A.B., Harvard College; M.A., Ph.D., Yale University
Class of 1949 Professor in Ethics; Professor of English
Tim Peltason teaches and writes about nineteenth- and twentieth-century British and American literature and about Shakespeare.
I started at Wellesley as a specialist in nineteenth-century British literature, and I continue to teach and write about that area with great pleasure. I’m currently at work on a sequence of essays about Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest , focusing on its relationship to Wilde’s life, its origins in earlier Victorian literature, and its extraordinary afterlife in 20th and 21st century literature and culture. I’ve also taken advantage of the opportunities that Wellesley offers its faculty to follow their passions into new areas and have developed secondary specialties in Shakespeare and in nineteenth and twentieth century American literature. My teaching is nourished by my research, but nourishes it as well, and in addition to my work on Victorian literature, I’ve written a sequence of web-based commentaries on five plays by Shakespeare and other essays about the place of value judgments in contemporary academic criticism.
Other recent work has also emerged from my teaching. I have a forthcoming essay, “Love and Judgment in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, that pays particular attention to recent controversies about the book’s racial attitudes and its treatment of slavery. This essay draws on many years of teaching American literature at Wellesley and, in particular, on a First Year seminar on representations of race in American literature that I have offered twice in recent years. I’m just preparing for publication another essay, “Mind and Mindlessness in Jane Austen,” that I was moved to write after teaching an advanced seminar in Austen’s fiction a few semesters ago.
I regularly teach introductory courses in literature and more specialized courses in Shakespeare and a variety of other topics. Among recent seminars and advanced courses, I’ve particularly enjoyed that course on Austen, but also another on the novels of Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope. I never know which of my courses is going to lead me to my next special project of reading or research. Or which essay—I’m in the middle now of a piece on 20th century crime fiction—will lead to a new teaching idea.
In addition to my teaching and research, I take pleasure in being an active citizen of the college community. I’ve served several times as Chair of the English Department as well as on many other college committees and task forces. I’ve participated in a variety of curricular initiatives like the current First Year Seminar program. For five years I served as Director of the Newhouse Center for the Humanities here at Wellesley. Outside the college, I’m active in the Association for Literary Scholars, Critics and Writers, for which I serve as Treasurer and a member of the Executive Committee.
My wife and I live very near the college in the same house where we raised our two daughters. It’s hard to draw a clear line between my professional and personal lives, since my most regular leisure-time pleasures are reading and keeping up with what’s new and exciting in movies and television. I also enjoy walking and good food and traveling—especially traveling to visit my daughters and my grandchildren.