Backscheider, Paula R. 1943- (Paula Rice Backscheider)

views updated

Backscheider, Paula R. 1943- (Paula Rice Backscheider)

PERSONAL:

Born March 31, 1943, in Brownsville, TN; daughter of Valentine S. (a cotton buyer) and Catherine (an accountant) Rice; married Nickolas Andrew Backscheider (a systems analyst), January 18, 1964; children: Andrea Gayle, Nickolas Andrew. Education: Purdue University, B.A. (with honors), 1964; Southern Connecticut State College, M.S., 1967; Purdue University, Ph.D., 1972. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Presbyterian.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Auburn, AL. Office—Department of English, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849.

CAREER:

Rollins College, Winter Park, FL, assistant professor, 1973-75; University of Rochester, Rochester, NY, assistant professor, 1975-78, associate professor, 1978-87, vice provost for academic concerns, 1981-82, professor of English, 1987—, Roswell Burrows Professor of English, beginning 1991; Auburn University, Auburn, AL, Stevens-Philpott Eminent Scholar, 1992—. Associated with University of Edinburgh's Institute for Advanced Studies, 1980—.

MEMBER:

Modern Language Association, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (vice president, 1991—; president, 1992).

AWARDS, HONORS:

Fellowship from William Andrews Clark Library at University of California at Los Angeles, 1974; grants from American Philosophical Society, 1975, 1980, and 1986; fellowships from National Endowment for the Humanities, 1983, American Antiquarian Society, 1987, and Guggenheim Foundation, 1991; prize for best humanities book from British Council, 1990, for Daniel Defoe: His Life; James Russell Lowell Prize, from the Modern Language Association, for Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre, 2006.

WRITINGS:

NONFICTION

(With Felicity Nussbaum and Philip Anderson) An Annotated Bibliography of Twentieth-Century Studies of Women and Literature, 1660-1800, Garland (New York, NY), 1977.

A Being More Intense: The Prose Works of Bunyan, Swift, and Defoe, AMS Press (New York, NY), 1984.

Daniel Defoe: Ambition and Innovation, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1986.

Daniel Defoe: His Life, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1989.

Spectacular Politics: Theatrical Power and Mass Culture in Early Modern England, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1993.

Reflections on Biography, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2005.

EDITOR

Probability, Time, and Space in Eighteenth-Century Literature, AMS Press (New York, NY), 1979.

The Plays of Charles Gildon, Garland (New York, NY), 1979.

The Plays of Elizabeth Inchbald, two volumes, Garland (New York, NY), 1980.

(With Douglas Howard) The Plays of Samuel Foote, three volumes, Garland (New York, NY), 1983.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 80: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, First Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 84: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Second Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.

Moll Flanders: The Making of a Criminal Mind, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1990.

(With Timothy Dykstal) The Intersections of the Public and Private Spheres in Early Modern England, F. Cass (Portland, OR), 1996.

(With John J. Richetti) Popular Fiction by Women, 1660-1730: An Anthology, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

(With Hope D. Cotton) Frances Brooke, The Excursion, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1997.

Selected Fiction and Drama of Eliza Haywood, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Revising Women: Eighteenth-Century "Women's Fiction" and Social Engagement, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2000.

A Companion to the Eighteenth-Century English Novel and Culture, Blackwell Publishing (Malden, MA), 2005.

Also editor of Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year, Norton; editor of "Eighteenth-Century Drama" series, sixty-nine volumes, Garland, 1979-83; Contributor to Eighteenth-Century Correspondences, edited by Alan T. McKenzie. Contributor to periodicals, including Modern Language Review, Modern Language Studies, Modern Philology, Novel, Philological Quarterly, South Atlantic Review, Studies in English Literature, Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Theatre Journal, and Studies in the Literary Imagination.

SIDELIGHTS:

Paula R. Backscheider is an authority on eighteenth-century English literature, particularly that of renowned novelist Daniel Defoe. Although Backscheider has published a range of works within her field, she is probably best known for Daniel Defoe: His Life, a widely encompassing biography of the distinguished British writer. Backscheider's book details Defoe's dramatic, occasionally obscure life, including his journalism career, and she provides background and analysis of Defoe's greatest works, including the long poems "True Born Englishman" and "Jure Divino," the satire Shortest Way with Dissenters, and the books Robinson Crusoe and A Journal of the Plague Year.

Backscheider's Daniel Defoe: His Life is recognized as an accomplished, exhaustive consideration of its subject. Washington Post Book World reviewer John Kenyon, who described the writing of a Defoe biography as an "intimidating project," hailed Backscheider's book as "a very considerable work of scholarship." Pat Rogers wrote in the New York Times Book Review that with Daniel Defoe: His Life, Backscheider had realized a "considerable achievement," while Bruce Redford, in his Washington Times review, lauded the biography as a "true magnum opus." Redford added that Daniel Defoe: His Life is destined to be "the standard scholarly guide" on its subject. Among Backscheider's other writings on Defoe are A Being More Intense: The Prose Works of Bunyan, Swift, and Defoe and Daniel Defoe: Ambition and Innovation. In addition, she has edited editions of Defoe's The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders (published as Moll Flanders: The Making of a Criminal Mind) and A Journal of the Plague Year.

