Susanna Compton Underland

I defended my dissertation, Sacred Spaces, Secular Fictions: Nineteenth-Century American Literature on August 15, 2018 at the University of Maryland, where I currently teach American literature. My project explores key tensions between religion and secularity in nineteenth-century American domestic literature. Domestic spaces, including but not limited to the home, were crucial for representing and negotiating conflicts between religion and such secular issues as sexuality, racial hierarchies, science and medicine, and political citizenship. From Hannah Webster Foster’s courtship gardens in The Coquette (1797) to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s living-room salons in Iola Leroy (1892), my dissertation emphasizes the ways sacred spaces can unexpectedly welcome secular values. While we often read the sentimental aspects of domestic literature as signaling a Christian ethos, I show how sentimentalism can be harnessed as a secularizing force. Even so, Sacred Spaces, Secular Fictions does not argue for an easy reconciliation of religion and secularity. Rather, the authors in this study reveal the dynamic, and sometimes messy, relationship between the two realms.

When I am not reading and teaching, I enjoy practicing yoga, arranging cheese plates, antiquing, and meeting new dogs in my neighborhood.

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