Semester Success!

After these past few months, I have 20+ pages of my thesis completed! Plenty of work lies ahead for next semester, but I’ll be able to get a head start over winter break.

My Alchemist section felt relatively (and oddly?) pain-free. I knew that section would serve as a building block for the rest of my thesis;  I planned for it to be 10 pages long, and my full chapter draft stands at 11 pages so far. That said, the fun truly began when I started my Urania section.

I’ve mentioned Urania on here before, but it’s Mary Wroth’s massive, two-volume prose romance. As you might guess, I’m not reading all of it this semester (for lack of time and for my own peace of mind). Instead, I alternated between Josephine Roberts’ trusty 1990 edition of Wroth’s work and Mary Ellen Lamb’s abridged version of it; I used the latter to get a good plot overview and decide which sections I should read in full and include in my thesis. This strategy worked out beautifully. I successfully outlined my entire Wroth section, and I’ve written nearly half of it. Ultimately, I focused on the romance’s various writer-queen characters, and on analyzing their poetry throughout the text.

The queen figure has become a resounding connection among Jonson’s Alchemist, Wroth’s Urania, and Cavendish’s Blazing World. When a female character is called a “queen,” that title holds telling implications for how her fellow characters–and her author–value her. A royal title further implies that she has some degree of authority in the text, which may or may not be true. In The Blazing World, for instance, the protagonist is an Empress. The things she values and devalues have imperial undertones and a high degree of self-determination. The Alchemist‘s Dol Common, by contrast, is called a queen and a “quean” in equal measure. The latter word is a term for “prostitute,” implying that her value mainly comes from her sexual labor–at least in her fellow characters’ eyes.

Through examining queen characterizations, I’ve found another important channel for value: one that both informs and is informed by economic forces. I keep retooling the way I define value in this thesis; it remains my most essential–and most challenging–question. I’m so happy that this lens has become more and more rewarding with time. I’ve found that in research, having more questions than answers is a sign that you’re doing something right. It means that you’re still curious and eager, even months into your project.

…at least, that’s what I tell myself. 🙂

See you in the new year, and sending best wishes for your finals and holidays!


  1. Jacqueline Keshner says:

    Thank you so much, Katie! I’m excited to see where your project takes you in the weeks ahead–you’ve already made such wonderful progress, and I’d love to hear more about your meeting with President Rowe (how exciting!!).

    I was fascinated by your comment in your last post about examining instances where hands aren’t mentioned at all. The analysis you offered of where hands are depicted and omitted in “Janet’s Repentance”–and how that connects to Janet’s triumph over domestic abuse–was so perceptive. It made me want to read the novella, and to read the progression of its details closely.

    I hope the start of the semester has gone smoothly for you so far, and I know your project will continue to be fun and fruitful in the weeks ahead!

  2. Jacqueline Keshner says:

    Thank you so much for your kind words, Professor Potkay. I will be sure to keep you updated, and I’m so excited for everything this last semester has in store. I hope teaching at Princeton and the start of the new year have gone smoothly for you so far, and I’m sending warmest wishes for the semester ahead!


  3. kiwilliams says:

    Jackie, congratulations on 20+ pages! That is such a good place to be in for this upcoming semester. I also love how you describe “retooling” the definition of value as you continue writing your thesis. It sounds like your definition is becoming even sharper and more interesting as you read, draw connections between different texts and ask questions. Good luck with all of your writing this semester. Can’t wait to hear more!

  4. Adam Potkay says:

    Jackie– Greetings! I just saw that you’ll be Charter Day speaker– congratulations! I’m sorry I’ll have to miss it–am teaching at Princeton this year, you know. Best wishes with your talk and with your thesis, and please keep me posted/stay in touch– Yours, Adam Potkay