Deborah Lutz, the Thruston B. Morton Endowed Chair at the University of Louisville, is the author of five books, including Victorian Paper Art and Craft: Writers and their Materials (Oxford UP, 2023); The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects (Norton, 2015); and Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP, 2015). She recently received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship.
In which new directions would you like to see nineteenth-century studies evolve in the near future?
I’m excited about how critical race theory has begun to open up Victorian studies in fascinating ways, especially in its global perspective. The BLM movement’s important incursion into a sometimes-stuffy academic area is riveting and overdue.
What was the most recent experience that made you a stronger scholar-teacher?
I’ve been teaching a graduate class called “Collectors and Gleaners,” which is about, in part, C19 (and later, up until today) reuse of resources. Agnes Varda’s documentary “The Gleaners and I” has been at the heart of the course, as has Jane Bennett’s book Vibrant Matter. We’ve been considering Bennett’s post-humanist ideas, along with others from the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and elsewhere, to reconsider a number of canonical texts from the C19 and later.
What new thing did you learn about the nineteenth century in the last month?
I’m writing a biography of Emily Brontë, and recently I’ve been doing research on C19 menstruation practices. Sometimes moss was used, in a long cotton bag with an opening at one end, as a menstrual pad. The moss could be replaced every day, and the bag washed. In the early C20, a pad made of moss was marketed, but it seemed to disappear quickly. As we over-use plastic and it fills our oceans and we learn how dangerous “forever chemicals” are in menstrual products (which aren’t regulated at all, despite being medical devices), we can look to the Victorians for some insight.
What nineteenth-century dessert do you find most tempting?
Perhaps strangely, I can’t think of any right now. I love pretty much all dessert, though!
In which country and when during the nineteenth century would you like to live if you could go back in time?
Reading Vernon Lee and others on Italy in the late C19 and the expat LGBT population there of writers and artists makes me want to be there. It was cheap for Brits to live, although I imagine it wasn’t so great for Italians. Still, it sounds wonderful.
Is there anything from the nineteenth century that you wish would come back into fashion?
Well, besides the moss period pads . . . . For my most recent book, I have a chapter on writers’ notebooks, especially George Eliot’s. They are beautiful objects, even the simplest ones. The leather binding, the rag-content pages, the little locks and pockets . . . I wish these sorts of well-made paper products were still to be found at local stationery stores – and that those stores still existed!