Beebee, Thomas O(liver) 1955-

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BEEBEE, Thomas O(liver) 1955-


Born 1955, in Santa Monica, CA; married; wife's name Jizelda; children: Palavina, Chavaya (daughters). Education: Dartmouth College, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1977; University of Michigan, M.A., 1978, Ph.D., 1984.


Home—123 Osmond St., State College, PA 16801. Office—Pennsylania State University, 311 Burrowes Bldg. University Park, PA 16802; fax: 814-863-8882. E-mail—[email protected].


University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany, lecturer, 1978-81; Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME, assistant professor, 1984-86; Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, assistant professor, 1986-92, associate professor, 1992-2000, professor of comparative literature and German, 2000—. Federal University of Paraná, Curitiba, Brazil, visiting scholar, 1993; Johns Hopkins University, visiting scholar, 2000-02.


International Comparative Literature Association, American Comparative Literature Association, American Association of Teachers of German, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Modern Language Association, Phi Beta Kappa, Delta Phi Alpha, Phi Sigma Iota.


Horace H. Rackham predoctoral fellowship, University of Michigan, 1983-84; Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies grant, Pennsylvania State University, 1987; research initiation grant, Pennsylvania State University, 1988; Jacobs fellowship, 1991; Folger Institute grant-in-aid, 1991; Eisenhower Award, Pennsylvania State University, 1993, for excellence in teaching; Fulbright Lecture/Research Grant, Federal University of Paraná, 1993; Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies grant, Pennsylvania State University, 1997; FELT grant, Pennsylvania State University, 1998, for development of world literature course; honorary fellow, Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies, Pennsylvania State University, 1998-2000.


(Author of introduction, notes, and glossary, with Steven R. Cerf and James L. Hodge) Zum 40 Jahrestag der Beendigung des Krieges in Europe und der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrshaft, American Association of Teachers of German (Cherry Hill, NJ), 1987.

"Clarissa" on the Continent: Translation and Seduction, Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, PA), 1990.

The Ideology of Genre: A Comparative Study of Generic Instability, Pennsylvania State University Press (University Park, PA), 1994.

(Translator, with Quing-yun Wu) Bai Hua, The Remote Country of Women, University of Hawaii Press (Honolulu, HI), 1994.

Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1999.

Contributor to books, including Worldmaking, edited by William Pencak, Peter Lant (New York, NY), 1986; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 66: German Fiction Writers, 1885-1913, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1988; Critical Survey of Literary Theory, Salem Press, 1988; Law and Aesthetics, edited by Roberta Kevelson, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1992; A Handbook of Semiotics, edited by Roberta Kevelson, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 1998; and Encyclopedia of the Novel, edited by Paul Schellinger, Fitzroy Dearborn (Chicago, IL), 1998. Contributor of articles, reviews, essays, translations, and other work to numerous scholarly journals and associated publications.


True Imaginary Places: Geographies of Nation in Modern American and European Literatures; New World Apocalypse; Canudos and World Literature; Citation and Precedent: Law and Literature in German Culture; The Fiction of Translation; The Genealogy of Epistolary Fiction; and an epistolary analysis of colonial letters.


Thomas O. Beebee readily admits his fascination with epistolary fiction. "Not only your choice of profession, but even the subfield you try to master will have emotional roots," Beebee wrote on his Web site. Ever since receiving the first letter of "a brief and tragic affair" in 1972, "I have been fascinated by narratives constructed out of correspondence. In such fictions, the letter has a dual function: it tells the story while it creates it. All through my academic life I have been obsessed with explaining the letter's power."

Born in Santa Monica, California, Beebee in his teen years was active in theater and public speaking. Early inclinations to attend law school were overcome by exposure to literature, particularly Shakespeare and Dostoevsky, and the realization that "the letter of the law would annihilate me," Beebee remarked. He has since become a professor of comparative literature and German, with teaching areas in diverse areas such as the history of criticism, translation, German philosophy, and contemporary theory. "If it weren't for these great opportunities I've been given not to specialize, I would have quit academia long ago," he commented on his Web site.

Beebee's obsession with epistolary fiction manifested itself in "Clarissa" on the Continent: Translation and Seduction, which was originally his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Michigan. In this book, the author uses two significant translations of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa "to examine two theories of translation, to illuminate the continental reception history of the novel, and to demonstrate the significance of cultural context and natural discourses," according to P. R. Backscheider in Studies in English Literature. The nature of Clarissa as a text warrants and validates the "creative" and "free" translation of Antoine de Prevost and the "preservative" translation of Mohann Michaelis, Backscheider continued. The great diversity and variety of other translations of Clarissa demonstrate that the novel "is one of the most dialogic of all novels and that its immediate and lasting appeal comes from this quality and from the strength of the text's 'reine Sprache,' its pure essence or even sacred structure," Backscheider concluded.

Susan Whyman, writing in Comparative Literature Studies, wrote glowingly about Beebee's Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850, saying that it "sweeps grandly across languages, cultures, centuries, and sources with imagination and intelligence." She further said, "It is an important achievement covering epistolary texts in all major European languages." Covering the period from the Renaissance to the middle of the nineteenth century, Beebee explores the development of national epistolary identities in letter fiction in English, French, Spanish, Russian, and German. The letter is everywhere, but it is not simply an object transmitted from one person to another. Instead, it serves as "a set of functions and capabilities" that "crystallized social relationships," he writes. Beebee also examines the letter's "powers of dispersal and transformation," as well as its impact on other communication and writing forms such as gossip, news reporting, and travel writing, observed Linda S. Kauffman in Comparative Literature.

Beebee has also examined letter writing by men during the Renaissance, the importance of women to letter writing and the novel, and peaks of epistolary influence in the late seventeenth, the eighteenth, and the late twentieth centuries. Even the physical reception of letters, whether "kissed, wept upon, eaten, beaten, held to the bosom," or the simple nondelivery of letters, confers upon them a "psychic charge," Beebee writes. Kauffman called Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850 an "impressive achievement" and "a vital contribution to literary history and the studies of genre and narrative." Beebee's goals with the book, Whyman remarked, are "clearly outlined and brilliantly achieved."

"The years have shown me ever more clearly that my greatest ambition is to live in peace—an attitude which betrays my lack of artistic potential," Beebee asserts on his Web site. "I ran away from Southern California because I could find no peace there. What New Yorkers (or Californians) would call the boredom of State College and central PA, I call peace."



Beebee, Thomas O., Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1999.


Choice, January, 1995, J. G. Holland, review of The Remote Country of Women, p. 791; October, 1999, D. S. Gochberg, review of Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850, p. 323.

Comparative Literature, summer, 2000, Linda S. Kauffman, review of Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850.

Comparative Literature Studies, 2001, Susan Whyman, review of Epistolary Fiction in Europe, 1500-1850, pp. 372-374.

Studies in English Literature, summer, 1991, P. R. Backscheider, review of "Clarissa" on the Continent: Translation and Seduction, p. 569.


Thomas Oliver Beebee Home Page, (January 30, 2004).*

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Beebee, Thomas O(liver) 1955-

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