The focus of this course is the classic English novel of education, but because the questions that animate those novels appear in other genres, we'll read some poetry, a memoir and a play as well. We’ll begin with Jane Austen’s Persuasion, a novel that shows a young woman’s quiet struggle against the friends and family who thwart her attempts at independence. We’ll then read Jane Eyre and Great Expectations to see how the pattern of growing up varies by gender. We’ll continue with George Eliot’s massive and marvelous novel, Middlemarch whose heroine is devoted to the notion of duty. We will not rush through; we’ll take our time and appreciate its intricate structures and passionate intelligence. We’ll also read Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Shaw’s play St. Joan, both stories of country girls who can live honestly only by defying the men who seek to control them. Because the Victorians took the question of religious belief very seriously, we’ll read a memoir, Father and Son by Edmund Gosse and sections of Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam, both of which trace the changes in a young man’s faith. Finally, we’ll read Alice in Wonderland, a story written for children but which is even better read in adulthood.
Course requirements include very brief weekly response pieces, a midterm exam and a final paper.