Victorian Lit

English 247.01

MW 4:40PM - 5:55PM
Ben Richardson

In 1829 John Wilson famously described Britain as the Empire on which the sun never sets. From India to the West Indies, British colonial rule influenced the lives of people in every corner of the globe, and in doing so helped produce the globalised society which we inhabit today. This Empire was built not only upon guns and trade, however, but also those novels and poems which taught subjects to believe in the ideal of colonial governance, even when this involved overt violence and subjugation. In this course, we will consider how Victorian literary forms produced—yet at times also protested—the social conditions which made Empire possible. Through studying the writing of authors from Charles Dickens to Joseph Conrad, we will seek to understand how this particular structure of social relations first developed and then persisted over time.

In reading Victorian literature through the lens of colonialism, we will thus consider how the idea of Empire came to pervade almost every aspect of British society. These are some of the questions which we will consider: What did imperial trade have to do with the structure of domestic fiction and realist novels? How were Victorian conceptions of gender and class related to debates about the political status of colonised people? How did different literary forms seek to oppose or contest the underlying project of Empire? In confronting these problems, we will attempt to understand why, in a historical moment which witnessed the development of liberal democracy, colonial forms of coercion continued to spread across the globe. When this course is done, we should have a better sense of how Victorian literature both produced yet also undermined the concept of Empire.

Readings for this course may include selections from: Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Clough, Matthew Arnold, Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad, William Henley, and Rudyard Kipling.

Grading will be based on class participation and two short argumentative papers. There will be no final examination.