About Me

Originally from beautiful Vancouver B.C., I have an Honours B.A. in English and History from the University of British Columbia and an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Cornell University.  Since 1995, I have been a member of the English Department at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia (click here to visit my academic website). After all these years ‘out east,’ I am still adjusting to snow, ice, and spring that doesn’t arrive until June.  I am married to a philosopher specializing in analytic epistemology and philosophy of religion. We have two wonderful children: a son who’s a computer whiz as well as a very talented musician and composer (now a Dalhousie student himself ) and a daughter with a great singing voice who will still sometimes sit down and watch a movie with her mom. If you’re in the Halifax area, you can catch them busking together sometimes at the Seaport Market: it’s a treat!

At Dalhousie, my main teaching area is the Victorian novel; I have a particular admiration for George Eliot and assign her greatest novel, Middlemarch, whenever possible.  I regularly offer courses in detective fiction as well; my other teaching and research interests include ethical criticism, intersections between literature and moral philosophy, historical fiction and historiography, and the role of literature and criticism in contemporary life.  One of my recent academic projects is an anthology of Victorian critical writing on the novel for Broadview Press.  Click here for my full academic curriculum vitae.

I have been blogging at Novel Readings since January 2007; from March 2008 to August 2010 I also contributed regularly to the academic group blog The Valve. I started blogging because I wanted to vary and extend the conversations I could have about books. More particularly, I felt frustrated by the gap between academic literary criticism and literary culture more broadly. It seemed to me that blogging was one way to bridge that gap: I could make my specialized academic work more transparent and accessible, and I could also experiment with critical writing aimed at making that work more relevant and interesting, and maybe even useful, to non-academic readers. My experience of blogging so far has actually exceeded these expectations. The openness and immediacy of blogging make it a refreshing, if occasionally nerve-wracking, complement to the narrow specialization and glacial pace of academic publishing. Blogging has also given me an outlet (some might say, an excuse!) to write about a wider array of books and topics, which has helped keep me intellectually alert and also led to some unexpected new directions and connections for my ‘official’ research. Best of all, blogging has brought me into contact with a rich and varied community of readers in and out of the academy who love books and want to talk or write about them as well as possible.

FAQ:

There’s really only one, but it’s persistent, so I’ll answer it right away: people always wonder about the origins of my name. Briefly, no, it was not chosen from Tolkein: it’s French (though I’ve learned, over the years, that it’s also Gaelic and Sanskrit), and it’s pronounced “Rowan.” It came to me by way of a good family friend who was distantly related to the Cardinal de Rohan. I’m not related to him myself, though. However, according to a letter my great-aunt sent me years ago, I am related to Elizabeth Barrett Browning–so if things had gone a little differently I might have been ‘Aurora‘ instead.

30 Comments to About Me

  1. Bruce Cooper's Gravatar Bruce Cooper
    August 2, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    I have no academic qualification and, to a very large extent, have relied on the works of FR Leavis to guide my reading of poetry and fiction. The reliance has not, I believe, been without merit and I am indebted to him for my deep and ongoing enjoyment of English literature. But, sadly, I’ve had no such guidance for novelists and poets published in the last sixty years and my age (65), and the limited time I have to spend on this most cherished pursuit, press upon me to seek from those better informed a literary canon for the period as well as the names of good literary critics who might assist in finding, to some degree at least, what I’m looking for.

    I’d be most grateful if you’d be willing to have a shot at this.

    Best wishes
    Bruce Cooper (South Africa)

  2. August 30, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks for blogging. I find your posts enjoyable and insightful.

  3. Dave Briseis's Gravatar Dave Briseis
    October 5, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    We insist that, such a powerful blog like this, should, in the least, have a facebook page of its own! More people must read this blog; and current readers can’t think of any better way of promotion. Please think about this.

    Thank you.

  4. October 7, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Dave:

    Really? Sorry if this is just an unfortunate sign of the times, but I wonder if this is a genuine comment or an odd kind of spam.

