Gammel, Irene 1959-
GAMMEL, Irene 1959-
PERSONAL: Born 1959. Education: McMaster University, M.A., 1988; Ph.D., 1992; attended Universitat des Saarlandes, Saarbrucken, Germany, 1987; Queen's University, Ontario, DAAD visiting student; Sorbonne, University of Paris, auditor libre (comparative literature).
CAREER: University professor and writer. McMaster University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, lecturer in English and comparative literature, 1992-93; University of Prince Edward Island, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, assistant professor, 1993-97, associate professor, 1997-2000, professor of English, 2000—. Visiting professor at Friedrich-Schiller-Universitat (Canadian studies) and Jena und Erfurt Universitat (spring term, 2001), both in Germany.
MEMBER: Canadian Comparative Literature Association (president, 1992-93).
AWARDS, HONORS: Buchanan Book Prize for Humanities, McMaster University, 1988; Government of Canada (WUSC) Award for international students in Canada, 1989-91; Award for Outstanding Scholarly Achievement, University of Prince Edward Island, 1995; SSHRC grant, three-time recipient.
Sexualizing Power in Naturalism: Theodore Dreiser and Frederick Philip Grove, University of Calgary Press (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 1994.
(Editor, with Elizabeth Epperly), L. M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.
(Editor) Confessional Politics: Women's Sexual Self-Representations in Life Writing and Popular Media, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1999.
Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity: A Cultural Biography, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Contributor of numerous articles to literary journals, including Faulkner Journal, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, and Canadian Literature. Also contributed chapters to scholarly books, including Interfaces: Visualizing and Performing Women's Lives, edited by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Specializing in the literature and culture of the modern era from 1900 to 1930, Irene Gammel is an English professor who also speaks and reads German, French, and intermediate Latin. Gammel often writes about women in literature and art from a feminist point of view. Her first book Sexualizing Power in Naturalism: Theodore Dreiser and FrederickPhilip Grove, came from her doctoral dissertation in English literature. Gammel points out in the book that her primary purpose is "to provide a revisionary—gender-critical—reading of twentieth-century American and Canadian naturalism." As noted by reviewer Judy Dudar, writing in Canadian Literature, publishers often caution that "doctoral dissertations do not necessarily make good books." Dudar commented that Gammel's book does contain "Information Overload." However, she also remarked that Gammel's book "adds depth and insight" into Grove's work and the "events and the individuals" that may have inspired some of the characters in Dreiser's novels. In the Canadian Book Review Annual, Paul Hjartarson felt the book "makes a promising beginning on an important topic and will leave readers wanting more."
Gammel is also the author of Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity: A Cultural Biography. The work represents the first full biography of a woman whose outrageous lifestyle ultimately over-shadowed her efforts as a poet, sculptor, and painter. Gammel provides readers with a look at Baroness Elsa's humble beginnings as Else-Hildegard Plötz, the German daughter of a harsh middle-class father and a mother who went insane. The baroness eventually ran away from her small hometown in the Baltic to Berlin, where she survived largely off the largesse of her various lovers. She eventually ended up in America with her second husband, who left her. She then married German Baron Leopold von Fretyag-Loringhoven, who later committed suicide and left his wife with only a title and no money.
Living in New York, the baroness became part of the dada art scene. The name dada comes from a French word meaning "hobbyhorse." Dada art usually contains unconventional forms and is produced using unconventional methods. It uses everyday objects like bicycles and urinals and often reflects the cynicism of the period following World War I. The central theme is that there is no purpose and no meaning to art or, in the larger context, to life. The baroness's art included portraits and sculptures made from everyday materials, as well as costumes. Gammel points out that the baroness, who once shaved her head and painted it red, became one of the first practitioners of body art. Her experimental poetry features odd syntax and phonetic sounds. The baroness, however, was never able to support herself financially. She also alienated many people with her anti-Semitism and homophobia, although she was bisexual herself. In the end, she returned to Europe and died destitute in Paris in 1926 from gas poisoning. No one is sure whether it was deliberate or accidental.
Although noting that Gammel at times seems to excuse the baroness's often erratic behavior as part of her art, a reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly called Gammel's book "large, detailed, and well-researched." Holland Cotter, writing in the New York Times, noted, "The Baroness could not have asked for a more thoughtful and engaged monument" than Gammel's book. Although he called the work "flat-footed" stylistically, Cotter commented that "what carries the day" is that Gammel "is clearly for her subject." He added, "All the baroness's faults and absurdities are noted in detail, but so is her role as a pathfinder in transgressive sexuality, and as an artist." The result, noted Cotter, is "a dense, passionate book."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Ariel, October, 1995, E. D. Blodgett, review of Sexualizing Power in Naturalism: Theodore Dreiser and Frederick Philip Grove, pp. 171-174; July, 2000, Danielle Fuller, review of L. M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture, p. 180.
Booklist, April 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Baroness Elsa: Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity: A Cultural Biography, p. 1297.
Canadian Book Review Annual, Volume 33, 1994, Paul Hjartason, review of Sexualizing Power in Naturalism, p. 251; Volume 28, 1999, Patricia Morley, review of L. M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture, p. 258.
Canadian Literature, winter, 1996, Judy Dudar, Sexualizing Power in Naturalism, pp. 133-135.
Children's Literature Association Quarterly, spring, 2001, Raymond E. Jones, review of L. M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture, p. 54.
Choice, March, 2000, review of L. M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture, p. 1300.
English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, spring, 2000, review of Confessional Politics: Women's Sexual Self-Representations in Life Writing and Popular Media, pp. 250-251.
New York Times, May 19, 2002, "The Mama of Dada," p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, April 8, 2002, review of Baroness Elsa, p. 221.
Quill & Quire, July, 1999, Deborah Dundas, review of L. M. Montgomery and Canadian Culture, p. 47.*