Truth and Lies in Victorian Literature
English 200 — Truth and Lies in Victorian Literature
(Will be added to the online Time Schedule soon)
“We must cultivate the lost art of lying.” –Oscar Wilde, “The Decay of Lying”
The Victorian period in England (1837-1901) was the heyday of the realist novel, but writers during the time also produced a great deal of fanciful, sensationalist, and speculative literature. In writing realist fiction, authors strove to expose societal problems and articulate human psychology in ordinary situations. But while some writers sought to convey unadorned truth in order to improve society, others insisted on the importance of inventiveness and “art for art’s sake.” Through this course, we will look at a variety of Victorian works of and about literature, realist and otherwise, that explicitly consider questions of truth, realism, storytelling, and outright lying. What were the values and dangers of telling stories? We will read serious and humorous texts, including nonfiction essays, short stories, poems, a play, and a novel.
The course grade will be primarily based on two writing assignments and on class participation. You are required to purchase three texts:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (Norton Critical Edition), The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (any edition), and a coursepack.