In her study Reflections on Biography, Backscheider examines the choices a biographer must make and how those choices shape the completed manuscript. Her insights into the craft of biography are aimed at giving readers a better understanding of their limitations and possibilities while increasing the enjoyment that reading a biography can bring. Backscheider begins with four chapters detailing such considerations as the biographer's tone of voice and choice of subject, moves on to an evaluation of particular biographies and why they are successful, and concludes with looks at the current state of biography in Great Britain and the United States and its possible future. Writing in the London Review of Books, Inga Clendinnen called Reflections on Biography "a practical guide to the novice biographer" that is written in "a fluent, good-humoured, often humorous prose."

Backscheider has written or edited a number of other books pertaining to the eighteenth century and its literature and culture. Spectacular Politics: Theatrical Power and Mass Culture in Early Modern England is an ambitious text that examines literary texts closely, relates them to broad cultural context and the political atmosphere of the day, and then applies modern-day criticism to determine how the theories of the past hold up under more current methods of scrutiny. In particular, Backscheider examines ways in which popular culture can be used as a form of propaganda in order to inform or to affect everyday life, looking at three points during British history relating to her own time period of interest, when popular entertainment was known to play off of the social advances of the day. As her examples, Backscheider addresses the 1660s, when street performances were a popular form of entertainment; the 1690s, when female playwrights became prevalent; and the eighteenth-century rise of the gothic novel. Jane Moody, writing for the Review of English Studies, praised the scope of the work, but also noted that "in an otherwise impressive study, Backscheider's relentless focus on the making of hegemony perhaps hides from us just how contradictory the evidence may be." However, in a review for the Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Anthony Kaufman concluded that "the author's learning and range insure that everywhere in this book one finds insights that contribute greatly to our understanding of the relationship of literature and public opinion." He noted: "Backscheider argues that there was significant variance between the royalist notion of the order of things, and a widespread feeling that other elements of society demanded a new sense of dignity and power. This was the crucial moment when the notion of ‘public opinion’ began to form."

In Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre, Backscheider looks at the differences between female and male poets of the era, comparing more than forty women to their male counterparts. She points out that women ultimately showed far greater diversity in their writing, for while they wrote in all the genres in which men did, they appeared far more likely to experiment, to stretch the boundaries of the genres, and to create new forms and techniques for their poetry. In addition, Bachscheider reveals a wealth of information about the women poets writing during Romantic era, much of which had not previously been gathered and formally bound. Stephen C. Behrendt, reviewing for Wordsworth Circle, dubbed Backscheider's effort "one of the best and most significant books on eighteenth-century poetry to appear in recent years." He concluded: "What is needed now, two centuries later, is a more workable critical and theoretical matrix for assessing the poetry written by women in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and Backscheider has provided a splendid tool with which to begin this essential work." In a review for the Eighteenth Century Intelligencer Web site, the contributor also praised Backscheider's efforts, stating that her "book's weak points are a function of the centuries of repeated unacknowledged dismissal of women's poetry which itself derives from a mass of anti-feminist feeling against which she contends." The book went on to win the James Russell Lowell Prize from the Modern Language Association for 2006.

Among the books that Backscheider has edited is Popular Fiction by Women, 1660-1730: An Anthology, on which she collaborated with John J. Richetti. The book addresses the fact that women were indeed writing novels during the latter part of the seventeenth century and the start of the eighteenth century, and that such work sets the groundwork for much of the better-known fiction written by women in eighteenth century and beyond. The works collected in this volume offer readers both a range of different subjects and styles and a sense that there was a sort of unity in the women's writing from the time. Sarah Prescott, in a review for the Review of English Studies, commented that "what is striking about this fiction is the way in which the writers refuse or resist conventional representations of victimized femininity."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Albion, spring, 1995, review of Spectacular Politics: Theatrical Power and Mass Culture in Early Modern England, p. 123.

Choice, June, 1994, review of Spectacular Politics, p. 1592; October, 1997, review of Popular Fiction by Women, 1660-1730: An Anthology, p. 300.

Journal of English and Germanic Philology, January, 1996, Anthony Kaufman, review of Spectacular Politics, p. 126.

London Review of Books, March 16, 2000, Inga Clendinnen, review of Reflections on Biography, pp. 9-10.

New York Times Book Review, January 14, 1990, Pat Rogers, review of Daniel Defoe: His Life, pp. 11-12.

Review of English Studies, May, 1996, Jane Moody, review of Spectacular Politics, p. 262; August, 1998, Sarah Prescott, review of Popular Fiction by Women, 1660-1730, p. 331.

Times Literary Supplement, May 13, 1994, review of Spectacular Politics, p. 22; March 21, 1997, review of Popular Fiction by Women, 1660-1730, p. 8.

Washington Post Book World, December 10, 1989, John Kenyon, review of Daniel Defoe: His Life, p. 15.

Washington Times, September 18, 1989, Bruce Redford, review of Daniel Defoe: His Life, pp. E7, E10.

Wordsworth Circle, autumn, 2006, Stephen C. Behrendt, review of Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre, p. 243.

ONLINE

Eighteenth Century Intelligencer,http://www.jimandellen.org/ (November 19, 2007), review of Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry.

About this article

Backscheider, Paula R. 1943- (Paula Rice Backscheider)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article