Rae Greiner

1:00p-2:15p TR (30 students) 3 cr. A&H.

TOPIC: "Historical Novels, or the Novel and History"

You are probably already somewhat accustomed to hearing about the importance of reading literature in “context”: it’s that shady historical background—the events, the people, the culture, the “times”—that, we say, provides us with a lens through which to approach a given text that we might otherwise make the mistake of treating as if it were an autonomous object (to be read and appreciated, as they say, “for its own sake”). Despite our best intentions, however, the subject of “context” remains nebulous at best, as does its relation to the literary artifacts produced in its intractable midst: how can we measure, or even describe, how context shapes a literary text? to what degree are novels the “product of” a given historical context, or, conversely, their authors’ imaginative attempts to move beyond it? why do we need to rely on foreign words—milieu, mise-en-scene, Zeitgeist, purlieu—to talk about the “spirit” or “scene” or “ground” characterizing (or delimiting) a particular era? to what uses are (arbitrary? or historical?) terms like “Romantic” or “Victorian” put in literary study? how, for instance, can we justify talking about “the Victorian novel” when such labels are always belated or retroactive, making sense only “after-the-fact”?

This class is reading-intensive: we’ll read long novels and (sometimes) dense critical and historical materials. As the nineteenth century is the age of the “triple-decker” novel, you must be ready to devote a significant amount of time each week to reading. That said, we will not rush through these novels, and will hope to conjoin breadth with depth. While I insist that you purchase the editions I’ve ordered for this class, you are welcome to purchase them used or online (in every case an option) in order to save on the expense. Assignments will include four short (but challenging) papers, one longer paper (7 pages), a midterm and final, and unannounced reading quizzes and in-class exercises.

The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel, ed. Deirdre David (Cambridge)
A Companion to Victorian Literature and Culture, ed. Herbert Tucker (Blackwell)
The Monk (1796), Matthew Lewis
Waverley, or, Tis Sixty Years Hence (1814), Sir Walter Scott
Persuasion (1818), Jane Austen
Vanity Fair (1847-8)¸ William Makepeace Thackeray
Mary Barton (1848), Elizabeth Gaskell
A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Charles Dickens
Middlemarch (1871-2), George Eliot