The Victorian Period of English history (1837-1901) witnessed a set of complex political, social, scientific, and philosophical developments. These developments were intricately tied to and represented by the culture’s various forms of literary production—most notably the Victorian novel.
As the British Empire expanded its reaches across the globe under the rule of Queen Victoria, news of new societies and cultures circulated back to the British Isles to a degree never before witnessed in English history. At home, British intellectuals began raising important questions concerning the nature of the “Woman Question,” or the proper place and role for British women in society, at home, and in the workplace. In addition, this period saw the rise of Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudian psychoanalysis—a set of theories that would forever change global society and culture. In this course, we will study the ways in which the Victorian novel came to grapple with these and other related ideas and issues, and will track the methods by which the novels of this age represented (and intervened in) social, political, scientific, philosophical, and cultural concerns. The course has been arranged to first acquaint you with the broader socio-historical and literary context in which Victorian novels bourgeoned and flourished and is then divided into three units that we might roughly categorize as the concerns, forms, and impulses of the Victorian novel (and Victorian novelistic authorship, more broadly envisioned). In each unit, we will perform close readings of a number of the period’s prominent novels, identifying what makes each a characteristically “Victorian” plot.