English Professor Receives Highly Competitive Grant to Study Depiction of Love and Relationships in Modern Literature

CSU Stanislaus English Professor Jesse Wolfe will continue his studies into the ways novelists explore the changing dynamics of love and relationships in modern society, thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Wolfe is one of just eight recipients of the 2013 NEH Awards for Faculty Fellowship, which will fund a nine-month sabbatical during which he will complete his second book on the subject. The award is the first NEH faculty research grant CSU Stanislaus has received.

In his first book, “Bloomsbury, Modernism, and the Reinvention of Intimacy” — published in 2011 by Cambridge University Press — Wolfe examined depictions of love in a selection of novels from the early 20th century, when relationships between people of the same sex or from different religions, races or socioeconomic classes were only just beginning to lose their taboo.

Today’s novels, Wolfe said, reflect a society in which non-traditional relationships are much more common. Contemporary authors, then, deal less with society’s acceptance of such relationships and more with the realities of love across all dividing lines.

“Some of those barriers are coming down, but things are not completely rosy,” Wolfe said. “These authors help us see we are freer in some ways than we used to be, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness.”

Many current authors are writing in either direct response or more oblique homage to their predecessors, and that new generation is the focus of Wolfe’s current research and his second book, “The Muddle and the Dream: Intimacy, Utopia, and the Legacies of Bloomsbury in Postmodern Fiction.”

Wolfe said he looks forward not only to completing his research and getting the book published, but also to incorporating the research into his teaching when he returns. He’s done it often with the research for both books, which he said brings a new energy to the classroom.

“I’ve spun many classes off of both books,” he said. “I’m excited about material that I’ve researched, and this helps me to get students excited. I’m able to ask more probing questions, because I’ve thought about it more. And it raises the level of their work.”

In addition to his teaching and research, Wolfe is a creative writer who has had poetry published and serves as the faculty adviser for Penumbra, the university’s annual art and literary journal. He’s been a professor at CSU Stanislaus since 2006, having earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley and his master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In November, he gave a lecture on modernism as part of a Picasso exhibit at the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock.

James Leonard