While I maintain a range of research interests, I am, above all, a historian of the novel. My book Falling Short: The Bildungsroman and the Crisis of Self-Fashioning was published by University of Virginia Press in 2020. The book radically reconceptualizes the Bildungsroman as a genre obsessed with failed socialization and offers new readings of such crucial texts as Dickens’s David Copperfield and Great Expectations, Balzac’s Lost Illusions and A Harlot High and Low, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Villette, Henry James’s The Princess Casamassima, Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
My other recent work includes essays and chapters on Dickens, Stendhal, Balzac, George Eliot, Joyce, Danilo Kiš, Christa Wolf, and Caryl Phillips, as well as the essay collection The Limits of Cosmopolitanism: Globalization and Its Discontents in Contemporary Literature (Routledge, 2019) which I edited with Philip Tsang. I have recently received a major grant from the Research Grants Council (RGC) in Hong Kong to pursue work on my new book on aestheticism and testimony.
This page lists some of my most recent work. A larger selection of my writing is available on my Academia page.
Falling Short: The Bildungsroman and the Crisis of Self-Fashioning (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, April 2020).
Falling Short outlines a revisionist history of the modern Bildungsroman. While the Bildungsroman is routinely described as a bourgeois literary form whose crisis roughly corresponds to the rise of literary modernism, Falling Short argues for a vision of the Bildungsroman as an inherently dysfunctional genre. Focusing primarily on the novels of Charles Dickens, Honoré de Balzac, Charlotte Brontë, Henry James, Samuel Butler, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust, I reveal not only a crisis of character development, but also a crisis of plotting and narrative structure. This crisis, my study further argues through a detailed inquiry into the Bildungsroman’s social and intellectual contexts, reveals European modernity’s perpetual failure to envision successful socialization.
Full text is available through Project MUSE.
The book is also available through Amazon.
More information is available from University of Virginia Press.
Stević gives us a bracingly new understanding of novels we thought we already knew well.
— Peter Brooks, Yale University
Falling Short is an utterly compelling study that deftly interweaves literary and historical sources to create exciting new readings of canonical texts.
— Tobias Boes, University of Notre Dame
The Limits of Cosmopolitanism: Globalization and Its Discontents in Contemporary Literature, edited by Aleksandar Stević and Philip Tsang (New York: Routledge, 2019).
Drawing on Ulrich Beck’s assertion that the human condition has become inescapably cosmopolitan, this collection examines the ways in which the literary production of the twentieth and twenty first centuries interrogates the diverse and often contradictory forms of in-betweenness offered by our present cosmopolitan reality. Essays by a diverse group of American and European scholars address both Anglophone and non-Anglophone contexts, including British, American, Caribbean, Arabic, and Francophone African novels, as well as Pakistani and Eastern European diasporic writings.
More information, including a preview, is available from Routledge.
“The Genre of Disobedience: Is the Bildungsroman Beyond Discipline?” Seminar 56.2 (2020).
In this article I revisit the complex historical and methodological issues that surround the study of the Bildungsroman both within German literature and in a broader comparative context. I argue that the unusually narrow and well-defined circumstances of the Bildungsroman’s rise in eighteenth-century Germany contributed to the persistence of a normative and often-essentialist understanding of this genre. I further identify the limitations of this understanding, which at once generates a fair amount of critical frustration and hinders the use of Bildungsroman as a comparative term. Focusing in particular on the difficulties associated with tying the Victorian Bildungsroman to the German tradition, I propose an alternative understanding of the Bildungsroman as a genre capable of transcending the context in which it originated and of leaving behind the very notion of Bildung. The genre functions as something like German literature’s disobedient child, one that we persistently attempt, and persistently fail, to discipline. This article suggests that we might wish to abandon this futile disciplinarian practice altogether.
“Convenient Cosmopolitanism: Daniel Deronda, Nationalism, and the Critics.” Victorian Literature and Culture 45.3 (2017).
The specter of cosmopolitanism haunts Daniel Deronda. The novel condemned by many of its original reviewers for dabbling into ‘obscure doctrines of Jewish unity’ has recently come to embody a scrupulous investigation of cosmopolitan ethics. From George Saintsbury’s claim that Daniel Deronda’s proto-Zionist preoccupations can constitute ‘only a very carefully reduced side interest of prose novels’ to F.R. Leavis’ demand that the Jewish part of the novel be physically removed, and further to Franco Moretti’s unflinching rejection of Deronda’s nationalism, George Eliot’s final novel has been routinely read as a text in which the familiar themes of Victorian fiction are suppressed by a profound interest in collective identity. However, in the wake of Amanda Anderson’s influential attempt in The Powers of Distance (2001) to emphasize Deronda’s cosmopolitan aspects, Eliot’s novel has been hailed as an example of ‘partial cosmopolitanism,’ ‘possessed individualism,’ and even as an instance of the Levinasian ethics of alterity. In a word, from a book embodying the Victorian novel’s encounter with the forces of ethnolinguistic nationalism, Daniel Derondahas become a poster-child of cosmopolitan ethics, scrupulously negotiating the demands of ethnic belonging with a commitment to the ideals of liberal democracy. In this essay I push back against this new cosmopolitan vision of Daniel Deronda by reasserting the significance of the novel’s proto-Zionist agenda and by tracing its roots in the main currents of late nineteenth century nationalism. I reveal the sharp (but apparently forgotten) contrasts between Eliot’s and Mill’s reflections on the role of national identity in the process of state formation. Finally, I offer some much needed theoretical clarity by linking the novel itself and the debates surrounding it to contemporary conceptualizations of nationalism and cosmopolitanism in the work of Martha Nussbaum and Kwame Anthony Appiah.
Full text is available from Cambridge.
“Stephen Dedalus and Nationalism without Nationalism.” Journal of Modern Literature 41.1 (2017).
While recent critics have often downplayed the significance of Joyce’s attack on the Gaelic Revival in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the novel actually enacts nothing less than a systematic repudiation of nationalist tropes from the position of liberal cosmopolitanism. As a detailed comparison of Joyce’s text with the turn-of-the-century revivalist discourse shows, A Portrait undermines each of the key revivalist preoccupations (including both linguistic nationalism and ethnic essentialism), finally deconstructing the project of nation building in toto. This radical critique of nationalism suggests that, after twenty years in which Joyce studies have been dominated by attempts to displace the once-prevalent vision of Joyce as an apolitical and internationalist aesthete with a version of Joyce as, above all, a colonial Irish intellectual, it is time to once again take his commitment to aestheticism and cosmopolitanism seriously.
Full text is available through JSTOR.
“The Bildungsroman and the Art of Self-Invention: Stendhal and Balzac”
A part of A History of Modern French Literature, edited by Christopher Prendergast (Princeton, 2017), this chapter explores the transformations of the Bildungsroman in nineteenth-century France. Focusing on the iconic texts of Stendhal and Balzac, I show how the social and political tensions which shaped France in the wake of Napoleonic rule, Restoration, and the Revolution of 1830, complicated the task of self-fashioning.
More information about the book is available from Princeton.
The content is available through JSTOR.