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Elizabeth Harries

Helen and Laura Shedd Professor Emerita of Modern Languages


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In some sense I've been a comparatist all my life. I had a secret language when I was a child. Though it bore some slight resemblance to English, it was different enough to be interesting (to me and my best friend) and baffling to our parents. In school and college I studied French and Latin; after college I lived in Germany for several years, and began thinking about the ways different languages reflect and determine cultural differences. Though I didn't actually start studying comparative literature formally until I was in my late twenties (at Yale), all my reading and thinking had led up to it for years.

I actually think I've learned more about the field, though, since I've been at Smith than I did in graduate school. Teaching courses like Romanticism or Sonnets and Sonnet Cycles or the Senior Seminar or (recently) Fairy Tales and Gender has made me much more aware of all the complexities of the discipline. Talking to colleagues about what to require of our majors and why has also been an exhilarating intellectual exercise.

My first book, The Unfinished Manner, was a study of literary fragments and artificial ruins in Europe in the late 18th-century. My recent book, Twice Upon a Time, grew out of my fairy tale course for comparative literature and attempts to re-define both the history of the fairy tale in Europe and its role in our present culture. Right now I'm beginning work on three different projects: a study of women writers and publishing practices in the 18th-century in Britain; an article about comparative literature and changing conceptions of "Europe;" and a project for the Kahn institute about writers in Germany who write in German but are not truly considered truly "German."

Recently I've written three articles that return to earlier preoccupations: a chapter on "Words, Sex, and Gender in Sterne's Novels" for the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Sterne, ed. Tom Keymer; "Ancient Forms" about A. S. Byatt's use of fairy-tale material in her stories and novels coming out in the collection Fairy Tales and Contemporary Writers, edited by Stephen Benson; and a chapter on "'Unfinished Sentences'": The Romantic Fragment," in Blackwells' European Romanticism, ed. Michael Ferber.