ENGL 431 A: Topics in British Literature

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:30pm - 5:20pm
THO 134
Joseph Butwin
Joseph Butwin

Syllabus Description:

English 431 SP 2019 Course Description. Professor Joseph Butwin

                                     1859 and the Making of the Modern World

On January 1 1859 Elizabeth Blackwell registered to practice medicine in Great Britain. Having been rejected as a student of medicine in the British Isles, she had conducted her studies in America. Now, as a result of the Medical Act of 1858, she could begin her practice at home. By 1859 John Stuart Mill had nearly finished his Subjection of Women (finally published ten years later) even as those women whose work was largely domestic could read the first, serialized version of Isabella Beeton’s celebrated Household Management in 24 numbers. Thanks to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 men and women could begin to achieve release from the domestic bond in civil court by 1859. Mary Ann Evans (whose adult life was determined by the near-impossibility of divorce before 1859) published Adam Bede, her first novel under the name of George Eliot, that year. 1859 also saw the engineer Joseph Bazalgette begin construction of the sewage system that would clean up the Thames as a result of recent legislation following the Great Stink of 1858. Members of Parliament, driven by the sheer stench of the river that flows through Westminster, were moved to act in the name of the new science of public health. The crowning glory of that famous House of Parliament—that is, the clocktower known as Big Ben—was installed in September of 1859. The old Houses of Parliament burned down in 1834; nearly everything we see today, built in the Gothic style, is no older than the University of Washington (1861). John Stuart Mill’s Essay on Liberty,  Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, and perhaps most importantly Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species were all published in 1859. Darwin’s friend, the physicist John Tindall, discovered at the same time that global temperature rises with the effluence of CO2 into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuel. That means the coal that warmed Britons and generated the Industrial Revolution.

The confluence of science and refined engineering, of art, politics and literature in one year is the subject of this course. What are we to do with our knowledge of that year? As surely as the novelists Dickens and Eliot set out to explain their world by looking backward 60 or 70 years to the very end of the preceding century in the Tale of Two Cities and Adam Bede, we may learn a great deal about our place in the modern world by looking back at a formative moment 160 years ago. We will excavate the details sketched in the first paragraph, adding current journalism, art and architecture, in order to better understand the world we inherit from mid-Victorian Britain. To do so we will read major texts along with research on-line and in the Suzzallo Library. Students will share written and spoken results of their reading and research with the class. Lecture, discussion, and written work.



John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and Other Writings, Cambridge University Press,

ISBN 0 521 37015 9

Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities, Penguin Books, ISBN 13: 978 0 141 43960 0

George Eliot, Adam Bede, Penguin Books, ISBN 978 0 140 43664 8


With selections on CANVAS from Charles Darwin, Origin of Species; Samuel Smiles, Self-Help; Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management, Punch…

Catalog Description: 
Themes and topics of special meaning to British literature.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:20pm