The Victorian Novel: Form, Industry, and Empire
The “Victorian Novel” has long been a staple of narrative theory, whether in terms of the novel’s role in cultivating national or class consciousness, its relationship to science, history and other literary forms, the vexed status of realism, or the articulation of the modern subject. But what is the “Victorian novel”? What do we make of the Victorian period’s alignment with the reign of a British monarch, as opposed to the explicitly historical or aesthetic movements (Romanticism and modernism) that bracket it? How does our understanding of “Victorian” change when we realize that the majority of Victoria’s subjects were not British, but Indian? In this course, we will explore the Victorian novel as an art form, a technology, and a cultural institution bound up with industrialization and imperial expansion. We will trace the ways in which novels participated in, influenced, and were shaped by other major ideas and debates of the period—over history, progress and evolution, race and empire, gender and sexuality, and the status of humans, 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, situating our conversations within current debates in Victorian studies (and literary studies more broadly) about form and history in order to think about how the afterlives of the Victorian novel continue to emerge.
In so doing, readings will engage with a sequence of canonical novels such as: Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847); Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1851); Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868); George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (1886); Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm (1883); Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim (1900); as well as critical and theoretical works by Walter Benjamin, Benedict Anderson, Nancy Armstrong, Ian Watt, Michael McKeon, Georg Lukács, Edward Said, Franco Moretti, Anne McClintock, Nicholas Dames, Elaine Freedgood, Caroline Levine, Bruce Robbins and others.