  5. Dave Briseis's Gravatar Dave Briseis
    October 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I hope your reply meant you have been considering; however, in case this was a trick question, I’d love to spam you until you create a page. The passion and the scholarship in this blog are unflinching.

  6. October 24, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    No spamming, please! But now that I believe in you, I’ll look into the FB idea. Thanks for your encouragement. “Unflinching”: nice!

  7. Rohan Maitzen's Gravatar Rohan Maitzen
    November 17, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    OK, Dave: I’ve started a Facebook page, at least on a trial basis. I’m not very savvy about this kind of thing, but there it is. Now what happens?

  8. John's Gravatar John
    February 8, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Hello Rohan,
    I came across your Website this week via your LA Times review about the Swedish crime fiction. Have you read any Norwegian crime fiction? Recently I read a couple of books in the same genre by Norwegian writers, and was disappointed by all the product placements in both books ( Joe Nesbø’s “Headhunters” and Karen Fossum’s “Don’t Look Back”.

    “I opened the Sub-Zero fridge and helped myself to a bottle of San Miguel. Not the usual Especial but 1516, the extra mild beer that Diana preferred because it was brewed according to purity laws.” (from Nesbø’s “Headhunter”). This is fiction writing?

    I notice you intend to read the Iliad this year. Me too. Do you have a particular translation in mind?

    Best wishes,
    John H.

  9. Rohan's Gravatar Rohan
    February 8, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Hi, John–welcome! I haven’t read any Norwegian crime fiction yet: though both the writers you name lurk on my “TBR” pile, I have never quite gotten around to them, partly because I can only take so much winter and darkness in any given year! That bit you quote does sound oddly mechanical.

    I have the Richard Lattimore translation of the Iliad, in its handsome new edition from the University of Chicago Press. I think I may have to “assign” myself sections over regular intervals to make sure I really *do* read it. I’m a bit intimidated by it, to be honest.

  10. Jo Turner's Gravatar Jo Turner
    February 19, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your review of the book. It’s ages (years) since I read it, but last night I saw the film. I had forgotten a bit of the plot- so much so that i WONDERED IF THE FILM HAD ALTERED IT SUBSTANTIALLY- BUT IT SEEMS NOT. I too had those complaints about the plot- the ghost ‘s revenge seems disproportionate and to a large extent to be visited on a random selection of people.
    Jo Turner

  11. Rohan's Gravatar Rohan
    March 3, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment, Jo. I haven’t seen the film. It actually looks too scary for me! I think the randomness point applies to the book version too.

  12. Emily's Gravatar Emily
    May 21, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Rohan,

    Thank you for your great blog! I came across it while looking around for thoughts on course evaluations, and specifically, wanted to know what to do about the fact that in the last class I taught (my first lecture class — on paradise lost), a bunch of students complained that I talk too fast (and assign too much work). I can cut back the assignments, but it’s hard to talk slow. Anyway, I really appreciated your account of how contradictory the eval’s can be; had some of the same experience. AND: I’m also a classicist, and I would like to implore you all, if it’s not too late, to go with any translation other than Lattimore. Please! I’d say that fans of nineteenth century lit. should go with Fagles for the Iliad. It has some annoying (to me) faux-yeatsian mannerisms, but it’s way more readable than Lattimore.

  13. Rohan Maitzen's Gravatar Rohan Maitzen
    May 22, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Hi, Emily! Thanks for the encouragement about the blog–and I sympathize with the challenge of slowing down. I have decided to work on repeating key points rather than concentrating on slowing down in general. But I’m also increasingly aware that students have little experience taking notes, and they may be particularly bewildered about how to do so for classes that are more Q&A than straight lecture. So I’m going to try addressing this issue early on, in case it helps for them to think of it as a skill that they can work on, not just something to blame me for. We’ll see!

