Mario Ortiz-Robles

Position title: Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor | Nancy C. Hoefs Professor of English | Senior Fellow, Institute for Research in the Humanities


6135 Helen C. White Hall

19th-century literature, critical theory, the novel, animal studies
Mario Ortiz-Robles

Degrees and Institutions

  • Ph.D. English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
  • M.A. English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
  • A.B. Comparative Literature, Dartmouth College

Selected Publications


Articles and Book Chapters:

  • “Hardy’s Wessex and the Natural History of Form,” Novel
  • “Comparative Literature and Animal Studies,” ACLA Report on the State of the Discipline
  • “LiminAnimal: The Monster in Late Victorian Gothic Fiction,” European Journal of English Studies
  • “Darwin and Literature,” The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Victorian Literature
  • “Literary Immanence,” Romantic Circles Praxis Series
  • “Animal Acts,” BRANCH: Britain, Representation, and Nineteenth-Century History
  • “Artaud y Mexico,” 1616: Anuario de Literatura Comparada Vol. 2 (2012): 97-114
  • “Dickens Performs Dickens,” ELH 78.2 (Summer 2011): 457-478
  • “The Latent Middle in Morris’s News from Nowhere” in Narrative Middles: Navigating the Victorian Novel. The Ohio State University Press, 2011: 215-247
  • “Figure and Affect in Collins.” Textual Practice 24.5 (Oct. 2010): 841-861
  • “Transparency and Materiality in the Realist Novel,” Richard Begam and Dieter Stein eds., Text and Meaning: Literary Discourse and Beyond. Düsseldorf University Press, 2010: 93-108
  • “Local Speech, Global Acts: Performative Violence and the Novelization of the World.” Comparative Literature 59.1 (Winter 2007): 1-22.

Personal Statement

My work is situated at the intersection of literature and theory, with an emphasis on the question of the “literary” and its historicity. I am currently working on a book-length project on the narrative treatment of the figure of the animal in fiction after Darwin as a way of tracking the status of the natural in late Victorian culture. Also in the pipeline is a comparative project that seeks to re-examine the notion of literary agency in a global context by foregrounding the role played by what Pierre Bourdieu called literature’s “consecrating agencies” (reviewers, publishers, academics, translators, etc.) in the legitimization of “world literature.”

Graduate Courses

“The Natural,” “Decadence,” “Reading Reading,” “Literary Labor and the Global Literary Marketplace,” “Other Victorians, Victorian Others,” “Literary Speech Acts.”

Undergraduate Courses

“Dickens and the Secret,” “Reading the Victorian Novel,” “Theories of the Subject,” “The Novel Before Theory,” “Utopia,” “Human/Nature.”

Recent Books

  • Literature and Animal Studies cover
    Ortiz-Robles, Mario.“Literature and Animal Studies.” 2016: n. pag. Print.

    Why do animals talk in literature? In this provocative book, Mario Ortiz Robles tracks the presence of animals across an expansive literary archive to argue that literature cannot be understood as a human endeavor apart from its capacity to represent animals. Focusing on the literary representation of familiar animals, including horses, dogs, cats, and songbirds, Ortiz Robles examines the various tropes literature has historically employed to give meaning to our fraught relations with other animals. Beyond allowing us to imagine the lives of non-humans, literature can make a lasting contribution to Animal Studies, an emerging discipline within the humanities, by showing us that there is something fictional about our relation to animals.

    Literature and Animal Studies combines a broad mapping of literary animals with detailed readings of key animal texts to offer a new way of organizing literary history that emphasizes genera over genres and a new way of classifying animals that is premised on tropes rather than taxa. The book makes us see animals and our relation to them with fresh eyes and, in doing so, prompts us to review the role of literature in a culture that considers it an endangered art form.

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  • Narrative Middles: Navigating the Nineteenth-Century Novel cover
    (Editor), Caroline Levine, and Mario Ortiz-Robles (Editor). Narrative Middles: Navigating the Nineteenth-Century Novel. Ohio State University Press, 2011. Print.

    Narrative theorists have lavished attention on beginnings and endings, but they have too often neglected the middle of narratives. In this groundbreaking collection of essays, Narrative Middles: Navigating the Nineteenth-Century British Novel, nine literary scholars offer innovative approaches to the study of the underrepresented middle of the vast, bulky nineteenth-century multiplot novel. Combining rigorous formal analysis with established sociohistorical methods, these essays seek to account for the various ways in which the novel gave shape to British culture’s powerful obsession with middles. The capacious middle of the nineteenth-century novel provides ample room for intricately woven plots and the development of complex character systems, but it also becomes a medium for capturing, consecrating, and cultivating the middle class and its middling, middlebrow tastes as well as its mediating global role in empire.

    Narrative Middles explores these fascinating conjunctions in new readings of novels by Jane Austen, William Makepeace Thackeray, Anne Brontë, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Henry James, and William Morris. Contributors: Amanda Claybaugh, Suzanne Daly, Amanpal Garcha, Amy King, Caroline Levine, Mario Ortiz-Robles, Kent Puckett, Hilary Schor, and Alex Woloch.

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  • Ortiz-Robles, Mario.“The Novel As Event.” 2010: n. pag. Print.

    The Novel as Event is a timely reconsideration of the historical role of the Victorian novel from the perspective of its performativity. In a highly original application of the work of Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, and other readers of J. L. Austin, Mario Ortiz Robles argues that the language of the novel is paramount and that the current emphasis on the representational and physical aspects of the novel tends to obscure this fact. He provides brilliant original readings of five major Victorian novels: Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, Brontë’s Jane Eyre, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, and Collins’s The Woman in White, illustrating that it is impossible to fully grasp the cultural power of the novel, from its role in the cultivation of manners and the conduct of courtship to the consolidation of bourgeois ideology and the construction of the subject, without an adequate account of the performativity of its language. By considering the novel as a linguistic event, Ortiz Robles offers a new explanatory model for understanding how novels intervene materially in the reality they describe, and, in doing so, he seeks to reinvigorate critical debate on the historicity of the realist novel and current methods of cultural criticism. The Novel as Event serves as a well-timed corrective to the narrow historicist approach to the materiality of the novel that currently holds sway.

    “The Novel as Event brilliantly does two things: presents a strikingly new theory of the way novels have effect in the social world, and also presents original readings of five major Victorian novels as demonstrations of the way that theory may be exemplified in practice. No other book that I know of does either of these two things in at all the same way.” —J. Hillis Miller, University of California, Irvine

    “I have no doubt that this book will become an important part of a renewed questioning of a certain unchallenged historicism prevalent in Victorian novel studies from the beginning.” —Kevin McLaughlin, Brown University

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