The Nature of the 19th Century Novel
How does the idea of the Anthropocene affect the way we read, think, and write about literature and history? A new geologic age defined by the impact of human action, the Anthropocene has been dated to the late-18th century, when James Watt invented the condensing steam engine and concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere began to rise. It thus provides a backdrop against which to re-evaluate many of the developments in literature, culture, technology, and ideas of nature in the long-19th century. In this course, we will explore the “nature” of the 19th-century novel as an art form, a technology, and a cultural institution that crossed national borders. The novels we will read range from the United States to Britain, France, South Africa and the Belgian Congo. Melville travelled widely, and Moby Dick first appeared in London. George Eliot was a translator before she became a novelist. Conrad (born in Poland) wrote in his third language. Zola’s Germinal was first translated into English by the Victorian sexologist Havelock Ellis. Olive Schreiner re-wrote The Story of an African Farm in London, and later returned to South Africa as an activist for racial and gender equality. We will trace the ways in which novels participated in debates about the changing relations between humans and nature in the period, including ideas of progress, evolution, race, empire, gender, sexuality, and the status of animals and machines. We will also attempt to think rigorously about what it means to read these novels not in their age but in our own, and look to the ways in which the afterlives of the 19th-century novel continue to emerge. In addition to a series of canonical 19th century novels, the supplemental readings will offer an introduction to key concepts in ecocriticism, science studies, and related fields.
These editions will be ordered to the University Bookstore. However, you are welcome to use any other editions you may possess.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick. Oxford. 9780199535729
George Eliot, Middlemarch. Oxford. 9780199536757
Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm. Oxford. 9780199538010
Émile Zola, Germinal. Oxford. 9780199536894
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. Oxford. 9780199536016