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Undergraduate magazines are usually founded because emerging poets and fiction writers need a place to publish their early work. From a few stapled pages read mainly by proud parents and a few friends, the young authors hope to graduate, so to speak, to the literary quarterlies and from there to The New Yorker and a prize-winning hardback collection from Knopf. That’s the theory, anyway.

The Paper Shell Review is a little different. Given that ours is still, as Randall Jarrell called it years ago, “an age of criticism,” this new journal is devoted to scholarly and critical essays. In this inaugural issue one can read about the image of the outlaw in modern Irish literature, the use of punctuation in Emily Dickinson’s poetry, questions of ethnicity and sexuality in Kate Chopin’s fiction, and the impact of British acquisitions in Italian painting on the creation of Walter Pater’s The Renaissance. Those, by the way, are just four of the contributions, but already one sees the range and variety of interpretative approaches adopted by these youthful scholars: the analysis of themes, explication de texte, new historicism, the tracing of influence.

Besides their worth as thoughtful pieces of criticism, such essays also demonstrate the vitality of college English study in the 21st century. The 1950s practiced formal analysis; the 1960s grew excited over myths and archetypes; the 1970s took up Marxism, structuralism and deconstruction, and in the 1980s feminism, queer studies, and other forms of cultural theorizing enlarged our horizons. But during the past 20 years literature departments have shown, quite reasonably, that all these approaches can enrich our understanding of a familiar classic or provide useful ways of shaking up the canon. Of course, love still lies at the heart of all criticism: The good reader is first enraptured—by a poem, story or piece of prose—and that inchoate feeling of delight begets a desire for deeper understanding. The greater the text, the more variously it can be apprehended and appreciated.

Let us welcome, then, The Paper Shell Review as a new forum for young literary scholars. These papers and essays demonstrate that in 2011 serious research, hard thought, and careful critical analysis are all very much alive and kicking.

Michael Dirda
Department of English, University of Maryland

Journal Information


Sohayl Vafai

Managing Editor

Rebecca Shin

Layout Editor

Laura Pavlo

Layout Consultant

Grace Toulotte

Editorial Board Leader

William Harris

Editorial Board

  • Emily Gorman
  • Amanda Ostria
  • Abby Shantzis
  • Susaana Harris
  • Stephanie Knauff
  • Sarah Greenberg
  • Robert Wolfe
  • Deanna Wright
  • Katie Harrelson
  • Lindsey Anderson
  • Evan Higgins
  • William Burch
  • Johnnie Simpson

Advising Graduate Students

  • Stephanie Clarke-Graham
  • Elizabeth Choy
  • Catherine Bayly

Spring 2011 Essays

General Essays