Professor of English
Richard H. Thornton Chair
I have been teaching English at University of Lynchburg since 1985. I began teaching at Penn State as a graduate student there and taught for six years at the University of Illinois while getting my doctorate. My first job after that was at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
I’ve made several study tours abroad (besides other, less academic trips overseas): to Tunisia (1990), to Japan (1996, 1998), and Korea (2008), where I went with five students from University of Lynchburg. These trips have helped me learn something about the cultural traditions of non-western nations and have added to my awareness of western traditions in a global context.
- PhD in English – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1982
- MA in English – Pennsylvania State University, 1976
- BA in English – Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn., 1974
Junior year spent studying at St. Peter’s College, Oxford University, England
- “Slaughter and the Innocents: Fantasy Fiction, Children, Killing, and Death.” Irresponsibility: Essays on Ethics and Literature. Youngstown, NY: Cambria Press, 2009.
- “Every Church Is the Same: Control, Destroy, Obliterate Every Good Feeling’: Philip Pullman and the Challenge of Religious Intolerance.” Forum on Public Policy.
- “Joan Aiken and The Wolves Chronicles: Bright, Dark, and Always Imaginative.” The Five Owls, 18 (2005), 47-48.
- “‘Lord Voldemort’s Gift for Spreading Discord and Enmity’: The Challenge of Evil in Harry Potter.” Selected Papers from Nimbus-2003 Compendium. Houston: HP Education Fanon, 2005. 335-42.
- A Christmas Carol. Oneonta, N.Y.: Hartwick Classic Leadership Cases, 1994. With Gerald McCarthy
- Shakespeare’s “Henriad.” Oneonta, N.Y.: Hartwick Classic Leadership Cases, 1993. With Douglas Mayer.
- Richard II. Oneonta, N.Y.: Hartwick Classic Leadership Cases, 1993. With Gerald McCarthy
- 2005-07: Geraldine Lyon Owen Professor of English
- 2005: Leadership Honor Society of Omicron Delta Kappa
- 2005: Putting Her Through Award
- 2004: Putting Her Through Award
- 2001: Elsie Ervin Bock Faculty Citizenship Award
- 1998: Shirley E. Rosser Award for Excellence in teaching
- 1990: Joseph J. Malone Faculty Fellow
- 1990: Honorary Member, Phi Eta Sigma
- 1984: Newberry Library Fellow
- 1980: University of Illinois Fellow
- 1976: Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi
Having written my doctoral dissertation on The Last Will and Testament in the Victorian Novel, I have long been interested in the role of death in literature. Most recently, my work has concentrated on the treatment of death in children’s fantasy series, such as His Dark Materials, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Prydain Chronicles, and the Harry Potter books. Let me assure you, however, that my classes don’t dwell on death, and you needn’t worry about my courses being excessively morbid.
I have written on Dickens, Trollope, Wordsworth, and Shakespeare, among others. Some of my work has dealt with ways of using classic literature to help students learn about leadership skills that are applicable in business and elsewhere.
A good deal of my recent scholarship has focused on children’s literature, and in particular on children’s fantasy series. I have a particular interest in Phillip Pullman’s great work, His Dark Materials. I have made conference presentations on subjects ranging from Japanese literature to teaching techniques to Stephen Sondheim and the American musical theater.
Information on Courses Taught
I teach courses in nineteenth-century British literature. Even here in the twenty-first century, the nineteenth century remains surprisingly vital, engaging, and relevant. The people living in Britain at that time confronted many of the same questions that challenge us today: for example, they had to deal with problems caused by technological transformation, with spiritual issues in an increasingly materialistic society, and with the fundamental question of how an individual could meet society’s expectations and demands while remaining true to his or her inner nature. In fiction, poetry, and even such diverse areas as social criticism, art criticism, and science writing, nineteenth-century British writers still have a great deal to say to us today. And they say it in ways that can be exciting, amusing, surprising, challenging, provoking, moving, and beautiful.
The three main courses I teach in this area are:
- Literature of the Romantic Period, where we read poets like Wordsworth, Keats, and Blake, and novelists like Mary Shelley.
- Literature of the Victorian Period, with poets such as Browning (Elizabeth as well as Robert) and Tennyson, novelists like Dickens and the Brontёs, and prose writers like Ruskin and Arnold.
- The English Novel provides an introduction to eighteenth- and nineteenth- century British novels and includes writers like Defoe, Fielding, Austen, Dickens, and Charlotte Bronte.
In addition, I teach Children’s Literature, in which we explore different kinds of children’s books and ways in which to teach them. This course is intended for students who plan to teach elementary school. It has included children’s novels such as Charlotte’s Web, Bridge to Terabithia, The Golden Compass, and Number the Stars, as well as many poems, picture books, and fairy tales.
I am married to Beth Packert, and we have two sons. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, traveling, theater, and reading (of course). I have more Broadway shows on my iPod than anyone else I know.