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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Kathleen Blake
ENGL 528
Seattle Campus

Victorian Literature

Class description

English 528A. Victorian Literature and Culture: Liberal Individualism. Kathleen Blake W 09 TTh 11:30-1:20

The course explores liberal individualism as a leading "Victorian value," and one that remains part of the cultural currency, whether higher or lower in estimation. We begin with selected readings from Adam Smith, with supplemental reports and/or a background lecture on Jeremy Bentham. These allow us to establish the contours of a Capitalist and Utilitarian model of selfhood that validates the free action of self-interest while also theorizing connections to self-reflexivity, moral sentiments, and wide material and social progress. This strain of liberal individualism is most fully represented among our readings by J.S. Mill's "On Liberty." Another strain proceeds from a Romantic model of selfhood and is most fully represented by Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus. Supplementary here are reports and/or a background lecture on Carlyle's sources in German Romantic philosophy. This strain critiques self-interest that equates to selfishness and greed. At the same time it celebrates "voluntary force" of self-creation and connects this, again, to wide material and social progress. The course shifts emphasis away from the conflicts and towards the convergences between these Capitalist/Utilitarian and Romantic strains, considerably refiguring the interpretive ground and reflecting recent scholarship by the Romanticist Philip Connell and my own forthcoming Pleasures of Benthamism: Victorian Literature, Utility, Political Economy. Whatever the mix, liberal individualism is a shaping idea for novels of the period, such as by Anthony Trollope, Charlotte Brontë, and Thomas Hardy. It is also put to the test as the question arises, who counts as an individual?--merely ordinary characters? women? those humble in class? colonial subjects of a Britain of free individuals? (though this can only be touched on due to limits of time to treat the large subject of empire). In his social and literary commentary, Matthew Arnold recommends culture as an antidote to untrammeled "Doing as One Likes," and Oscar Wilde presents a kind of apotheosis and exploding point for Victorian individuals in Art for Art's Sake and advice to "multiply our personalities." Readings: Sel. from Smith, The Wealth of Nations, and, by report, sel. on the "impartial spectator" from The Theory of Moral Sentiments, both in The Essential Adam Smith; by report (using E-reserves), Bentham, ch. 1-4 of An Introduction to thePrinciples of Morals and Legislation, with class handout for all of "A Table of the Springs of Human Action"; Mill, "On Liberty" with emphasis on the ch. "Of Individuality"; Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, Bk. 1 and the opening and final climactic chs. of Bk. 2; by report (using library reserves) sel. from Johann Gottlieb Fichte, The Vocation of Man; Trollope, The Warden; Brontë, Villette; Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge; Arnold, "Doing As one Likes" from Culture and Anarchy, and, by report, "The Study of Poetry (in both cases using E-reserves); Wilde, depending on time, major essay or play: "The Critic as Artist" or The Importance of Being Earnest. Optional: on library reserve and with some copies at the bookstore: Herbert Tucker, ed. A Companion to Victorian Literature and Culture. Requirements: on-going seminar participation, leading discussion of a main text or report on secondary reading (25%); response paper on a main text (7-8 pp., 25%); seminar paper (may build on the shorter paper if you choose, 12-14 pp., 50 %).

Student learning goals

Liberal Individualism in Victorian literature and culture

Victorian literature and culture--broader issues

Critical approaches to Victorian literature

Historical awareness of the Victorian period

Practice/advancement in seminar oral exchange/presentation

Practice/advancement in writing seminar critical/research paper

General method of instruction

In-class seminar discussion and presentations. Extensive while "doable" reading assignments. Possible to build on shorter response paper for the longer seminar paper. Encourage proposal/discussion of papers in office hours. Written feedback on in-class work and papers.

Recommended preparation

Some may come with Victorian background, and/or Romantic and/or latter 18th C (Enlightenment) background--but this is not required. Students likely to span graduate studies class years from 1st year to pre Ph.D. exams.

Class assignments and grading

See course description.

See course description.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Kathleen Blake
Date: 12/08/2008