Jessica R. Valdez
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Personal profile


Jessica R. Valdez is a lecturer in literature at the University of East Anglia and previously worked at the University of Hong Kong.

Her scholarship interrogates the role of form and media in envisioning hybrid identities in British writing of the nineteenth century. She is currently working on a book-length project called, Despots and Democrats: China and America in Nineteenth-Century British Literature, that analyses the intersecting imaginaries of the United States and China in nineteenth-century British literature. This research investigates the paradoxical linkage of despotism with democracy, majority rule, and the “people” in nineteenth-century British literature. British writers saw the United States alternately as a land of democratic promise and as a country ruled by despotic majority. China, on the other hand, was seen as timeless and unchanging, what John Stuart Mill called the “despotism of Custom.” She contends that British writers navigated debates about democracy by blurring together conceptual opposites: figures of Asian despotism and American democracy. She thus argues that visions of competing empires–Britain, China, and the United States–contributed to British conceptions of democracy and liberalism.

As part of this project, she is researching a chapter called, ‘Imps, Miscreants, and Rebels: The Sensation Novel and British Neutrality in the American Civil War and the Taiping Rebellion.’  This chapter argues that sensational modalities associated with the 1860s sensation novel interlinked the American Civil War and the Taiping Rebellion in British parliamentary and journalistic writing. In the British public sphere of the 1860s, affective techniques were central to making sense of Britain’s place within these foreign wars – more specifically, in negotiating the contours of so-called British neutrality. Writers drew upon sensation to represent distant conflicts in terms of the body and the nerves, evoking the potential effects of foreign civil wars on Britain through associating disrupted trade and commerce with bodily suffering and sensation. 

Her first book, Plotting the News in the Victorian Novel (EUP 2020), analyses competing understandings of national identity in nineteenth-century novels and the newspaper press, concluding with Anglo-Jewish writer Israel Zangwill’s portrayal of the Anglo-Jewish press in his novel, Children of the Ghetto. Victorian novelists thus emerge as early media theorists, thinking through the contrasting systems of reality offered by newspapers and novels.

Twitter: @JRae183

Research Group or Lab Membership

eighteenth- and nineteenth-century research group 

Key Research Interests

nineteenth-century literature and culture, British literature, empire, imperialism, migration, race, novel, periodical press, Victorian, media studies