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Rethinking the Victorian Novel

ENGL 251.301
instructor(s):
MW 2-3:30 pm

In this course, we will read a number of works that have been handed down to us as classic "Victorian novels." These will include works by Dickens, Bronte, Gaskell, Collins, Eliot, Trollope, and Hardy. As we read, we will question what it means to name a literary genre after a historical period that is itself named after a monarch. Throughout the term, we will study how the historical adjective "Victorian" came to be paired with the generic noun, "novel." We will ask how the Victorian era shaped the novel, and how, in turn, the novel shaped what we have come to know as the Victorian era. 

One of our primary concerns, then, will be to trouble the very concept of this course by asking tough questions about its parameters. What do we mean when we speak of "the Victorian novel"? Are we talking about any novel written during Victoria's reign, or are we talking about novels with certain characteristics, or both? In other words, is the term "Victorian novel" a historical classification, an aesthetic description, or both? Or neither? Does it even make sense to talk of "the Victorian novel"? To add an important dimension to these questions, we will read works by contemporary writers who are currently, in one way or another, writing Victorian fiction. These may include Zadie Smith, Colm Toibin, Peter Carey, and A.S. Byatt. 

Requirements: regular attendance, weekly weblog postings, two formal papers, and an in-class presentation.