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Nicola Nixon, PhD

Associate Professor, English

Nicola Nixon, PhD
Phone: (514) 848-2424 ext. 2359

I am currently working on a book project, provisionally titled “Money Talks: Finance and Form in Nineteenth-Century American Literature.” This project examines a number of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American writers, from Edgar Allan Poe and Susan Warner to Herman Melville, Henry James and Upton Sinclair, with a view to exposing the peculiar obfuscatory rhetoric and formal strategies U.S. authors deploy when they approach the representation of money and commerce in their texts. Although each author bemoans the problematic position of the literary author in the midst of a country whose seemingly sole preoccupation is with commerce and money-making, each is nevertheless oddly coy when it comes to revealing those particular investments fictionally. The sudden irruption of crude economics in their fiction, for example—and we need only consider the Parisian Prefect’s silent exchanging of his cheque for the Queen’s letter in Poe’s “The Purloined Letter,” Ahab’s calculated nailing of the doubloon to the mast in Melville’s Moby-Dick, Hepzibah’s horrified fondling of her first earned copper in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables—presents an over-charged still point that temporarily halts the narrative flow.  Here financial transactions both reduce the delicate architecture of elevated sensibilities to the brute coin and encourage an investment of that base object with a profound symbolic complexity.  Just as particular objects are mobilized as unstable textual symbols, so too are the once firm relations between heroic producers and degraded consumers unbalanced; just as the brute coin spirals metaphorically toward the cultural abstraction already inherent in money, so too does the seemingly simply procedure of financial exchange end up obfuscating the relation between production and consumption.  Money and the business of its circulation might well, as Georg Simmel observes in The Philosophy of Money, make “comprehensible the most abstract concept” because both testify to a cultural “ability ... to construct symbolic objects.” And yet, as my chosen authors suggest, dollars, transactional business, and consumption in the nineteenth-century U.S. also demonstrate an equally strong susceptibility to being wholly mystified—to being renegotiated textually and politically. What makes that mystification especially curious, as I suggest, is how different it is from contemporary writers across the Atlantic, who, like Honoré Balzac and Charles Dickens, have no trouble whatsoever drawing attention fictionally to the vicissitudes of bourgeois culture.


PhD (1993)—Department of English, University of Toronto
MA (1985)—Department of English, University of British Columbia
BA (1981)—Honours English, University of Western Ontario

Research and teaching interests

American Literature, primarily nineteenth and early-twentieth century fiction and poetry; American Gothic; science fiction; detective fiction

Grants / research projects / honors and awards

Fulbright Fellowship, Harvard University, 2001-2002
Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Research Grant, 2000-04
Quebec Research Foundation (FCAR), Research Grant,1998-2001
FRDP, Start-up Grant, Concordia University, 1996-98
Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Post-Doctoral Fellowship, 1993-95
Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS), Doctoral, 1987-88
University of Toronto Doctoral Scholarship, 1988-91

Selected publications


“‘Prismatic and Profitable’: Commerce and the Corporate Person in James’s ‘The Jolly Corner.’”  American Literature 76 (2004): 807-31.

“Men and Coats; or the Politics of the Dandiacal Body in Melville’s Benito Cereno.” PMLA 114 (May 1999): 359-72.

“The Reading Gaol of Henry James’s In the Cage.”  ELH 66 (spring 1999): 201-23.

“Making Monsters, or Serializing Killers.”  American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative.  Ed. Robert Martin and Eric Savoy.  University of Iowa Press, 1998. 217-36.

“Compromising Politics and Herman Melville’s Pierre.” American Literature 69 (1997): 719-41.

“When Hollywood Sucks, or, Hungry Girls, Lost Boys, and Vampirism in the Age of Reagan.”  Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture.  Ed. Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger.  University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. 115-28.

“Gray Areas: P. D. James’s Unsuiting of Cordelia.” Feminism in Women’s Detective Fiction.  Ed. Glenwood Irons.  University of Toronto Press, 1995.  29-45.

