Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
english masthead
english masthead
Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2009

E 328 • English Novel in the Nineteenth Century-- HONORS

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34340 TTh
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
CRD 007A

Course Description

The Victorian Three-Decker

Victorian novels are notorious for their magnitude--Henry James even called them "loose, baggy monsters," and people today sometimes erroneously refer to their authors as having been paid by the page. Widespread practice of serial publication certainly encouraged this tendency toward epic length, and then the circulating libraries discovered the profits of lending out the reprinted three volume novels one at a time. Well into the nineteenth century, publishers, editors, and readers alike treated the three decker as the conventional mode of novel publication. Against this publishing history and making considerable use of the Humanities Research Center, we will read four such novels by major Victorian novelists, in each case seeing how the novelist turned publication constraints into exploration and demonstration of his or her art and social critique. At mid century, Thackeray and Dickens were considered "at the top of the tree," their distinctive styles setting them up as competitors by many of the reading public. Thackeray distinguished himself in part by illustrating his own novels, preeminently Vanity Fair, while Dickens created an intriguing challenge to readers of Bleak House by switching back and forth between a semi omniscient narrative voice and that of a female character narrator. In fact, Bronte had Dickens's Esther Summerson very much in mind when she created her own problematic character narrator Lucy Snowe in Villette, composed while Bleak House was appearing in monthly installments but published (unserialized) before Dickens reached his conclusion. And finally, turning to Eliot's Middlemarch, we encounter a singular method of publication; by insisting on eight bi monthly installments, she ensured the structural integrity of her work. By century's end, George Moore and Thomas Hardy had successfully led the fight to break the lockhold of the three decker, but in its heyday it produced some of the greatest examples of the novelistic form.

Grading Policy

Two short papers (5 6 pp.) 20% each
One seminar paper (10 12 pp.) 35%
Two oral reports 10% total
Class participation, in class writing, attendance 15%


William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair: A Novel without a Hero (serial subtitle: "Pen and Pencil Sketches of English Society") (1847-48)
Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852-53)
Currer Bell (Charlotte Bronte), Villette (1853)
George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (1871-72)
J.A. Sutherland, Victorian Novelists and Their Publishers (1976)
Assorted critical articles and chapters (Altick, Buckley, Gilbert & Gubar, Moers, Showalter, Somervell, Wheeler, etc.)


bottom border