Skip to main content

Student Spotlight

Student Spotlight: Stephanie Page Hoskins

Rising Senior and Honors English Major has just had her article, “Deadly Spaces: The Perils of the Law’s Formalized Humanity in Herman Melville’s Billy Budd appear in the most recent issue of the Washington Undergraduate Law Review

A participant in the 28th Annual National Undergraduate Literature Conference

What were the titles of the papers you presented?

I was given the incredible honor of presenting three papers at the 28th Annual National Undergraduate Literature Conference. The three papers were entitled “Draining the Undead: The Susceptibility of the Body as the Site of Colonization in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Erna Brodber’s Myal,” “Brontë’s Silent Critique: Implications of the Metaphoric Master-Slave Binary within Jane Eyre,” and “The Construction of Formalized Humanity: Analyzing the Ambiguous Constructions of Legal Language in Herman Melville’s Billy Budd.”

What were the overall arguments of each paper?

When I write, I search for questions that have been largely unanswered by critics, and I strive to make unique connections that elucidate an element of the text that has not yet been uncovered. Each of these papers offers an original (perhaps bizarre) reading. In “Draining the Undead,” I push the critical interpretation of reverse colonization in Dracula to ask questions about the appropriation and transformation of the physical bodies the Count consumes. Most criticism sinks skin deep—it identifies the body as the site of colonization, but does not analytically penetrate the physical degradation and draining the body experiences. I claim that the portrayal of the pleasures and pains of the flesh embodies an uneasiness about the body and its susceptibility to external forces. As I build my argument, I bring in Brodber’s Myal—an obscure Caribbean text written nearly a century later—to illustrate the physical detrimental effects of British imperialism.

I suppose my paper on the metaphoric master-slave binary within Jane Eyre is not as radical as my Dracula paper; however, I still write about something that many critics seem to resist. Feminist critics often view Jane’s struggle as a gender power dynamic, but resists the influence of slavery and racial otherness upon this struggle despite the pivotal role of the West Indies within the novel. Similar to the critics’ silence upon the subject, Brontë never explicitly refers to the institution of British slavery, but it does on a figurative level address colonial slavery through discourse. I argue that Brontë’s uses metaphorical language of the master-slave binary to transfer the anxieties of colonial practices to metropolitan Britain, critiquing domestic oppression through the very language that Jane uses to represent herself.

My final paper, “The Construction of Formalized Humanity, is perhaps the most interesting argument I have made in a paper. The paper is published in the 2013 Washington Undergraduate Law Review, and it illustrates the ambiguities of legal language and how legal opinions often turn into a fight over the meaning of words and their reach. The paper focuses on the specific use of the words “humane” and “humanity,” and how these terms are used by countless Justices in multiple cases but not defined nor mentioned in the Constitution, allowing various versions and definitions of the terms to exist. Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, examines the way in which the law has little to do with morality or justice, but instead deals with the form and rules of precedent. Melville, through Captain Vere, suggests law operates under a kind of formalized humanity—a systematic network where “warm hearts do not betray heads that should be cool.”

What was your favorite thing about the conference?

My favorite part of the conference was the opportunity to hear papers from students all over the country. It was incredible to hear different arguments, different perspectives, and different writing styles. One of the best ways to strengthen your own writing is to listen to your peers, and since this conference exhibits the best of the best, this was an amazing learning experience. Would you recommend other Vanderbilt students to submit works for the conference and why? I would definitely recommend other Vanderbilt students to submit works for the conference. The conference features a variety of topics and genres: literature analyses, personal essays, fiction writings, and poetry. The conference is divided into various panel sessions, so once you present your paper, interested students and professors discuss your ideas and ask questions. Not only does the conference recognize your hard work, it submerses you in an atmosphere of like-minded individuals that ultimately sheds light upon your own writing style and work. Say a little about yourself! What year are you at Vanderbilt? Where are you from? Do you have any plans for after graduation I am a junior majoring in English with a focus in both literature analysis and creative writing. I am from Fort Pierce, Florida, and I plan to attend graduate school for English with hopes of becoming a writer and professor. Basically, I plan to always write and never leave school!

Interviewed by Kristin Rose