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Deviance in Victorian Fiction

ENGL 355.301
instructor(s):
MWF 11

According to Michel Foucault, the Victorians invented deviance. In this course we will both anatomize and test that claim, studying how an emergent social and scientific interest in the abnormal, the unnatural, and the pathological enabled Victorians to describe a variety of activities, affects, and beliefs as deviant. Throughout the century, whole scientific disciplines grew up around the threatening figures of criminals, homosexuals, paupers and hysterical women; while even such seemingly innocuous topics as masturbation, nervousness and dirt were pervaded by a sense of danger and disgust. The novel was a crucial part of this broad cultural obsession with the unacceptable, providing elaborate meditations on what it meant to be normal, as well as on what it meant to transgress the bounds of decency. Readings will include Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights; Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend; Wilkie Collins, No Name;  George Eliot, Silas Marner;  Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge; Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Sheridan LeFanu, Carmilla; Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray; Bram Stoker, Dracula; stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. To gain a sense of context, we will supplement our literary readings with a range of Victorian non-fictional writings on troubling practices and worrisome behaviors, from masturbation and murder to sodomy and prostitution.Students will also be expected to acquire a working familiarity with recent theoretical work on deviance and Victorian culture.

Requirements: 2 short papers (5-7 pp) and a longer research paper (10-15 pp).

Note: This is a General Honors/Ben Franklin Scholars course, but others may be admitted with permission. For English majors, this course, taken with English 45 or 65, will complete the usual English 203 requirement.