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Margot Backus

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Moores Professor of English Literature 

Head shot Backus
Selected Publications
Honors, Awards, and Grants
Classes Taught
Research Interests
Current Book Project
Phone: (713) 822-1908

Margot Gayle Backus is a Moores Professor of English at the University of Houston. Her first book, The Gothic Family Romance: Heterosexuality, Child Sacrifice, and the Anglo-Irish Colonial Order (Duke University Press, Post-Contemporary Interventions, 1999, traced the origins of the obsessive depictions of child sacrifice in the Anglo-Irish gothic to the operations of nuclearization and heteronormativity through which English familial and sex/gender norms reshaped the Irish social order. The Gothic Family Romance won the American Conference for Irish Studies Prize for a Distinguished First Book, and was recognized as a Choice Outstanding Title.   

In 2007-8, Backus was the Irish American Cultural Institute-National University of Ireland-Galway Fellow in Residence at the NUI-Galway Martha Fox Centre for Irish Studies, where she conducted research on the Irish culture of sex scandal. Her 2013 study, Scandal Work: James Joyce, the New Journalism, and the Home Rule Newspaper Wars (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013) describes the extensive impact of the New Journalist sex scandal on the Irish Home Rule Movement, and James Joyce’s extensive and complex engagements with the form 

Backus was 2014-15 Queens University Fulbright Scholar of Anglophone Irish Writing, and 2015 James Joyce Scholar in residence at the University of Buffalo.  

In 2015-17, with UH Department of English colleague Maria Gonzalez, Backus co-edited three edited volumes of creative and nonfiction writing and artwork titles “Borderlines” for the Houston transnational arts organization, Voices Breaking Boundaries. 

In 2020, with Joseph Valente, Backus co-authored The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable (Indiana University Press, 2020). 

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  • Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin, English Literature
  • M.A., University of Texas at Austin, English Literature
  • B.A., University of Massachusetts/Boston, English Literature

Selected Publications


(2020)The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable, with  Joseph Valente.      Indiana University Press. “Irish Culture, Memory, Place” Series. 300 pages.

(2013) Scandal Work: James Joyce, the New Journalism, and the Home Rule Newspaper Wars. Notre Dame,  IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 328 pages; Kindle Edition, 2014.                                               

(1999) The Gothic Family Romance: Heterosexuality, Child Sacrifice, and the Anglo-Irish Colonial Order.        Durham, NC: Duke University Press, “Post-Contemporary Interventions” Series. 304 pages. 

Articles and Book Chapters

(2022) “’Love’s Poison Mystery’: Food, Sex, and the New Journalist Sex Scandal in Lestrygonians,” invited submission for Ulysses centenary issue, Joyce Studies Annual. 

(2021) “’A Fairy Boy of Eleven, a Changeling, Kidnapped, Dressed in an Eton Suit’: Precarious, Lost, and Recovered Children in Anglophone Irish Modernism.” In press, Irish Modernism, ed. Maud Ellmann, Sîan White and Vicki Mahaffey. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), 131-146. 

(2020) “Abused Ireland: Psychoanalyzing the Enigma of Sexualized Innocence,” with Joseph Valente, in Routledge International Handbook of Irish Studies, ed. Renee Fox, Michael Cronin, and Brian O’Conchubair (London: Routledge). 

(2020) “’Portals of Discovery’ or ‘an Immorality in Three Orgasms’: How James Joyce’s Ulysses Stopped Being  Too Queer to Queer,” Intertexts: A Journal of Comparative and Theoretical Reflection. 24:1-2, 97-132. 

(2018) “’War upon War’: The Anti-War Militancy of James Connolly and the Irish Citizens Army” (with Spurgeon Thompson), Ireland and World War I special issue, ed. Mark S. Quigley, Modernist Cultures 12:3, 365-81. 

(2017) “’The Only Human Person in that Whole Neighborhood’: James Joyce, Edna O’Brien, and the Question of Originality,” special issue on gender, sexuality and intersectionality, Breac: Digital Journal of Irish Studies, July 17, 1-17. 

