Deborah Lutz

Professor & Morton Endowed Chair


Deborah Lutz’s scholarship focuses on material culture; the history of attitudes toward death and mourning; the history of sexuality, pornography and erotica; gender and gay studies; and the history of the book. Her writing has appeared in numerous journals, collections, and newspapers, including the New York Times; Novel: A Forum on Fiction;Victorian Literature and Culture; The Oxford History of the Novel in English, and Cabinet. She has been interviewed by the New York Times, Salon, Slate, New York Post, The History Channel, National Public Radio, and other radio stations and podcasts. She has been invited to speak at the Smithsonian; the New York Public Library; Oxford University; University of London; the Massachusetts Historical Society; the Graduate Center, CUNY; the Rosenbach Library; the Morgan Museum, and elsewhere. She is the editor of the fourth Norton Critical Edition of Jane Eyre.

Her most recent book, The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects (W.W. Norton, 2015), was shortlisted for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography and was translated into Japanese in 2017. By taking seriously the Brontë sisters’ notion that the self could inhere in souvenirs, mementos, books, and paper, this book investigates artifacts from their everyday lives. Lutz uses biographical facts linked to specific possessions—gleaned from close study of the objects themselves—and their place in the Brontës’ writing to investigate the cultural history they illuminate. What results is an account of women’s work in the home (including the labor of writing) and of close, collaborative relations between women.

Her third book, Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP, 2015), was supported in 2011 by an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship. Mining the seam where literature and material culture meet, this book analyzes the collecting and revering of the artifacts and personal effects of the dead as affirmations that objects held memories and told stories. The love of these keepsakes in the 19th century speaks of an intimacy with the body and death, a way of understanding absence through its materials, almost lost to us today. But more importantly, these practices show a belief in keeping death vitally intertwined with life—not as generalized memento mori but rather as respecting the singularity of unique beings whose loss needed to be always remembered.

Her previous books are The Dangerous Lover: Gothic Villains, Byronism, and the Nineteenth-Century Seduction Narrative (Ohio State UP, 2006) and Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism (Norton, 2011). She received her PhD from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.