(with thanks to Anne Janowitz's wonderful book for the course's title).

Course Description | Course Calendar

Texts and Bulkpack | Course Requirements

Office Hours and Other Information


Professor Michael Gamer
Office: 203 Bennett Hall, phone 898-7346
Class meets: Tuesday, 6:30-9:10
Office Hours: Tues 4:30-6:30, after class
Place: Bennett 319
Key in on Paris to register: 197550640

TEXTS: Available at Penn Book Center, 222-7600

BULKPACK for Course available at Wharton Reprographics in the Basement of the Wharton School.

Course Description

In this class, we'll explore a range of texts written in Britain during two centuries of political idealism and agitation, and government repression and reform. At a time when Britain itself is undergoing incredible economic and political changes both at home and abroad, its poets become actively interested in producing writing that is ostentatiously British--either by self-consciously placing themselves within an identifiable national lineage, or by inventing new genealogies out of the fragments of British history. As an object that contains both history and its absence, that is a fragment and yet implies the complete object, and that through its incompleteness forces us to complete it, ruins become invested with multiple significances in England beginning in the early 18th C. They become the basis for early theories of psychology as well as for thinking about how language and narrative works. Most importantly, they almost viscerally lay out for History its task--of accounting in language for what materially is disintegrating. In representing what no longer is present, however, History as a discipline increasingly comes under fire beginning in 1750, precisely because it must imagine and make coherent that which either no longer exists or lacks coherence. In its broadest sense, then, this course will explore the relation between History and Literature by focusing on that troubling hybrid called Historical Literature.



This course will run as a seminar; this means that we'll run class in discussion, and that you will not see me lecture for more than 10 minutes at a stretch. My goal is to provide you with conceptual and theoretical keys to reading British literature before 1900--keys that will make you sensitive to the anxieties and pleasures of these strange and wonderful writers. Consequently, we will be reading poetry, novels, plays, and theoretical essays from the time period, so you can see how a concept like "the passions" or "terror" gets treated in a variety of mediums and forms. We also periodically will read modern critical essays where such essays improve our ability to understand and enjoy these materials. For the most part, the reading will average around 7-9 hours a week, sometimes less. However, there are three weeks where we are reading longer novels, so plan for these texts to take you longer to read well.


Your Job As Agenda Setter: The 4 Response Essays. During the semester, I ask that you write at least four short response essays (around 500 words, which means NO MORE THAN than 2 pages double-spaced), which you should bring to that particular class meeting. I call them response essays because they should have a clear focus and argument; on the other hand, they do not need to be formal essays, and given the short length you should probably skip your introduction and get straight to what you want to put forward. It is perfectly okay to begin them with as direct a statement as "I think that [this particular moment in a text] is a good starting point for discussion because the moment I understand that it meant [blank] then I knew that the book was really about [blank]." (You fill in the [blanks]). Write the essays so that they are easily understood when read aloud; the key is to allow yourselves to be creative and curious and to have fun with these! In class, I'll ask who wants to read theirs aloud, and often that's the way we'll start class.

Your Job As Respondent: Each week, we will have at least one person who will be our designated "respondent". Their job will be to respond to one of the essays read and to focus discussion for the first part of class. I'll ask each of you to do this at least once during the semester, and I hope that you'll relax and have fun with both the essays and your formal responses: you may want to use it as a medium to ask questions of the writer, to agree or disagree, and to relate issues that come up to ideas that we've discussed in previous weeks. You may also, in the process, share with us some of your own ideas for what the agenda of the class should be. I use this format because it will make the classroom more democratic and more of a real conversation, rather than one in which we only hear from a few voices repeatedly and from some of you never. I also do this because the only way that this class will be enjoyable and worthwhile is if we all contribute to it with seriousness, honesty, and pleasure.

Since we all have various responsibilities during the semester, you may choose which weeks you wish to write response essays. At the beginning of class on September 12, we will also choose our various weeks to be Respondents.

The Final Paper (15 pages or more): The other function of your short essays during the semester is that they will give me an opportunity to read you work and to give you suggestions concerning your ideas. You may hit upon a wonderful idea while reading Horace Walpole that would become an even more wonderful long essay, and part of my role will be to suggest ways that you can pursue various ideas that show up in undigested form in your short essays. Sometime before the middle of November, you should come and talk to me about a paper idea. You may also want to write an abstract of what you want your paper to argue--particularly if your work schedule makes it impossible to come see me. I want to suggest strongly, though, that you come see me and that you do this relatively often--there are simply certain kinds of intellectual work that one can do one-on-one that one cannot do in a classroom.

The paper itself should approach the style and conventions of a modern scholarly essay, particularly in its level of research and the rigor of its argumentation. You should get to work on this relatively early in the semester.


Sept 10: Introduction to the class. Dryden, Epic, Ruins, Monuments, and "Ozymandius."

Sept 17: Poetics, Epitaphs, and Loss: The Poetry of Thomas Gray. Read the poems by Thomas Gray, and the critical essays on Thomas Gray, in the bulkpack.

Sept 24: History, Fiction, and the problem of Historical Fiction. Reading: Horace Walpole, Castle of Otranto (1764; make sure you read Walpole's two introductions); Horace Walpole, Introduction to Hieroglypic Tales (1785--the tales themselves are hysterical, by the way); Clara Reeve, Introduction to The Old English Baron (1778); William Godwin, "On History and Romance" (ca. 1797).

Oct 1: Sensibility and the Problem of Feeling. Reading: Oxford English Dictionary Entries for "Sensibility," "Sentiment," and "Sentimental"; Edmund Burke, "On Taste" (1758); Henry MacKenzie, The Man of Feeling (1771); Hannah More, "Sensibility; a Poetical Epistle" (selections, 1782); Charlotte Smith, Elegiac Sonnets (selections, 1784); Helen Maria Williams, "To Sensibility" (1786).

Oct 8: Terror and Enlightenment: The Romantic Fragment Poem. Reading: David Hume, "On Superstition and Enthusiasm" (ca. 1750; Immanuel Kant, "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment" (1784); Helen Maria Williams, "Part of an Irregular Fragment, Found in a Dark Passage of the Tower" (1786); Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Chistabel, Kubla Khan, and The Pains of Sleep (composed 1797-99, and 1803; published as a book in 1816).


Oct 22: Gothic Drama: Terror and the Problem of Tragedy. Reading: Anna Letitia Aikin (later Barbauld) and John Aikin, "On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror" (1773); David Hume, "Of Tragedy" (ca. 1750); Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757, selections); Joanna Baillie, Orra (1812); Marlon Ross, "Joanna Baillie."

Oct 29: A Ruined Marriage and Marrying a Ruin. Reading: Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847); Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, "A Dialogue of Self and Soul: Plain Jane's Progress" (1979).

Nov 5: Ruining the Romantic Poet. Reading: Read Raymond Williams, Introduction to Selected Poems of John Clare; John Clare, Selected Poems of John Clare; Edward Strikland, "Boxer Byron: A Clare Obsession."

Nov 12: Landscape, Generations, and Genealogies of Ruin. Reading: Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (1847).

Nov 19: Ruined Women, Fragmented Subjectivities, and Seriality: Dr. Jeckyll and Jack the Ripper. Reading: Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (1886); Judith Walkowitz, "Jack the Ripper" (from City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London {1992]); and Stephen Heath, "Psychopathia Sexualis: Stevenson's Strange Case."

Nov 26: A Ruined Century: Decadence & the 1890s. Read Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).

Dec 3: Ending the Century and a New Poetics of History. Read Thomas Hardy, Poems (Everyman).