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Professor Profile: English Professor Immersed In Studies Of Literary London

Published: Sunday, November 17, 2013

Updated: Monday, November 18, 2013 01:11

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Erin Fitzpatrick / For The Heights


With one step into Maia McAleavey’s Stokes Hall office, a common theme emerges among the abundance of books, posters, and multifarious decor: British literature and culture, and, more specifically, the Victorian era. As a professor within the English Department who teaches various graduate seminars on novel theory and undergraduate courses such as Studies in Narrative, Victorian Marriage/Victorian Sex, and in the near future, Global Victorians, the room’s underlying 19th-century aura proves appropriate given her specialization in narrative analysis, generic distinctions and conventions, gender theory, and the Victorian novel.

Throughout her childhood and adolescence, McAleavey was always surrounded by literature. Born in Washington D.C. to an English professor and a librarian before growing up primarily in Arlington, Va., it is not surprising that literature and a considerable amount of reading encompassed her life from very early on. “I spent all of my free time reading,” McAleavey said. “Even at summer camp, I would bring books with me to read during every open period.” Further, as she matured, McAleavey noted that she found great enjoyment in rereading, jokingly declaring this repetition to be “a sign of insanity, or perhaps, the sign of someone who wants to study literature.”

Her mother’s household organization of literature according to genre and her father’s continual creation of contemporary poetry ultimately proved quite influential in nurturing McAleavey’s own passions. Since her father taught at George Washington University and also composed poetry, many of his class preparations and drafts—upon which she would draw as a child—could be found throughout their home. This early exposure to contemporary poetry fostered McAleavey’s desire to study the subject matter in greater depth at college.

Following public high school in Arlington, McAleavey attended Stanford University, where she later met her husband, and graduated in 2003 with a bachelor’s in English. With the intention of pursuing contemporary poetry, she wrote her senior thesis on the works of Jorie Graham and Anne Carson—two celebrated women who still compose poetry today.

Before she knew she wanted to teach, McAleavey worked in Washington D.C. with the National Endowment for Humanities and considered making a career out of improving public access to the humanities. Additionally, she spent one summer at a law firm and contemplated attending law school.

When in graduate school at Harvard University, however, McAleavey took a course on the Victorian novel, and she reevaluated the focus of her studies—she decided to concentrate instead on 19th-century British literature and culture. “I realized I was in a really lucky position in that there did not have to be a line between what I enjoy reading and teaching,” she said. She then closely analyzed many of her favorite pieces of literature for her subject specialization—among them, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, and David Copperfield. In May of 2010, she graduated from Harvard with her master’s and doctorate degrees.

Straight after graduation, McAleavey came to Boston College in September of 2010 as an assistant professor in the English Department, where she is now in her fourth year. “I really find students here terrific, well-prepared, and easy to engage in challenging topics, and BC is an overall incredibly friendly place to work,” she said. Additionally, she loves living in Boston and considers it to be in close proximity to many friends who teach at other schools in the area.

McAleavey is currently finishing a book on the surprising presence of bigamy within 19th-century British literature and culture, and, most predominantly, its prevalence in the Victorian novel. She not only discusses this great existence of bigamy within the time period’s literature but also notes the sensationalized nature of many such plots—proto-detective fiction recurrently illustrates within the novels attempted cover-ups, murder, arson, and bribery surrounding preexisting marriages. McAleavey then argues about the connection between these plots and the themes of courtship and marriage that many Victorian novelists choose to highlight, and she discusses various cultural implications and philosophical concepts such as the newfound freedom of choice regarding marriage. “It’s really fun to work on,” she said. On top of this nearly completed book, McAleavey is beginning a new project on literary realism.

In addition to studying British culture through literature, McAleavey has travelled to and researched in London on several occasions during graduate school and for faculty research. There, she spent the majority of her time studying at the British Library, a copyright library that houses rare, single copies of dated works that cannot be found on online databases. “I do really love being in the UK,” McAleavey said. And, not only does she know a great deal about British culture, but during her junior year at Stanford, McAleavey studied abroad in Paris.

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