    As for the Iliad, well, I have the Lattimore now so I’ll probably give it a shot, but if I do find myself bogged down, I’ll take your advice and round up the Fagles, though “faux-Yeatsian mannerisms” sound pretty unappetizing…

  14. August 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh yes, the Fagles translations are the best. I now have the Fagles, Odyssey, Iliad and the Virgil and compared to the forgettable translations I had when I was at university, they are a joy to read.
    If you are setting The Iliad as a course text, may I suggest David Malouf’s glorious novel Ransom (2009) as a companion text? It’s a slim novel which explores the moment when Priam must set off to enemy territory to ransom his son, and it is sublime writing. (You can see my review here http://wp.me/phTIP-1jB).

    • Alison Harvey's Gravatar Alison Harvey
      February 15, 2016 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for this post–Ransom sounds wonderful, and I always like to find contemporary takes on classical lit. Have you read the Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood? Well worth reading. And Lavinia, by Ursula Le Guin (vis a vis the Aeneid) is terrific.

      • November 23, 2016 at 4:00 am | Permalink

        Hello Alison, I’m sorry I have taken so long to reply, *smacks forehead* I forgot to tick the box for follow-up comments…
        Yes, I have read The Penelopaid and enjoyed Atwood’s witty take on things very much. I don’t know Lavinia, but will chase it up now that I know about it:)
        Cheers
        Lisa

  15. Ros's Gravatar Ros
    October 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Rohan, I just read your post on the cricket match in Murder Must Advertise. I think you would very much enjoy Antonia Forest’s The Cricket Term if you can get hold of a copy. To say it is a school story is to massively underestimate the depth of Forest’s characterisation and subtlety. It is a wonderful novel which climaxes in, of course, another cricket match. The captain of the team, in making the winning throw, invokes the spirit of Mr Talboys himself.

  16. Rohan's Gravatar Rohan
    October 14, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Ros, thank you for the recommendation: I’d never heard of that book before. And also, I realized that somehow WordPress had set itself to close comments on older posts (I am sure I never deliberately chose this option); I’m sorry you couldn’t leave your comment on the Murder Must Advertise post itself — I think I’ve sorted this out now!

  17. Ros's Gravatar Ros
    October 14, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    It is part of a series – four school and six holiday books featuring the whole family. They are all good but The Cricket Term is sublimely good, and I think works as a standalone.

  18. Coco's Gravatar Coco
    January 8, 2013 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    I recently found your blog through my love of Middlemarch. I was wondering if you had discussed Mansfield or Joyce before, as they are two authors I love dearly. If not, I am very interested in your views on them. Thanks for all the great work, I am really enjoying your insight!

    Coco

  19. Rohan's Gravatar Rohan
    January 8, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Coco – welcome! Any friend of Middlemarch is a friend of mine. 🙂 I haven’t really written on either Joyce or Mansfield here, mostly because so far I haven’t read them a lot. I’ve taught a few of their short stories and that’s really it! If you pull down the ‘categories’ menu, or browse the fiction index (there’s a tab above that takes you to it) you can see what I have written about.

  20. Ada's Gravatar Ada
    April 25, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Dear Rohan, last week I found your page and was excited. I have linked your blog to my blog to represent Victorian literatures (If you don’t mind). I must express my admiration for your commitment, I am very impressed! I write for Compass Nigeria Newspaper. I am currently working on Fiction&Development linkages and did a search to find you have written positively on it. I have been exploring international development issues to situate its links in works of fiction especially in Africa. While I write development news, I also anchor the column. Concurrently, I started the blog to run with it few weeks ago. You can visit on http://fictioningdevelopment.org feel free to make contributions where you find need. I hope I can find my way of doing something with you some day. All the best !

  21. Rohan Maitzen's Gravatar Rohan Maitzen
    May 4, 2013 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Ada: what an interesting project you are involved with. I supervised an honours thesis in International Development Studies once, focusing on Elizabeth Gaskell!

