E 370 • Victorian Prose: Essays and Ideas
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
This course deals with the extremely influential essayists of the nineteenth century, especially in their role as cultural critics in a period when culture, society, and identity were undergoing profound and far-reaching change. Indeed, the very appearance of the writers we read in this course is symptomatic of tensions, conflicts, and aspirations of the period. The most general subject that we consider is the formation of modern self-consciousness or what has been called the sources of the modern self. More particularly, the course will focus on how each of our writers developed the resources of English prose as a new form of literary power and purpose. For example, autobiography becomes a rich and decisive literary genre in the period, and we will read selections from a number of autobiographical writers (e.g. Mill, Darwin, Ruskin, and Hardy).
Another essential emphasis of this course will be the explorations of social, religious, and moral crisis that permeated the Victorian period. In response to this crisis, a literature of cultural enlightenment began to emerge. Indeed, the idea of Culture itself--and its modern practical application: the idea of a liberal arts education--is at the center of several of the major texts we will study.
The course will conclude with a novel, Hardys Jude the Obscure, the main character of which is a deliberate representation of the aspirations, experiences, and conflicts that are explored by all of the other writers we will study.
You will be asked to read a lot, think a lot, make connections, raise questions, and understand why--or if--the writers well study remain fundamentally important.
Three short papers (4-5 pp. each) 80%
Final take-home essay exam 20%
Charles Darwin, Autobiography
J. S. Mill, Autobiography
Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy
Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure
John Updike, Self-Consciousness
Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying