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Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist; Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White; Robert Browning: Selected Poems; Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre; Criminals, Idiots, and Women: Victorian Writing by Women on Women; Henry Mayhew: London Labour and the London Poor; William Morris: News from Nowhere; Charles Darwin: On The Origin of Species; Jasper Fforde: The Eyre Affair
In the years 1837 to 1901 British literary culture responded to and helped to shape a range of world-historic events, trends, and revolutions. During these years Darwin published his theory of natural selection and evolution, the industrial city was born and then quickly ‘reformed’ and sanitized, middle class suburbia first came into its own, and the New Woman entered the work force.
In this course we’ll investigate the relationship of novels, non-fiction prose, and poetry to these developments and consider how literature might be both a motive force in history and the ways in which literary and essayistic form responds to and resists the pull of the contemporary (which from our perspective is an issue of ‘periodization’). We’ll engage with the Victorians’ social and political contexts, including science and the status of women. We will play close attention to the determining power of class and the construction of work and labor. We will track the development of strategies of narration in several novels. The course will end with a contemporary novel, Neal Stephenson’s work of science fiction, Diamond Age (1995), a text which imagines the persistence of a version of Victorian culture and mores as the practice of a small, cultish band of ‘Neo-Victorians.’