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February 24, 2005



Kate Thomas

Our series of brief profiles of new tenure-track faculty members continues this week with the English department's Kate Thomas.Other profiles in the series:

Kate Thomas, who joined Bryn Mawr's English department as an assistant professor last fall, says that she has long been aware of Bryn Mawr, despite being a native of England; she recalls a mention of the College in the film Some Like It Hot as her first exposure to its name. Thomas spent her undergraduate years at the University of Oxford, but gravitated to the United States after graduation. She completed her master's degree at Cornell University and, having returned from Oxford after obtaining her Ph.D., taught at Oberlin and Dartmouth colleges before arriving at Bryn Mawr. "I always knew I wanted a career in America rather than in the U.K.," she says. She cites the "intellectual commitment of the students" at Bryn Mawr as one of her reasons for coming to the College.

Thomas specializes in Victorian literature and in queer theory, a subject she began to investigate seriously while she was at Cornell. Her dissertation, titled Correspondents: Postal Networks and Sexual Relations in Victorian Culture, 1830-1898, examines the invention of the postal system in Britain in 1840 and its profound effect on social relations and culture. The availability of inexpensive, reliable message delivery provoked an explosion of letter writing, Thomas says. Paradoxically, the epistolary novel began to disappear just as this transformation occurred. "Writers became so obsessed with the mechanics of sending letters that they ignored their content," Thomas explains. "There was a burst of narratives that focused on envelopes and stamps."

As she prepares her dissertation for publication, Thomas is digging into a new research project. Her topic this time is Michael Field, the pseudonym for Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper, an eccentric lesbian couple who wrote poetry and plays in collaboration. "They considered themselves a single poetic voice," Thomas says. "The women published several volumes of verse, including Sapphic poetry, very successfully. Then Robert Browning, who was an admirer of theirs, let it slip in a review that Michael Field's work was actually written by women, and it was disastrous for their career."

This spring Thomas is teaching two courses: in addition to one section of Methods of Literary Study, she's pioneering a new course called "Eating Culture: Britain and Food 1789-1929." The class explores the role food and dining play in the literature of England and its empire, with topics ranging from the Irish potato famine to sugar and the slave trade. In addition, the class experiments with Victorian recipes, actually creating and sampling some of the culture they discuss. Thomas is enthusiastic about the course. "It's a new venture," she says. "I've wanted to teach this for a long time."

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