Madsen, Deborah L. 1960-

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Madsen, Deborah L. 1960-

(Deborah Lea Madsen)

PERSONAL: Born December 13, 1960, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; daughter of Michael and Vivienne Margaret Jones; married Mark Sandberg, February 23, 1989; children: Selene Deborah, Dana Marcia, Aurora Leigh, James Mark Sandberg. Education: University of Adelaide, B.A. (with honors), 1981, M.A., 1984; University of Sussex, D. Phil., 1988.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, University of Geneva, CH-1211, Geneva-4, Switzerland. E-mail[email protected]. ch.

CAREER: University of Leicester, Leicester, England, lecturer, 1989-95, reader in English, 1995-97, and director of American Studies program; London South Bank University, London, England, professor of English, 1997-2002; University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland, professor of American literature and culture, 2002—. Visiting lecturer at the University of Adelaide, 2004, University of Bern, 2005, and the University of Fribourg, 2006. Guest lecturer at conferences and universities.

MEMBER: Modern Language Association, International Association of University Professors of English, European Association for American Studies, Swiss Association for North American Studies, Swiss Association of University Teachers of English, Society for Multi-Ethnic Studies in Europe and America, Swiss Association for North American Studies, American Antiquarian Society,.



The Postmodernist Allegories of Thomas Pynchon, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Rereading Allegory: A Narrative Approach to Genre, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor) Visions of America since 1492, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1994.

Postmodernism: A Bibliography, 1926-1994, Rodopi (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 1995.

Allegory in America: From Puritanism to Postmodernism, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1996.

American Exceptionalism, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1998.

(Editor) Post-Colonial Literatures: Expanding the Canon, Pluto Press (Sterling, VA), 1999.

Feminist Theory and Literary Practice, Pluto Press (Sterling, VA), 2000.

Maxine Hong Kingston, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2000.

Understanding Contemporary Chicana Literature, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 2000.

Chinese American Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.

The Woman Warrior and China Men, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.

(Editor) Beyond the Borders: American Literature and Post-Colonial Theory, Pluto Press (Sterling, VA), 2003.

(Editor) Asian American Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2005.

(Editor, with Michael Hanrahan) Teaching, Technology, Textuality: Approaches to New Media, Macmillan (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Approaches to Teaching Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49 and Other Works,” edited by Thomas Schaub, MLA (New York, NY); and Companion to Australian Literature, Boydell & Brewer (Elizabethtown, NY). Contributor to periodicals, including Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, Journal of Intercultural Studies, History of European Ideas, Journal of American Studies, and Canadian Review of American Studies. Member of editorial board, European Journal of American Culture, and Journal of Contemporary Women Writers.

SIDELIGHTS: Educated in Australia and England, Deborah L. Madsen is a scholar specializing in American literature. Her interests also include feminism, the study of transnational ethnic literatures, and American Exceptionalism, or the idea that the United States is set apart from other modern nations because of its unique history and political and religious organizations.

One of Madsen’s first books, Allegory in America: From Puritanism to Postmodernism, examines the use of allegory in American literature. Beginning with a brief history of allegory in Hellenistic, Judaistic, and Christian literature, she moves to colonial New England in the second chapter, and from these on through the twentieth century. Included are discussions of narratives written by authors who had been taken captive by Native Americans; these are compared to a slave narrative written in the nineteenth century. “The congruence of postmodernist terminology and the language of traditional allegory is strikingly demonstrated here, and in the successful (though regrettably short) chapter on John Barth,” reported Brian Harding in the Modern Language Review.

In American Exceptionalism, Madsen takes a concise but thorough look at the belief that the United States is a unique nation, set apart from others. This widespread notion has led to significant decisions in national policy. Madsen’s book traces the roots of Exceptionalism in six chapters, starting with the Puritans in the seventeenth century and leading up to modern times. According to a reviewer for H-Net Online, those reading the book will appreciate “the author’s clear, fast-paced, and mercifully jargon-lite prose” as she discusses American movies, poetry, prose, and theology. Ideologies that oppose the notion of Exceptionalism are also presented; these are drawn from works by African American, Native American, and Chicano writers.

The book begins with the early years in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, when the Puritans truly embraced the idea of their colony as a unique place, selected by God for a special purpose. While praising Madsen’s coverage of the Puritans as the first to believe in America’s fateful position among nations, the H-Net Online reviewer did state that “there are disagreements over such matters and Madsen ought to have explored them.” The H-Net Online writer concluded by stating that, in fact, many countries besides the United States have considered themselves special and somehow critically important, raising the point that perhaps American Exceptionalism is really nothing unique. “She could have done more to answer that question,” noted the reviewer. “Still, it is only bold works such as Madsen’s that raise such important issues.”

Madsen told CA:“My favorite book is always my next book. Writing is inseparable from thinking for me; I do a lot of my thinking in the process of writing . . . and editing.

“It sounds trite to say that I hope readers of my books will come to know anew that things have histories, but I think it is very important to be aware that the ways in which we use language, in figures of speech and the like, are historically determined. My interest is in taking aspects of who we are now, in the Western anglophone world, and tracing the history of the rhetoric that informs our cultural habits.”



Journal of Southern History, August, 2000, Michael O’Brien, review of American Exceptionalism, p. 605.

Library Journal, February 1, 2001, Nedra C. Evers, review of Understanding Contemporary Chicana Literature, p. 89.

Modern Language Review, July, 1998, Brian Harding, review of Allegory in America: From Puritanism to Postmodernism, p. 805.

Reference & Research Book News, November, 2005, review of Asian American Writers.

Research in African Literatures, winter, 2001, Anuradha Dingwaney Needham, review of Post-Colonial Literatures: Expanding the Canon, p. 221.


H-Net Online, (January 22, 2007), “The Complexities of American Exceptionalism.”