English R1A

Reading and Composition: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Representations of Numbers in 19th-Century Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Spring 2013 Kolb, Margaret
MW 4-5:30 205 Wheeler

Book List

Collins, Wilkie: The Moonstone; Dickens, Charles: Hard Times; Hardy, Thomas: Jude the Obscure; Shelley, Mary: The Last Man; Wordsworth, William, and STC Coleridge: Lyrical Ballads;

Recommended: Eliot, George: The Lifted Veil

Other Readings and Media

We'll also look at Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories, primary statistical texts by Quetelet, Galton, and others, selections from Henry Thomas Buckle’s History of Civilization in England, and a variety of relevant critical articles. These texts will be distributed in class. 


“In this life we want nothing but Facts, sir, nothing but Facts,” Thomas Gradgrind infamously insists in Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times. “Facts” accumulated in the 19th century as never before. As statistics took disciplinary shape, an ever-broadening bureaucracy produced table after table – charting everything from population growth to the square of the minimum temperature necessary for lilacs to bloom in the spring. Literary representations of the numerical repeatedly interrogate such numerical representations, asking what counts as a fact, and why it might do so – a question to which we’ll attend carefully as we read a variety of literary and historical texts focused on numbers, evidence, and statistical representation. We’ll discuss how numbers and words inform and resist one another, how statistical evidence gets marshaled and/or repurposed in narrative, and how the texts under examination imagine themselves as participants in the scientific community.

As participants in our own academic community, we’ll want to consider similar questions for our writing: what evidence, and how much of it, should we employ in our arguments? What counts as a “fact” in literary analysis? In writing about literary texts, how can we offer responsible samplings of textual evidence? We’ll respond to these and other questions via weekly two-page writing assignments, interspersed with revisions of four or more pages in length.


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