English | Literatures in English, 1800-1900
E303 | 11255 | Richard Higgins

Richard Higgins

11255 - 9:30a-10:45a TR (30 students) 3 cr.  A&H.

TOPIC:  "Histories of Feeling"

“The vehemence of emotion,” Jane Eyre declares, “was claiming
mastery, and struggling for full sway; and asserting a right to
predominate: to overcome, to live, rise, and reign at last.”
Sensational and melodramatic, unmistakably, but the passion comes
from a character described as “a little small thing,” who is “almost
like a child.”  These are, however, not childlike emotions.  They
are intense, threatening, and engulfing.  Should they be feared,
Charlotte Brontë seems to ask, or embraced?

In this course, we will explore why emotions appear the way they do
in British and American texts from the nineteenth century, beginning
with an initial proposition: that emotions have histories.  Rather
than see emotions simply as universal manifestations of human
nature, we will examine the ways in which they are historical and
ideological.  We will be concerned with how feelings represent wider
cultural concerns and preoccupations and how these texts helped
their readers organize and make sense of their world.  Among the
questions we will ask: When are emotions public and when private?
Are emotions tied to social life, “located,” as one literary critic
observes, “among rather than within people”?  Can emotions be
cognitive or are they always involuntary and heedless?  How
distinctive are the differences between feeling good and feeling
bad?  Along the way, we will use this rubric to touch on many other
important social and literary themes during the period, including
class, identity, political reform, the politics of gender, the
traumas of war and slavery, industrialism, urbanization, and
scientific discovery.

We will most likely read three full-length novels: Jane Austen’s
Persuasion, Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and Charles Dickens’ Bleak House;
shorter works by Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Arthur Conan
Doyle; poetry by William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Christina Rossetti,
Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman; essays by Henry David Thoreau,
Charles Darwin, and William James; and excerpts from Frederick
Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Assignments will include
regular reading responses, quizzes, and in-class writing; three
medium-length analytical papers; and a midterm and a final exam.
Students should expect to engage in extensive discussion over the
course of the semester, with class participation counting toward the
final grade.