English | Victorian Literature
L743 | 28840 | Kreilkamp


L743  28840   KRIELKAMP (#4)
Victorian Literatre

9:30p – 12:30p R

TOPIC:   VICTORIAN LITERATURE: PERSONS, PROTAGONISTS, NON-PERSONS

John Locke declared in 1694 that the term “person” can belong “only
to intelligent agents capable of a law, and happiness, and misery.”
This course will cast a conceptually wide net in order to think
about the various ways the literature of Victorian Britain conceived
of and represented people, persons, protagonists, and non-persons
(dehumanized persons, animals, monsters); somebodies and nobodies;
those presumed to possess subjectivity, agency, and
responsibility, “a law, and happiness, and misery,” and those whose
identities fell somehow short of such a status.  The provisional
argument of the course, as I see it – to be tested and revised as we
read and discuss – will include the claims that Victorian literature
and thought were fundamentally obsessed both with personhood and
with its absence or undoing, and that the ideal of “intelligent
identity” and personhood, within Victorian culture and literature,
was understood to be elusive, precarious, possibly illusory.  Any
person was at risk of becoming a non-person, a possibility
underlined and amplified by literary form’s fictionality.  The
reading list is still to be determined, and I’ll email class members
to assess preferences after enrollment, but some possible texts,
authors, genres, and topics include the following:

John Locke, “Of Identity and Diversity,” in Essay Concerning
Human Understanding, as a foundational analysis and definition of
personhood;
The realist novel, with its privileged protagonists and its
crowds of minor characters, and its uncanny twin the novel of
sensation, with its doubles and mistaken identities: Dickens
(probably Our Mutual Friend); Wilkie Collins’ Armadale; Olive
Schreiner’s “colonial bildungsroman” Story of An African Farm; H.G.
Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau;
The poetic dramatic monologue (Robert Browning, Alfred Lord
Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Dante and Christina Rossetti), with its
strategies of displacement and alienation of its protagonist
speakers;
Ghost, fairy, & fantasy tales by Vernon Lee, Charles
Kingsley (The Waterbabies), Elizabeth Gaskell, Mrs. Craik, and/or
George Macdonald;
Autobiographical writings fictional & non-fictional: Thomas
Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, Florence Nightengale’s Cassandra;
Writings on gender, race & ethnicity as varieties of
personhood: Carlyle’s “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question;”
diasporic black Britishness in Mary Seacole’s Wonderful Adventures
of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands; Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘The
Runaway Slave’; Irishness in Freidrich Engels’ The Condition of the
Working Class in England in 1844; Frances Power Cobbe’s “Criminals,
Idiots, Women and Minors: Is the Classification Sound?”
Victorian philosophy’s explorations of identity, personhood,
and cognition (John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham);
Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man.

We’ll also read a range of works of contemporary theory and
criticism that wrestle with the paradoxes of identity, character,
and personhood.  Possibilities include: Alex Woloch on protagonists
and minor characters, Deidre Lynch on characters, Nancy Armstrong
How Novels Think, Catherine Gallagher “The Rise of Fictionality,”
Elizabeth Ermath “the Narrator as Nobody,” Jonathan Lamb “Locke’s
Wild Fancies: Empiricism, Personhood, and Fictionality,” Georgio
Agamben on the human and the non-human, Judith Butler’s Precarious
Life, Bernard Williams “Are Persons Bodies?” from Problems of the
Self.
Work for the seminar will probably include a final paper (18-
22 pp. or so), a paper proposal and an annotated bibliography for
that paper due earlier in the semester, several 1-2 page “seminar
starter” response papers, and at least one presentation on secondary
criticism on a given literary text.