(2014) “’Those Who Create Themselves Wits at the Expense of Feminine Delicacy’: W.T. Stead, James Joyce, and the Maiden Tribute Sex Scandal,” in Ireland and the New Journalism, ed. Karen Steele and Michael de Nie (NY: Palgrave MacMillan), 161-80. 

(2014) “’The Children of the Nation?’: Representations of Poor Children in Mainstream Nationalist Journalism, 1882 and 1913,” in Children and Childhood in Ireland: 1700-2010, ed. Maria Luddy and James Smith (Dublin: Four Courts Press), 357-77. 

(2013) “The Woman Who Did: Maria’s Maternal Misdirection in James Joyce’s ‘Clay,’” with Martha Stallman, Joyce Studies Annual 2013, 129-50. 

(2013) “Kate O’Brien, The Land of Spices, and the Stylistic Invention of Lesbian (In)visibility,” with Joe Valente, Irish University Review 43:1, 55-73. 

(2012) “’An Encounter’: James Joyce’s Humiliation Nation,” with Joe Valente, in Collaborative Dubliners: Joyce in Dialogue, ed. Vicki Mahaffey (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press), 48-68. 

(2009) “’Things That Have the Potential to Go Terribly Wrong’: Homosexuality, Paedophelia, and the Kincora Boys Home Scandal,” in The Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Theory, ed. Noreen Giffney and Michael O'Rourke (Aldershot: Ashgate), 237-56. 

(2009) “’The Children of the Nation?’: Representations of Poor Children in Mainstream Nationalist Journalism, 1882 and 1913,” special issue on children, childhood, and Irish society, ed. Maria Luddy and James Smith, Eire/Ireland 44: 1&2,118-46. 

(2009) “’An Iridescence Difficult to Account For’: Sexual Initiation in Joyce’s Fiction of Development,” with Joe Valente, ELH: Journal of English Literary History 76:2, 523-45. 

(2008) “’Odd Jobs’: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and the Scandal Fragment,” Joyce Studies Annual 2008,105-45. 

(2008) “’More Useful Washed and Dead’: James Connolly, W.B. Yeats, and the Sexual Politics of Easter 1916,” special issue on James Connolly, Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 10:1, 67-85 

(2008) “’Everybody Knew, Nobody Said’: Transnational Laundries and Transnational Trauma across the Irish/Northern Irish Border,” in Irish Studies: Geographies and Genders, ed. Marti Lee and Ed Madden (Cambridge: Cambridge Publishing, 21-37). 

(2001) “‘I’m Your Mother; She Was a Carrying Case’: Gender, Sexuality, and the Symbolics of Adoption in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” in Imagining Adoption: Essays on Literature and Culture, ed. Marianne Novy (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press), 133-49. 

(2001) “Sexual Figures of National Identity in ‘The Dead,’” European Joyce Studies 11: James Joyce and the Fabrication of an Irish Identity, 111-31. 

(2001) “Riverine Crossings: Gender, Identity and the Reconstruction of National Mythic Narrative in The Crying Game,” with James Doan, Cultural Studies 15:1, 173-91. 

(2001) “‘A Most Curious State of Affairs’: Eamonn McCann on the Good Friday Agreement,” Rethinking Marxism 13:1, 83-97. 

(2001) “‘It’s Not Quite Philadelphia, Is It?’ Interview with Eamonn McCann,” Eire/Ireland, December, 174-89. 

(1996) “Discourse and Silence in the Victorian Family Cell: Problems of Subjectivity in The History of Sexuality: Vol. I,” Victorian Literature and Culture 24, 159-74. 

(1996) “Sexual Orientation in the (Post)Imperial Nation: Celticism and Inversion Theory in The Well of Loneliness,” Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 15:2, 45-58. 

(1994) “With His Pistol in Her Hand: Re-Articulating the Corrido Narrative in Helena María Viramontes’ ‘Neighbors,’” with JoAnn Pavletich, Cultural Critique 27,  127-52. 