  22. Ada's Gravatar Ada
    June 7, 2013 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Rohan, its really nice of you to reply, knowing how busy academics can be. Thanks for your kind word. Its actually a subject area am sceptical about but I guess with time, it will move forward. It would have been nice to read the Thesis as I have limited knowledge on foreign works of fiction. From my case studies on my blog, you may notice that I have been focusing more on African literatures. I hope to improve over time. Thanks again for checking out the blog!

  23. November 9, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Hi Rohan,

    I’ve been following your blog for a few weeks now, and it by far my favourite literary blog online. I’m a student hoping to study English Literature next year at degree level. Would you have any tips for critically analysing books? I’m trying to develop my reading skills, and I’m worried that when I read, I just gloss over a lot of references and don’t full understand the depth of the text. Is there any way to combat this, or does it just take more and more reading? I saw your post on annotating books, and I must admit, I find it rather hard. It sounds awful, but I don’t feel like I have anything to write down in the margins. It might just be my age, I don’t know, I’m just worried I’m going to get to University and just be swamped by people who are confident in what they are saying about the novel, about things I miss completely.

    Many thanks, and sorry for the long message! Please keep blogging!
    Holly

    • Rohan Maitzen's Gravatar Rohan Maitzen
      November 10, 2013 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      Hi, Holly – I’m glad you’ve been enjoying reading the blog. I wouldn’t worry about university: your teachers will be there to explain what they expect of you and to model the kinds of questions they hope you’ll ask and the kinds of information they hope you’ll notice as you read. If I had any one way to sum up the advice I give my own students, it would be not to take what’s on the page for granted. Ask yourself why things happen they way they do, or are expressed the way they are. And keep an eye out for patterns. Try keeping a reading journal: you’re obviously a keen reader already, or you wouldn’t be considering studying literature for your degree, so you may be noticing more than you think. It’s just fine to start with an observation or description — as you work through a book, you will start to find things you keep on noticing, connections between things you’ve already observed, and so on. Then you can try to figure out what these things add up to. Keep in mind, too, that the people who are most confident right at the start are not necessarily the people who have the most worthwhile things to say! There’s no perfect correlation between confidence and wisdom. 🙂

  24. Elena P's Gravatar Elena P
    October 7, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mrs. Maitzen,

    I’m Elena from Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House. We recently released Peter Ackroyd’s gripping biography about Victorian author Wilkie Collins, and based on the nature of your blog, we thought you might be interested in receiving a copy. Would you mind providing an email address through which we could use to discuss this further?

    Thank you,
    Elena

    • Rohan Maitzen's Gravatar Rohan Maitzen
      October 7, 2015 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      I would love a copy, Elena; I’ll contact you by email using the address associated with your comment here.

  25. January 9, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Dear Rohan,

    I have added a short comment to your notes about Howards End, which date from Dec. 2014 but I just found them now.

    I see that you are also a fan of Middlemarch. I have written an opera titled Middlemarch in Spring, which had a very successful premiere in San Francisco. (If you are wondering how it is possible to condense a 950-page novel into an opera, the libretto treats only the story of Dorothea Brooke.) The librettist is Claudia Stevens. We are a husband-and-wife creative team, and have done several other operas and stage works together. Claudia’s latest is a libretto for the opera Howards End. I have yet to begin composing, but it is our current favorite topic. It would be great to include you in the conversation via email, and share the video of Middlemarch in Spring if you like.

    Thanks for the interesting blog.

    Best regards,
    Allen

    P.S. I have fond memories of teaching at the University of British Columbia in the 1970s.

  26. Renuka's Gravatar Renuka
    November 1, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Just came across you chasing after England as you like it. I am staying 😉

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I recently took the widely recommended step of securing a “domain of my own” and I am gradually consolidating my online content there, including Novel Readings. I’m posting at both locations for now, but I have disabled comments at this location. You can leave comments on my new site; you may want to update your RSS feeds to follow me from there.

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