Pursuing an honors thesis simultaneously thrills and terrifies me. The English Department requires students who choose to conduct a thesis to develop an idea for a study, submit a proposal for review by the department, write at least 50 pages on the topic, and present on the topic at the end of the year for the campus community. Although the College does not require all seniors to conduct honors theses, I decided to do one in order to delve into a topic of particular interest to me.
My thesis examines representations of prostitutes in 19th-century literature. I am comparing Stephen Crane’s “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” (1893) and Emile Zola’s “Nana” (1880). As a CISLA scholar, I received a stipend to intern at a nonprofit organization in Paris called Equipes d’Action Contre le Proxénetisme (Teams of Action Against Procurement) that assists victims of sex trafficking. Given my interest in English and French literature, I decided to study the topic from a literary angle when returning to Conn for my senior year.
Now that I have returned to Conn, I have embarked on this mysterious journey of “thesising.” I meet weekly with my thesis adviser, Professor Rivkin, for about an hour to discuss with her the progress I have made during the week. At the beginning of the semester, I designed a preliminary syllabus incorporating novels, literary criticism on the novels, articles and books on the authors’ relationships to particular literary genres, and history books on prostitution in 19th-century Paris and New York City. As a methodical person, writing the syllabus was an easy and comforting step of the thesis process. What challenges me, however, is that conducting a thesis is also an unmethodical, exploratory act of detective work.
For example, I cannot Google “perfect books for Alexis’ senior thesis.” Rather, I must scavenge for the perfect “clues” (er, texts) that relate to my thesis in the footnotes of articles and in the corners of the Web. One source leads to another, which leads to another, which will reveal the mysteries of my thesis. I also must discover exactly what I wish to discuss in my thesis chapters. Yes, I know that I would like to compare representations of prostitutes in these novels, but what exactly would I like to argue about the representations of these figures? Should I relate the representations to their historical contexts and literary genres? If so, how?
I do not yet fully know the answers to these questions. I do, however, know that the answers will fully engage and interest me.