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The 19th-Century Novel: Duty and Decadence

ENGL 055.601

Fulfills Distributional Course in Arts & Letters (for students admitted before Fall 2006)

May be counted as a Distributional course in Arts and Letters.

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. Bram Stoker’s Dracula will take us further into the dark side of Victorian life, as will Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, (full of hedonism and soul-selling) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (full of misanthropy, split personalities and good vs. evil). 

The course is “front-loaded”, with the longer works occupying the first half.
Requirements include very brief weekly response pieces and a final paper.
This course fulfills sector 5 of the English major.

fulfills requirements
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major