ENGL 3118W-001: Victorian British Literature

Instructor: Albert Fairbanks

Prerequisite: ENGL 1010 or 1011 or 2011 or 3800

The Victorian Period (1832-1900) was one of enormous social change. The Industrial Revolution and restructuring of agricultural practices provoked a shift of many workers from the countryside to the cities that sprang up in areas favorable to mining and factories. The culture had to invent ways to cope with resulting labor abuses, zoning, pollution, and public health. The discoveries of geologists, paleontologists, and Charles Darwin brought about a crisis in religion, and the new wealth amassed by the growing middle class transformed traditional class structures and patterns of consumption. The political liberation achieved by the Reform Act of 1832 was only partial, and its failure to enfranchise women along with the stifling new conditions for middle-class women provoked intense discussion of their rightful familial and social role. A backlash against the sensibilities associated with the preceding Romantic period arguably exerted oppressive restraints on manners and especially sexual expression.

We will read literary responses to these issues by several novelists, poets, dramatists, and the public intellectuals that came to be known collectively as “the Victorian sage.” Novelists may include George Eliot, Dickens, and Oscar Wilde; poets Tennyson, Arnold, Robert Browning, and the Rossettis (Dante Gabriel and Christina); and social critics Carlyle and Arnold.

The class will be run as discussions, and the writing assignments will consist of a series of short papers (5-8 pp.) amounting to 15 or 20 pages in total. There will be a midterm and final exam.