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Margot Backus

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Margot Backus completed her second book, Scandal Work: James Joyce, the New Journalism, and the Home Rule Newspaper Wars (University of Notre Dame Press) in 2013. Her prizewinning book, The Gothic Family Romance: Heterosexuality and Child Sacrifice in the Anglo-Irish Colonial Order, came out from Duke University Press in 1999.

With Joseph Valente, she recently completed work on The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable (Forthcoming, Indiana University Press, Fall 2020).

Child Sex Scandal

This study examines literary engagements with a series of twentieth-century sex scandals that serially transformed Ireland’s moral and political landscape, considering the complex significance of juvenile narrators in the most influential of these engagements.

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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

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Academic Honors

  • Fall 2015: Fulbright Distinguished Scholar of Anglophone Irish Writing, Seamus Heaney Centre and School of English at Queen’s University Belfast
  • Spring 2015: James Joyce Scholar in Residence, University at Buffalo
  • 2007–2008 Research Fellow, Irish American Cultural Institute, National University of Ireland-Galway Centre for Irish Studies

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Scandal Work

Scandal Work

Prior accounts of homosexual sex scandals in British newspapers had ignored the influence of the 1883 Dublin sex scandal that produced new scandal conventions that led to the downfall of Radical MP Charles Dilke, Irish Home Rule leader Charles Stewart Parnell, and Oscar Wilde. Owing to this oversight, scholars working in the history of sexuality have viewed the fall of Oscar Wilde as unrelated to imperial politics. Scandal Work introduces a corrective reading of Wilde’s fall as the result of rapid changes in the conventions of the sex scandal within increasingly contentious imperial print networks and furthermore argues for Wilde’s towering influence on Joyce as a writer and a man, carefully tracing the many direct and indirect allusions to Wilde’s fate in Ulysses.

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Selected Publications


  • Forthcoming (Fall 2020): The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable, with Joseph Valente. Indiana University Press. “Irish Culture, Memory, Place” Series. 384 typescript pages.
  • 2013: Scandal Work: James Joyce, the New Journalism, and the Home Rule Newspaper Wars. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, October 2013.
  • 1999: The Gothic Family Romance: Heterosexuality, Child Sacrifice and the Anglo-Irish Colonial Order. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

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  • 2019 “’Portals of Discovery’ or ‘an Immorality in Three Orgasms’: How James Joyce’s Ulysses Stopped Being Too Queer to Queer,” forthcoming, Intertexts: A Journal of Comparative and Theoretical Reflection. 41 typescript pages.
  • 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.
  • 2013 The Woman Who Did: Maria’s Maternal Misdirection in James Joyce’s “Clay” (with Martha Stallman). Joyce Studies Annual, 129-150.
  • 2013 Kate O’Brien, The Land of Spices, and the Stylistic Invention of Lesbian (In)visibility (with Joseph Valente). Solicited contribution to queer theory/Irish studies special issue, Irish University Review 43.1 (2013), 55-73.
  • 2009 “The Children of the Nation?”: Representations of Poor Children in Mainstream Nationalist Journalism, 1882 and 1913. Eire/Ireland 44: 1 & 2 (2009). Special issue on children, childhood and Irish society, eds. Maria Luddy and James Smith, 118-146.
  • 2009 “’An Iridescence Difficult to Account For’: Sexual Initiation in Joyce’s Fiction of Development” (with Joseph Valente). ELH: Journal of English Literary History, 76:2 (2009), 523-545.
  • 2008 “’More Useful Washed and Dead’: James Connolly, W.B. Yeats, and the Sexual Politics of Easter 1916.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, special issue on James Connolly, 10:1, 67-85.
  • 2008 “’Odd Jobs’: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and the Scandal Fragment.” Joyce Studies Annual 2008, 105-145.

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Backus N daughter

Book Chapters

  • 2014 “Those Who Create Themselves Wits at the Expense of Feminine Delicacy”: W.T. Stead, James Joyce, and the  Maiden Tribute Sex Scandal. Ireland and the New Journalism, eds., Karen Steele and Michael de Nie.  New York: Palgrave MacMillan Press, pp. 161-180.
  • 2014 “The Children of the Nation?”: Representations of Poor Children in Mainstream Nationalist Journalism, 1882 and 1913. Children and Childhood in Ireland: 1700-2010. Eds. Maria Luddy and James Smith. Forthcoming, Dublin: Four Courts Press, pp. 357-77.
  • 2012 “An Encounter”: James Joyce’s Humiliation Nation (with Joseph Valente), in Collaborative Dubliners: Joyce in Dialogue, ed. Vicki Mahaffey. Syracuse University Press, pp. 48-68.
  • 2009 “’Things That Have the Potential to Go Terribly Wrong’: Homosexuality, Pedophelia, and the Kincora Boys Home Scandal.” In The Ashgate Research Companion to Queer Theory, eds. Noreen Giffney and Michael O'Rourke. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 237-256.
  • 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 Scholars Publishing, pp. 21-37.

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Letters, Notes, and Reviews

  • 2017 Interview with Joseph Valente on psychoanalysis and Irish studies for Breac: Digital Journal of Irish Studies, special issue on Ireland in Psychoanalysis, July 28.
  • 2017 “I am the bravest writer you will interview”: On Writing and Persisting on the Academic Fringes, an Interview with Lacy Johnson. FORUM: The University of Houston Department of English Newsletter, May.

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UH Undergraduate Courses
  • Queer Theory (2019); The History of Literary Criticism and Theory (2018); Irish Heritage
    and the Queering of Contemporary Ireland (2018); Contemporary Irish Literature (2019,
    2018, 2014, 2010); Modern Irish Literature (2019, 2017, 2016, 2014, 2011, 2008, 2002);
    Introduction to Literary Studies: Middlemarch (2017, 2013, 2013); The British Novel from
    1832 (2018, 2017, 2016, 2013, 2009, 2001); Introduction to Literary Studies: James Joyce’s
    Dubliners and Affect Theory (2016, 2014); Modern British Literature (2011, 2010); Gay and
    Lesbian Literature (2012); Introduction to Literary Studies: Reading Ulyssses (2009, 2007).

UH Graduate Seminars

  • “A New and Complex Sensation”: Sexual Subjectivity in the Writing of James Joyce (2018); British Empire: The Pedagogy of Empire (2017); Preseminar in British Modernism: the Roots of Irish and British Modernism (2019); Preseminar in British Modernism: Children of Empire (2016, 2014); Topics in Postcolonial Studies: Ireland (2013); Preseminar in British Modernism (2012, 2010, 2009, 2005); The British Novel from 1832: Literary Critical Pedagogy (2012); Introduction to Doctoral Studies (2011); Ulysses (2009, 2007, 2005).

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