California State University, Stanislaus English Professor Jesse Wolfe recently received a prestigious competitive grant to finish his studies on the depiction of relationships in contemporary literature.
Only eight researchers were chosen to receive the 2013 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Award. Wolfe is the first CSU Stanislaus professor to earn a NEH faculty research grant.
The award will fund a nine-month sabbatical, during which he intends to complete his second book, “The Muddle and the Dream: Intimacy, Utopia, and the Legacies of Bloomsbury in Postmodern Fiction.”
Wolfe is no stranger to sabbaticals, having taken one in the 2012-2013 academic year. He used this sabbatical to begin work on his upcoming book focusing on love in modern literature and the spotlights it gives to more dynamic and non-traditional relationships.
“Several of the novels I'm studying […] show how we're now freer than we were in the past to pursue love relations of our choosing – and they're happy about this freedom,” said Wolfe. “But it is also a noteworthy feature of these novels that they show love still to be a struggle, a ‘mess,’ to quote a word that more than one of my authors likes.”
Wolfe’s first book, “Bloomsbury, Modernism, and the Reinvention of Intimacy,” was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011. In it, he studied select early 20th century novels, seeing the taboo associated with non-traditional couples – like interracial or same-sex – was beginning to deteriorate.
“My first book was about British literature and culture between 1900 and 1930, specifically how ideas of maleness, femaleness, and intimacy were being re-imagined as the 20th century got under way,” explained Wolfe. “My current book is about British and American literature since roughly 1990. One of its major themes concerns historical metanarratives. These are big stories we tell about history that enable us to say, for example, ‘things get better over time.’”
Wolfe recommended a number of novels, from those with arguably homoerotic relationships like “The Buddha of Suburbia” by Hanif Kureishi or “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie, to those depicting lesbian or ambiguous sexual desires, like “The Hours” by Michael Cunningham or “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf.
He also mentioned the book “On Beauty” by Zadie Smith, which depicts an interracial marriage and focuses on the freedom to choose a partner of a different race as well as the freedom to divorce.
“I'm interested in whether today's writers believe in metanarratives, such as what we can call this liberal-progressive one about improvement,” said Wolfe. “The short answer is ‘No, they don't believe in it, but they would like to,’ and this ambivalence makes their work more interesting.”
Wolfe also writes his own poetry on love and its myriad permutations, including non-traditional ones.