Cannon Schmitt

Professor; Graduate Faculty; Undergraduate Instructor
Jackman Humanities Building, Room 728, 170 St. George Street, Toronto, ON M5R 2M8


Fields of Study

Areas of Interest

  • Blue Humanities/Ocean Studies
  • Science and Literature


Cannon Schmitt is Professor of English at the University of Toronto. His primary teaching and research field is Victorian literature and culture, with a focus on cultural studies of science, especially evolutionary theory; the novel and narrative theory; and the novel and the sea. In his first book, Alien Nation: Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), Schmitt argues that Gothic novels pose as semi-ethnographic texts, representing Continental Europe, the Far East, or Ireland as fundamentally un-English, sites of depravity. At the same time, they elaborate a concept of Englishness in which, paradoxically, a threatened female figure stands in for the globe’s then most powerful nation. In Darwin and the Memory of the Human: Evolution, Savages, and South America (Cambridge University Press, 2009), Schmitt investigates the Victorian engagement with South America as a site of memory. Because of the paramount role of evolutionary theory in that engagement, he attends to the works of a group of remarkable natural historians who travelled there and wrote about what they discovered: Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, Charles Kingsley, and W. H. Hudson. In their different ways, all these men encountered South America as and through memory; all parlayed that encounter into narratives about savagery and civility, race and the origins of humanity. At present he is at work on a SSHRC-funded book project titled The Literal Sea in which he hypothesizes that the ocean and its associated phenomena—tides, prevailing winds, marine engineering, ships under sail—constitute a privileged locus of the literal in Victorian fiction. In an article on Heart of Darkness, for example, he treats Conrad’s novella as an exemplary instance of fiction deploying a specialized maritime lexicon, contending that its precise articulation of tidal currents, nautical manoeuvres, and ship design signals the key role of “restraint” in that novella and throughout Conrad’s corpus—as well as the need for the development of a literal mode of reading that gives unwonted attention to technical and denotative language in fiction. With Elaine Freedgood, he co-edited a special issue of Representations on the possibility of such a mode of reading: Denotatively, Technically, Literally (2014). A former editor of Criticism who continues to serve on the journal’s Editorial Board, he also serves on the boards of Victorian Studies and Victorian Literature and Culture. Recently elected Vice President of the North American Victorian Studies Association, he will become President of NAVSA in 2023.



Darwin and the Memory of the Human: Evolution, Savages, and South America. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009; paperback reprint, 2013.

Victorian Investments: New Perspectives on Finance and Culture. Co-editor. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2008. 

Alien Nation: Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

Selected Recent Articles and Book Chapters

“Imaginary Worlds: Sea of Ink.” In A Cultural History of the Sea in the Age of Empire, ed. Margaret Cohen. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021. 203-28.

"The Evolution of Point of View." In Nineteenth-Century Literature in Transition: The 1880s, ed. Penny Fielding and Andrew Taylor. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 2019. 98-116.

"Refamiliarizing Viktor Shklovsky." Victorian Literature and Culture 47.1 (Spring 2019): 187-202.

“Interpret or Describe?” Description Across the Disciplines, ed. Stephen Best, Heather Love, and Sharon Marcus. Special issue of Representations 135 (Summer 2016): 102-18.

“Evolution and Fiction.” In Evolution and the Arts in Victorian Britain, ed. Bernard Lightman and Bennett Zon. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 17-38.

“Technical Maturity in Robert Louis Stevenson.” Denotatively, Technically, Literally. Special issue of Representations 125 (Winter 2014): 54-79. 
**Winner, NAVSA Donald Gray Prize for best essay of the year published in a scholarly journal on a Victorian topic.

“Denotatively, Technically, Literally.” Co-author, with Elaine Freedgood. Introduction to Denotatively, Technically, Literally. Spec. issue of Representations 125 (Winter 2014): 1-14.

“Tidal Conrad (Literally).” Victorian Studies 55.1 (Autumn 2012): 8-29. 
**Honorable Mention, NAVSA Donald Gray Prize for best essay of the year published in a scholarly journal on a Victorian topic.


BA, Oberlin College
MA, Indiana University Bloomington
PhD, Indiana University Bloomington