The defence started at 3:00 pm, with Ms WANG Haijuan, Daisy (Student) presenting the main ideas of her thesis. It seeks to explain the “silences” in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, an autobiographical novel by Harriot Jacobs . With support from critical commentaries of the text, the thesis concludes that the “silences”, especially those about the author’s experiences of being sexually harassed or abused, are due to generic factors (i.e. the book is a “sentimental novel”) and social ones (i.e. the Christian movement of abolitionism).
The presentation lasted for 20 minutes, immediately followed by the question and answer session. Professor Glenn Timmermans (Examiner) asked the student to elaborate on a number of issues, including the following:
- What exactly is the “sentimental novel”? What is the origin of the genre and what are the conventions?
- What is the background of Jacobs’ childhood (as she was not like a “typical” slave)?
- What is the meaning or implication of Stephanie Li’s comment (quoted in first paragraph, p.10)?
- Why does the student conclude that Brent was not raped by Mr Flint, even though the textual material (in particular, the quotation of Flint on p.25) suggests the otherwise?
The Examiner also made two suggestions:
- A commentator should be cited in full name when he or she is introduced for the first time in the thesis.
- The fact that John Brown is a historical figure and advocate of abolition should be mentioned explicitly.
The committee agrees that the thesis is exceptionally well-written and the topic is challenging. There is however an over-reliance on commentaries at the expense of original critical insight from the student herself.
The committee decided to award the thesis the grade of Very Good.