Anna Henchman


Associate Professor; Director of Undergraduate Studies

BA, Yale University
MA, PhD, Harvard University

Room 531
For CV click here

I focus on Victorian literature, especially poetry and the novel. All of my work asks how literature represents or challenges the constraints of everyday perception.  My first book, The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature, was published by Oxford University Press in 2014.  The Starry Sky Within connects literary experiments in point of view with nineteenth-century astronomy. Victorian astronomy depicted a complex universe in constant motion, with no point of rest. The writers I treat enlist readers to set radically different perceptions of a single thing (a person, a planet, an event) next to each other by moving the reader through space at great speeds. I focus on four writers who were fascinated by astronomy: Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Thomas De Quincey, and Alfred Tennyson. Astronomers and novelists were equally obsessed with the problem of where we view the things from. How, they wondered, can we picture the universe as a whole while being stuck on the surface of the earth?

I’m drawn to huge things and tiny things. My new work explores how we imagine the inner lives of tiny creatures (ants, snails, and worms). Looking at alien minds throws everyday distinctions between inner and outer, conscious and unconscious, into relief. I am focusing on the sense of touch in Victorian literature, especially how writers distinguish sentient surfaces from non-sentient ones.

I am deeply committed to bridging boundaries between academic disciplines. To that end, the courses I teach draw from literature, history of science, and philosophy. These include “Time, Literature, and Narrative 1800-1930” and “Animals and Literature 1800-2000.” Before coming to BU, I spent three years at Harvard’s Society of Fellows. Currently I co-chair a seminar on Cognitive Theory and the Arts, organize an annual panel on new work in Victorian Studies, and am co-organizing a conference on Creativity Across the Disciplines at the Radcliffe Institute.

Selected Publications
  • The Starry Sky Within: Astronomy and the Reach of the Mind in Victorian Literature (monograph) (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • “Edward Lear Dismembered: Word Fragments and Body Parts.”  Nineteenth-Century Contexts.  An Interdisciplinary Journal, 35:5 (2013) 479-487.
  • “Outer Space: Physical Science” The Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry, edited by Matthew Bevis. (2013. In press.)
  • “The Telescope.” Special Issue on Disability. Victorian Review 35:2 (Fall 2009) 27-32.
  • “Hardy’s Stargazers and the Astronomy of Other Minds,” Victorian Studies, 51.1. (Autumn 2008)
  • “Hardy’s Cliffhanger and Narrative Time,” English Language Notes, 46.1 (Spring/Summer 2008)
  • “‘The Globe we groan in’: Astronomical Distance and Stellar Decay in In Memoriam,” Victorian Poetry, Special Issue on Science and Victorian Poetry, 41 (2003)
Work in Progress
  • Tiny Creatuers and the Boundaries of Being in Victorian Literature (monograph)
  • Junior Faculty Fellow, Boston University Center for the Humanities (2012-3)
  • John Clive Teaching Prize (2007)
  • Harvard Society of Fellows Junior Fellowship (2004–7)
  • Bowdoin Prize (2004)
  • Walter L. Arnstein Prize (2004)
  • Certificates of Distinction in Teaching (2001, 2002, 2006)
  • Packard Fellowship (2002)
  • Merit Fellowship (2001)
  • Arthur Lehman Scholarship (2001)
  • Ralph Paine Memorial Prize (1993)
  • Edward Thompkins McLaughlin Scholarship (1992)
Other Professional Activites
  • Co-chair, Cognitive Theory and the Arts Seminar, Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard