takes time.
MacLure has been writing about Victorian (1837-1901) authors since she started writing her doctoral dissertation. Her focus has been on British literature and culture from the 19th century, along with history of science and medicine, and the medical humanities. She received her BA from College of Williams & Mary, and then received her MA and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. She currently teaches several English classes at multiple levels, including British Literature.
New Book Examines the Work of Victorian Authors
Her book, The Feeling of Letting Die: Necroeconomics and Victorian Fiction, was released in hardcover and digital on Nov. 2. In this book, MacLure examines the works of authors George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Harriet Martineau, Charles Dickens and William Morris through the lens of Achille Mbembe’s theorization of necropolitics, a theory that discussed how social and political power dictated the value of people’s lives. This book is meant to examine how Victorian authors discussed and critiqued various systems of thought that discriminated against certain groups of people during the time they were writing.
The book originally started as MacLure’s dissertation when she was a Ph.D. student in 2014. While there are elements of that dissertation in the final product, a final draft of this book wasn’t completed until 2021. She found that the anonymous peer reviewers’ advice was very insightful when it came to revision.
“Scholarly publishing tends to be very specific and there aren't that many people who are experts on it,” MacLure said. “It's stressful to get those reports because it's always scary to get criticism. But it ends up being very helpful because you're able to revise based on input from an expert in the field.”
MacLure then received the cover this past spring and Cambridge University Press let her have a say in how the cover looked. The first cover draft looked almost like a romance, so she suggested a more muted palette. It was important to her for the book to stand out among other scholarly books on shelves.
The book is split into four chapters and starts chronologically with Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), who is a lesser-known Victorian author. Her writing includes “Tales of Political Economy”, which was published in 1832 and are stories meant to explain economic concepts. There are 28 tales in total, but only four have ever been scholarly edited and published.
“Martineau was like, okay, this is how the free market works,” MacLure said. “They’re somewhere between a short story and novel length. She writes these tales that are designed to illustrate economic concepts.”
The next two chapters in her work are more figurative and focus on Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) and Charles Dickens (1812-1870), who is probably the most well-known Victorian author in the book. Gaskell novels focus on the problems of industrialization, poverty and unemployment in cities.
The last chapter is a combination of two authors, George Eliot (1819-1880) and William Morris (1834-1896). Eliot was a popular Victorian author as her book “Middlemarch” is still widely discussed today. Morris was much more forward with his desire for social and political change, which raises questions as to why he was paired with Eliot, who is more subtle. According to MacLure, she did this to draw the economic critiques out of Eliot’s works.
“They don't seem like an obvious pairing because they're not very similar writers,” MacLure said. “But what I'm trying to do is draw out the economic content of Eliot’s novels. That maybe doesn't seem as on the surface, whereas Morris's work is much more deliberately about economics. I was familiar with them before writing, but I would say Martineau and Morris are the two that are not as familiar. Dickens and Eliot are the authors who everybody studies in Victorian literature and Victorian undergrad courses.”
The Process of Editing and the Excitement of Publishing
MacLure found that the older chapters were harder to edit than the newer ones.
“Trying to revise my ideas and rethink something, not just on editing and detail level, but fundamentally the argument, trying to rethink that was probably the hardest part,” MacLure said. “It's like I'm going to revise the argument of that woman (myself) who wrote that seven years ago.”
MacLure consulted several essays from multiple other authors on the political and economic theories studied in the book, but she mainly focuses on Achille Mbembe, a political theorist, Cameroonian historian and research professor at the University of the Witwatersrand. His theory in necroeconomics is a postcolonial theory, which means it is a literary/critical theory that examines the works of countries that were once colonies.
She is continually adapting her work and learning new things in her field and is thrilled about her book finally reaching her audience.
“Writing a book is a very individual feeling process, like it can feel a little isolating. It's exciting to remember that there are people out there who will actually read it.” MacLure said.
The Feeling of Letting Die: Necroeconomics and Victorian Fiction can be purchased through several retailers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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Jim Maxwell, 330-672-8028, firstname.lastname@example.org