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Populating Victorian Fiction

ENGL 753.301
Tuesdays 12-3:00 pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major

The novel is routinely linked to the rise of the individual—and understandably so. Yet such individualized characters as Jane Eyre, David Copperfield, and Daniel Deronda spring to life alongside forms of scientific and social analysis that are decidedly impersonal: not least of all, demography and statistical projection, which are unconcerned with individuality in its qualitative sense. Are character and demographic data necessarily opposed, such that fiction aligns itself with the qualitative (personality, psychology, and ethics) and the sciences with the quantitative (fertility rates, employment tables, population density, and so forth)? If we instead consider the two as interdependent, how then might we understand the human or characterological content of Victorian fiction? What relationships might we trace among the concepts of individual, type, class, species, exemplary or representative case, average, and exception? What interpretive models might account for the way novels go about filling narrative space—peopling, so to speak, their fictional worlds?

Our aim in this seminar will be to generate some answers to these questions. To that end, we will read novels by Brontë, Gaskell, Dickens, Collins, and Eliot in conversation with contemporaneous texts by Godwin, Malthus, Mill, Engels, Mayhew, Darwin, and some more recent theoretical works. We will examine the interplay of figural strategies geared toward classification (race, nationality, class, physiological type, occupational category, and so forth), individuation (via interiority as well as embodiment), and aggregation (masses and crowds, collectivities, statistics, figures of the populace). Close reading will be elemental to our approach, even as we assess the impact of more distant modes of evaluation. Course requirements include participation, an in-class presentation, and a 20pp seminar paper.