Senior’s Summa Hits The Shelves

While most senior theses sit untouched on the shelves of Lamont after they’ve been turned in, Chloë F. Schama ’05 ...
By Natalie duP. C. Panno

While most senior theses sit untouched on the shelves of Lamont after they’ve been turned in, Chloë F. Schama ’05 is debuting her work in bookstores across the country.

Interested in the Victorian period, women’s history, and sensationalist novels, Schama had a very specific focus for her junior year History & Literature tutorial. Fortunately for her, that focus has since become the basis for her thesis and her new book, “Wild Romance,” published last month by Walker and Company.

“We read a lot of big novels that were popular in the day but featured women with a past and who were of course, persecuted,” said Schama’s thesis adviser Michele C. Martinez, who is now an expository writing preceptor.

Schama’s interests led to a summer spent at the British Library, where she stumbled on a set of letters by Theresa Longworth and William Yelverton.

In 1857, Longworth and Yelverton married in secret. Soon after, he left her and remarried. The bigamy trial that followed turned Longworth into a celebrity. She capitalized on the fame to travel and write novels of her own.

“When I came across the story initially, I basically fell in love with it,” said Schama.

There was little academic writing on the infamous case, but there were plenty of contemporary sources to explore, including court documents and ballads. However, Schama knew that her thesis couldn’t encompass them all.

“When I went to look at my senior thesis to revise the writing sample for my grad school applications, I thought to myself, you know, this is something I felt like I never really finished,” she explained.

And so Schama worked on it as a side project while in England for her master’s degree. After graduating in 2008, she spent an intense year writing and polishing.

“I think almost no words from my senior thesis ended up in the book,” Schama said.

Schama’s friend and fellow History and Literature concentrator Charlotte H. Douglas ’05 remembers the revision process.

“What I loved about seeing her process of revision—from the thesis, to some of the early drafts of the book, and now seeing the final product—is watching her evolve as a storyteller,” said Douglas.

Editors, though, were initially not sure what to make of her manuscript.

“I tell people the basic gist of the plot, and they say, ‘Oh, it’s fiction,’” said Schama. “And I say, ‘No, no it’s written like narrative history, and it’s kind of like biography, but it reads like a novel.’”

But having transcended the boundary between academic and mainstream, what does genre even matter, after all?

For The Moment