BHSU Geek Speak explores ideological threat of Victorian sensation novels

Author: BHSU Communications/Tuesday, February 16, 2016/Categories: 2016

Dr. Martin Fashbaugh

Soap operas give the same satisfaction to their audience today as sensation novels did in the 19th century. The E.Y. Berry Library Learning-Center at Black Hills State University is hosting a unique Geek Speak presentation Thursday, Feb. 18 at 4 p.m. about Victorian sensation novels, for all literature lovers and those who like to challenge status quo.

Dr. Martin Fashbaugh, assistant professor of English at Black Hills State University, will introduce all perspectives of the overlooked sub-genre of Victorian literature, which is criticized to have only one purpose: to excite people and get them riled up emotionally.

Fashbaugh's presentation, "Preaching to the Nerves Instead of the Judgment": The Victorian Sensation Novel" is Thursday, Feb. 18 at 4 p.m. in the E.Y. Berry Library-Learning Center, on BHSU Campus. The event is free and open to the public.

"Sensational novels were perceived as a threat, they both represented and challenged the social order in England at the end of 19th century," says Fashbaugh.

According to Fashbaugh, women in sensation novels challenged gender stereotypes which created a lot of anxiety regarding gender because of the fixed idea of what it meant to be a male or female in Victorian times.

"The heroines of sensation novels find themselves to be in extraordinary circumstances, which was controversial at that time, adds Fashbaugh. "During the Victorian period women were regarded as stewards of the home and were described as 'the angels of the house.' They were seen as a moral voice and were expected to be very subordinate to the husband."

In the Geek Speak presentation Fashbaugh will first explain what a sensational novel is, present some of its characteristics, and discuss the social forces that gave rise to this literary genre.

"Sensation novels challenge the ideology of social order and what a novel should accomplish," added Fashbaugh. "Some critics have a very idealistic idea of what literature should do: it should teach morality and preach to our judgement, not to our nerves."

Fashbaugh says consumers of popular culture today seek the feeling sensation novels give to readers: a mixture of realism and adventure, similar to what soap operas seem to offer us today.

Future Geek Speak topics include:
  • Feb. 25, "Biblically Speaking: Sin and the Role of Women in the Christian New Testament," Dr. Amy Fuqua
  • March 3, "Draw Something!" Desy Shoenewies
  • March 17, "Not Just a Cheesy Monster Movie: the Multiple Meanings of Godzilla," Dr. Tom Arnold
  • March 31, "On Hip Hop and Religion," Dr. Dan May
  • April 7, "Can Religion and Science Get Along? Sure, but should they?" Dr. Nate Deichert
  • April 14, "A Tour of Voting Systems: How Do We Choose a Winner?" Dr. Dan Swenson
  • April 21, "The Social Life of Meat," Dr. Trenton Ellis
  • April 28, The University Honors Program Capstone Defense
The Geek Speak lecture series, sponsored by the BHSU University Honors program, features academic discussion and topics not normally discussed in the traditional classroom. The goal of the weekly lectures is to expose students to diversity within the disciplines.

For more information, contact Dr. Courtney Huse-Wika, director of the University Honors Program and assistant professor of English at 605-642-6918 or email

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