Course Overview: Angels, fallen women, eccentrics, and aspiring heroes and heroines populate the nineteenth-century British novel. This era of production and consumption witnessed rapid change in industry, science, religion, education, and gender roles. Beginning with a Jane Austen novel, this course considers the “woman question” and preoccupations with death, the pastoral, and the domestic family circle. Adopting a cultural studies focus, we examine material objects (e.g. a valentine, a writing desk) that impact plot and characterization as well as the novel’s “multi-plot” structure. We study connections among Victorian literature, art, and illustration in panoramic novels by Elizabeth Gaskell, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy.
Many of these works came out in serial form with illustrations that we learn to “read.” The Norman M. Fox Collection in the Pohndorff Room contains Master Humphrey’s Clock with weekly part issues of Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41) and Bentley’s Miscellany, which includes the original monthly numbers of Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1837-39). The Fox Collection also contains works written by Thackeray and Eliot. Students examine these works to glean an appreciation of how literature appeared in the Victorian age.