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Sympathetic Ink: Empire and Victorian Literature

ENGL 251.301
instructor(s):
MW 3:30-5

This course takes invisible ink, or as the Victorians called it, 'sympathetic ink,' as its guiding metaphor to examine the major role literature played in the nineteenth-century expansion of the British Empire. Sympathetic ink was reportedly an instrumental method of communication for local resistance to British rule in India at the middle of the nineteenth century. This use of sympathetic ink points to the literal writing of colonial resistance within the literary history of empire, yet it also serves as a resonant metaphor: the image of a writing fully present but invisible without the heat of a flame is an apt way of describing the representations of and references to the British Empire which are everywhere present but often not critically visible in the Victorian canon. In addition to thinking about how empire and metaphor are deployed in British literature, we'll use the materiality of ink to help guide us through an examination of how the production and distribution of literature functioned on an increasingly global scale during the Victorian period.

We will examine British novels, poetry, and non-fiction produced both "at home" and abroad during the nineteenth century. We will ask how writing, and particularly the materiality of the text, might bear on our understanding of the representation of empire - specifically the British Raj - within British literature. To do so we will familiarize ourselves with major ideas in both post-colonial criticism and critical works in the history of the material text. This course also includes a major research project requiring research skills which we will learn over the course of the semester.

Texts may include Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, William Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, poetry by Tennyson, Browning, and Rossetti, selections from Charles Dickens's Household Words, essays from various periodicals, Rudyard Kipling's Kim, E. Nesbit's The Story of the Amulet, and Bram Stoker's Dracula.