WGS 393 • MELODRAM IMPULSE VICTORIAN LIT
Melodrama was immensely popular in the Victorian era: more than 30,000 plays were written and produced in nineteenth-century Britain alone. And many of the period's novelists, most notably Dickens, were fascinated by the stage. Yet twentieth-century literary critics continue to pose questions about this conjunction. Was there an essential quality of the era that was inexpressible in the form of "serious" (i.e., tragic) drama? At the same time, why was the theatre so important as a focal point in Victorian fiction, and why was it such a crucial element in the creative and personal lives of the major novelists? Equally important, how did some of the women novelists use melodrama to dramatize self-actualization and concurrently meet their readers' demand for the more sensational forms of melodrama? It is the goal of this course to examine the melodramatic impulses underlying the fiction and drama of the Victorian period and to attempt to answer these questions in terms of its "frame of mind."
Against the backdrop of several texts detailing the social, moral, and intellectual climate of the times, we will read and discuss five Victorian novels that can be termed both classic and popular. Then we will take up assorted plays of the periodincluding dramatizations of novels and some of Dickens's own adaptations for his public reading tours. Wilkie Collins will provide us with an interesting case study, for he was successful as both a novelist and a dramatist. Midway through the course, students will visit several of UT's special library collections, which provide a rich source of materialprimarily in the Theatre Arts Library and the Wolff Collection of Popular Fiction.