Ashley Barnes

Ashley Barnes

Assistant Professor — Literature
Tags: Literary Theory Nineteenth-century American Literature Literary Ethics Secularism LIT

Professional Preparation

UC-Berkeley - 2012
UNC-Chapel Hill - 2000

Research Areas

Nineteenth-century American literature
Literary ethics


Toward an Incarnational Aesthetic: On locating the sublimity of art within the world and within history 2021 - publications
Love and Depth in the American Novel from Stowe to James 2020 - publications
Who's Afraid of Historicizing? How Protestant Anti-historicism Became Literary Self-Defense 2020 - publications
The Cost of Discipleship: Weber's Charisma and the Profession of the Humanities 2020 - publications
Variations on a Melodrama: Imagining the Author in Pierre and Of One Blood 2017 - publications
Fanny and Bob Forever: The Collage Aesthetic and the Love Story in The Golden Bowl 2014 - publications

Additional Information

My work investigates the relationship between sacred and secular reading practices and the porous construction of the line between them. I’m interested in the ideals of otherness, intimacy, and artistry that developed in the crosstalk between religious and literary discourse through 19th- and into 20th-century American culture. Whether they emerged in fictional and popular representations or in theological and literary critical theory, such accounts continue to shape academic standards for what counts as real understanding and what kind of attention is owed to others in the world. My next project explores the co-development of secularism and modernist aesthetics as higher education professionalized around the turn into the 20th century. 
My first book, Love and Depth in the American Novel from Stowe to James (University of Virginia Press, 2020), seeks to change how we think about the American love story and how we imagine the love of literature. By examining classics of nineteenth-century American literature in the context of Protestant-Catholic interpretive debates, Love and Depth offers a new approach to literary theory that encompasses both New Historicism and the ethical turn in literary studies.
Love and Depth aims to reconcile a longstanding division in American literary studies: the false choice between reading texts historically, as creatures of their time and place, versus reading them ethically, as eternally provocative others. The book traces the logic that pits knowing books against loving them to Christian debate in nineteenth century America. Love and Depth argues that critics have inherited from Protestant anti-Catholicism an ideal of revelatory love, an ideal that valorizes the apparent immediacy of reading and rejects the mediations of material culture and tradition. The friction between Protestant and Catholic worship heightened in the antebellum US, and the terms of that conflict structured both fictional portrayals of intimacy and the interpretive methods that would shape the initial American canon in the early twentieth century.