Athena Vrettos

Associate Professor

Athena Vrettos


My primary research interests include Victorian literature and culture, the history of medicine and psychology, and the history of the body and sexuality. My book Somatic Fictions: Imagining Illness in Victorian Culture (Stanford, 1995) examines the centrality of illness—particularly psychosomatic illness—as an imaginative construct in Victorian culture. Recently, my research has focused on the intersections between nineteenth-century literature and the history of psychology. I am currently completing a book entitled Mental Economies: Victorian Fiction, Psychology, and Spaces of Mind, which traces the relationship between nineteenth-century psychology and the development of psychological realism in the British novel. Some parts of this project have already been published as articles. In “Displaced Memories in Victorian Fiction and Psychology” I discuss fiction by Thomas Hardy and Arthur Conan Doyle in relation to late-Victorian psychological and parapsychological speculations about the potential displacement and uncertain ownership of memory. In “Dying Twice: Victorian Theories of Déjà Vu” I examine a range of literary, medical, and psychological explanations for what came to be called “déjà vu” in the late nineteenth century, and I show how déjà vu experiences became a contested area for defining the concept of “normality” in the newly emerging sciences of memory. Finally, in “Defining Habits: Dickens and the Psychology of Repetition,” I examine nineteenth-century theories of habit formation, eccentricity, and repetitive behavior patterns, drawing upon Victorian advice manuals, psychological treatises, eccentric biographies, and the fiction of Charles Dickens. Other sections of the book focus on issues such as crowded minds, evaporating emotions, wandering attention, and theories of consciousness, in fiction by Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Henry James, and Thomas Hardy, among others. Over the last few years I have presented papers on these topics at the North American Victorian Studies Association and the International Narrative Conference.


Many of my teaching interests come out of my research on nineteenth-century literature, medicine and psychology. In addition to survey courses on Victorian literature, I regularly teach both graduate and undergraduate courses on ‘Victorian Literature and Psychology;’ ‘Victorian Literature and the Human Body;’ ‘Nineteenth-Century Gothic and Sensation Fiction,’ and ‘Literature and Emotion.’ I also teach courses in the field of gender studies, including ‘Nineteenth-Century British and American Women Writers;’ ‘Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Women Writers,’ ‘Introduction to Gender Studies,’ and ‘History and Theory of the Female Body.’ My interdisciplinary courses on ‘Literature and Medicine’ and ‘Medical Narratives’ are usually taught as seminars for the SAGES program and are targeted in particular to students interested in studying medicine, nursing, and biomedical engineering. Some of my additional interests, which I hope to develop into undergraduate courses in the near future, include Jane Austen and the Brontës; nineteenth- and twentieth-century children’s literature; and the relationship between nineteenth-century conduct and advice manuals and the novel of manners from Jane Austen to Edith Wharton.

Guilford House 304