Any word-association test would match “Victorian” with “duty”. “Decadence” is a less-likely pairing, but throughout the century, some readers and critics were quick to label books as “decadent” (or “coarse” or “unseemly”) while others consumed those books with gusto
We’ll begin with two novels in which the central characters go to great lengths to define and carry out their duty: Charlotte Bronte’s Villette and George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda. These are magnificent novels, but very long. We will take about three weeks to read each one, giving ourselves time to appreciate their intricate structures and passionate intelligence.
We’ll bridge the gap between duty and decadence by reading Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, a novel in which decadence and corruption pervade the British system of justice. Plunging deeply into decadence, we'll read a popular novel, Lady Audley's Secret, a book full of people behaving badly (telling lies, committing bigamy, and attempting murder). Bram Stoker’s Dracula will take us further into the dark side of Victorian life, in a story told by some of the most upright, earnest and wholesome characters ever.
The course is front-loaded, with the longer works occupying the first half.
Requirements include very brief weekly response pieces and a final paper.