Undergraduate research doesn’t seem like an ideal fit for an English Major. In fact, it’s a
field that hadn’t been pursued in nearly six years before Margaret Shelton came to Furman.
Proving that summer fellowships aren’t just for science majors, the senior spent her time
researching the social implications of status in 19th-Century England.
“I wanted to see how Victorians code class status or aspirations in their dress, especially
in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House,” Shelton said.
Cross-referencing cartoons and pieces from the British newspaper archive with
Dickens’ fictional work, Shelton sought a connection between the fashion of a character and
the reality of its implications.
Ultimately, her research revealed two patterns within society: one in which the lower class dressed up to impress the upper, and the other in which members of the upper class disguised their status by dressing like the
"I asked myself, ‘what is the motive behind these characters’ fashion choices?’
“They used their clothing to try to be someone else-be that someone higher or lower than their
ascribed status as a way of either standing out or blending in.”
Shelton credits Dr. Gretchen Braun, associate professor of English, with introducing her
to the field. Braun studies the social patterns of Victorian Literature.
“I took two Victorian literature classes at Furman and was very interested in blurring prescribed boundaries of gender or social,” Shelton said. “Dr. Braun
pointed me toward Dickens as an area that might be of interest to my research.”
In addition, Braun oversaw Shelton’s research, establishing firm
deadlines but allowing creative freedom to enhance her work.
Shelton believes this flexibility, while daunting at first, was ultimately refreshing,
allowing for a sense of personal accountability which she believes will be applicable in the
“I don’t know if I’d want to pursue this research as a long-term career,” Shelton
said. “However, the skills I picked up in time management and research will be
invaluable no matter what I end up doing.”