Skip to Main Content
Skidmore College
English Department

Ruth McAdamsRuth M. McAdams

teaching Professor

B.A., summa cum laude, University of Pennsylvania
M.Phil., University of Edinburgh
Ph.D., University of Michigan

Office: Palamountain 331
Phone: (518) 580-5174

Curriculum Vitae

Teaching and Research Interests:

  • Nineteenth-Century British literature
  • Historical fiction in a global context
  • Theory of the novel
  • Life-writing
  • Writing Composition

Courses Taught:

  • EN 105/105H: Writing Gender
  • EN 105: Work!
  • EN 110: Introduction to Literary Studies
  • EN 211: Fiction
  • EN 362: Objects and Materials and/in 18th-Century Literature
  • EN 364: The Historical Novel in a Global Context
  • EN 371: Dostoevsky (independent study)
  • GN 371A: The English Major and Beyond


I am currently revising a book manuscript, The Unfashionable Age: Progress’s Others in Victorian Literature, which debunks the widespread scholarly misconception that the Victorian period was the heyday of progressive, positivist history. I argue that just as Victorian historical writers were trying, and often failing, to envision and represent progress, literary writers were exploiting fault lines in their work, cannily using the tools of historicism to undermine and critique progress from within. The book began from an attempt to find for myself a connection between a progressive historiography and nineteenth-century literature that is a foundational assumption of the field. What I found instead was a robust set of detractors from positivist progress in Victorian literature.

These detractors point to temporal forms that are what I call the others of progress: regress, cyclicality, stasis, and rupture. In readings of fiction and life-writing by Benjamin Disraeli, William Makepeace Thackeray, Harriet Martineau, Thomas Hardy, and others, I find numerous alternative conceptions of time theorized against the emerging dominance of a progress narrative. This unusual grouping of Victorian writers illustrates diverging responses to the idea of continuous improvement—with Disraeli and Martineau struggling to narrate it, and Thackeray and Hardy struggling to reject it. Analyzing these varied approaches, many of them conservative or reactionary, the book explores the shapes of time theorized by Victorian literature. In so doing, it draws connections between a nineteenth-century ambivalence about liberal progress and the temporal forms that shape our own post-liberal age.

Additional work in progress considers the Regency as a historiographical concept and the absent presence of religious difference in Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge. Future projects will consider the historical novel in a global context and the relationship between the Victorian industrial novel and labor activism.

Selected Publications


Book Reviews

Work in Progress

  • The Unfashionable Age: Progress's Others in Victorian Literature [book manuscript being revised for resubmission]