English 122

The Victorian Period

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2019 Lavery, Grace
TTh 9:30-11 B5 Hearst Annex

Book List

Browning, Robert: Poetry; Darwin, Charles: The Descent of Man; Dickens, Charles: A Tale of Two Cities; Eliot, George: The Mill on the Floss; Hopkins, Gerard Manley: Poems and Prose


The Victorian period (1837 - 1901) is a notoriously arbitrary periodic designation, tied to the reign of one particular woman, Victoria Alexandrina Hanover, otherwise known as Queen Victoria I. The period is not self-evidently defined by any generic or intellectual movement (like “modernism” or “romanticism”) nor around an explicit or implicit claim about its historical significance (like “medieval” or “early modern”). That relative underdetermination, however, attests to the extraordinary power, diversity, and complexity of the period’s cultural and political production. Produced in a period in which the democratic franchise, basic literacy in English, and the power and range of the British Empire increased exponentially, and the cost of printing books plummeted, Victorian literature formulated definitive accounts of the central problematics of modernity. This lecture course comprises readings of a small set of canonical Victorian texts through which we will explore and contest some of those accounts, and through which we will explore some of the generic developments of the period (the collapse of the marriage plot; the supersession of romanticism by realism; the experimental tensions between subjective lyricism and the objective demands of meter); as well as exploring through literature the themes of democracy and its limitations; the inter-relations of race, empire, ethnicity, and colony; sexuality and desire; character, determinism, and ethics; historicity and the question of the “post-historical”; evolutionary system-building and the question of instinct; the relationship between sex and gender; secularity and mysticism; globalization and the virtual intimacies of a networked world. 

Back to Semester List