“Wide Sargasso Sea and Jean Rhys’s Interrogation of the ‘nature wholly alien’ in Jane Eyre” Essays in Literature 21 (fall 1994): 267-84.

“Cyberpunk: Paving the Ground for Revolution, or Keeping the Boys Satisfied?”  Science- Fiction Studies 19 (1992): 219-35.

Reprinted in Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 106. New York: Gale, 2001.188-97.

Reprinted in Cybersexualities: A Reader on Feminist Theory, Cyborgs, and Cyberspace.  Ed. Jenny Wolmark.  Edinburgh University Press, 1999. 191-207.


“Skin Deep?”  Rev. of re:skin.  Ed. Mary Flanagan and Austin Booth. Forthcoming in Science-Fiction Studies

“Belated Cyborgs.” Rev. of The Self Wired: Technology and Subjectivity in Contemporary Narrative.  By Lisa Yaszek.  Science-Fiction Studies 33 (2006): 554-57.

Rev. of Psycho Paths: Tracking the Serial Killer Through Contemporary American Film and Fiction.  By Philip L. Simpson.  Gothic Studies 8.2 (2006): 139-40.

“Recapitulating the Vicissitudes of the Quotidian.” Rev. of Femicidal Fears: Narratives of Female Gothic Experience.  By Helene Meyers.  Science-Fiction Studies 30 (2003): 329-31.

“The Exploitation of Credulity.” Rev. of “Deny All Knowledge”: Reading the X-Files. Ed. David Lavery, Angela Hague, and Marla Cartwright. Science-Fiction Studies 24 (1997): 513-14.

“Reviving the Intentional Fallacy.” Rev. of Writing Horror and the Body: The Fiction of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Anne Rice. By Linda Badley. Science-Fiction Studies 24 (1997): 510-12.

Selected conference papers and invited talks

Conference papers

“The Epical Limits of American Expansiveness,” Association of CanadianCollege and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), Vancouver, May 2008

“Listing Naturalism in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle,” Canadian Association of American Studies (CAAS), Montreal, November 2007.

“Heavenly Purchase in Warner’s The Wide, Wide World,”Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), Saskatoon, May 2007.

“The Offal Truth of the Excluded Middle in Sinclair’s The Jungle.” Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), Toronto, May 2006.

“Reproducing Consumption in Turn-of-the-Century American Fiction.” American Literature Association (ALA), Boston, May 2005.

“James and the Vicissitudes of the Actual Historic Page.” Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), Winnipeg, May 2004.

“Gluttons for Estrangement.” Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), Halifax, May 2003.

“Currency Affairs in Poe’s ‘The Purloined Letter.’” American Studies Association (ASA), Houston, November 2002.

“Money Matters in Poe’s ‘The Purloined Letter.’” Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), Toronto, June 2002.

“Prismatic and Profitable: American Commerce in ‘The Jolly Corner.’” Modern Language Association (MLA), Washington, December 2000.

“From Scarlet Letters to Dead Letters in Hawthorne’s ‘Custom-House’ and Melville’s ‘Bartleby.’” Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), Edmonton, May 2000.

“James’s ‘The Jolly Corner’ and America’s Solid Vacancies.” American Studies Association (ASA), Montreal, October 1999.

Invited lectures or colloquia

Invited Speaker, La Poétique des romanciers/ Novelists on the Novel Colloquium,   “L’envers de l’histoire contemporaine and James’s Historic Page,” McGill University, November 2008.

Invited Participant, “American Studies in Canada,” a Round Table, Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), Vancouver, June 2008.

Invited Speaker, ADE-ADFL Summer Seminar for the MLA, Montreal, “Poe and the Parvenues,” Montreal, June 2007.

Invited Speaker, Trent University, “Between Money and Meaning in Poe’s ‘The   Purloined Letter,’” Peterborough, February 2002.

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