ENGL 2922: Topics in Literature: Monsters and Manners: 19th Century British Novel
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COURSE OVERVIEW: This course proposes that we can learn a great deal about nineteenth century British literature and culture by paying attention to its monsters. Portrayed as outsiders, monsters and monstrous humans help to define specific qualities and behaviors as either ordinary and acceptable or strange and taboo. However, literary representations of monsters just as often call such distinctions into question and in doing so raise the frightening possibility that monsters and human beings are not so different after all. By examining the characteristics nineteenth-century British writers gave to their monsters, we will attempt to understand the sorts of cultural anxieties that gave rise to these literary monsters and the ways these monsters, in turn, comment on these anxieties. In addition, we will be reading contemporary non-fiction on politics, gender roles, science and economics in order to understand the cultural issues and concerns with which our writers, their readers, and their monsters are engaged.¶ The course will proceed chronologically and, in doing so, move from concerns relevant to the Romantic to the late Victorian Periods. We will begin with Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein (1818); or The Modern Prometheus, a novel that interrogates assumptions about the relationship between science, gender, nature and authority. From there we will move to mid-century and ask how Wuthering Heights (1847) foregrounds anxieties about race, gender and class exacerbated by the industrial revolution. Our reading of Mary Braddon’s sensation novel, Lady Audley’s Secret (1860) will enable us to further investigate debates about “The Woman Question” and the Victorian ideal of the “Angel in the House.” Lady Audley also raises questions about the nature of evil and what it means to be insane. As such, it will serve as a lead-in to Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novella, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” which will be read in light of contemporary discussions about evolution and human nature. The course will end with a discussion of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) which not only engages with many of the themes discussed throughout the semester, but which also reflects anxieties generated by political and social instability in Europe and England at the turn of the century.¶ GOALS AND OBJECTIVES: The goal of the course is to involve you in the analysis of literary texts as a way of understanding both the texts and the cultural anxieties and debates with which they engage. In order to do so it is designed to accomplish two specific objectives: first, to enable you to reflect critically on the texts as works of literature and, second, to read them as cultural documents that comment on contemporary issues and debates.
Nachumi, N. (2022, Spring). ENGL 2922: Topics in Literature: Monsters and Manners: 19th Century British Novel. Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University.
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