(1994) “‘Looking for that Dead Girl’: Incest, Pornography, and the Capitalist Family Romance in Nightwood, The Years, and Tarbaby,” American Imago 51:4, 421-45. 

(1993) “Judy Grahn and the Lesbian Invocational Elegy: Testimonial and Prophetic Responses to Social Death in ‘A Woman is Talking to Death,’” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 18:4, 815-37. 

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Honors, Awards, and Grants Received  

  • 2020-25
University of Houston Moores Professorship
  • 2020-21
CLASS NEH grant writing workshop participant
  • 2019
University of Houston Provost’s Travel Fund
  • 2019
UH Department of English Houstoun Research Grant
  • 2018
University of Houston CLASS Research Progress Grant
  • 2017
UH Department of English Houstoun Research Grant
  • 2017
University of Houston CLASS Research Progress Grant
  • 2017
University of Houston Provost’s Travel Grant
  • 2015
University of Buffalo James Joyce Fellowship Grant
  • 2015
Fulbright Distinguished Scholar of Anglophone Irish Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre
  • 2015
UH WGSS Summer Stipend
  • 2014
CLASS Outreach Grant
  • 2012
University of Houston Grant-in-Aid
  • 2008-10
Dept. of English Houstoun Research Professorship
  • 2008
UH Undergraduate Mentorship Award
  • 2007-08
Visiting Fellowship in Irish Studies, Irish American Cultural Institute, National University of Ireland-Galway Centre for Irish Studies 
  • 2007
NEH Summer Seminar, Ulysses, Trinity College Dublin
  • 2007
Ross Lence Award for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities
  • 2005
University of Houston WGSS Summer Stipend
  • 2001
NEH Summer Seminar, “The Anglo-Irish, 1600-1800,” Univ. of Notre Dame 
  • 1994
NEH Summer Seminar, “Social Change in Early Modern Britain and the Rise of the Novel,” University of Pennsylvania
  • 1991
British Universities Summer School Fellowship, “British Literature and Culture, 1945-present,” University of London
  • 1991
Synge Summer School Scholarship, Synge Summer School, Wicklow, Ireland 
  • 1989
Yeats Summer School Scholarship, Sligo, Ireland

Classes Taught


  • Introduction to Fiction: “Mourning and Melancholia”  
  • Senior Experience Research Seminar: “Archival Ulysses”  
  • Queer Theory   
  • The History of Literary Criticism and Theory  
  • Modern Irish Literature  
  • Contemporary Irish Literature 
  • Introduction to Literary Studies: Middlemarch  
  • Introduction to Literary Studies: James Joyce’s Dubliners and Affect Theory   
  • Modern British Literature   
  • Gay and Lesbian Literature  
  • Introduction to Literary Studies: Reading Ulysses  
  • Postcolonial Literature  
  • The Contemporary Novel  


  • “A New and Complex Sensation”: Sexual Subjectivity in the Writing of James Joyce  
  • British Empire: The Pedagogy of Empire  
  • Preseminar in British Modernism: the Roots of Irish and British Modernism  
  • Preseminar in British Modernism: Children of Empire   
  • Topics in Postcolonial Studies: Ireland  
  • The British Novel from 1832: Literary Critical Pedagogy   
  • Introduction to Doctoral Studies (2011)  
  • Ulysses  
  • Queer Closures: The Sexual Politics of Literary Form  
  • The British Women’s Novel from 1832   
  • Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary Irish Literature  
  • Literary Modernism: The Aesthetics and Politics of Empire 

Research Interests

  • British and Irish modernisms 
  • Modern and contemporary Irish studies 
  • Critical sexuality studies, queer theory, lgbtq literatures 
  • Empire studies, critical race studies 

Current Book Project

  • Keeping James Joyce Out of Oscar Wilde’s Purple Trousers: the Joycean Anecdote and the North American Joyce Industry 

Affiliations and Links

  • Joyce Studies Annual 
  • Texas Irish Working Group  
  • Queering Ireland 
  • Irish Statement in Support of Black Lives Matter 

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