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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2010

E 392M • The Melodramatic Impulse in Victorian Literature

Unique Days Time Location Instructor


Course Description

Meeting time, location: (Official course schedule)

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 period including 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 material primarily in the Theatre Arts Library and the Wolff Collection of Popular Fiction.


Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination

Ann Cvetkovich, Mixed Feelings: Feminism, Mass Culture, and Victorian Sensationalism

Walter E. Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1870

E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class

Elaine Hadley, Melodramatic Tactics: Theatricalized Dissent in the English Marketplace, 1800-1885

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

Charles Dickens, Bleak House

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Mrs. Henry Wood, East Lynne

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret

Michael Booth, Prefaces to English 19th-Century Theatre

J.O. Bailey (ed.), British Plays of the 19th Century


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