Ariel Fried: On Victorian literature, identity, and how we make sense of the world

Ariel Fried’s passion and knowledge about Victorian literature is obvious the minute you talk to her. What started as a term paper as an undergraduate English major has now morphed into her PhD dissertation. 

And her knowledge has clearly grown since being an undergrad; she talks excitedly about Victorian subjects and texts and their desire to understand and categorize the world around them.

She’s not interested in examining Victorian literature just from one angle, so it’s unsurprising then that her research is also interdisciplinary.

Specifically, she’s interested in examining Victorian literature through the lens of her women’s and gender studies background — employing queer theory and critical race perspectives and even some texts in the medical humanities to better understand the Victorians. 

She points out that it’s easy to end up with a monolithic sense of ‘how things were’ — especially with a generation as studied as the Victorians. But, as her research illuminates, humans are far too interesting to be confined to just one identity. 

It’s also why her work looks at the ways that people connect and communicate amongst each other — and how the Victorians made sense of the world around them. She’s particularly enthralled by examples in literature where the Victorians’ rules and categories start to erode. Even though they had a strict ideal of what relationships looked like and who had a place in society, their literature isn’t always that simple. 

It’s this erosion in rules and boundaries that Fried finds especially interesting — where you can see the Victorians grappling with identity and norms on the page, and not always coming away with the same simplistic characterization of the world around them.  

Victorian literature is dominated by a desire to understand and categorize the world. Its subjects are living in a world that’s rapidly evolving and changing, and they’re continually trying to make sense of where they fit into the world. And as Fried points out, that need to understand identity and belonging is just as relevant today as it was then.    

She talks about the Victorians as if she really knows them — which, based on the depth of her research, she really does. And she points out that in many ways, they aren’t all that different from us. We’re still trying to define and understand ways of being and belonging in the world around us.

Get to know Ariel Fried

What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?

Reading: The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar / Watching: Bodies on Netflix and lots of random Christmas movies to get the season started! / Listening: Lots of punk rock covers of Taylor Swift 

What can’t you get enough of?

Coffee and cats

What are you looking forward to in the new year?

Becoming a doctor! 

What is your current/next research focus/teaching focus?

Deep in dissertation research right now but I'm very excited about the affect theory course I'm teaching next semester, and I've had a conference paper/article idea about 19th century drag queens percolating for a while now.

What’s your favorite(s) Columbia, MO spot?

I love Acola and Toasty Goat for coffee, and Shooting Star Trail is a great place to get away from work for a bit!

When you’re not on campus, what can you be found doing?

I can pretty reliably be found working from home, hiking, or grabbing coffee with friends. Recently I've also spent a lot of time curled up on the couch trying to teach myself to crochet while fending off my cat from playing with the yarn.

What’s one fun fact about yourself?

I used to ride motorcycles / The place in the world I'd most like to travel is Italy / Christmas is my favorite time of year / I have a hard time picking favorites (or, in this case, just a single fun fact haha!)

Where did you grow up?

A small town in southern Wisconsin.

Why English? Why do you want to teach/research in your field?

I've always been fascinated by writers' ability to craft a whole world that I can get lost in; but more than the sort of solo experience of engaging with a text, I love connecting with other people over shared/differing experiences. Literature offers so many avenues for connection—with characters we relate to or learn new things from, authors we admire, fellow readers and scholars who were struck by something we may never have noticed... It's always seemed to me a wonderful method of understanding ourselves and the world around us.

Ariel Fried is currently a PhD candidate at University of Missouri-Columbia. Her primary research interests include Victorian novels, especially sensation fiction, and 19th century medical and pseudoscientific discourses. She most often engages with these literatures with attention to insights provided by post-structuralist, new-materialist, feminist, queer, and/or affective theories. Ultimately, she believes in the active power of literature to shape, disrupt, and enrich our understandings of our own experiences beyond these texts, and provide possibilities for new ways of being and belonging with each other.

Her dissertation project examines individual subject formation and affective possibilities offered by non-normative, Othered, or otherwise "deviant" identity groups within the Victorian period.