English professor publishes book on non-traditional patriarchal roles

English professor Helena Gurfinkel released her book “Outlaw Fathers in Victorian and Modern British Literature: Queering Patriarchy” in the spring.

English professor Helena Gurfinkel published her first book with Fairleigh Dickinson University Press in the spring. “Outlaw Fathers in Victorian and Modern British Literature: Queering Patriarchy” is based on her research. Photo credit: Denise MacDonald

Her first book is based on her research of non-traditional fatherly roles portrayed in literature. She examined several novels, stories and memoirs, including those by British and Anglo-American authors Anthony Trollope, Samuel Butler and Henry James on queer or “outside-the-norm” patriarchy.

SIUE, in particular, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Graduate School and the English department, according to Gurfinkel, have been supportive of her project through funded research fellowships and assistance with copyright permissions.

“They have helped me in many ways, and I’m grateful for that,” Gurfinkel said.

For five years, she prepared and revised her manuscript for publication with Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

The publisher states in the book’s description that, “In addition to using an inventive psychoanalytic approach to redefining, or queering, the concept of patriarchy in literary studies and theory, it joins a larger contemporary conversation about changing masculinities and families.”

According to Gurfinkel, male roles have been changing since the 20th century, but “unusual paternal roles existed long before that,” both in real life and in literature.

“The evolution of gender roles is relevant today but can be found in literature even before the 19th century,” Gurfinkel said. “Right now I think our concept of fatherhood is changing; the role of the father as strictly a provider, emotionally distant and not close to children is no longer the only acceptable one. Now an increasing number of fathers are staying home and taking care of children…assuming stereotypically maternal roles.”

Gurfinkel said she believes that the changing masculine roles constitute a “positive development” for fathers and children and is happy to contribute to the public discourse on this “important issue.”

“I believe that the particular angle from which I approach this topic is unique,” Gurfinkel said. “My book provides a definition of patriarchy that is counterintuitive and unconventional—different from the norm.”

At Tufts University in Medford, Mass., Gurfinkel spent five years researching and writing her dissertation on masculinity in literature which, she said, “really fascinated me.”

“Literary theory provides a very unusual angle on society, human relationships and gender roles,” Gurfinkel said. “Being a man can mean a million different things, and society has become more conscious of it. In the last 20 years or so, we have been paying more attention to the complex, layered and nuanced definitions of masculinity.”

According to Gurfinkel, writing her book has helped her become a better teacher.

“I have learned to explain complex concepts better, and that’s an important skill for a teacher to have,” Gurfinkel said.

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