English | Literatures in English, 1800-1900
E303 | 2058 | Rae Greiner


E303 2058 LITERATURES IN ENGLISH, 1800-1900
Rae Greiner

11:45a-1:00p D (30 students) 3 cr., A&H.

TOPIC:  “Feeling Bad, Ugly Feelings”

The nineteenth century was a time of great social and political
unrest:  there were wars (like the Napoleonic, Crimean, and US Civil
War); people agitated in the streets and in print for better pay, a
safer workplace, clean streets, and rights for things we sometimes
take for granted (to vote, own property, get divorced, have a fair
trial).  It was also a time of great scientific innovation—and error—
in the natural sciences (geology, biology), the social sciences
(sociology, ethnography), and the sciences of the mind, and the head
(psychology, phrenology).  For some, protest meant
progress, “Revolution” better associated with freedom than
bloodshed.  For others, scientific enthusiasm signaled advancement,
closing in the gap between human fallibility and human perfection.
But for some, these things were not probable, possible, or
desirable.  Slaves wrote passionately to defend a humanity
unrecognized by law.  Others simply complained that so-called
progress was little more than a piling-on of useless “information”
(not an addition to the store of truths).  According to one
especially cantankerous cultural critic (Thomas Carlyle), it was a
time filled with “trivialisms, and constitutional cobwebberies,”
when Nature’s poor “Saxon children” were nearly guaranteed
to “perish, of obesity, stupor, or other malady.”

Taking “constitutional cobwebberies” as a figure for bodies
afflicted with strange, unheard-of, new, or otherwise extraordinary
maladies, we will explore not just “feeling bad”—for instance,
feeling nauseous—but also feeling “bad feelings” (say, misanthropic
hatred of your fellow man, or cynicism, or---if you are slave—love,
and—if you are a woman—sexual desire).  While our focus will be on
explicitly “bad” feelings—those recognizably awful, like sea-
sickness or a crushing sense of doom—we will also be interested in
those things that, inexplicably, make other people feel bad (like
Bartleby the scrivener’s “preferring not to”).  Hopefully we will
ourselves feel quite good in this endeavor.  To that end, most
readings will be on the shorter side (long readings posing a
challenge in summer school), but often dense and complex.  Writing
assignments will be required weekly, with regular reading quizzes, a
midterm exam, and a final paper.

Required Texts
The Norton Anthology of American Literature (7th edition, Volume B)
The Norton Anthology of Victorian Literature (8th edition, Volume E)
Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Oxford)
Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure (Oxford World Classics)