History | Sex and Culture in 19th Century Britain
B300 | 3117 | Mares

Above section open to undergraduates only

As we in the twenty-first century increasingly hear discussions of
morality and cultural values, this course will reflect back,
examining a society that might be considered the epitome of
prudishness.  This course examines the stereotype of nineteenth-
century Britons as morally and sexually repressed individuals.  As a
class, we will examine how the myth of the Victorians as prudish came
about; how generations imagined, crafted, developed, and challenged
their ancestors, and the various voices that contributed to those
imaginings, including physicians, religious figures, poets and
artists.  Moving forward, we will study how historians have reframed
notions of “Victorian” and “prudish” in order to challenge the
established stereotypes of the British nineteenth century as stuffy
and repressed.  Indeed, our ultimate goal is to come to our own
understanding of who the Victorians were and what beliefs and
attitudes guided their lives.  Furthermore, we will ask how different
our own culture is from that of the Victorians as we, ourselves, face
a new era of morality and standards of acceptability.

We will be using both primary documents, including prescriptive
texts, medical commentary, novels and paintings, crafted by
individuals for a Victorian audience, as well as secondary documents
written by modern historians.  Bringing these different sources
together, we will place the perceived morality of the nineteenth
century in the broader context of British culture.

Students will be asked to draw the course themes together through a
series of writing assignments, including four short (2pp) reaction
papers and a final essay (4-6 pp), explaining whether or not they
think the Victorians were, in actuality, prudish, using both primary
and secondary sources to defend their position.