ENG455H1S L0101 T1-3
Advanced Studies Group 5: Victorians and Their Things
Instructor: Beth Martin
Office Location: Jackman Humanities Building, TBA
Brief Description of Course: While lying broke and abandoned on his deathbed in a cheap hotel in Paris, Oscar Wilde is said to have remarked: “This wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. Either it goes or I do.” His final, triumphant quip, in addition to commenting on the lethality of bad taste, also satirized contemporary social theories about the mutual construction of people and their built environments; if objects make the man, Wilde suggests, they can also destroy him. Though Victorians often conceived of their possessions as extensions of their personalities, their literary works frequently depict domestic things that seem to have uncanny agencies of their own: haunted bedchambers, glaring wallpapers, sneering portraits, horrifying piano stools and even ambitious fruit-dishes. We will interrogate these strange entities alongside contextual cultural materials, such as décor manuals, photographs of interiors, and excerpts of texts reflecting the era’s emerging sciences of the mind. Our literary analysis will be informed by an intense engagement with recent theory and criticism on the roles that nonhuman agents play in shaping the world, allowing us to encounter canonical Victorian texts, and one Edwardian text, with a fresh perspective.
Required Reading: Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, Charles Dickens, Hard Times. Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford, E. M. Forster, Howard’s End, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against the Grain, Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Selected short stories from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series (on Blackboard).
First Three Authors/Texts: Brontë, Jane Eyre, Huysmans, Against the Grain; Collins, The Moonstone
Method of Evaluation: Participation (15%); short theory paper (15%); seminar presentation (15 min followed by Q&A) (20%); abstract and bibliography (10%); research paper (40%).
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