Jessica R. Valdez is an associate professor of English. Her interdisciplinary research offers new ways of thinking about the novel, media, empire, and colonialism in nineteenth-century literature and culture.
She is currently working on a book-length project called, Despots and Democrats: China and America in Nineteenth-Century British Literature, that analyzes the intersecting imaginaries of the United States and China in nineteenth-century British literature. This research investigates the paradoxical linkage of despotism with democracy, majority rule, and the “people” in nineteenth-century British literature. British writers saw the United States alternately as a land of democratic promise and as a country ruled by despotic majority. China, on the other hand, was seen as timeless and unchanging, what John Stuart Mill called the “despotism of Custom.” She contends that British writers navigated debates about democracy by blurring together conceptual opposites: figures of Asian despotism and American democracy. Examples include the metaphor of contagion expressed in British fears of Americanization and Asian immigration, as well as the use of Bret Harte’s poem, “The Heathen Chinee,” in making sense of American characters in British novels. She thus argues that visions of competing empires--Britain, China, and the United States--contributed to British conceptions of liberalism and democracy. She has received the Belcher Visiting Fellowship in Victorian Studies from the University of Oxford and a Hong Kong General Research Fund ($424,868 HKD) to complete this book. She is organizing a virtual roundtable on a related topic for the North American Victorian Studies Association in Spring 2021.
Her first book, Plotting the News in the Victorian Novel (EUP 2020), analyzes competing understandings of national identity in nineteenth-century novels and the newspaper press, concluding with Anglo-Jewish writer Israel Zangwill’s portrayal of the Anglo-Jewish press in his novel, Children of the Ghetto. Victorian novelists thus emerge as early media theorists, thinking through the contrasting systems of reality offered by newspapers and novels. This project was funded by an Early Career Scheme fellowship from the Hong Kong General Research Fund (428,268 HKD).
Her other research intervenes in the growing field of seriality studies by framing novels’ experiments with serial form as a means to problematize national and imperial power. She contributed to a special issue on seriality for Journal of Modern Periodical Studies and recently completed an article rethinking serial form in the work of Anthony Trollope. She is also working on another project that studies the transatlantic influence of the Yiddish literary tradition on British and American realism. This project, tentatively titled A Hybrid Realism, examines the formal influences of the Yiddish literary tradition on late-nineteenth-century English-language Jewish authors like British writer Israel Zangwill and American writer Abraham Cahan.
She recently founded the Nineteenth-Century Research Cluster (https://www.ncrc.hku.hk, Twitter handle @19thHku) to encourage more interdisciplinary communication between scholars in nineteenth-century studies.
She invites MPhil and PhD applications in the areas of nineteenth-century literature and culture, novel studies, narrative, empire and colonialism, transatlantic literature, crime writing, realism and the sensation novel, and nineteenth-century journalism and media studies.