Pamela Gilbert is the Albert Brick Professor of English at the University of Florida. Her most recent book, Victorian Skin: Surface, Self, History, focuses on the history of the body, medicine, and realism in the nineteenth century, with special attention to skin and surface. She has written several works related to the history of the body and medicine in the period, including Cholera and Nation: Doctoring the Social Body in Victorian England and is active in the medical humanities community. Pamela sits on the executive committee for NAVSA and is the series editor for SUNY Press’s Studies in the Long 19th Century.
Have you ever had something happen to you professionally that you initially thought was bad, but that turned out to be surprisingly beneficial?
I wanted a job rather badly that I was one of two finalists for, and I did not get it. (The person they chose was a better match, and a lovely scholar, but it took me a while to get over it.) However, had I been offered and taken that job, I would not have applied to my current position the following year, which was an excellent fit, and at which I have flourished.
Who was your favorite professor in graduate school and why?
I don’t think I had just one favorite. But my director, Jim Kincaid, was supportive, and most importantly, let me do my own thing without insisting it replicate his own very different interests. He modelled a kind of intellectual generosity that I hope I can live up to, though I have found it useful to be a bit more hands-on in directing than he was.
What nineteenth-century chore would you absolutely hate doing?
It all seems bad! Especially if you put yourself in the place of a charwoman, working before dawn in the cold, cleaning fireplaces, scrubbing steps– or a laundress, painstakingly washing the endless laundry.
What is your favorite form of exercise that was popular in the nineteenth century?
I like to think I would have been a horseback rider, but that is not something I have done much of in my own circumstances. I do love to walk, and the Victorians were famous walkers, and at the end of the century, I would have been very excited to bicycle.
What is your favorite nineteenth-century quotation?
So many! Here is one, from Eliot’s Mill on the Floss:
Plotting covetousness and deliberate contrivance, in order to compass a selfish end, are nowhere abundant but in the world of the dramatist: they demand too intense a mental action for many of our fellow-parishioners to be guilty of them. It is easy enough to spoil the lives of our neighbours without taking so much trouble; we can do it by lazy acquiescence and lazy omission, by trivial falsities for which we hardly know a reason, by small frauds neutralised by small extravagances, by maladroit flatteries, and clumsily improvised insinuations. We live from hand to mouth, most of us, with a small family of immediate desires; we do little else than snatch a morsel to satisfy the hungry brood, rarely thinking of seed-corn or the next year’s crop.
Or on a more hopeful note, from Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty”:
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: