Literature in an era of revolution that also sought continuity, when culture faced redefinition as mass culture and found in the process new demands and creative energies, new material and forms, and transformations of old ones. Readings range from works of Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Shaw, to Dickens, Eliot, Hardy.
Course Title: Creative Uncertainty in the Age of Victoria
Course Description: The "Age of Victoria" was an era of rapid changes which engendered shifts in how Victorians understood themselves and their world. These changes gave rise to multiple anxieties and uncertainties, especially across issues of class, gender, race, national and imperial identity, and aesthetic principles. Writers from this period theorized the changes around them in creative and diverse ways, ranging from essays, letters, and illustrations, to poetry, novels, and plays. We will spend the first half of the quarter exploring some of the best known of these works, including writing by Thomas Carlyle, John Stuart Mill, Alfred Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Oscar Wilde.
In the last few weeks of the quarter, our inquiry will take a slightly different turn as we focus our attention on the tensions and anxieties of Victorian authorship and the question of reliable vs. unreliable narration. We will read Wilkie Collins' sensation/mystery novel The Moonstone, as well as Charles Dickens' last (and unfinished) novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a work that has inspired intense speculation around its ending. The literary collaboration and friendship between Collins and Dickens has been a source of fascination for scholars in Victorian studies; perhaps the most creative product of that fascination to emerge recently is Dan Simmons' novel Drood (2009), with which we will finish the quarter. Simmons, an award-winning science-fiction author perhaps best known for his Hyperion Cantos, explores in Drood the conflicted relationship between Collins and Dickens, how Dickens' unfinished mystery might have ended, and the playful yet vexed questions of how one might respond to an unreliable (not to mention opium-addicted and jealous!) narrator.
Our course will involve a mid-term exam, occasional short response papers, group presentations on historical or biographical information, a final paper, and a substantial discussion component. Please try to purchase the same editions of the books that I've listed here (ISBN numbers are provided) for convenience in class discussion.
Course Texts: The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume E: The Victorian Age, ISBN #0393927210 Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, ISBN #0140434089 Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, ISBN #9780140439267 Dan Simmons, Drood, ISBN #9780316007023
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