Course Description and Objectives
In “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse,” Matthew Arnold famously remarked of himself and his Victorian contemporaries that they were “wandering between two worlds, one dead, / The other powerless to be born.” Why was he so worried? In this course, we will seek to understand why as we examine both ends of the Victorian obsession with time: its nostalgia for the past and its precarious faith in the future. Initially, the course will focus on the following questions: How did new scientific and technological developments, such as photography, the railroad, and the telegraph, reshape the concepts of time, history, and progress? Why was revisiting the past so important to the poets and novelists of the period–and what distinguishes poetic pasts from novelistic ones? What was at stake–aesthetically, politically, ideologically–in how the past was rendered? For the second half of the course, we will turn our attention to texts that sought to cope with or re-imagine the modern world, including Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, Tennyson’s In Memoriam, selected essays by Arnold, and the future narratives News From Nowhere and The Time Machine. And, finally, we will turn the central question of the course on ourselves, using A. S. Byatt’s Angels and Insects as a way of understanding the function of the Victorian period in our own post-modern consciousness.
Required Texts (in the approximate order we will use them)
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books, Vol. I. Penguin, 1985.
Buckler, William, ed. Prose of the Victorian Period. Houghton-Mifflin, 1958.
Tennyson, Alfred, Lord. Tennyson’s Poetry, 2nd ed. Norton, 1999.
Bristow, Joseph, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry. Cambridge, 2000.
Eliot, George. Adam Bede. Penguin, 1980.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Aurora Leigh. Oxford, 1998.
Morris, William. News from Nowhere and Other Writings. Penguin, 1994.
Wells, H. G. The Time Machine. Broadview, 2001.
Byatt, A. S. Angels and Insects. Vintage, 1992.
Requirements and Expectations
1. One short paper, 5-7 pages. (25 % of final grade)
2. One long paper (14-18 pages) that makes informed and judicious use of secondary sources. Due at the end of the semester. (40 %)
3. One oral presentation on a significant invention, cultural event, or fad (e.g., medievalism, the Great Exhibition, spirit photography, the transatlantic cable, invasion narratives, the fin de siècle, etc.). See separate handout for details. (15 %)
4. One oral presentation on a critical issue or controversy involving one of our major authors or texts (e.g., Aurora Leigh and feminism; In Memoriam and same-sex desire; The Time Machine and race; Angels and Insects and historical accuracy). (20 %)
5. Active, constructive participation in class discussion, which, of course, entails doing all of the assigned reading. Avoid the temptation to cut corners. By not reading, you not only hurt yourself and your grade, but the rest of the class as well, by rendering yourself unable to contribute to our conversation in a meaningful way.
6. Attendance at all class meetings. Unexcused absences will weigh against you when the final grade is assessed.
You’ll be relieved to hear that I do not plan to lecture for four hours each week. Instead, let us ask questions, share opinions, and aim for a genuinely open exchange of ideas. All class members should feel responsible for the quality and tenor of our discussions. There will be two breaks during class, the first after about 1 ½ hours, the second after about 3 hours. Please return to class promptly after breaks.
(P=Prose of the Victorian Period; CC=Cambridge Companion to VP)
5/22 Week 1: Course Introduction
Documentary film, Queen Victoria’s Empire. Discussion of film.
5/29 Week 2: Damrosch, “The Victorian Age” (handout)
Macaulay, Rev. of Southey’s Colloquies (P 20-36)
Dickens, “A Flight” and “Dullborough Town” (handout)
Dickens, A Christmas Carol
6/5 Week 3: Carlyle, from Past and Present (P 129-67)
Tennyson, “The Lady of Shalott” (41-45)
Tennyson, “The Epic” (112-14)
Tennyson, from Idylls of the King: “Dedication” and “Lancelot and Elaine” (377-79;413-44)
Psomiades, “‘The Lady of Shalott’ and the critical fortunes of Victorian poetry” (CC 25-45)
6/12 Week 4: Ruskin, “The Nature of Gothic,” (P 361-92)
Browning, “My Last Duchess,” “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed’s Church” (handout)
Fraser, “Victorian poetry and historicism” (CC 114-36)
Green-Lewis, “Not Fading Away: Photography in the Age of Oblivion”
Guest Presentation: Dr. Constance Relihan, “Julia Margaret Cameron’s Photographic Illustrations of Idylls of the King”
6/19 Week 5: Eliot, Adam Bede
6/26 Week 6: Tennyson, “Locksley Hall” (115-121)
Tennyson, In Memoriam (203-291)
Arnold, “Dover Beach” (handout)
Brown, “Victorian poetry and science” (CC 137-158)
Morgan, “The poetry of Victorian masculinities” (CC 203-227)
Short Paper Due
7/3 Week 7: Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
Brown, “The Victorian poetess” (CC 180-202)
Himmelfarb, “Victorian Gods and Goddesses” (in Tennyson, 667-75)
Browning, “Mesmerism” (handout)
Martineau, Selected letters on mesmerism (handout)
Guest Presentation: Dr. Angelic Rodgers, “Mesmerism and
Literature in the Nineteenth Century”
7/10 Week 8: Arnold, from Culture and Anarchy (P 457-86)
Pater, from The Renaissance (P 545-53)
Morris, News from Nowhere (43-228)
Morris, Rev. of Looking Backward (353-58)
7/17 Week 9: Wells, The Time Machine (59-156)
Ruddick, Introduction to TM (11-45)
TM Appendices A, E, and H (157-182; 224-234; 261-276)
7/24 Week 10: Byatt, Angels and Insects
Byatt, “True Stories and the Facts in Fiction” (handout)
Sweet, from Inventing the Victorians
7/26 Potluck Dinner, 6:00
Long Paper Due