Deborah Lutz

Professor & Morton Endowed Chair

About

Deborah Lutz’s scholarship focuses on Victorian literature; material culture; the history of sexuality; gender and LGBTQ+ studies; and the history of the book. She is the author of five monographs, and she has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Fellowship, an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship at the Huntington Library, and others. Her writing has appeared in numerous journals, collections, and newspapers, including the New York Times. She has been interviewed by the New York Times, the History Channel, National Public Radio, and other venues. She has been invited to speak at the Smithsonian, the New York Public Library, Oxford University, University of London, and elsewhere. She received her PhD from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Her most recent book, Victorian Paper Art and Craft: Writers and Their Materials (forthcoming with Oxford UP), considers how authors used the materials of writing (and of reading and handcraft) for inspiration, experimentation, and creative composition. In doing so, Lutz reshapes the sensory history of working on and with paper. These activities were many and varied: Charlotte Brontë composed poems and diaries in the margins of printed books, George Eliot jotted ideas on her blotter, and E. B. Browning sewed paper to paper to edit her poems. Albums, notebooks, and commonplace books were vital parts of the writing process for Elizabeth Gaskell, Michael Field, and others, and paper crafts and needlework served as text composition outside the bounds of paper, ink, and pen, especially in the case of samplers. The attention of these writers to seemingly insignificant details has been largely overlooked, primarily because of their historical alignment with the feminine and domestic.  

Her book The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects (W.W. Norton, 2015) was shortlisted for the PEN/Weld Award for Biography. By taking seriously the Brontë sisters’ notion that the self could inhere in souvenirs, mementos, and paper, this book investigates artifacts from their everyday lives, using 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. Published the same year, with Cambridge UP, Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture 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 almost lost to us today.