By the year 1900, a quarter of the earth’s surface was ruled by England and more than four hundred million people called Victoria their queen, whether they wanted to or not.
This course on British literature of the Victorian period (1837-1901) will examine how works of culture confronted what was arguably the fundamental social fact of the nineteenth century: the empire. As we examine the major media forms of Victorian modernity — novels, drama, poetry, print journalism, visual art, and early photography—we will pay special attention to how those forms began to imagine “the globe” as a knowable entity. This metaphor emerged in the nineteenth century to describe a networked world not unlike our own, as diverse and cosmopolitan as it was oppressive and violent. How did categories of gender, sexuality, and even personhood change in this vast new framework? How were the conventions of Victorian literature affected by the fact of imperial domination? And was the practice of imperialism itself shaped by the works that described, and sometimes critiqued, it? How did the Victorians imagine their era of globalization? How do we imagine ours?
Readings include Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone; George Eliot, Middlemarch; H. Rider Haggard, She; drama from Dion Boucicault; short stories from Stevenson, Conrad, and Kipling; poetry from E. Bronte, C. Rossetti, and R. Browning; nonfiction from Dickens, Darwin, Mill, and Marx. Theory and criticism in generous doses.
This class will be taught at Georgetown University in Fall 2015. For the Spring 2013 version of the class, visit this page.
Background image: Map of the 1858 trans-Atlantic cable route. Wikimedia Commons.
Header image: “Salvation.” Adapted from William Booth, In Darkest England and the Way Out (1890). Salvation Army.