Sean Grass




Courses I am Teaching

ENGL 201: Introduction to Literature: Literature and Crime
ENGL 260: Introduction to Literary Study
ENGL 345: Women and Literature, Selected Topics: The Brontes
ENGL 440: Seminar in British Literature: The Victorian Sensation Novel
ENGL 546: Issues in the Study of Literature: Victorianisms
ENGL 376B: Studies in British Literature: Victorian


Ph.D. English, Penn State University, 1999
M.A. English, Penn State University, 1996
B.A. English, Bucknell University, 1993

Research Areas

The Victorian novel, Charles Dickens, the Victorian literary market, book history, Victorian autobiography and poetry, Victorian print and visual culture

About My Teaching

My principal aims in my teaching are always twofold: to guide students toward a greater ability to read texts critically, and to help students develop their ability to translate that critical understanding into excellent writing of their own. I believe—and have always believed, despite popular jokes to the contrary—that English majors are uniquely qualified to pursue any number of professional ambitions, since what we do is among the most important of all activities. We study texts, or data if you prefer, and we try to understand what those texts say both explicitly and implicitly. Then we use our excellent communication skills to convey that understanding to others. I’ve also always thought that the massive, sprawling novels of the Victorian period—by Dickens, the Brontë sisters, and others—afford fantastic opportunities to develop those skills, since those novels reflect (and recreate) a British culture that was, during the nineteenth century, developing rapidly into the modern society we still experience today.

How I came to Teach what I Teach

Having grown up the son of a mill worker in western Pennsylvania during the 1970s, when the steel industry was disappearing, I have always been drawn to Dickens’s novels. As my understanding of those novels has matured, and as I have learned more and more about the society and culture within which Dickens wrote, I have grown increasingly interested not just in questions of social class, urban poverty, and economic exploitation but also in coming to a fuller understanding of how economic conditions shaped—and continue to shape—the development of English literature. What we read today, and what books have survived since the early 1800s, depends more upon the economics of readership and publishing than any of us probably care to admit.

Recent Publications

“Xenophobia to Xenophilia: Dickens’s Continental Drift.” Dickens Studies Annual 48 (2017): 1-19.

“Prisons.” Blackwell Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature. 4 vols. Eds. Dino Felluga, Pamela Gilbert, and Linda Hughes. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015. 3: 1343-9.

“Reade, Charles.” Blackwell Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature. 4 vols. Eds. Dino Felluga, Pamela Gilbert, and Linda Hughes. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015. 3: 1408-10.

Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend: A Publishing History. Burlington: Ashgate Press, 2014.

“On the Death of the Duke of Wellington, 14 September 1852.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. An extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. (May 2013). Web. Ms. 21 pp.

“Commodity and Identity in Great Expectations.” Victorian Literature and Culture 40.2 (Fall 2012): 617-641.

Current Research

My current book-in-progress, titled “Life upon the Exchange: Autobiography, Sensation, and the Commodification of Identity in Victorian Narrative,” details the rising popularity of autobiography during the early decades of the Victorian period and the ways in which this new (at least then) practice of “selling the self” created anxieties about the intersection of identity and property at mid-century. I have also recently finished an essay, now under review, on play, trauma, and narration in Great Expectations, and two other essays are in progress: one addressing the scholarly mythology that has treated Charles Reade’s Hard Cash persistently as a “bad”—or at least an unpopular—book, and the other analyzing tropes of motion, paralysis, and modernity in Bleak House.

Outside of the University

Given my childhood near Pittsburgh in the 1970s, I am an avid Steelers fan. My wife and I are also animal lovers with multiple four-footed companions at our home in Ames.