Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sheri Joseph

Second Advisor

Josh Russell

Third Advisor

John Holman


Titled after a line from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, To Decorate the Dungeon with Flowers is a work of literary fiction that extends the Southern Gothic tradition into the COVID-19 context and remixes elements of mystery, crime drama, romance, the grotesque, regional fiction, and the feminine domestic. The novel takes as its model the specific features of the Southern Gothic as crystallized by Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner: the grotesque operating within the parameters of a specific region and time—Georgia from 2019-2020 against the broader American backdrop of #MeToo, BLM, and COVID-19. The novel traces the relationship between a sixty-five-year-old shut-in with a chronic illness and her caregiver during their confinement on a deteriorating peach orchard in rural Georgia on the eve of the pandemic.

After an alarming, violent incident with a student, narrator Miriam is fired from her job as a special education teacher, flees Atlanta and her public disgrace, and secures a position as the live-in personal health aide to Imogene, a shut-in with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Awaiting the severe legal ramifications to unfold, Miriam throws herself into her caretaker role as news of the deadly pandemic slowly penetrates their domestic life. Imogene, a digitally savvy expert in everything from cybersecurity to genetic genealogical research, enlists Miriam’s help in every esoteric project, including her most recent venture—a Citizen Detective web sleuthing group on the hunt to track down the reactivated “K-9 Strangler” serial killer. Desperate for any distraction from the demons of her recent and distant past, Miriam submerges herself in the bizarre world of Imogene’s life on the orchard. When Imogene’s estranged brother Ford, a New York restaurant owner and Miriam’s employer, discreetly tries to enlist Miriam’s influence to convince Imogene to sell the family estate, he makes Miriam a significant financial offer—one that would free her from her debt to her own stepbrother, Sam, who is paying her legal fees despite their long-term estrangement over a dark family trauma. Eager to escape her painful connection to Sam, Miriam must decide between dangerous choices and their consequences—loyalty and imprisonment; or betrayal and freedom.


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Available for download on Tuesday, April 28, 2099